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What Internet Governance Boils Down To

Listening to several of the discussions here at the IGF (so far), my post from yesterday seems to be close to what the focus of this meeting is, control and access to resources. Yesterday I highlighted areas of Governance where Governments actually could help, and make difference. Admittedly, that is not all the aspects of governance though. In his speech yesterday, Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, the Secretary General of the ITU mentioned a possible role for the ITU in the control of the country code top-Level Domains (ccTLDs). Dr Touré also brought up a problem that apparently the country of Trinidad and Tobago have with their ccTLD. Googling didn’t give me any clues as to what that issue might be (I must admit that I haven’t been following this), but Dr Touré alluded to problems with control of their ccTLD.

Dr Touré‘s comments also hinted to the ITU being in control of the ccTLD allocations somehow would help resolve these issues. Now, I must say I would dispute this somewhat.

The first issue is to identify who is the rightful owner of a particular ccTLD. Some countries that are members of the ITU has outsourced, sold or given registry control over their ccTLD to private enterprises, and are trying to retain control of these ccTLDs. In these cases, the issue of control boils down to contractual analysis and arbitration, which is best done in courts and arbitration systems. Something that the ITU is not.

Second is the question on who constitutes the rightful representation of a country. The commonly and admittedly easiest definition is to use whoever has the UN membership representation. Unfortunately though, that does not make the situation easier. First of all we have existing ccTLDs like .TW (I guess some would argue that is a gTLD, but anyway), that if it where up to the ITU would disappear or be moved under the control of China. It’s also not uncommon to have territories or countries where the status might be unclear, Kosovo and South-Ossetia comes to mind. Last, we have countries where the representation might be unclear, like Iraq during the war, Somalia, etc. the UN membership rules does not provide any guidance on the topic either:

Article 3

The original Members of the United Nations shall be the states which, having participated in the United Nations Conference on International Organization at San Francisco, or having previously signed the Declaration by United Nations of 1 January 1942, sign the present Charter and ratify it in accordance with Article 110.

Article 4

1. Membership in the United Nations is open to all other peace-loving states which accept the obligations contained in the present Charter and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able and willing to carry out these obligations.

2. The admission of any such state to membership in the United Nations will be effected by a decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

Article 5

A Member of the United Nations against which preventive or enforcement action has been taken by the Security Council may be suspended from the exercise of the rights and privileges of membership by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council. The exercise of these rights and privileges may be restored by the Security Council.

Article 6

A Member of the United Nations which has persistently violated the Principles contained in the present Charter may be expelled from the Organization by the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.

Currently the IANA function of ICANN handles the vetting process and the analysis of control of a ccTLD. It’s hard to see why this would become easier under ITU. The ITU does not have more information available than IANA does. It could be argued that the problem is the fact that changes to the root-zone has to be approved by the US Dept. of Commerce. I would sympathize with this view, but again—the ITU is in no way a solution to this problem. The problem goes from having one national state having control over the ownership vetting of ccTLDs to a treaty based organization having control, an organization that is structured so it isn’t even capable of reflecting the current Internet reality.

Writing this I am sitting in the session on “ICANN after the JPA” at the IGF. Many panelists here argue that the JPA should simply be allowed to expire. This is certainly an interesting idea, and I am somewhat attracted to it. However, I don’t think that ICANN as it is at the moment is ripe for taking the control, and I believe that we are still quite far away from a stable organization. I think that if I had to make up my mind today I would say the long-term goal should be a self-supporting, freestanding ICANN with an expired JPA. But to get there I think ICANN still needs to support of the US GOV, but perhaps a relaxed wording of the JPA, perhaps even the US GOV stepping back and just exercising oversight of the ICANN processes and not the actual content.

But I don’t think the situation for ccTLDs will improve with ITU. On the contrary…

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