US senators lean on ICANN, tell it to quit squirming and open up

Letter comes as organization meets to decide changes

What's going on this week

The Congressional letter comes as ICANN is holding its triannual meeting in Dublin: an event that has already been overshadowed by the accountability issue.

While only ICANN's Board and staff continue to consider that their arbitration approach is workable, the community has so far gone down one of two paths: a legal right assured by the "single member" model and a strengthened version of the "designator" model that would give the community the right to force certain changes.

The single member model is by far the simplest, firmest, and most established: it is a bedrock of California corporate law and all the ICANN community has to do is decide how it will make decisions as that "single member."

But due to resistance from ICANN's staff and Board, a significant number of community members are arguing that an updated designator model is a good compromise.

What's the difference?

A clear example of the difference between the two models played out on the first day. One representative arguing in favor of the member model pointed out that unless the internet community has a legal right, there is nothing that would enable it to take the IANA contract away from ICANN at some future date.

Since that right is the core power of the US government's current role, they argue that it needs to be replaced before ICANN is handed over control.

On the other side, an advocate for the compromise solution of a designator model argued that if a new power is introduced that would enable the ICANN community to sack, or "spill," the entire Board, then that power could be used as leverage to force a later break-up of the IANA contract.

The argument is that if the community decided the IANA contract had to be separated from ICANN, and the ICANN Board refused, the community would then vote to sack the entire Board. New Board members would then be chosen who would be expected to vote on handing over the IANA contract or risk being sacked as well.

Breaking up is hard to do

Opponents to that compromise point out that the exact same scenario is envisioned to resolve the risk that the ICANN Board would at some future point vote to move the organization to another city – say, Beijing or Moscow. If the Board voted to do so, the community would then spill the Board and introduce a new Board that would vote on a new resolution to return it to the United States.

That same mechanism is envisioned if the ICANN Board refuses to follow the recommendations of its Independent Review Process. Under the designator model, there would be no legal grounds to force ICANN to act. So to get the organization to do so, they would have to, yes, sack the entire Board and get the new Board to agree.

And the same scenario is envisioned if the community decides that rather than having to sack the entire Board every time it has a disagreement, it will introduce that member model after all.

The community would tell the Board to approve the change to a member model and if it refused, would – you guessed it – vote to sack the entire Board and then hire new Board members who would then vote to introduce the member model.

Those in favor of holding firm on the "single member" model above the objections of the Board have, unsurprisingly, welcomed the letter from Congressmen Thune and Schatz. So far there has been no response from ICANN itself. ®

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