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GNSO Council Review

The ICANN bylaws require a periodic review of ICANN structures and operations; the first of such reviews, that of the Generic Names Supporting Organization Council, is scheduled to be finalized in the next few weeks prior to the start of ICANN’s annual meeting. To begin discussion on this topic, I draw your attention to a very thoughtful question posed by Joe Sims during the prior ICANN reform process:

“If the Names Council rep is nothing more than a conduit for majority opinion in his/her constituency, why do we need a NC or for that matter a SO? Why not just have the constituencies deal directly with the Board, since the NC under these circumstances is not offering any value added to the process?”

As I see it, a review of the GNSO Council must fundamentally answer the question, “has the Council during the course of this last year provided sufficient ‘value added to the process’ to warrant its continued existence”? The phrase ‘value added’ connotes forthright discussion among Council members that leads to either the development of consensus, or to a report that no consensus on a given domain name policy issue exists - the emphasis being placed on the element of “discussion”.

We must therefore ask ourselves, “Do we have any empirical evidence that ‘discussion’ is actually taking place at the Council level? It is a simple enough matter to review the GNSO Council list to determine whether in fact any real ‘discussions’ are occurring. I looked at the list comments from 16 December 2003 to 21 October 2004 searching for any comments that even remotely dealt with domain name policy issues and came to the following conclusions:

Total comments on domain name policy made by the

  • ISP Constituency ? None
  • GAC Liaison ? None
  • Intellectual Property Constituency ? 1
  • Registries Constituency ? 2
  • Nominating Committee members ? 2
  • ALAC Liaison ? 2
  • NonCommercial Constituency ? 14
  • Business Constituency ? 19
  • Registrars Constituency ? an ample amount

At a glance, one can readily see that sustained discussion between most parties on the Council list just hasn’t happened over this ten-month period.

There are those that will argue that it is necessary to look at the broader picture, and to consider commentary that takes place within the Council’s task force environment as an example of intense discussions between parties; this might be a convincing argument were it not for the fact that all three current Council task forces are devoted to but one single topic (WHOIS), and the ICANN Board would clearly have welcomed consensus-based advice on a broad range of topics (such as IDN testbed migration processes, registrar accreditation issues, modifications to registry agreements, the WIPO2 President’s Working Group recommendation, the gTLD Strategy Implementation Plan, registrar expired name market issues, etc.).

As Joe Sims indicated in the remainder of his comment, “If the SO system is to survive, and you are all aware that there is a substantial body of opinion that it should not, it is going to have to show that it can contribute to the effective carrying out of ICANN’s responsibilities, and this means a NC that accepts its responsibilities to do work…”.

Has the Council accepted its responsibility? Do we have any evidence of a “value added” dimension that would justify the GNSO Council’s continued existence?  Frankly, I don’t see any… I still don’t see any incentive for parties to work together to arrive at consensus. This leads me to conclude that in the absence of such incentive, we might as well just have the constituencies deal directly with the Board (as they are obviously already in the habit of doing) and eliminate the Council structure accordingly.

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