ICANN faces major transition after Cerf's departure

The controversial Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has weathered violent political turbulence and volatile technical controversies since its founding in 1998.

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The controversial Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has weathered violent political turbulence and volatile technical controversies since its founding in 1998.

But in a few months the non profit organisation may face one of its toughest challenges when long time chairman Vint Cerf steps down.

A board member since 1999 and chairman since 2000, Cerf has been instrumental in helping ICANN through thorny crises and painful evolution. He will give up his seat on the board in October to comply with ICANN term limit policies.

All along, despite flaws and missteps, ICANN has fulfilled its core duty of overseeing the internet's address system and ensuring its overall security and stability.

Assessments of Cerf’s tenure vary but the consensus is that while far from perfect, he has been a very effective chairman who has steered ICANN skillfully during the crucial early years.

"Vint is incredibly knowledgeable and thoughtful and he lent a great deal of credibility and experience to the ICANN board," said David McGuire, communications director at the Centre for Democracy and Technology, a US non profit think tank for internet public policy issues.

Despite the recurrent criticisms that ICANN responds disproportionately to US government interests, Cerf is credited for patiently building consensus and creating a collegial, collaborative atmosphere among the group's different constituencies.

Mark Uncapher, senior VP and counsel at US industry body the Information Technology Association of America, said: "He has done a superb job. Although Vint is best known for his technical contributions, he also has considerable political skills."

If instead of Cerf, ICANN had an impatient chairman who routinely short circuited the group's collaborative decision making process, the internet might have been in very bad shape today, he added. "That might have led to the ultimate threat: the ‘balkanisation’ of the internet, where countries go in different directions and there isn't a single point of contact the way there is with ICANN."

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