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ACT Comments on the Final Recommendations of the ATRT

  • To: "atrt-final-recommendations@xxxxxxxxx" <atrt-final-recommendations@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Subject: ACT Comments on the Final Recommendations of the ATRT
  • From: Jonathan Zuck <jzuck@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2011 22:20:46 +0000

Comments of Jonathan Zuck, President of the Association for Competitive 
Technology on the ATRT Final Report

The Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) is a trade association 
representing nearly 4,000 small and medium sized IT firms around the world and, 
for the most part, our membership have no interest in internet governance, or 
so they thought. Internet governance is dominated by firms and individuals with 
either a direct commercial or academic interest in these processes, and our 
membership falls into the category that believe "if it ain't broke, don't fix 
it." To our membership and to the huge majority of internet users, the DNS 
system and, by extension, the governance of that system, appeared to be working 
and therefore required no attention.

In 2005 perceptions changed as the media picked up on those with "intentions" 
for ICANN in the international community. Our very first intervention at an 
open board meeting was in Vancouver when we reported "if you had asked our 
membership a year ago how ICANN was doing, they would have responded 'What's 
ICANN?' but today you see a whole lot of people walking around in 'ICANN 
Rocks!' t-shirts. As a result, in addition to our work on IP issues, ACT's 
primary focus has been on strengthening the organization from the inside and 
defending it from the outside. Just as in business, stronger organizations are 
less susceptible to hostile takeovers.

The world is watching ICANN more closely than ever before, and the stakes have 
never been higher. With the historic signing of the Affirmation of Commitments, 
ICANN is truly an independent organization. National governments and 
intergovernmental organizations like the International Telecommunications Union 
are actively seeking to wield greater influence in DNS management and Internet 
oversight. ICANN's best defense against this encroachment remains the steadfast 
support of its community, which encompasses industry, civil society, and even 
many in government. But a linchpin of that support has always been the 
assertion that the ICANN process reflects the will of the Internet community. 
We know that ICANN's detractors are following the review process with great 
interest. Should ICANN fail to rise to the challenge of implementing the ATRT 
recommendations, detractors will use that failure in their efforts to seek 
greater control over ICANN.

The Affirmation of Commitments Accountability and Transparency Review process 
was a bold experiment in the finest tradition of ICANN. Stakeholders from 
throughout the community came together under a tight deadline to address one of 
the biggest challenges facing ICANN. The review team worked through resource 
limitations, time constraints, and the challenge of creating an entirely new 
process to not only fulfill its charter, but also to blaze a path for future 

In many ways, the final product of the ATRT process represents the perfect 
ICANN document; not because everyone agrees on its findings - quite the 
contrary - but because it synthesizes an incredibly diverse set of inputs into 
a clear, actionable set of recommendations. By any reasonable measure, the ATRT 
has exceeded expectations in bringing the inaugural AOC review to a successful 

If there is one criticism to be lodged against the final ATRT report it is that 
it is perhaps a bit myopic. There is more to accountability and transparency 
than mechanisms for accountability and transparency. When speaking of building 
secure software, you will often hear the term "secure by design," which means 
that for software to be truly secure it needs to be designed with security in 
mind from the outside, not just subject to security mechanisms which are 
applied after the fact. True accountability at ICANN requires understanding 
those objectives to which the organization is being held accountable. The more 
concrete the organizational objectives, the easier to measure its success and 
failures and seek procedural improvements.

Accordingly, while ACT applauds the ATRT recommendations regarding metrics in 
the implementation of accountability and transparency measures as well as the 
board's resolution requiring metrics to measure the success of new gTLDs, 
metrics are essential across the organization for ICANN to be truly transparent 
and accountable. There need to be metrics surrounding internal processes; there 
need to be goals and metrics on contract compliance, diversity, etc. Even more 
abstract objectives such as raising community or governmental confidence in 
ICANN can be measured through participation and surveys. What gets measured, 
gets done.

That said, the herculean effort by the ATRT must be rewarded by action. While 
the work of the ATRT may be done, the work of the ICANN staff and board of 
directors has just begun, and their responsibility to the ATRT process is even 
more significant than that of the review team itself. Now that the ATRT has 
produced consensus recommendations for how ICANN should strengthen its 
accountability and transparency processes, the burden falls to ICANN to 
implement those recommendations without prejudice and in a timely fashion.

The AOC is unequivocal about the board's responsibility regarding the ATRT 
findings. The Affirmation states "the Board will take action within six months 
of receipt of the recommendations." But at the most recent meeting in 
Cartagena, ICANN President Rod Beckstrom seemed to indicate that the board and 
staff would pick and choose which recommendations to implement and when, based 
on constraints of time and budget. While later comments by ICANN leadership 
seemed to back away from this assertion, the episode only furthered the 
impression that ICANN is not fully committed to the ATRT process.

The biggest unanswered question about ICANN in the eyes of the global community 
is whether the organization possesses the will and the capacity to make 
difficult but necessary changes to strengthen its accountability and 
transparency to stakeholders. ICANN has long insisted that it is responsive and 
accountable to the ICANN "community" and requires no additional oversight. If 
this is truly the case, ICANN will act quickly and without prejudice to 
implement the recommendations of the ATRT.  The ATRT indisputably represented 
the will of the ICANN "community" in the area of accountability and 
transparency. If ICANN fails to implement the changes developed by a 
community-driven process that it helped create, it will raise serious questions 
as to whether the organization is capable of demonstrating real accountability 
to anyone.

ICANN has never lacked for ideas on how to improve its accountability and 
transparency. For the past several years - dating back long before the ATRT - 
members of the community have offered an array of practical and creative 
solutions for improving the manner in which ICANN responds to the input of its 
global community. The ATRT built on and refined those efforts into the most 
cohesive and balanced set of recommendations that ICANN has yet seen. But until 
ICANN takes decisive action on the ATRT findings, they remain just another set 
of unrealized good ideas. And ICANN may be running out of opportunities to 
demonstrate its capacity to improve.

The ATRT may not be a perfect document, but the ICANN process does not demand 
perfection. Rather, it demands a commitment to continued dialogue, community 
engagement, and improvement. In that respect, the ATRT has met and exceeded its 
charter. ICANN must now take up the baton and demonstrate to the world and its 
own community that it is committed to strengthening its processes. ICANN Rocks.

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