When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) formed in 1998 as the private sector body charged with technical management of the 'Net, it wasn't a publicly visible organization. That fact sullied ICANN's reputation and has led to all sorts of misconceptions and wild rumors about the organization, according to Esther Dyson, ICANN interim chairwoman.
"We got a terrible reputation," she said at a press conference following a panel discussion about the growth and evolution of the Internet. Dyson was a member of the panel at the biannual Harvard Internet & Society conference here today and she briefly talked about ICANN. Although she said at the press conference that she didn't know how much general appeal there was to questions about ICANN, reporters kept asking her about the domain-name registration process and about the workings of the group.
Dyson expressed frustration that ICANN lacks the resources to be as responsive as she would like it to be. There is a difference, she said, between being legally open and carrying out tasks like conducting public meetings and posting the minutes of ICANN proceedings online and being able to respond to people who write to the group, providing information in more languages and being more publicly visible.
ICANN is global in scope and is in the process of choosing at-large board members -- a process itself that created controversy. While its global nature is viewed as a strength, it has also led to some governments seeing ICANN as a means to control the Internet. Conversely, some have viewed ICANN as a way to arrive at "truth and justice," Dyson said.
The group is not a conduit for Internet control or a bearer of some lofty universal ideals, Dyson said. Nor are ICANN board members taking payments from governments seeking control or scuttling off into "back corridors talking to IBM," she said, referring to allegations that the group is beholden to certain monolithic IT vendors.
ICANN, she insisted, is not summed up by its board anyway. The organization is better viewed through its full membership.
"The fact is that ICANN is scaffolding. There's not a lot of flesh there," Dyson said, referring to the small staff that handles the business of the organization.