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ICANN: Performance and cocktails

Will it let it help itself?

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ICANN meeting In the fourth part of our exclusive diary from the ICANN meeting in Uruguay, Andy Duff - the director of policy and marketing at New.net - recovers from a heady mix of cocktails and politics to take a step back and review where ICANN is going and who ought to take it there.

  • Two groups are looking at how ICANN can better incorporate individual Internet users in ICANN's processes and decisions. One was set up by the ICANN Board - the At-Large Study Committee; and one was formed independently - the NAIS, or NGO and Academic ICANN Study.

    The ALS group is recommending cutting the number of directly-elected Board seats from nine to six. NAIS on the other hand is pressing for the nine to remain, but with better election procedures. A few sparks flew when Esther Dyson (former ICANN chair, currently on the At-Large Study group) ever-so-politely-but-firmly suggested that the NAIS study would never garner enough support from the existing powers to get implemented.

    She's right. It will be hard for NAIS to get heard. But I hope that ICANN does not shun this independent approach.

  • Met with one of the guys who was a key player at the formation of ICANN (no names). He’s somewhat frightened by the beast that's been released and confirmed that it's a long way from the original vision. Oops. In his view, it's the obsession with setting policy of some within ICANN that gets it into trouble.
  • Global Name Registry (which will run the .name TLD) had a hard act to follow after its party in Stockholm - widely acknowledged as the most enjoyable few hours of that particular meeting. Last night's .name bash in Montevideo nearly met the dizzy heights that most of us achieved in Sweden. Welcomed by a barrage of voodoo-costumed drummers, the alcohol flowed for those not attending the official Tango Show sponsored by ICANN. Some admirably embarrassing dancing into the wee small hours left a few sore heads this morning.
  • General Assembly session this morning, where (among many topics) the candidates for the ICANN Board seat representing the DNSO were interviewed. Only two of the candidates were physically present (Paul Kane and Amadeu Abril I Abril) with Jefsey Morfin and Joanna Lane calling in by teleconference. All were supportive of a more representative Board (shouldn't be too hard) and, interestingly, all supported more rapid release of new TLDs.

    They were pretty blunt about the shortcomings of ICANN's current processes which leave us with Board inaction and a vacuum that enables staff to act unilaterally. All promised to push for more Board oversight and input from constituencies -although a couple probably scuppered their chances with impassioned and contentious views (not the done thing at all). Ah, to be a politician.

  • Names Council (NC) session this afternoon featured Peter de Blanc, the consummate diplomat and one of the representatives of the ccTLDs on the NC. The ccs are continuing to state their firm objective of forming their own organisation, but have still failed to say exactly what relationship they want with ICANN. Have no doubt that PdB will ensure this relationship is fair and evenly balanced. May the force be with you, Peter.
  • The "TLD process evaluation Task Force" has been meeting already to look at the issues with releasing new TLDs (bet they'll have fun with .info). We're keen to input our experience - and will be doing so one way or another. Our experience is pretty simple - it just ain't that complicated.

A muse on the future of ICANN

You know, the job ICANN was set up to do isn't that hard. It is "dedicated to administering a key set of Internet resources in the public interest and on behalf of the global Internet communities." The technical part shouldn’t be that difficult - there's a bunch of really smart technical guys who know what they're doing.

The *hard* part (and what has caused so many difficulties) is the Domain Name Policy area. Like it or not, the rapid growth in Internet use has meant domain name registrations have far exceeded anyone's expectations. And this is the crux of the ICANN's future: how involved should it be in the policy area? Right now it's heavily involved and getting more so by the day.

But then the original vision of ICANN's representative structure has never been fulfilled, and it's starting to look like it never will. We've ended up with an organisation that sets policy, with an input mechanism verging on the dysfunctional and a heavy bias to big-business interests.

If ICANN is to be the body that sets policy, will it be truly representative of *all* affected parties? Are there other mechanisms or organisations that could perform the policy-setting role? Should market forces play a greater role? Is a policy body needed at all?

The Global Internet Policy Initiative (GIPI) was invited to present in the GA session today. GIPI is working hard to educate people round the world about Internet policy issues. There are many other bodies which could claim to provide useful bases for policy-making input. And even some within the ccTLDs think that they can help shape policy. And then there's the market, which we at New.net believe is one of the most effective policy-making mechanisms out there.

The best solution - as we see it - would be for ICANN to return to it's original mission of technical co-ordination and steer clear of the policy arena. But then there's more than a few careers banking on a big and growing ICANN ;-)

Andy

Previous diaries

The bickering begins
Mexican stand-off in Montevideo
The insider's guide to the ICANN meeting

Top three mobile application threats

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