Widley revered as one of the internets founding fathers, Vinton Cerf has taken on a unique position that will enable him to play a significant role in its future growth and development. Cerf, a senior vice president at WorldCom, was chosen late last year to succeed Internet entrepreneur Esther Dyson as chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the group tapped in 1998 by the U.S. government to manage the Internets domain name system.
"Clearly, hes going to have a huge impact," says Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa. "ICANN has been, and will be, making significant changes to the architecture of the Internet."
Cerf has walked into a potential minefield. ICANN has been criticized for lacking transparency and being too close to business interests.
As chairman, Cerf will play a leading role as ICANN tackles several important tasks. First, he must help ensure the smooth introduction of seven new generic top-level domain names and possibly defend the process ICANN used to choose them before Congress later this month. In addition, ICANN is expected to re-examine and possibly expand a controversial process it put in place in 1999 to resolve trademark disputes over Internet domain names. And perhaps, most importantly to ICANNs purpose for existing, Cerf will have to persuade the new Bush administration that ICANN should be given responsibility for managing the Internets root server system.
While acknowledging the difficulty of the job, Cerf says he took the post because "I felt it was sort of my duty to the community." Cerf says he hopes to steer the organization away from the controversy associated with policy decisions its made and into a more technically focused organization.
According to Jonathan Weinberg, a professor of law at Wayne State University, "He is in his present leadership position because . . . hes immensely technologically savvy, [and] he is immensely politically savvy. . . . If anyone can steer ICANN through its pitfalls, hes the guy to do it."