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The New ICANN Emerges in Seoul

Michael Roberts

With the loud crashing of a traditional drum ceremony and an impromptu electric guitar performance by a young Korean whose rendition of Pachabel has been downloaded sixty million times on YouTube, the 36th meeting of ICANN was kicked off this morning (Korean time) by new CEO Rod Beckstrom and his fellow Directors and assembled one thousand or so participants.

ICANN has always been about change, but the atmosphere in Seoul this week is charged with a sense of new challenges and new opportunities. Perhaps most of all, after spending its first decade dealing fitfully with problems inherited from the U.S. Government, the organization now is transforming itself to deal with a very different Internet from the one that existed in 1998.

The list of challenges facing the organization is formidable. Long planned infrastructure upgrades, necessary to match growth and security issues, including the larger address space associated with IPv6 and root file encryption accomplished by DNSSEC, still remain to be done. The internationalization of Domain Names, and the secure introduction of new gTLDs, are pressing agenda topics for the Board.

At the same time, the termination of the much hated JPA with the U.S. Department of Commerce, and concomitant recording of its replacement Affirmation of Commitments, open the door to ICANN taking a prominent role in the ever more complex geopolitical world of Internet infrastructure and governance.

Especially here in Asia, where everyone seems to be under thirty, and the bus stop ads feature "Haptic OLED" cellphones, it is apparent that the future Internet will be driven by a young, media-centric, mobile and broadband audience of billions of users. Tying those users together in a globally interoperable network of millions of applications in dozens of languages flowing over gigabit and petabit links will not happen easily.

In contrast to the hostility from many quarters that has dogged ICANN since its early days, the organization today has generated new momentum. Participant diversity is up, transparency is improved, and leadership is acknowledged as it has not been in the past.

It will take all of that progress, and much more, to seize the opportunity now on the table to demonstrate that the unique ICANN model can succeed in assisting the Internet to meet the expectations of its millions and billions of new users, for whom the underlying infrastructure will be mysterious and unknown. Like the copper wire telephone system of a hundred years ago, except on a scale unimaginably greater, the Internet needs to just "work," and ICANN has a critical role in making that happen.

But ICANN also needs to reinvent itself to regain some of the focus and agility that has been lost in recent years. Opportunities in the rough world of international politics do not exist for long, and political vacuums will be filled one way or another. Every effort to address accountability and transparency does not require another layer of administration. Every issue is not worthy of the Board's personal attention. The management structure that ran a twenty person, six million dollar organization is not adequate for the demands of one with a budget nearing one hundred million dollars, a staff five times as large, and worldwide responsibilities on a much larger scale than ten years ago.

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interesting Subhan Zia  –  Oct 26, 2009 8:34 AM PDT

interesting

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