Internet group picks little-known executive as CEO

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NEW YORK (AP) - A businessman with experience in building consensus will be the next CEO of the Internet agency in charge of contentious policies surrounding Internet addresses.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is pushing through a major change in the way Web and email addresses are structured and assigned, announced Fadi Chehade’s appointment Friday. He will replace former U.S. cybersecurity chief Rod Beckstrom as chief executive.

In selecting Chehade, ICANN went with someone who isn’t well known and isn’t well versed in the organization’s core tasks _ keeping the Internet address system running smoothly.

Chehade does, however, have a knack for diplomacy. In the early days of e-commerce, he persuaded leading tech companies such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard to collaborate on a system called RosettaNet for exchanging data, even as they competed for customers. ICANN Chairman Steve Crocker said those achievements outweighed the drawbacks.

In an exclusive interview with The Associated Press ahead of the announcement, Chehade, 50, said his work at RosettaNet prepared him for the new role.

“The thrill and the satisfaction of bringing people around some common understanding is tremendous,” Chehade said. “I have a personal and deep love of bringing consensus.”

He said that when executive recruiters contacted him about the position at ICANN, “I immediately had flashbacks of how much I enjoyed doing a job that everybody told me was impossible and difficult.”

As CEO, Chehade will receive a base salary of $560,000 plus up to $240,000 in bonuses based on merit. He is tentatively set to start Oct. 1. His tenure lasts until July 1, 2015.

Beckstrom leaves ICANN this July 1. Chief Operating Officer Akram Atallah will serve as CEO in the interim.

One of Chehade’s chief tasks will be guiding the largest expansion of the Internet address system since its creation in the 1980s. The change affects how people find Web sites or send email and could lead to more options for businesses as easy-to-remember “.com” names are harder to obtain.

ICANN has received 1,930 proposals for 1,409 different domain name suffixes, including “.love,” “.google” and “.music.” They would rival “.com” and others now in use. A florist called Apple can’t use “apple.com” today because the computer company has it, but the shop might get “apple.flowers” one day.

Even after a decade of debate, however, the expansion still faces criticism, much of it from trademark holders who worry about having to police the Internet for addresses that misuse their brands.

“Anything new like this is going to create angst and controversy, and it’s going to create opportunity,” Chehade said.

ICANN is also in charge of assigning the numeric Internet Protocol addresses used to identify computers, smartphones and other Internet-connected devices. And it faces perennial calls for the United Nations to take a greater role in crafting Internet policies. Although ICANN has board members from around the world, it is headquartered in Los Angeles and gets its authority from the U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet’s early development.

Chehade has some international experience, having served for a year in Dubai as IBM general manager for global technology services for the Middle East and North Africa. Born in Lebanon and of Egyptian decent, he speaks English, Arabic, French and Italian. He lives in Los Angeles and became a U.S. citizen in 1986.

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