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ICANN May Not Be Perfect, But It Is Working

Though I have been critical of some of ICANN’s shortcomings, I remain a strong supporter of ICANN’s role as a private sector-led, multi-stakeholder global regulator for the Internet’s core addressing systems.

My recent blog post about my concerns with the communications processes relating to the addition of the first Arabic script IDN ccTLDs has been quoted in an ITU Staff Paper prepared for the ITU Council Working Group on the World Summit on the Information Society, to be held in Geneva tomorrow.

This document seems to suggest that my criticism was based on the fact that the delegation of Russia’s .?? IDN ccTLD did not occur at the same time as the three Arabic script IDN ccTLDs.

That was not my point at all.

The delegation of .?? involved co-ordination between IANA and Russian stakeholders to ensure that it occurred during the Russian Internet Governance Forum, held in Moscow from 12th-14th May. My criticism of IANA was based on the fact that there was no such co-ordination displayed in relation to the delegation of the three Arabic script IDN ccTLDs, which occurred on 5th May.

I have received some strong feedback in relation to my comments, but I stand behind the substance of my complaint, which is that ICANN, and in particular, the IANA function, needs to improve its communications processes as the number of new TLDs being added to the Root will increase over the months ahead.

It would be a mistake however to interpret this criticism as in any way suggesting that I do not support ICANN as the appropriate regulatory body for the Domain Name System.

On the contrary, the idea that the International Telecommunications Union, a 145 year-old global intergovernmental bureaucracy, would take over ICANN’s role in managing the global Domain Name System, is something that fills me with dread.

I can only imagine, for example, how slowly the new gTLD program would be advancing, were it occurring within an ITU-led governance regime. In reality, I am almost certain that it would not be advancing at all.

As I said at the start of this piece, ICANN may not be perfect, but it is working.

The IDN ccTLD Fast Track is an example of how ICANN can function well. As Chris Disspain, Chairman of the ccNSO, said at the Russian IGF meeting last month, “the IDN Fast Track initiative is a stunning example of enhanced co-operation at work within the ICANN framework and displays just how much can be achieved—and how quickly—when governments embrace the spirit of WSIS and meaningfully engage and cooperate with the private sector in the development of internet policies and processes.”

The ITU currently has 191 member states. According to this ITU Staff Paper, the highest percentage of member states that have attended a meeting of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is 31.4%, at last October’s meeting in Seoul.

I would therefore encourage the ITU to devote its energies to ensuring greater participation from a higher proportion of its member states in the GAC, rather than continuing to focus on efforts to undermine ICANN and to usurp its role in the management of the global Domain Name System.

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Regulator or Technical Coordinating Body? Michael D. Palage  –  Jun 13, 2010 6:42 PM


As someone that has invested 11 years into making the ICANN model work I fully agree that ICANN is not perfect, and it is up to the stakeholders like you and I to provide input through the bottom up consensus driven process to address deficiencies and make the model work.

That being said I was wondering about your use of the phase regarding “ICANN as the appropriate regulatory body for the Domain Name System.” Can you point to me where in the ICANN bylaws it bestows upon itself the status of regulator? I see lots of references to technical coordination, but nothing about regulation.

I believe ICANN’s continued mission creep into Regulator is a dangerous slippery slope that we need to push back on. However, if you believe that ICANN is a regulator then I am sure law enforcement will be happy to take you up on this admission in connection with their request of ICANN to regulate certain business practices in connection with the RAA that will be discussed in Brussels.

ICANN is suffering for a bi-polar personality disorder. It does not know if it is a regulator or a private sector led body providing technical coordination. I hope that we as a community help ICANN focus in on what it truly is.

For the record, my vote is technical coordinating body, which should have no operational role in the DNS (e.g. no running root servers, no running TLDs, no signing keys, no DNS Cert, etc.) It should Keep It Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.) and focus on technical coordination.

However, if the community decides that it wants ICANN to be a regulator, great. I am sure certain entities are more than willing to help ICANN in drafting regulations to impose on the DNS eco-system.

With regard to the dread it would fill you with if a UN agency played a role in DNS operation. I would like to point you to the fact that it was a UN agency that provided the background report and framework for the UDRP (one of ICANN’s biggest successes to date). WIPO did that in around 2 years. The UPU another UN agency is moving forward with a .POST TLD with the collaboration of 192 Member Countries.

I have had the opportunity to work in both the ICANN and UN environments. Each has their pros and cons. However, based upon your call for the ITU to help increase government participation within the GAC, I guess we can both agree on the following guarantees in life: death, taxes, and increased governmental activity (either via the GAC, individual governments or the UN).

