ICANN 53 – Guaranteeing Accountability in Internet Governance
Posted by J. Scott Evans, Trademark Director and Associate General Counsel
I recently attended the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) 53rd meeting in Buenos Aires to further discuss the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition process. During the meeting, public and private Internet stakeholders made important strides on a transition timeline, accountability planning and future management of the Internet that supports global creativity and innovation.
For the first time publicly, ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé laid out an estimated timeline starting with both transition and accountability plans to be delivered to ICANN for approval on or before October’s meeting in Dublin. ICANN’s Board of Directors will review the plans before sending them forward to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) for their approval. The NTIA review process will likely take four to five months, with Congress having 30 legislative days to consider the proposal as required by the DOTCOM Act passed by the House and currently under consideration by the Senate. This timeline implies that the earliest the transition will take place is June or July of 2016. This reality will require the NTIA to extend its contract with ICANN, which currently is set to expire September 30, 2015. While testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on July 8, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence E. Stickling confirmed that the contract will have to be extended, giving additional credibility to the timeline outlined by Chehadé. These signals of a concrete timeline are the first step to ensure the IANA transition is handled properly with the necessary accountability measures in place.
In fact, the majority of ICANN-53 meeting was dedicated to discussing accountability of the ICANN Board of Directors, an issue that Stickling emphasized in a recent blog post. The initial draft proposal to improve ICANN’s accountability was issued for public comment on May 4, 2015. This proposal recommends turning ICANN into a member-based organization where all supporting organizations and advisory councils would become voting members — if they choose to do so. This would create a voting structure and, as a last resort, provide members with the option of taking legal action against the ICANN board if they were not serving in the best interest of its stakeholders. This voting-member plan is one way to hold the Board accountable, but it needs to be heavily scrutinized before ICANN pursues its implementation. This mechanism, or really any mechanism, agreed upon to ensure accountability is crucial to enforcing laws and safeguarding business, but needs to be the right course of action. Agreement for the sake of agreement will do no good if the mechanism isn’t right.
Another item discussed extensively was private sector management of the Internet. Allowing industry, academics, end users and others outside government to manage the Internet is the future. This evolution of ICANN is not an aberration, but an idea that has been baked into the plan all along. Stakeholders have to be invested in the plan just as much as they are in the agreement, or else all the work we have been doing will have little effect. Although Adobe is not a voting member of the working groups developing the plan on how the transition will take place, we support it and believe that a private sector led, multi-stakeholder model is the ideal. We support what needs to happen and why it needs to happen, but it’s the multi-stakeholder community’s responsibility to decide on how it will happen.
We at Adobe believe that accountability plays a crucial role in the IANA transition and sets it up to function properly — a position outlined in our recent blog post. There’s a community beyond the ICANN insiders, ICANN board members and government officials that have a stake in this endeavor, and they need to be a part of this process. Under the current project plan, the final proposal for accountability mechanisms is set to issue for public comment in August. We urge members of the business community to carefully review this proposal and provide feedback during the public comment period. This will allow for adjustments based on public concerns and produce a stronger plan for ICANN accountability. It’s my hope that as we move along in this process, private sector stakeholders will provide input and analysis during the final public comment period. All industries affected by these petitions need to be actively engaged so that their interests are reflected, or we risk mismanagement of society’s most powerful tool.