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ICANN in Hollywood: Foreshadowing a Happy Ending?

As we arrived in Hollywood—the land of happy endings—ICANN had just given us cause to hope that the ICANN accountability process might get its own Hollywood ending, despite a fitful start.

As one who’s been critical of ICANN management’s heavy-handed attempts to control the accountability process, it’s only appropriate to give credit where credit is due. In accepting the community’s strenuous—and nearly unanimous—calls for a cross-community working group to lead the process of improving ICANN’s accountability mechanisms, ICANN management says it’s now prepared to follow the community’s lead, rather than dictating and constraining it.

There’s still a long way to go before we can all ride off into the sunset, but at the very least, the process will give those of us in the ICANN community the thing we’ve wanted from the beginning: a leadership role in improving the organization upon which we all depend.

By placing the cross-community working group at center stage, while pulling back on the role of external “advisors”, ICANN is now proposing a process that is far more in keeping with the bottom-up, consensus-based policy development process.

But our movie heroes aren’t out of the woods quite yet. The ICANN Board—which has been skeptical about the need for strong new accountability measures—must still approve the recommendations that the community eventually comes up with.

This is ICANN, so even when everyone is saying the same thing, meanings can be markedly different. ICANN President Fadi Chehade sent a strong message from the podium in his opening remarks that management and the community are “on the same page” about the process to develop accountability enhancements. But the actual accountability mechanisms are yet to be developed, and only the Business Constituency has proposed any specific mechanisms thus far.

One person who seems quite clear on how accountability should look is U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who said in her address to ICANN, “we must ensure that ICANN can build on its efforts to strengthen the multistakeholder process and become directly accountable to the costumers of the IANA functions and to the broader Internet community.”

Meeting the high bar set by Secretary Pritzker will take more than just a good script. All of us will have a role to play if that vision is going to make it to the big screen.

The latest accountability process plan is a good start. We are hopeful that the Board, like the staff, will recognize the deficiencies of the previous approach and the vital need to put the community in the director’s chair throughout this production.

Accountability II: The Sequel?

The other issue that raises concern with the revised accountability process is ICANN’s suggestion to have two tracks: one for accountability mechanisms that must be accomplished before the IANA transition; and another for those that can wait until after transition.

In Monday’s accountability session, I asked NTIA Secretary Larry Strickling what sorts of measures might be part of that critical first track. I was encouraged by his agreement that core “leverage” mechanisms, such as the ability to spill the Board, would be part of that first track. It will be interesting to hear whether the ICANN Board agrees with that idea.

The key issue is that accountability mechanisms that give the community real leverage over the ICANN corporation must be in place before the ICANN community loses its last remaining leverage—the IANA transition. If we do this well, the community will have new leverage to make sure that issues in the second track will be addressed after the IANA contract is gone.

While there are still critical issues ahead, we are closer now to a successful beginning than we were in London or Istanbul. If we all keep working at it, maybe ICANN and the Internet community really can live happily ever after.

By Steve DelBianco, Executive Director at NetChoice

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