If the Internet was the postal system, the only job of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) would be to give each letter an address, the group's head claims.
Yet ICANN president and chief executive officer (CEO), Paul Twomey, realises as much as anybody that the non-profit group was being tugged to make decisions on issues as far-ranging as content and delivery.
VeriSign's recent lawsuit against the organisation, accusing it of trying to regulate the company's controversial Wait Listing Service (WLS) for expired domain names, is just the latest example. VeriSign accused ICANN of overstepping its bounds as the Internet's technical coordinating body and delaying the implementation of its service amid protests that WLS was unfair to consumers by convincing them to back-order domain names they may never be able to register.
Under the group's charter, ICANN is only responsible for Internet Protocol (IP) address allocation, protocol identifier assignment, the domain name system and root server management.
"What we do is narrow, and we don't need an added role," Twomey said.
The CEO had just wrapped up a group meeting in Rome over the weekend, where the organisation had decided to allow VeriSign's WLS service to go ahead for a one-year trial period, with some stipulations.
Although the board approved of the service in principle, Twomey said he had not heard from VeriSign whether it would drop its lawsuit against ICANN. He also was unsure whether the organisation would accept the $US100,000 that registrar.Go Daddy Software pledged to help fund ICANN's defence in the case.
"Quite a number of people said they'd contribute and we wouldn't say no since we are publicly funded ... but there's no way we'd take money if it was tied to conditions," he said.
Twomey said that "these issues are more than ICANN issues" and were a product of the contractual nature of its relationships with Internet registries.
"We have agreements with registries that they openly volunteer to enter and these disagreements are a product of these contracts," he said. "But what we are in charge of is actually very narrow."
If ICANN's function is narrow, it stands in contrast to Twomey's vision of what his organisation and the Internet can actually do.
The Australian native, who has held ICANN's top post for just under a year, sees the Net as a powerful mechanism for delivering, and exposing people to, different "voices" around the world. That is why ICANN's current focus is on making the operation of the Internet an international affair.
At the Rome meeting, the group finally formed the Country Code Name Supporting Organisation, which will act as a global policy arm of ICANN. Twomey is also working to reorganise ICANN to bring it closer to his global view of the body, and hopes to soon have offices sprinkled across different continents.
ICANN runs its operations out of offices in Marina del Rey, California, but is now in the process of opening its first overseas office in Brussels. Twomey hopes that efforts to further internationalise ICANN will also quell those who have insinuated that the body has been in the pocket of powerful stakeholders such as North America.
If ICANN had been more activity in certain regions it was because the growth and demand for the Internet in those areas called for it, he said. But demand was now sprouting up in new places, and ICANN was moving to meet it. Work on internationalised domain names wais being seriously undertaken in regions like South-East Asia, Twomey said, while Africa was showing interest in expanding its infrastructure and the Pacific Islands were looking into how they could profit from the trend of outsourcing.
"The environment is changing rapidly," Twomey said, "and our job is to balance the network. We don't want to give too much power to anyone - the governments, or the registries, or the Internet service providers [ISPs] - or else the network won't grow."
Twomey insists on a bottom-up organisation where stakeholders can influence the Net's growth according to factors such as need, language and culture. However, ICANN still faces pressure to act as a regulator, possibly because people do not know where else to turn when confronting new, Internet-related issues.
Other resources did exist, however, Twomey said. The United Nations had discussed Internet governance, for example, and agencies uch as Interpol could deal with issues such as online pedophilia.
While Twomey was committed to keeping ICANN on the technical rails on which it was meant to run, he did admit that the organisation's mission and role were constantly in flux because of technology's quick-changing nature.
"Look what ICANN did just five years ago - it was like it was just after the age of Augustus it was so long ago," he said. "We're not fighting those fights anymore. We have new fights."