- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) In the 1970s, Vint Cerf played a leading role in developing the Internet’s technical foundation. For the past seven years, he has faced the more daunting task of leading a key agency that oversees his creation.

After fending off an international rebellion and planting the seeds for streamlining operations, Mr. Cerf is stepping down this week as chairman of the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers.

“My sentence is up,” Mr. Cerf said with his characteristic sense of humor, which he and others credit for helping him steer the organization through several high-profile battles from which it emerged stronger and more stable.

Mr. Cerf, 64, who is also a senior executive at Internet search leader Google Inc., joined ICANN in 1999, a year after its formation, to oversee domain names and other Internet-addressing policies.

Mr. Cerf was elected chairman in 2000 and leaves the unpaid position after today’s board meeting in Los Angeles because of term limits.

When he joined the board, many questioned whether ICANN would survive. Now — though some people still complain that ICANN is arbitrary, secretive and slow — the focus is more on improving it than replacing it.

Under Mr. Cerf, the organization withstood power struggles and ballooned in size. It also has shown signs of movement on key issues: After years of debate, for instance, it is beginning to create mechanisms to ease the addition of Internet addresses, including domain names in languages besides English.

“In some respects, it has gained credibility,” Mr. Cerf said. “It is now part of the Internet universe as opposed to a thing that was open to some serious debate.”

That has been particularly so since ICANN, teaming with the U.S. diplomats, resisted efforts by China, Brazil and other developing countries to replace the group with a more U.N.-like organization over which world governments would have greater control.

Among other things, ICANN critics wanted quicker action on addresses in other languages and complained that the current restrictions are akin to requiring all English speakers to type in Chinese. Many foreign governments also resented the U.S. government’s veto power over the Marina del Rey, Calif.-based nonprofit agency.

Calls to strip ICANN — and the United States — of its oversight of domain names, which are key for computers to find Web sites and route e-mails, grew as world leaders gathered in Geneva for the 2003 U.N. World Summit on the Information Society. The European Union even joined by the time the summit convened again in 2005, in Tunis, Tunisia.

But ICANN ultimately emerged intact.

Credit is due to many people besides Mr. Cerf, yet many say he had the gravitas to meet with heads of state and senior ministers — and tell them “no.”

“He has a certain star quality,” said Paul Twomey, ICANN’s chief executive since 2003. “He can open a door. He can talk to anybody. He can say, ‘Me and my colleagues actually invented the Internet and here’s how it works.’ There was a lot of ignorance, and he was able to say, ‘It just doesn’t work the way you think it works.’ ”

Mr. Cerf tested the first Internet hookups in 1969 when he was a graduate student at UCLA. As a professor at Stanford University in the 1970s, Mr. Cerf led a team that invented the protocols, known as TCP/IP, that now serve as the Internet’s basic communications tools.

Renowned since as one of the Internet’s founding fathers, Mr. Cerf continued working on Internet technology at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and later developed MCI Mail, the Internet’s first commercial e-mail service. Google lured him in 2005 to be its “chief Internet evangelist” and gave him an office a few doors down from CEO Eric Schmidt.

In 1997, President Clinton presented Mr. Cerf and TCP/IP co-inventor Robert Kahn the National Medal of Technology, and in 2005 President Bush gave the pair the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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