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Brussels, 2 October 2006

Internet Governance: Commission welcomes move towards full private-sector management by 2009

The United States government's decision to give more autonomy to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was welcomed by the European Commission today. On 30 September, a highly prescriptive Memorandum of Understanding between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN expired. It has now been replaced by lighter arrangements intended to end definitely by 2009. The European Commission has been working for several years on a system of internet governance entrusted fully to the private sector without government interference in the internet's day-to-day management. The Commission cooperated in 1998 with the US in setting up ICANN and hosted, until 2006, the Secretariat of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) to ICANN. Completing the transition of internet governance to the private sector also had been the explicit request by the EU and its partners at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November 2005 (see IP/05/1424 and IP/05/1433).

“I welcome the US government's declared intention to grant more autonomy to ICANN and to end its governmental oversight of the day-to-day management of the internet over the next three years,” said Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Information Society and Media. “This is a very important step towards full private-sector management of the internet, on which the EU has been working with various US administrations since 1998. We in Europe trust ICANN’s expertise and the unique multi-stakeholder model of consultation it represents. We consider ICANN to be best placed to ensure that the internet's international dimension is taken into account in organising the internet’s root directory. The European Commission will follow closely ICANN's transition to full independence in the next three years. With our advice, we will contribute to this transition to ensure that it takes place transparently, reflecting the interests of industry and civil society alike.”

Last Friday, a Memorandum of Understanding between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN, in force since 1998 and last renewed in 2003, ended. The EU had repeatedly questioned whether these arrangements, which allowed the US government to unilaterally oversee ICANN’s decisions, could still be reconciled with the internet's global role today. At the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis in November 2005, the EU strongly supported the privatisation of the technical management of the worldwide domain name system in the hands of ICANN and had favoured an approach to internet governance that further removes government control from ICANN (see MEMO/05/428).

In the personal article “Privatise Internet Governance” in the Wall Street Journal of 16 November 2005, Commissioner Reding had stressed that “governments should not have a say in the day-to-day management of the Net.” Commissioner Reding herself later criticised interventions by the present US administration in ICANN decisions related to the recognition of new generic Top Level Domain names (such as .xxx).

Following a broad consultation of stakeholders, new arrangements have now been agreed between ICANN and the US Department of Commerce in the form of a “Joint Project Agreement” that took effect on 1 October. These new arrangements recognise the internationally-organised, non-profit corporation ICANN as being responsible, on an ongoing basis, for the management of the internet’s system of unique identifiers. With increased autonomy, as compared to the previous Memorandum of Understanding, ICANN will:

  • no longer have its work prescribed for it. How it works and what it works on is up to ICANN and its community to devise.
  • not be required to report every six months to the US Department of Commerce. It will now provide an annual report for the whole internet community.

The new “Joint Project Agreement” will expire in 2009, and it is the declared intention of the US administration that it will not be prolonged.

For the Commission, ICANN's increased autonomy builds on the international consensus on internet governance that arose at the World Summit on the Information Society in Tunis and from bilateral contacts with the US administration and ICANN since then. “We welcome the continued commitment of the US government to the stability and security of the internet with regard to the domain name system,” said Commissioner Reding. “We will continue our talks with the US and other interested parties on these important issues and will also use the process of enhanced cooperation between governments, as agreed at Tunis. Personally, I would welcome a reformed Governmental Advisory Committee to ICANN playing an increasingly important role.”

The Commission is currently preparing for the first meeting of the newly created Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that will be convened, as agreed at the Tunis summit, by the UN Secretary-General from 30 October to 3 November in Athens. It aims to transparently discuss with civil society, industry and other non-government stakeholders broader internet governance topics – in particular development-related issues. “The Commission will continue to fight for the openness of the internet, for freedom of expression and for the freedom to receive and access information,” said Commissioner Reding, who will represent the European Commission at Athens. “Cyber-repression, whether required by governments or supported by commercial companies, is incompatible with Europe’s fundamental rights and Europe’s open and pluralist model of society.” (On this, see the European Commission's Communication “Towards a Global Partnership in the Information Society” adopted in April 2006; IP/06/542).

Further information:
European Commission website on internet governance issues:
ICANN’s statement on the new arrangements in force until 2009:

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