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A Multistakeholder Model if We Can Keep It: 25 Years of ICANN

I go back to the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP). (Like Jeff, I was very young.) The Department of Commerce had just issued the White Paper, and there was a proposal that we pass control of the critical Internet identifiers to a new not-for-profit corporation with a bottom-up Multistakeholder way of making policy and an international board of directors. Most of the world was shocked. Governments don’t just give up their power, and what is a Multistakeholder model anyway? People don’t make the rules; governments do. Or did.

We launched the IFWP to discuss the concept of multistakeholderism for IP addresses and DNS—that we could run this system together. The first IFWP was held in Reston. The executive committee, including me and Marilyn Cade, Barbara Dooley (Pres. of the Commercial Internet eXchange). We chose my former professor from Boston University School of Law, Prof Tamar Frankel (a key writer of the law of mutual funds and advisor to generations of U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chairs), to chair the meeting. She was not an Internet person, but she was a firm believer in self-governance—that stakeholders can together create binding and balanced rules.

But we still did not believe that years of fighting could go away; that we could live without an ultimate (government) decision-maker. At the first IFWP, Prof Frankel had a simple philosophy—you can only share with the larger group what you have agreed upon. So we divided into small and diverse group (tech, business, noncommercial, early industry stakeholders) to talk about the principles and structures for this new non-profit company we were creating (as Jeff wrote, “NewCo”). We were so used to disagreeing vigorously, it was a new exercise to explore agreement. But every small group wanted to present to the larger group at the end of the day, and every small group found some agreement. It was a start! (One Prof Frankel discusses in her new ICANN oral history.)

I had a new baby, so Prof. Frankel had to go onto the IFWP meetings alone in Geneva and Singapore. She also attended an IETF meeting in Chicago, at the invitation of Dr. Jon Postel, when IETF was deciding whether to accept NewCo. Jon asked Tamar (Prof. Frankel) to present the overview of the White Paper and its options to the IETF. Everywhere Prof. Frankel brought her confidence that Multistakeholder models could succeed and diverse stakeholders could research, prepare, debate and decide balanced policies for themselves, provided everyone came prepared and with the determination to work together in good faith.

As you know, I went on to co-found the NCUC with Milton Mueller and other Internet and policy pioneers. Hartmut Glazer and Carlos Afonso were there, bringing the bright light and bold example of CGI.BR, a multistakeholder Internet governance group in Brazil predating ICANN. We approved our charter at the Santiago Meeting in 1999. Our first policy resolution was to voice our strong disapproval of the proposed Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy—which was going forward with too much speed and too little review. (It was terribly unbalanced and could have killed many of the small businesses that are now big businesses, but that’s another CircleID piece.)

The UDRP was our first ICANN consensus policy, and we learned (though some rough bumps) that consensus policies should be extensively discussed and carefully balanced. Fortunately, the ICANN Board listened, and over the next few months, UDRP Section 4(c) and other protections and proofs for Registrants were adopted. Today, many people feel that the UDRP has (largely) stood the test of time. Not bad for the world’s first fully-virtual dispute resolution process.

So I share that after innumerable task forces, committees, working groups (more than I can remember—and echoing Javier that “multi-stakeholder work meant hundreds of conference calls at all hours, email lists, and meetings all over the planet”), what stands out to me is, as Paul wrote, the people. It is the people who make ICANN what it is: our crazy commitment to making rules where none have existed and to listening to people whose position initially makes no sense to us whatsoever. We are the best of our communities—and the leaders of business, technology, teaching, government, noncommercial, and more. I share with my family and students that going to an ICANN meeting is like hooking into an electrical current of ideas.

I was mentored by great people, including founders of ISOC, and I have tried to “pay it forward”, by mentoring young attorneys, journalists, technologists and policy people, many but not all, in NCUC, NCSG and NPOC. I am proud that they, in turn, have gone on to become leaders in their own countries, professors at their universities, as well as founders of public interest groups. They work every day for a free and open Internet with free expression and privacy protections, and many got their start in ICANN. I could not be more proud.

I now send my students from American University Washington College of Law to you—and they are taking their places in ICANN. Please be nice to them—and thank you for teaching them—as we will need leaders in the future for the day when we retire… although that day is not here yet.

Thanks for the invitation, Ali, and for CircleID, where we share our ideas. Hats off to all of ICANN for 25 years—an organization many thought would last for only six months☺. See you at ICANN79!


This post is part of a series presented by CircleID in collaboration with the ICANN community, celebrating ICANN’s 25th anniversary. We’ve partnered with ICANN to amplify this milestone and actively encourage contributions. We warmly welcome you to share your essays for potential publication.

By Kathy Kleiman, American University Washington College of Law

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