ICANN, the not-for-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that has managed domain names on the Internet since 1998, just announced that it has reached a new deal with the US Department of Commerce that will allow it to operate as a more independent entity. Other governments and the private sector will now have a greater say in how domains will be managed. The Commerce Department will continue to hold a seat on ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee, but it's influence will now be on par with that of other members of the organization.
The European Commission had been critical of the US's control of ICANN for quite a while, and Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Information Society and Media was clearly quite happy with this decision: "Internet users worldwide can now anticipate that ICANN's decisions on domain names and addresses will be more independent and more accountable, taking into account everyone's interests." ICANN will now commit to a ""multi-stakeholder, private sector led, bottom-up policy development model for DNS technical coordination."
The US used to have close oversight of ICANN, but this new agreement loosens the ties between ICANN and the US government. The last agreement between the US and ICANN was set to expire on Thursday. The agreement between the US and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the organization that oversees the allocation of numerical IP addresses, won't expire until 2011 and is not affected by this new agreement.
US politics have often influenced ICANN decisions. When ICANN proposed a .xxx top-level domain for sexually explicit sites in 2005, for example, a lot of conservative advocacy groups like the American Family Association and the Family Research Council lobbied the US government to block this proposal and the plans were never realized.