By Dennis Collins
The US government has decided to not renew its contract of 17 years which gave it the authority to oversee the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). There will be a transition from the IANA to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is a nonprofit corporation under contract with the US Department of Commerce. The House of Representatives is concerned about the usefulness of switching power from IANA to ICANN, because this forces the US government to relinquish its control over the internet. The UN is the driving force pushing for a change in the governance of the internet. The Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is pushing for a, “single, open, free, secure, and trustworthy internet.” ICANN will be the “caretaker of the internet”; however ICANN has been accused of being an illegal entity and violates both the Constitution and federal statutes by many in the legal field.
The House of Representatives passed the Domain Openness through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act in December of 2014 to slow the transition so it isn’t done too hastily. The Act will slow down the transition from IANA to ICANN and the transition will not done without addressing as many of the potential problems that could arise as possible. The Senate has yet to vote on the bill, but they have until the end of July of 2015 to make a final decision. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has come out in strong opposition against the bill, and he seeks a full reinstatement of the IANA.
The problem with the transferral with ICANN is the accountability of the Board of Directors. There is exceptional and extensive coverage of managing the private sector on the Internet. Recent controversy has come up in a dispute for the domain name “.africa” and the bidding process to control it. ICANN has been accused of helping one of the two parties vying for the domain name. DotConnectAfrica (DCA) and the African Union Commission (AUC) were the 2 bidders for “.africa.”
AUC privately asked ICANN for help in its bid for the domain name. ICANN drafted a letter for AUC supporting South Africa’s ZA Central Registry (ZACR), the company that AUC was supporting. ICANN gave the letter to AUC, and had AUC submit it showing their support for ZACR. This letter was evidence of the approval for ZACR, and seemingly showed that ICANN did not act “neutrally and objectively” in their decision process. Such action appears to go against the grain of ICANN’s purpose and its neutral party stance.
ICANN was asked to file a report on its process for determining its inevitable choice of ZACR. The process was undermined when the committee redacted 39 paragraphs from its final report on why ICANN picked one party over another. The redaction in the ICANN report puts the ZACR application at risk of now being denied. ICANN has claimed it has done nothing wrong and was acting in an objectively interested way. However, by failing to properly apply its procedures, ICANN appears to have breached its own Articles and Bylaws. To many, this experience indicates that there does need to be a slow and cautious transfer that makes sure everything is done correctly before the US relinquishes control over the Internet. For some concerned about the transition, ICANN is not a viable body to oversee the internet if it cannot act as a neutral party when making its decisions.
Another recent case involves Amazon, the online retailer. Amazon has been trying to buy the domain name of .Amazon, but ICANN has denied the request due to objections made by several South American countries. ICANN claims that it has the right to the name because of the Amazon River and the Amazon River valley contains many countries. ICANN has rules allowing government to object to applications, and the objections made by South American countries complied with the organization rejecting Amazon’s application. ICANN follows the guidance of its Government Advisory Committee (GAC) when making decisions about domain names. ICANN can reject the advice of the committee, but it requires significant evidence and reason for doing so. Subsequently, Congress and ICANN have gotten into a feud over the domain name and allowing the internet retailer to use it. The crux of the problem with the .Amazon rejection, despite Amaxon being a very large US based company, is that the US government will be turning over all oversight to ICANN within the coming months, and the US government is afraid that it will lose all control of the decision making processes, and therefore will not be able to help its own domestic businesses.
Despite being rejected twice already, including an appeal, Amazaon has not given up the fight for .amazon. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) and Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-WA) have written a letter to ICANN arguing that the South American countries don’t have the rights to the term “Amazon.” The company claims that ICANN’s rejection of the Amazon (the company) application has no legal basis and sets a bad precedent for international trademark law. The case is currently pending with Amazon’s third attempt before ICANN in determining its claim to “.amazon.”