March 2, 2021

Head of Web Address System to Leave Post

PARIS — Rod Beckstrom, chief executive of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system, plans to leave the organization next July.

Mr. Beckstrom plans to complete his three-year contract with Icann, a term that has been marked by moves to expand and internationalize the Internet address system. But these efforts have also brought the organization, and Mr. Beckstrom, into conflict with governments, brand owners and others.

Mr. Beckstrom announced the news himself late Tuesday via Twitter. Later, in a news release, he said: “I am incredibly proud of Icann’s achievements throughout my tenure. In two short years we have advanced this organization to a new level of professionalism and productivity, and turned it into a genuinely multinational organization that will serve the world community long after my time here.”

The announcement of Mr. Beckstrom’s departure could set off a new round of international wrangling over control of Icann and Internet governance. Set up by the U.S. government, the organization gained greater autonomy in 2009, around the time that Mr. Beckstrom took over.

But some governments, including those of Russia and China, are said to want to exercise greater control over Internet governance, perhaps via an organization like the International Telecommunications Union, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations.

Buring Mr. Beckstrom’s term, Icann has moved to reflect the increasingly international nature of the Internet, adding the ability to render addresses in non-Latin alphabets, for example.

Other changes have brought objections. A number of governments, for example, were opposed to Icann’s move this year to add a “.xxx” address suffix for pornographic Web sites.

Also this year, Icann approved a plan for a vast expansion of so-called generic top-level domains — the letters that follow the last “dot” in an Internet address. Some governments say they were not properly consulted, while brand owners and others continue to oppose the plan.

“Icann’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber,” Randall Rothenberg, chief executive of the U.S. Interactive Advertising Bureau, said in a letter to Icann this week. “There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem. This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that Icann will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.”

Icann gave no indications on the hunt for a successor to Mr. Beckstrom, who said that in the meantime he remained “committed to leading this critical organization with the utmost dedication, and to living up to our common vision: One world, one Internet.”

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