The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting in Cape Town next week will expose South Africans to the Internet's international flavour, with many issues expected to have a direct impact on the country.

This is the third gathering of the ICANN constituency this year. It is the first to be held in Africa south of the equator and the third to be held on the continent. The most recent meeting was in July in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur.

The meeting will publicly recognise ICANN's three-year strategic plan, the re-delegation of the .za domain name and the public recognition of the Regional Internet Registry for Africa – AfriNIC.

ICANN's board has already approved the establishment of AfriNIC and the re-delegation of the .za Domain Name Authority.

The ICANN three-year strategy was drafted as part of a broader plan to bring reform to the California-registered company, which operates under a memorandum of understanding with the US government's Department of Commerce to administer the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS).

Many, particularly governments, believe that a corporation with only 21 staff members and an annual budget of around USD5 million (R30 million) should not “control” the Internet. There are proposals to move such DNS governance to either the United Nations (UN) or some kind of UN-linked organisation such as the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

Reform of ICANN revolves around the need for more government input from various countries. This was a centrepiece of discussion at the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) held in Geneva earlier this year. It will also be a central topic at the WSIS second round in Tunisia in 2005.

A position paper by an ITU director, Houlin Zhao, proposes that the ITU could work in co-operation with ICANN in areas such as domain name administration, top-level domains and developing of policy.

Some see this as a sign that the ITU wants to control ICANN's numbers function, which is in contrast with widely-held views that the Internet should be controlled by individuals.

Cerf nailed his colours to the mast in Kuala Lumpur when he said the “UN was off track in its discussions on whether government officials should set Internet policy”.

“We do not need redundant co-ordinating bodies, but what we do need and do not have are parts of the UN to look at issues such as electronic commerce, the question of digital signatures, tax, fraud and enforcement,” he said at the time.

The ongoing UN Internet governance process will be discussed in several forums during the gathering in Cape Town. These include forums on the WSIS process and an ICANN At Large Advisory Committee meeting that will include a briefing on AfriNIC's plans for transitioning management of Internet resources to local control and the roll-out of Internet Protocol version six (IPv6).

Another aspect the ICANN meeting should bring to SA is how fast information and communications policy can be proposed, discussed and approved.

“We are hoping for great South African involvement and through that we will see just how fast policy creation in the information age can be,” says ISOC-ZA chairman Alan Levin. “Stuff discussed at constituency meetings on day one is debated, resolved and agreed to by day five.”