A Plan to Govern Web World

Just two weeks before the U.S. government is set to relinquish its control of the Internet, two of the most influential members of the Internet community jointly released a plan Thursday for the global computer network to govern itself.

Without an agreement, future development of the Internet could have been in jeopardy after the government's contract with Network Solutions expires Sept. 30.

Compared to earlier plans, the proposal to create the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers would give more voice to Internet users -- ranging from casual World Wide Web surfers to a new class of companies that seek to profit by registering domain names.

The corporation's organization would also ensure that representatives from the United States or Europe will dominate the new governing body.

"Openness and accountability have been an issue for everybody," said Marty Burack, executive director of the Internet Society, a Reston, Virginia-based organization that represents Internet users around the globe.

Both Network Solutions -- the company that manages the domain name system under a National Science Foundation contract -- and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority -- which manages critical technical functions of the global computer network from the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute -- came up with the plan.

Because of that backing, it is likely to be endorsed by the other key Internet groups whose support is needed for it to be adopted.

Network Solutions and IANA had previously been at odds over the best way for the Internet to become self-sufficient.

The new plan, which caps off more than a year of intense debate among numerous parties, includes ideas from the White Paper released this year by White House adviser Ira Magaziner, and comments from an international forum held in Geneva in July.

If a consensus develops around the new proposal, the next step would be the formation of an interim board of directors. Gabe Battista, Network Solutions' chief executive, and Jon Postel, head of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, would lead the process.

"I think we'll be pretty close," said Postel, who is based at the Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey, California.

The new, nonprofit Internet Corp. would replace Postel's Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, but would probably remain in the same Marina del Rey building.

Postel, who began keeping track of Internet names and numbers nearly 30 years ago as a graduate student at the University of California at Los Angeles, said he will be closely involved with the transition but then would like to reduce his involvement to technical matters involving the network.

The proposal calls for the new Internet Corp. to coordinate Internet addresses and new domain names; oversee the system that directs computers to the specific Internet sites they are seeking; and maintain universal connectivity to the Internet.

The corporation would not take part in lobbying or political campaigns, and government officials will be prohibited from serving on its board of directors.

No more than half of the board members can be from any single geographic area, including North America and Europe. The proposal calls for a transitional board of directors that would include people representing various technical sides of the Internet community. They would create a process to allow "all interested parties" -- including rank-and-file Internet users -- to elect some of the members of future boards.

To ensure the general public has a say about the future of the network, the Internet Corp. must seek public input about policies under consideration and post them on the Web. The corporation should also post a calendar of its meetings and publish an annual report, including an audited financial statement, according to the proposal.

In a memo introducing their proposal, Battista and Postel asked for comments and suggestions -- as long as they arrived soon and didn't involve major conceptual changes. Comments began streaming in within hours of posting the plan on the Web at http://www.iana.org, said Network Solutions spokesman Chris Clough.

Burack of the Internet Society said he was relieved to see months of debate coalesce into a single proposal.