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An Alternative to CCWG Overreach

ICANN is in the midst (I wouldn’t yet say the middle) of its transition from oversight by the US Department of Commerce to oversight by something else. A Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) on Accountability delivered a long report in August that proposes a new oversight structure for ICANN. But it has the practical problem that the ICANN board really, really hates it. Having looked at it, I can’t entirely blame them.

ICANN is incorporated as a California non-profit corporation. Some non-profits have legal members, some don’t, and ICANN is one of the ones that doesn’t. In the ones that have members, the members somehow select the board, often in complex ways with different kinds of members having different rights. In the ones that don’t, the board is essentially self-perpetuating, with the board selecting its own successors, or designating other people to do so. ICANN does the latter, with various constituencies picking one or two board members apiece, and a nominating committee composed of people from various constituencies picking eight. (I was on the 2015 nominating committee.)

The CCWG proposal changes the ICANN bylaws so ICANN becomes a membership organization with one giant member, which is an informal association of all of the constituencies. The member has the right to appoint and fire board members, approve the budget, and a bunch of other oversight authority. While I entirely sympathize with the desire to get ICANN’s ever growing budget and staff under control, that’s a different issue from the NTIA’s oversight. The NTIA agreements give NTIA the right in the short term to veto changes to the root zone, and in the long term not to renew the IANA contract and award it to someone else. That’s it. So it seems to me that it would be a lot easier to solve the NTIA transition problem and the other problems separately.

If the goal is to replace the NTIA oversight, they should do just that. Keep the giant single member (or turn it back into multiple members, it hardly matters), but have that member control a new small entity that I’ll call Blobco. This entity exists to be the other end of the contract that replaces the NTIA agreements. The contract gives Blobco the same rights that NTIA has had, veto over root changes, and the option not to renew.

I would think that Blobco could do all that with a staff of one or two people, who would consult the groups in the giant member as needed. They’d have to figure out how to raise the small amount of money required—perhaps as part of the transition the IANA trademark and domain name, which have been kind of a political football, could go to Blobco, which could then license them back to ICANN as part of the agreement. Or since the constituencies in the giant member claim this is important, they could each kick in a small amount and fund it themselves.

This plan allows ICANN to continue to be organized just the way it is now, with the IANA function just where it is now, only with a slightly different contract. It doesn’t address all of ICANN’s other issues, but they’re not what the transition is about.

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet


Everything old is new again.... Greg Shatan  –  Oct 13, 2015 4:35 PM


You have now essentially proposed “Contract Co.,” which was the heart of the first CWG-Stewardship proposal.  I liked that proposal, but a lot of other people didn’t.  Accountability for IANA performance is the purview of the CWG-Stewardship, so your proposal would be out of scope for the CCWG, which is chartered to “enhance” ICANN’s Accountability (other than in direct relationship to IANA).  Given that, what would you do with the CCWG-Accountability?

I'm not all that concerend about the John Levine  –  Oct 14, 2015 8:19 AM

I'm not all that concerend about the accountability stuff. While I'd like ICANN to be smaller and more focused, I'm more worried about keeping IANA working properly.

Let me join Greg in congratulating you Milton Mueller  –  Oct 15, 2015 3:43 AM

Let me join Greg in congratulating you on re-proposing the Contract Co. idea 8-9 months after it was killed by the CWG on IANA Stewardship (for mostly bad reasons).

If you are concerned with “keeping IANA working properly” you might be interested to know that the current proposal makes it almost impossible for the domain name community to change IANA operators, which does not bode well for IANA performance. However, the CWG on IANA Stewardship is finished with its work and not about to restart, so your “BlobCo” comments are quite irrelevant at this point.

What astounds me, however, is your comment that you don’t care about ICANN accountability. If you are “not all that concerned,” I would ask you to refrain from criticizing a community-wide proposal intended to enhance accountability - leave that work to those of us who do care and to whom it does matter.

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