Internet governance experts yesterday argued the case for having the US government hand over completely the technical coordination and management of the internet's DNS (domain-name system) to the private, nonprofit Icann (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) this year.

Those in favor of completing this transition, which began in 1998, said the political price of having the US involved in DNS management has become too high and holds back the international development of the internet.

Meanwhile, others warned that Icann isn't yet ready to take on this task alone and that a premature withdrawal by the US government could compromise the internet's security and stability.

The US Department of Commerce called yesterday's public meeting as part of its consultation process on the upcoming expiration of its agreement with Icann to co-manage the DNS. That deal ends in September. In the weeks preceding the meeting, which was webcast, about 700 written comments were sent to the Commerce Department.

At issue is whether the 1998 agreement should be extended to keep the joint management in place or whether it's time for the Commerce Department to bow out.

John Kneuer, acting administrator of the Commerce Department's NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration), said the US government remains committed to the transition, but not at any price.

"We have an incentive and a long-standing policy to complete this transition," he said. "But we will take no actions that will [compromise] the stability and security of the internet."

Internet Society president and CEO Lynn St Amour argued on behalf of handing over the DNS reins to Icann sooner rather than later, saying that Icann is ready and it's time to quiet the political static caused by the US government's participation.

"We continue to be concerned about attempts to politicise the internet and its management," said St Amour, whose nonprofit organisation is involved in internet-related standards, education and policy. "As long as the US government has a role in Icann's governance and management, organisations and other governments have an incentive to try to leverage political channels to their favour."