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ICANN Chief Calls For Overhaul

The president of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has a vision for the future of the Internet and how its governed, and it doesn't include representation by everyday Web users.

Instead, said M. Stuart Lynn over the weekend, the organization responsible for the governance of the world's most popular Internet domain extensions (.com, .net and .org among others) should strike a "public-private partnership" with world governments.

According to his proposal, Lynn said government input is necessary for the creation of a complete, well-balanced and effective ICANN, which was privatized by the U.S. government in 1998.

"If one thing is clear from the past three years, it is that a purely private entity that must depend on the voluntary cooperation of many other entities is not likely to be able to coordinate anything globally without significant governmental support," he said.

To do this, Lynn suggests revamping the existing rolls of the 19-member board of directors to 15: five government-nominated trustees, five business-nominated trustees and five ex-officio (read: current board members) trustees. One of the five ex-officio trustees would be Lynn himself, according to the proposal.

He also proposes three policy councils; The Address and Numbering Policy Council (ANPC), Generic Top-Level Domain (TLD) Policy Council (GTNPC) and Geographic TLD Names Policy Council (GTNPC); and four standing advisory committees; the technical, security, rooter server system and governmental advisory committees.

All committees and council would fall squarely under the authority and direction of the ICANN board of directors, who will make up appoint half of the authorities themselves and approve or veto nominating committee selections.

The changes seem to stem from ICANN's increased difficulty to get public and advocate support for some of its policies, namely eligibility requirements for regional Internet registries (RIRs) and country code TLD (ccTLDs) owners.

Many say ICANN is overstepping its authority with rules for assigning IP addresses through RIRs, while ICANN last year lost control over its ccTLD working group, which seceded from the organization citing lack of a meaningful say in regional domain name activities.

Saying ICANN presently is too worried about "process over substance," the changes will strengthen the organization and increase the stability of the Internet.

"We need to build a stronger organization, supported by our key stakeholders, led by the best team that can be assembled, and properly funded," Lynn said. "We must be structured to function effectively in this fast-paced global Internet environment."

His proposal, however, has done the one thing many in the industry didn't think possible: it brought consensus to two groups that have been at odds with each other for nearly a year -- advocates and a commission that has ruled to decrease public representation on ICANN's board of directors.

Michael Froomkin, an editor at Internet domain advocacy site ICANNwatch.org, is baffled by the proposal

"(Lynn's proposal) is pretty radical," he said. "I think it means despotic countries can enforce communications policies that could directly affect its private citizens, and what's more, it would be unreviewable," he said. "ICANN was supposed to save the Internet from governments, (but) since major interest groups such as the ccTLDs and RIRs won't do what ICANN wants, and won't pay them, ICANN now turns to governments to save it from the Internet."

Next month, at ICANN's public meeting in Ghana, a report commissioned last year by Lynn and other board directors will be submitted for approval. In it, the At-Large Study Committee (ALSC) recommends a change in the board of director's existing membership breakdown, which theoretically is to include nine supporting organization members (consisting of trustees and business leaders), nine public seats (for anyone who can get the necessary votes) and one president.

The ALSC spent eight months garnering feedback from interested parties around the world, which critics say was ignored, to issue a report calling for the decrease of public representation from nine board members to six in conjunction with the creation of an at-large supporting organization (ALSO).

Esther Dyson, ALSC member and a founding member of ICANN, said Lynn's proposal is still just discussion, not law, so people should come forth with constructive criticism, not immediately blast the plan out of hand.

Like Froomkin, she doesn't agree with Lynn's proposal to do away with public representation entirely, saying the government mindset doesn't lend itself to speedy resolutions.

"Frankly, I think it's going to be just as difficult to get all these governments to agree," Dyson said. "The government advisory council is known for having the longest meetings of any ICANN group and they can never come to an agreement. When they do come to an agreement, what they come up with is not very concrete.

"I'd like to prove that there's a more constructive way to do business with public representation by the public, rather than by a government that's acting on behalf of what they think is the public interest," she concluded.

The final report's fate is uncertain, in light of Lynn's comments over the weekend. Dyson said it doesn't change the committee's plans to present the report next month.

"Many of us who want an active At-Large have not yet given up hope," Dyson said. "Our short-term goal is to demonstrate, rather than argue, that an at-large membership exists and can be constructive as an active, official part of ICANN. I think it's really important that there are elected board members on ICANN, because then they feel accountable to the public rather than accountable to the people who put them there."

Froomkin predicts the ICANN board of directors will shelve the ALSC's proposal, since the organization's goal from the beginning never included public participation.

"ICANN never wanted public representation in the first place," he said. "The only reason nine board seats went to the public in the first place was because the Department of Commerce (DoC) made them when ICANN was created. Since then, they've been delaying inclusion."