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AFNIC’s response to ICANN’s improving institutional confidence consultation.

  • To: iic-consultation@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: AFNIC’s response to ICANN’s improving institutional confidence consultation.
  • From: Mathieu Weill <Mathieu.Weill@xxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 01 Aug 2008 09:18:36 +0200

1.    Introduction

AFNIC is the manager of French country-code top level domains .fr, .re, .tf, .wf, .pm and .yt. We are a not-for-profit, multistakeholder organisation founded in 1997.

AFNIC is a member of ccNSO and a founding member of CENTR, the European regional organisation of ccTLDs gathering 57 ccTLD managers.

AFNIC welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this essential consultation. We contributed earlier to the mid-term review organised by the Department of Commerce through the position expressed by CENTR. This contribution is still highly relevant.

As stated in the formerly cited CENTR’s response  :
“With 18 months to go it is the right time to start discussing about the post JPA era.” We believe it is essential that ICANN reaches out to all stakeholders, within its constituency and in other relevant communities, to stimulate discussions in order to lay strong foundations for the debate that will take place in 2009.

2. The President’s Strategy Committee paper provides useful improvement to the ICANN model

AFNIC welcomes the papers presented by the President’s Strategy Committee, including the transition action plan. These documents represent an appropriate reference for further works on the transition issue.

AFNIC considers that the 6 key requirements identified in the Transition Action Plan are extremely relevant. ICANN should pursue its efforts to address these requirements.

AFNIC also welcomes most of the recommendations made in the Transition Action Plan, with some exceptions that will be detailed below. On the whole, these recommendations provide useful and sometimes necessary improvements to ICANN’s model in order to increase accountability toward the relevant stakeholders.

Recommandations 1.1 (consensus or super-majority for policy decisions), 2.1 and 2.2 (Board re-examination procedure and removal of the Board), 3.2 and 3.3 (presence of ICANN across the globe) are examples of these improvements to be made to the ICANN model. Indeed, they would engage ICANN towards more accountability towards the members of its constituency.

Further studies could be engaged as to their implementation, but AFNIC considers they would provide an encouraging sign of improvement.

3.    Some structural challenges would deserve to be further addressed

The current discussion takes place as ICANN is reaching its 10th anniversary. The post-JPA ICANN can expect to last at least as long. It is quite surprising, then, to realise that the PSC’s documents do not dwell on some of the structural changes the Internet has been through this last decade and is facing today. AFNIC believes that, among others, the following changes need be taken into account to design a sustainable post-JPA model :

a. with 1,3 billion users, the Internet has reached a massive and global scale, and the “next billion users” will mainly come from developing countries, and will for the most part be familiar with non-latin scripts and languages. How will these new users be represented within the ICANN model ? Should script-based constituencies be added ? Should ICANN establish links with relevant organisations who could appropriately ensure that they, too, can contribute ?

b. Internet technical resources have become critical for large parts of countries’ economies and societies. Stakeholder’s interests are growing more and more essential to their business models or daily operations, making consensus-based policies an even-higher challenge than ever. Are the current decision-making processes still appropriate ? Or will they lead more often than not to status quo, as is the case for instance with the whois policy issue ? Is it still relevant to address issues on a constituency by constituency basis or should more transverse processes be established ?

c. The introduction of new TLDs is desirable but it might cause scalability issues within ICANN’s processes. Would it be appropriate for the domain market if the technical coordinator was, on average, 10 or more times larger (in terms of staff and budget) than the average actor on the market ? Is the principle of consensus policies applied to all TLDs with few distinctions appropriate if there are thousands of TLDs ? Or should ICANN evolve towards policies imposed only to those actors with significant market influence ?

AFNIC also notes the absence, in the documents, of mentions of Governments and public authorities role within ICANN. As the topic has been, and still is, the focus of much debating about the ICANN model, AFNIC believes it is not in ICANN’s interest to promote only the status quo alternative. We believe that a different governance model for ICANN, based on structural distinction between management and policy decision-making bodies, would provide opportunities to satisfy those parties in favour for stronger Government involvement and those parties in favour of containing Government involvement to the relevant issues.

Similarly, establishing private sector leadership has been a key expectation ever since before the creation of ICANN.

It seems obvious that addressing the issues of Governments and private sector respective roles within ICANN is crucial to institutional confidence. We note that the GAC itself, in its communiqué following the Paris meeting, intends to contribute on this topic.

While these questions do not create additional requirements to those mentioned in the Action Plan, AFNIC considers that further work is needed to analyse how they interact with those requirements. We hope that, before the next phase announced in the PSC’s agenda, these questions can be addressed. We are convinced that it would further improve institutional confidence in ICANN if it took the necessary steps to anticipate on these matters.

4.    Security and stability should not be taken out of context

ICANN’s mission is dedicated to security and stability of the Internet Domain Name System. These goals are highly valuable and AFNIC subscribes to them entirely.

We note, however, a confusing use of the words security and stability in some parts of the PSC’s documents. Security and stability of ICANN indeed seem at some points to become as important as security and stability of the Internet. While the objective is certainly highly relevant to ICANN, this confusion should be avoided, as it might lead external observers to believe that ICANN would put its own interests first, or at the same ranking as the Internet’s future.

This is especially the case in section 5 of the “Improving Institutional Confidence” document. Stability of the 1000 contracts does not seem to be a high-ranking issue when compared to the increased barrier to entry for non-US stakeholders wishing to enter into a contractual relationship with ICANN; or compared to the extremely high cost of managing incompatible legal regimes between ICANN contracts and local regulations.

Furthermore, paragraph 5.1 seems to imply that there is no other place than the United States that provide a “stable environment with a strong history of freedom of expression and a legal structure that favors competition and private sector leadership”. Such statement is overtly affirmative and can be highly, and with reasons, resented by large parts of the global Internet community.

AFNIC believes that ICANN’s concern for its own stability should not be given more importance than it deserves in the document. It should be made very clear that ICANN’s financial and operational security is only a facilitating factor for protecting against capture, for meeting the needs of the global community, and focusing on operational excellence.
5.    Conclusion

AFNIC welcomes the initiative of the PSC. With the exception of the emphasis on ICANN’s own stability, we consider most of the propositions as appropriate to improve the ICANN model and, ultimately, institutional confidence. However, in several instances, they would not be sufficient to obtain the level of confidence expected from a post-JPA ICANN.

We believe that this useful and timely first step deserves to be further improved by addressing more deeply some of the structural issues, such as new multistakeholder decision-making processes, the introduction of new scripts and TLDs, as well as the respective roles of governments and private sector.

We remain committed to contribute to the process described in the consultation. This process should however become more open and multistakeholder as we proceed. We would be happy to provide the PSC or ICANN with any additional elements, and are looking forward to the next steps that will be taken on this issue.

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