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New ICANN chief stresses DNS, addressing stability

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is a political science experiment on a global scale. This 3-year-old nonprofit organization sets policy for domain names, IP addresses and root servers using a consensus-driven process open to all Internet users. Network World Senior Editor Carolyn Duffy Marsan recently interviewed ICANN's new president, Stuart Lynn, about his plans to improve the group's acceptability.

You've been president of ICANN for five months. Why did you agree to take this job, which must be one of the most controversial jobs in the network industry?

It is [controversial], but it is a lot of fun. You really get the feeling that you can make a difference.

What interaction did you have with ICANN prior to joining as president?

Virtually none. But I was heavily involved with building and developing Internet technology at the University of California. [Lynn previously served as associate vice president for information resources and communications at the University of California office of the president.] There was some attraction to bringing someone in who wasn't prejudiced by the previous agenda.

How will ICANN operate differently under you and chairman Vint Cerf than it operated with Mike Roberts and Esther Dyson in charge?

We're at a different point in time at ICANN. They were working through very difficult, controversial times, and they did an outstanding job. Now it's not a question of 'whether' about ICANN, but a question about 'what' and 'how.' We're moving from the early startup phase to the middle years.

What are the biggest challenges facing ICANN in the next year or two?

The overarching challenge for ICANN is to ensure the stability of the whole addressing and name-space arena, and to make sure that's done in a professional, serious manner. Second is to make sure that we are a global organization. We need to internationalize ICANN and its governance and activities. Third is to think through the whole governing structure to make sure that we are reflective of the Internet community around the world.

What is ICANN doing for enterprise users of the Internet to ensure that it is functioning and stable?

Our key challenge is to make sure that the Domain Name System remains stable. We've come out very strongly in favor of a single, authoritative root so there's no confusion. That means companies can reach their customers, and their customers can reach them. Another issue is making sure there's enough address space for the Internet. There are different predictions of when we will run out of IPv4 address space. Our challenge is to ensure a smooth transition to IPv6.

What are you doing to make ICANN better accepted across the Internet community?

The problem that you raise is the very nature of ICANN. On any given issue, you can find someone who totally disagrees with what we do and will make [his] views known to the press.

This happens because we are open, because we're not some closed, secretive organization trying to fashion a point of view before it becomes public. Our job is to determine where the consensus lies on any given issue. Consensus doesn't mean unanimity. We're always going to make people unhappy. The question is have we followed fair, reasonable processes to arrive at the decisions we've made.

Congress held hearings earlier this year about the seemingly ad hoc and arbitrary methods the ICANN board used to select the operators of the seven new generic top-level domains. What are you going to do to improve ICANN's decision-making process and create the perception that ICANN is a well-run organization?

I wasn't at that meeting, but I understand it was a very chaotic meeting. Since then, I've found the board meetings to be very systematic and orderly. The problem is that the Internet moves at Internet speed and the processes that you're talking about move a lot slower.

Can you describe ICANN's relationship with the Bush administration?

Some of the individuals have changed, but we're very pleased that the Bush administration continues to give us the support we had from the Clinton administration. We are moving forward on a checklist of tasks outlined in the [memorandum of understanding signed with the Clinton administration in 1998]. We've seen no change in the momentum toward that.

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