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Comments on President's Strategic Planning Committee Report

  • To: iic-consultation@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Comments on President's Strategic Planning Committee Report
  • From: George Sadowsky <george.sadowsky@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2008 17:16:47 -0400

I would like to provide my comments on the results of the President's Strategy Committee report on ICANN and Transition.

My perspective is more that of an outsider than an insider. Although I've been a relatively intense observer of ICANN during the last four years as a result of my being on the ICANN Nominating Committee. I have not otherwise been actively involved in the operational or the policy aspects of the organization. I have, however, been involved in the spread of ICT and networking throughout the developing world during the last 35 years, and I am thoroughly involved in the Internet Governance Forum and related activities.

So by making these comments, I do not claim to represent anyone but myself.

In brief, while I subscribe the the ultimate goals of the PSC report, I do not agree that prompt or rapid action is either necessary or necessarily desirable, and I would argue for a slower and more conservative approach. I would rather see a short term continuation of a looser JPA, recognizing the progress that has been made, lightening ICANN's reporting requirements, with increased promise of evolution into an independent body when external conditions are more likely to assure such a successful transition.

In support of this position, I would like to make several points:

1. Sufficient safeguards against capture may not now exist, and ICANN is vulnerable.

Internet Governance is a hot topic. We have now experienced two major meetings during the World Summit on the Information Society, leading to the creation of the Internet Governance Forum, which as met twice and has three more meetings to go, at least in its first incarnation. There is significant pressure to extend the life of the IGF, along with pressure to have it evolve into either a permanent UN "bureau" as well as become more of a decision making body. whether these efforts will succeed is anyone's guess right now, but the discussion is certain to take place.

In addition, there are pressures from international organizations. As I understand it, a new study group is being proposed with respect to Internet governance within the ITU. There is considerable support for forcing IPv^ addresses to be country specific. And, while the voices of some countries with regard to Internet capture have been more muted recently, I have only observed silence, not an acceptance of the status quo. Enhanced cooperation has by and large been superficial, and appropriately so, given the conceptual differences that exist between the positions of the various parties in the discussion.

One negative factor is likely to be gone by the end of the current JPA, and that is the current distrustful relationship between the United States and many other countries. My sense is that a significant amount of the distrust of the current relationship between the US government and ICANN is a reflection of the current administration's multi-dimensional disregard for the opinions of other countries. That, I hope will fade - but slowly -- with a new administration in Washington.

If ICANN achieves independence prematurely, and is captured by external forces, it will not be because the President's Strategy Committee has not attempted to be thoughtful or thorough in their study. Rather, it will be because of unintended consequences of either the method of departure, or changes in the external environment, or both. We are working in uncharted territory: a rapidly growing and changing technology, a nascent industry, a new rapidly evolving and untested muti-stakeholder environment, a serious challenge to both the established order of international organizations and the established national political order.

Such a situation is not necessarily stable, and the activities mentioned above are reacting to these seismic faults. Under such conditions, it is possible that the consequences of early independence, neither intended nor foreseen, may result in elements of capture that would be quite negative. Just because we cannot foresee any such consequences does not not mean that they are not there. It is better to be slow and cautious than to be sorry.

2. Effective multi-stakeholder community representation has not been realized, and ICANN is vulnerable.

When we discuss the Internet, we often use the word "community" to refer to a group of people who are somehow associated with or affected by the Internet. It's a slippery word, sometimes the "Internet community" means the technical community surrounding the Internet, but other times it refers to different communities, such as the community of domain name holders, the community of Internet users, and even the community of potential Internet users, all 6.5 billion of us. So when we refer to the Internet community is some general way, there is almost certain to be room for different interpretations and disputes regarding the correctness of what is stated.

Overlaying the concept of community, whether it's the Internet of the ICANN community however defined) over ICANN's current constituencies as well as over stakeholder groups -- again, however or by whomever defined -- creates imprecise discussion. However, it is clear that some parts of the community, or stakeholders if you prefer, are well represented. The contracted parties, registrars and registries, are well represented, as are peripheral industries, such as intellectual property law. Business in the IT sector is represented, but the business sector as a user of ICT and the Internet is not.

The worst issue with respect to representation is in the not-for-profit sector and the individual domain holder or user population. Perhaps it was a mistake for the US Government in 1998 to insist upon such representation; if ICANN had been limited to being essentially an industry association employing soft self-regulation as a tool for growth, we might have been better off., But that was not the case, and since then, ICANN has struggled, without substantial success, with the issue of individual representation,

The NCUC (non-commercial user constituency), as it exists today, is an emasculated body without prestige, power, or broad influence. A comparison of the membership of the body with a list of important not-for-profit organizations in the world today shows almost zero overlap. Such representation cannot be taken seriously. Similarly, the ALAC (A-large Advisory Committee) is an experiment in progress, and may fare better, but still cannot claim to represent more than a very tiny fraction of people -- not necessarily domain name holders -- who know of the Internet and no doubt use it.

I think that ICANN is very vulnerable on these two points. Governments can reasonably make the claim that they are the real organizations that represent their inhabitants, inclusively, and that ICANN does not now and will not be able in the future to provide effectively such representation. Therefore governments can claim that they should have a major say, on behalf of their inhabitants, how ICANN's functions, as well as Internet governance functions should be managed, and they are not going to mean only enlarging the scope of the GAC. I think that this is a conundrum for ICANN that will be very difficult to resolve satisfactorily.

Continuing lack of resolution and debate about individual representation could turn into an effective wedge for use by international organizations, with the help of some governments, to capture essential functions of ICANN. While this may not happen, it is a possibility. ICANN needs to resolve the dilemma of representation in a manner that is more secure from challenge. This will take time as well as effort. When ICANN can generally be viewed as "serving the public interest," and when it has a track record of doing so and gaining general acceptance of doing so. then it will be time to consider full independence. That is not the case now.

I am a United States citizen. My position might appear slightly chauvinistic or protective, given that I argue for not cutting ICANN's ties to the United States government just yet.

I'd like to counteract any such conclusion. My citizenship is to a large extent an accident of history, as are the ties between ICANN and the US government. I would be equally happy if ICANN's ties were with other governments I consider mature and democratic, such as Canada, Finland, or Switzerland. ICANN still needs a place in which to grow up and become stronger and more well established in a number of dimensions, and while there are a number of such possibilities, history has dictated the situation that we have today.

My remarks address only a subset of the issues raised by the PSC, and reading them over, they seem woefully incomplete compared with the comprehensive nature of their report. However, I have chosen to concentrate on the capture issue because it is the major threat to ICANN's success and to the success of the Internet as I believe we want it to evolve. Others are more competent to comment upon other issues raised by the PSC report. I trust that they will do so, and I look forward to reading their remarks.

George Sadowsky


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