Will they make it better or worse?
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.
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
Here's a summary of the models and a few quick comments:
control model" - seems to mean US retaking direct control of ICANN functions
"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.
organization model". I have to confess I like the sound of this one:
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
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.
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