A presidential directive in 1997 instructed the U.S. Commerce Department to privatize the Internet’s domain name and addressing system (“DNS”), with the goal of increasing competition and international involvement in its management. Accordingly, since 1998, the DNS has been managed by the private Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”) through a Memorandum of Understanding with the Commerce Department (“Memorandum”). This Memorandum has been amended and extended on several occasions. The Joint Project Agreement (“JPA”) is the current iteration of the arrangement between U.S. government and ICANN. The JPA is set to expire on September 30, 2009.

The Commerce Department has issued a Notice of Inquiry seeking public comments by June 8, 2009, on the upcoming expiration of the JPA.5 A 2008 review of progress concluded that further work was needed in key areas to boost institutional confidence in ICANN’s ability to manage the DNS. The Commerce Department has requested a new round of comments on progress in transitioning technical activities to the private sector, as well as the appropriateness of the general model of private sector leadership and bottom-up policy development. The Commerce Department has set out several specific questions for public comment, including whether ICANN has adequately responded to issues identified in the 2008 review. Senators Snowe (R-ME) and Nelson (D-FL) have taken an interest in the matter, and wrote to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke on May 19, 2009, to urge him to become involved in finding a “permanent accountability mechanism” to replace Commerce Department oversight.