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Username: Garry Anderson
Date/Time: Wed, February 20, 2002 at 11:18 PM GMT
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Subject: Major ICANN Restructuring


Will they make it better or worse?

Aspen Floats Trial Balloons for Major ICANN Restructuring

Posted by michael on Wednesday, February 20 @ 14:37:10 MST
Contributed by michael

Bret Fausett's Blog carries news of a meeting today in Washington, D.C. under the auspices of the Aspen Institute. Participants include ICANN's own outside counsel, Joe Sims, fresh from a meeting with the European Commission. The Aspen meeting's organizers prepared an options paper for major restructuring of ICANN that someone leaked to the Blog. It's terse, but fascinating.
You might be forgiven for thinking that ICANN has entrenched itself. Why then even consider any radical proposals to restructure? The argument that there may be some genuine interest in real searching for options here begins with the observation that ICANN seems to be feeling the heat on at least two fronts.

First, the ccTLDs just won't roll over and play dead. They know they don't need ICANN, and they don't propose to pay it much either. Certainly not unless they get a lot of Board seats. But re-dividing the pie to give the ccTLDs a bigger slice is hard work. Yet, without the ccTLDs signing contracts with it, ICANN can't complete the tasks set for it in the MOU with the U.S. Dept. of Commerce. At some point, maybe sooner than later, the string of extensions of the MOU might run out.

Second, although ICANN seems to have a guaranteed income of several million dollars a year, with built in annual increases of up to 15% written into some of its financing contracts with the new registries, all those business class trips cost a lot. So do those expensive outside advisers. So long as ICANN runs itself and pays itself like a corporation or a major foundation rather than like a public service non-profit, an open source code house, or a graduate school, even that income just isn't going to be enough.

And, it's possible there are other issues lurking in the wings.

All the carping about legitimacy we've been doing in this space, and many others have done elsewhere, may have begun to get some traction in some governments. The discussion paper also seems sensitive to the issue of ICANN's anti-trust liability, which is certainly worth worrying about. And, it just might be that the Bush administration is coming to see ICANN as a Clinton/Magaziner albatross that it would just as soon wash its hands of.

The discussion paper outlines 8 possible ICANNs. There is a genuine diversity among the options. One oddity, however, is that once you look at it, and you should take your own look, the author seems to have stacked the deck for option 5, which from this dry summary is the one most like what Sims and ICANN insiders have wanted since day one: an ICANN with a purportedly narrow mission, no real constraints on its actions, and no in-built democratic checks either.

Here's a summary of the models and a few quick comments:

1. "Government control model" - seems to mean US retaking direct control of ICANN functions
2. "Governments choose Board members"
3. "Private legislative model" - sounds a lot like status quo minus fig leaf of consensus policy making.
4. "Mixed model (unlimited topics for consensus policies)" - like status quo without fig leaf of elected board members; instead "five at large members of board (less than half the board) elected through regional organizations"
5. "Self-defined constituency model (limited topics for consensus policies)" includes "five at large members of board (less than half the board) elected through regional organizations" - this one seems to be just like what the status quo pretends to be minus elections -- sort of like what Sims and Roberts have been hoping might come out of the next Board meeting. Indeed, of all the options this is the hardest one to understand from the summary document, and the one where the "pros" listed most outweigh the "cons"; it seems to be the one the author of the document likes best (lots of 'cons' are missing...). Notably this is the one with the longest list of questions, headed by "What key steps need to be taken"? (Also note (1) that contrary to the assertion in this paper it's unlikely that public interest groups would like this choice any better than the ones above and (2) that people frequently put the option they like in the middle so it seems like the compromise choice.)
6. "No contracts model". This one is radical. All policies are just voluntary. The sticking point is that the UDRP won't be mandatory, or even if grandfathered won't grow, and the IP groups will growl.
7. "Service organization model". I have to confess I like the sound of this one:
Rotating board (not clear whether elections needed)
Service organization providing IANA function and managing root servers only
Voluntary policies (no contracts)/no policies on registry operation (full delegation)
Open TLD space to all who are minimally qualified
8. "Advisory committee model" - ICANN becomes an official advisory committee to the Dept. of Commerce, regulated by the Federal Advisory Committee Act. In effect this is just a variation on option one above. Makes you wonder why it's down here.

It's hard to tell just from this abbreviated paper, but these eight models seem to collapse fairly quickly into three families: US government takeover (1 and 8), variations on a strong, relatively familiar, ICANN with a slightly different configurations of the board (2-5), and truly consensus-based ICANNs with a whole new personality (6 and 7).

No prizes for guessing which ones I like. Let's hope this is a sign that everything really is open to discussion for a change.

UPDATE: An alert reader has pointed out to me that options 1 & 2 are much more international than 8. Option two specifically imagines multiple governments appointing Board members, and even one leaves open this idea. Plus, in 8, whoever the Board members are (even including foreign representatives), bringing ICANN under the Advisory Committee Act establishes a strong legal framework requiring openness - and clearly doesn't require new legislation.


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