Governments weigh in on ICANN reform

Let a thousand urls bloom...

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

International governments have cautiously welcomed proposed reforms of the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers, made by its CEO Stuart Lynn, at a meeting in Accra, Ghana, this week,

writes Kevin Murphy.

At ICANN's first quarterly gathering of the year, its Governmental Advisory Committee agreed that structural change and clarity of mandate are needed, though it stopped short of endorsing Lynn's specific proposals.

ICANN is responsible for managing technical matters relating to the internet's domain name system, though its policy-making powers are often badly defined and rarely understood.

"The GAC shares the view put forward in [the Lynn proposal] that a private-sector/public-sector partnership will be essential to ICANN's future success," the GAC said in a statement following its meeting Tuesday.

"The GAC is of the view that, three and a half years after its establishment, there is a need to specify ICANN's mandate and review and clarify its mission and the specific functions for which it is responsible," the committee said.

An ICANN spokesperson said 36 government representatives were involved in the meeting, ostensibly representing 90% of the world's internet users.

Under the Lynn proposal, ICANN's board of directors would be scrapped and replaced with a 15-member Board of Trustees. The board would be made up of representatives of certain policy-making interest groups, such as domain name registrars, and would include five representatives selected by governments to represent the public interest.

When Lynn announced his reform proposals in February, he said: "The most evolved form of representation of the public interest is government," as well as: "ICANN is not an exercise in global democracy." While the proposals will not be voted on in Ghana this week, they have stirred up a hornets' nest of debate.

Most of the controversy comes from the fact that the five existing publicly elected board seats would be scrapped, and replaced with five seats nominated by a Nominating Committee (itself made up of board members and board-selected individuals). This smells of cronyism to many ICANN critics, who believe the public should have a greater role to play in ICANN's policy-making process.

The terms of office of the five current so-called "At Large Membership" elected directors end in November this year, and ICANN has yet to set the ball rolling on finding replacements. The board may decide today whether to hold another election, or to scrap the ALM altogether, which is a distinct possibility.

Since the Lynn proposal was published three weeks ago, a grass-roots effort to self-organize the ALM has emerged, apparently under the guidance of the former ICANN chair, well-know entrepreneur Esther Dyson. Almost 600 members have signed up to the group, which is not yet officially recognized by ICANN. The board will vote today.

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