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ICANN's new CEO pledges to keep the Internet intact and open

Mikael Ricknäs | March 21, 2013
Fadi Chehadé is taking the soft approach to appease countries such as China.

ICANN's new CEO Fadi Chehadé, who took over in October, is on a mission to help politicians around the world understand the importance of keeping the Internet intact and open, and is also working to bring home the addition of new generic top-level domains.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers coordinates the DNS (Domain Name System) and IP addresses, which are the cornerstones that keep the Internet going.

"I sincerely believe that we have an opportunity in the next few years to keep the Internet as one Internet and I believe this is worth my time and a lot of my effort, and, frankly, it makes for a great mission," Chehadé said in an interview.

The Internet runs the risk of becoming balkanized due to ill-informed national policies, according to Chehadé. To secure the Internet's future, Chehadé has started his tenure with a globalization campaign, because until now the organization hasn't done enough to reach out and engage beyond the borders of the U.S. and Europe, he said.

"I have been on the road visiting as many delegations and countries as I can to basically engage and open up our model," Chehadé said.

ICANN's effort to become a more global organization comes after last year's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), where countries such as Russia and China lobbied to change the way the Internet is governed.

For Chehadé, the meeting highlighted the need for more education about how ICANN works and what it does. Some attending ministers didn't even know what ICANN was, he said.

Chehadé wants to have countries like China on his side and believes he will succeed at that not by lecturing but by illustrating the Internet's upsides.

"We have to show the fruits and benefits of an open Internet -- that is what will get the message across ... The leaders of China, whom I just recently met on a trip to Beijing, fully appreciate and understand how the Internet is transforming them and helping them reform their system," Chehadé said.

As part of its globalization, ICANN last week announced a much-needed African expansion, which includes plans to have six new ICANN representatives with North, South, East, West, Central Africa and the Indian Ocean all involved. The announcement was made at a meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which attracted nearly 200 participants, including both citizens of nations represented at the meeting and lawmakers, according to Chehadé.

The continent also needs a large increase in the number of accredited domain name registrars. Currently, there are only five, and Chehadé said he wants to see that number increase five-fold in less than two years.

The work isn't just about allowing Africa to catch up, but to leapfrog other parts of the world. The success of mobile banking in eastern Africa illustrates the power of the Internet, according to Chehadé.


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