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ICANN Regime Change:  Exit Twomey, Enter Beckstrom

On July 1st 2009, Rod Beckstrom succeeded Paul Twomey as the fourth CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Rod assumes this important leadership role at a critical juncture in ICANN’s ongoing evolution. Saying that he is jumping into the deep end of a pool would not do justice to the magnitude of the tasks before him. The more appropriate analogy might be parachuting from a plane above the Mariana Trench during a typhoon. However, after reading some of his writings, reviewing his biography, and having met with him one-on-one during ICANN’s recent Sydney meeting, I am confident that the ICANN Board made the right decision in selecting Rod to lead the organization at this defining moment in Internet governance.

Fourth Down and Goal from the 1 Yard Line

Besides the normal organizational and staff review that any new CEO undertakes, the immediate challenges confronting Rod on Day 1 include:

  • The pending expiration of ICANN’s Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with the US Government;
  • The introduction of internationalized country code top-level domains (IDNs) such as (??.??); and
  • Introduction of new generic top-level domains such as .WEB and .BLOG.

Together, these challenges create a unique opportunity for Rod to “punch the ball across the goal line” and bring to conclusion the hard work of ICANN’s three previous CEOs over the last decade in “moving the ball down the field” on these issues. If Rod helps in scoring this critical “touchdown” early in his tenure as ICANN’s next CEO, it will be a team accomplishment that the entire ICANN community could celebrate.

The Catalyst

Listening to Rod’s speech to the ICANN community that Friday morning in Sydney inspired a sense of community that had been missing in recent years. He reminded me of my early days in ICANN when people like Mike Roberts, Louis Touton, and Andrew McLaughlin truly made me believe in a model of Internet governance to which I have devoted over a decade of my life. Over the last several years, that sense of community has been lost as ICANN has become more about expanding its own global reach and budget. While there is no doubt that ICANN’s humble budget during its first couple of years of existence was insufficient to meet the herculean tasks confronting the organization, it is unacceptable that over the last several years of institutional growth, ICANN has let deteriorate that sense of community that was so critical to its creation. That’s why I was so encouraged to hear Rod talk about “community” and his intention “to serve as a catalyst.”

Prior to his speech, I looked over at Rod, who was sitting in the audience and he had his eyes closed. He appeared to be in a Zen-like state, rehearsing the speech he was about to give. In addition to inspiring me, Rod ticked all the necessary boxes in his speech that an incoming ICANN CEO should: recognition of Internet pioneers such as Jon Postel and Steve Crocker, acknowledging the various stakeholders within the ICANN process, and embracing the inherent “noise” (music) within the ICANN process. Rod’s speech, given without notes, was not only inspiring and inclusive, but humble in his acknowledgment that he is not an expert on ICANN and that he would need the “help and support” of the community in accomplishing his job.

While Paul Twomey, his predecessor, had the benefit of being involved in ICANN since its creation, Rod does not come with that institutional knowledge. While some may view that as a liability, given the important tasks confronting the organization in the short-term, I see that as an opportunity for someone with his management and leadership skill-set to take a fresh 360° perspective of the entire ICANN organization. Through this review, Rod could serve as a catalyst to inspire the next billion Internet users to take a more active role in the ICANN community.

Additional Data Points

I look forward to working with Rod, the ICANN staff and the rest of the global ICANN Community in ensuring that ICANN continues to serve as a global trustee of the Internet’s unique identifiers. Rod is sure to hear an endless number of suggestions as to what’s wrong with ICANN or how it could be made better. But I will leave it to him to discern the symphony of genuine consensus and wisdom from the cacophony of strongly held beliefs and opinions of the many stakeholders across the ICANN community.

While Rod likely has no shortage of assigned reading, hopefully he might find the time to speak to the following four people that were not in attendance in Sydney but who were instrumental in helping shape my views of ICANN as a unique global community: Mike Roberts (ICANN’s original CEO); Louis Touton (ICANN’s first General Counsel); David Johnson (Attorney) and Sharil Tarmizi (former Chair of the GAC). He might start by listening to the audio or reading the transcript—of the PFF discussion I recently moderated on Capitol Hill with two of these four sages (Roberts and Johnson), as well as Milton Muller and ICANN’s then-CEO Paul Twomey.

By Michael D. Palage, Intellectual Property Attorney and IT Consultant

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