November 12, 2004

Comment To Bret, Ross, and Thomas:

I've read (via Thomas Roessler's wonderful "ICANN Blog Aggregator") three notes, one by Thomas Roessler, one by Ross Rader, and one by Bret Fausett.

These are three people that I respect and trust.  My disagreements below, to the extent they are disagreements, are small when compared to the large number of times when I find myself in agreement with their views.

First to Thomas: You write:

There is another challenge that ALAC has to deal with: The legacy of the at-large elections in 2000. For many people, ALAC looks like a poor replacement to having prestigious board seats and global elections. In a way, that's true. But look at the policy-making reality: Board members rarely intervene with actual policy issues...

ICANN's Board of Directors has enormous power - in fact in ICANN the board has the ultimate plenary power.  ICANN's Board of Directors has time and time again wimped out and abandoned its responsibilities to "staff".  This is a very sad state of affairs.  And it is a state of affairs that will be remedied only when board members actually start acting like board members and asserting their authority.  The At-Large of year 2000, had it been allowed to develop its election process, could have been a source for assertive directors.

The ALAC, on the other hand, was emasculated before it was birthed; it was specifically designed so that it would never have the opportunity or power to drive change within ICANN.  I have stayed away from the ALAC precisely because it is in fact a poor replacement for the vibrant system that began to evolve in 2000.

Thomas, you (and others such as Vittorio B. and Wendy S.) have done a stellar job using the ALAC to address policy issues - the community of internet users should rise up and thank you.

Second to Ross:  You write how ICANN's new transfers policy is an improvement.  And I agree that the policy may well be an improvement.  And I agree that there have been many who have been naysayers who speak more to protect their revenue streams than from a disinterested perspective.

But to my mind the real question is this:  The kind of authority that can impose these policies is a legislative authority.  Yes, there is the theory that ICANN merely sits atop a private pyramid of contracts and that this is merely a private, voluntary, regulatory system.  However, that ignores the reality that there is no real alternative and that ICANN exercises powers that supersede choices that governments may make to the contrary.  I have trouble accepting that ICANN and its policies can be truly characterized as nothing more than private, voluntary, contractual matters.

And it is certainly hard, in fact impossible, to articulate any real linkage between ICANN's DNS business policies (of which the transfer policy is but a part) and ICANN's role as the protector of the technical stability of the internet's DNS.

It seems to me that the kind of power to impose a worldwide domain name transfers policy ought to be wielded  by a body that contains substantially more elements of public accountability, open processes, and transparent decision-making than does the private California corporation called ICANN.

To my way of thinking this fact of governmental powers exercised by non-governmental actors is the core issue that needs to be addressed by the UN's WGIG.

And thus to Bret: I agree with you that the issues that the WGIG has assigned to itself are too large of a bite.

My comment here is your comparison of that bite to that of ICANN.  I believe that there is a job to be done with regard to DNS and IP address allocation.  And ICANN was assigned to those jobs.  I think we both agree that ICANN has had more than a few problems.  But I don't think that the source of those problems was the job that was assigned or the size of the job but, rather, the fact that ICANN has never bothered to do those things that it was assigned to do.  Instead ICANN has hopped onto an enormous invisible horse and is trying to gallop all over the world to establish itself as the arbiter of business practices in the domain name industry with a special nod to the protection of one class of rights (intellectual property) over other classes (such as personal privacy.)

The problem that has hobbled ICANN is not the size of the job, but rather ICANN's inability to focus on the job that it was created to do.

I believe that the WGIG needs to recognize early that internet governance is a big endeavor and that the path to success begins by doing small things very well.  This means that the the tasks of internet governance need to be identified with surgical precision and that the body created to do each task must be driven with Procrustean force to remain within the steel rails of its task definition.

Posted by karl at November 12, 2004 12:27 AM