This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Congress Tweaks ICANN

Feb 09 2001 12:00 AM PST

Lawmakers knock the organization's process for approving domain names, and no one is quite sure who it reports to.


The chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was invited to Capitol Hill yesterday to answer questions about the way ICANN had selected organizations to sell new flavors of domain names. Coverage of the hearings was widespread, beginning on Wednesday, when some of those testifying made their written comments available to the press.

Wired ran before-and-after stories and a sidebar on the coming land rush in domain names. The Washington Post assigned a reporter and also used an AP piece. The New York Times' coverage was unsigned, and the Journal's was brief. Grok had to read all this coverage and more to piece together what went on at the hearing.

InternetNews's Jim Wagner reported that nine witnesses, including ICANN chair Vint Cerf, were given five minutes each to speak before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. Most outlets noted that the overall tone of the hearing was not positive for ICANN. The Journal's Ted Bridis put it most strongly, leading with the characterization that the subcommittee had "harshly criticized" ICANN's process of selecting new suffixes. Both the Journal and the Times quoted Rep. Charles Pickering, R.-Miss., saying that ICANN's selection process was "arbitrary and subjective," and the Journal's Bridis also reported Pickering's continuation: "If you don't take steps to reform quickly ... the promise and future of ICANN is at risk." Several outlets noted the complaint of Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., that ICANN rejected the suffixes .kids and .xxx, which were popular on Capitol Hill.

The coverage revealed gaps in the press's understanding of the world of domain naming. For example, the Washington Post's reporter wrote, "The international body reports to the U.S. Department of Commerce." Not quite. ICANN has a contract with Commerce, but a remark of Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., reported by several outlets, better captures the reality that ICANN "appears to be accountable to no one except perhaps God Almighty." The New York Times' uncredited reporter wrote that "The Commerce Department ... created ICANN in 1998." Not exactly. Commerce picked ICANN from among several groups applying for its role. InternetNews' scribe said, "The winning companies can now sell domain names within their new domain on the U.S. government root server." Not true. The winners won only the right to negotiate further with ICANN for arrangements to sell such domain names later this year.

The outlets disagreed on the size of the pool of contenders from which ICANN selected seven winners last November. Was it "over 40" (Wired), 44 (AP), "more than 44" (Journal), 47 (InternetNews and Reuters), or "nearly 50" (WashTech)? Correct answer gets extra credit.

ICANN Under Attack (Network World Fusion)
The Industry Standard

Getting to Domain Argument
Wired News

U.S. Lawyers Criticize ICANN (Reuters)
Wired News

Is It Too Late for Sex.Coop?
Wired News

Congress Scrutinizes Selection Of New Internet Domain Names
Wall Street Journal
(Paid subscription required.)

ICANN Chairman Responds To House Charges
InternetNews.com

Cerf's Up! Congress Grills ICANN Chair on Domain Names
ZDNet