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Important Progress on Accountability and Transparency

The ICANN Board made a couple of important decisions regarding accountability and transparency at its 8 December meeting. Specifically, it approved compensating Directors and also enhanced ICANN’s conflicts of interest rules. These are positive developments for the organization, and come at a critical juncture as the Internet governance debate heats up in 2012.

The issue of Board compensation has been debated for years. Several independent assessments, including the final report of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT), recommended compensating Directors for their service on the Board. We concur, and believe that this is an important step in the maturation of ICANN as an organization. It has long been recognized that ICANN Directors spend a significant amount of time on their work as compared to other similarly situated Directors. Compensation of Directors for their time and commitment can improve retention and can have an overall positive impact on governance of the organization.

Significantly, the Board also approved an enhanced conflicts of interest standard with respect to new TLDs. For example, Directors will now be precluded from having a contractual or employment connection with a new TLD applicant within 12 months after voting on the application. This logical rule addresses a pressing community demand, and helps bring ICANN in line with many government and multi-lateral institution standards. The Board also made it clear that its conflicts of interest and ethics practices are undergoing multiple reviews and additional modifications may be forthcoming. We look forward to those developments.

These positive steps come at an important time for ICANN and the private sector-led, multi-stakeholder, bottom-up consensus-based model. ICANN the organization needs to continue to demonstrate its maturity and self-sufficiency. Professionalizing the Board and enhancing the conflicts of interest policy are critical steps toward that goal. These steps will demonstrate further the efficacy of the consensus-based bottom up ICANN model. As we head into 2012 and the year-end World Conference on International Communications, ICANN and its community need to continue addressing accountability and transparency concerns—or risk having “solutions” imposed upon it.

By Paul Diaz, Vice President of Policy, Public Interest Registry

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