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.”

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