US govt: Any thoughts on ICANN running the internet? Any at all? Speak your brains NOW

Department of Commerce sticks notice into Federal Register

Assistant US commerce secretary Larry Strickling: ultimate decider

The US government has formally asked people to send in comments on the plan to transition its control of the top level of the internet to domain overseer ICANN.

In a posting in today's Federal Register, the arm of the Department of Commerce that controls the critical IANA contract, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), highlights the two public comment periods that have opened over two inter-related proposals.

The first covers the actual plan to transition IANA from the US government to a wholly owned affiliate of the current contract owner, ICANN. The second covers a range of structural and procedural changes designed to make ICANN more accountable before it is handed effective control of IANA.

The NTIA's notice is intended to "encourage interested parties to comment on the two connected proposals" and notes that it will use those comments to decide whether to approve the plans.

NTIA will utilize the input provided in making its determination of whether the proposals have received broad community support and whether the plan satisfies the criteria required to transition its stewardship role.

As to the criteria the NTIA will use, it outlined four basic principles to allow the transition to occur:

  1. Support and enhance the multistakeholder model
  2. Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS
  3. Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services, and
  4. Maintain the openness of the Internet

The only aspect that the notice highlights – due to repeated scaremongering by Congress over the transition – is that the proposal cannot replace "the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution."

And what's in it?

As to the proposals themselves: the transition plan is a flawed amalgam of three different proposals from the three different main functions within the IANA contract.

A new subsidiary of current contract holder ICANN is proposed, over which ICANN will have complete control. Combined with an unworkable proposal to allow for a future separation of the IANA functions from ICANN, the plan effectively gives full and inseparable control of the top level of the internet to ICANN: something that the internet community was determined to prevent at the outset of the process.

There are some other flaws in the plan, including: it does not address the fact that the US government will still retain the ability to make actual changes to the internet under a separate contract; it includes repetitious elements that add unnecessary complexity; and the decision to create an ICANN affiliate for IANA was arrived at through an unusual and somewhat suspect process that is supported in the proposal with a rating process that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

As to the second proposal, it advocates a range of changes to ICANN and its processes to increase accountability at the organization. Most of those changes are intended to give the internet community the ability to keep the organization in check and provide them with the ability to make incremental improvements over time by threatening to use last-resort powers such as removing board members or blocking budget approval.

However, given ICANN's long history of producing procedural mazes when challenged, it is unclear whether the last-resort powers will end up more as never-used nuclear options, and so have little practical use.

As just the latest example of ICANN's endemic secrecy and lack of accountability, the organization was recently found to have broken its own bylaws when it gave preferential treatment to one or two bidders for the ".africa" top-level domain.

ICANN's staff then redacted its own independent review's final report to remove mention of its own wrongdoing, and since then has repeatedly misled the internet community, its own board, and even the media over its actions.

In addition, two weeks ago we published a story that stated ICANN staff had rejected recommendations from its own "independent" experts on a number of occasions in order to boost the chances of its preferred bidder.

Rather than defend its actions or release documents that support its staff's behavior, the organization has opted to simply ignore the allegations and hope it is not challenged by its own community to explain. ®


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