See you in Brussels

ICANN a Regulator? Who should control ICANN - No One? Fouad Bajwa  –  Jun 13, 2010 9:30 PM

Though I have been new to the ICANN process but still during my orientations in the last two meetings in Seoul and Nairobi, I have never heard or read anywhere that ICANN is a regulator? ICANN is a non-profit technical coordination body. I have also given the ICANN website a very deep research for the word regulator and have failed to find ICANN stating so anywhere. Maybe this is a big perception problem that we the community participating in the ICANN process should focus on too and I am going to see where I can intervene on this at Brussels this month.

In terms of who should do the technical co-ordination of the Internet, the argument that stands around ICANN and the developing world and/or many is the ICANN is not an international treaty organization like the UN and its simply a US based non-profit organization and has to abide to the laws of the state it is registered in and operates under. That creates the greatest amount of uncertainty amongst a great number of stakeholders of the Internet across the globe. I don’t want to go in to details of that because its available all across the Internet.

At the same time I am not too sure about letting the Internet be technically controlled only by an inter-governmental process. Basically for me, the Internet can’t be sustainable with ITU or anything UN style. It has to be a multistakeholder model so that just the inter-governmental control the stake in the process. The bi-polar syndrome as mentioned by Michael has to be addressed and treated properly.

I would be dreaded along with you if I was to witness the ITU taking over the role of technical coordination of the Internet. It just can’t happen. The ITU is not multistakeholder despite all its claims and I have witnessed that many times right inside ITU as well as the flaming discussions between both ICANN and ITU at the Internet Governance Forum in Sharam 2009.

My stance stands where it did when I glanced across the ICANN meeting floor and counted heads and people that seemed from the developing world, my conclusion, very poor participation despite the claims. I would exclude the host country participants from the head count because they’d be there in good participation anyway. This is one attribute that both the ICANN and IGF share together, there has to be some means to increase participation of Internet stakeholders that yet haven’t joined the process but again this may or may not be considered as a very immediate treatment to the bi-polar situation of ICANN but I would deem it to be the first and foremost determinant in deciding whether the current ICANN model works or not?

The rest is for Brussels but really, ICANN a regulator, I’ll need some anti-acidity treatment for that!

Fouad,Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It is Michael D. Palage  –  Jun 13, 2010 10:39 PM

Fouad, Thanks for the thoughtful reply. It is good to see the ICANN Fellowship program providing a return on investment. I originally had significant reservations about the Fellowship Program, but Vanda Scartezini for whom I have a great deal of a respect was a strong supporter. It is nice to see Fellowship alumni playing an active role in ICANN policy and operational matters. One of the other reasons I thought it was timely to respond to Adrian's "regulator" label of ICANN is VeriSign's attorneys recently cited ICANN's status as a regulator for rehearing the anti-trust claims in the CFIT litigation in a 2 June 2010 correspondence.

American Needle directly supports VeriSign's argument, at section I.A. of its Petition, that the contract between VeriSign and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) for the operation of the .com domain name registry cannot constitute concerted action under § 1, because ICANN is a "regulator" (Appellant's Reply Brief at 1-2), not an independent economic actor in the marketplace. See also Coalition for ICANN Transparency, Inc. v. VeriSign, Inc., 567 F.3d 1084, 1087 (2009) (ICANN is a "non-profit oversight body").
I am also glad that we are in agreement about the community addressing ICANN's bi-polar disorder. We should find some time to meet in Brussels and talk. Best regards, Michael

ICANN can't avoid not being a regulator in a certain limited sense of the term Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Jun 14, 2010 2:26 AM

No, this is not a lessigism like 'code is law' - but their technical administration and coordination does give them some tasks which are also performed by regulators, in other areas. I agree that governmental engagement, through GAC, should be beefed up - it is always good to have that kind of active participation. And I also agree that there is a lot to fix, mostly from conflicting special interest lobbies practicing the ICANN equivalent of pork barrel politics. This is an interesting, if moot, debate on whether ICANN is a regulator or not - and where you draw the line between technical and policy coordination, and regulation. ITU, and some ITU member states at least, clearly see ICANN's role as that of a regulator - which is why they want to do it. And if that was a Freudian slip on the part of VRSN in their court filing .. well, great. No, I personally don't think ITU is the right body to take over ICANN's role. Yes I do think it is a legitimate ask for Governments to want a higher stake in ICANN participation, as well as quite understandable for them to be wary of the fact that ICANN is technically under the control of the USG.

ICANN Fellowship Program is a strong participation route to ICANN! Fouad Bajwa  –  Jun 14, 2010 9:55 AM

Micheal, Thank you for going through my comment as well as your thoughts on the ICANN Fellowship Program and I wanted to share just for awareness how the fellowship program has benefited me. I believe that the fellowship program opportunity has been a strong foundation for entry into the ICANN process and engagement for a person like me from the developing world and many other colleagues that were part of the program. Professionally I have been working as an Internet Consultant and Web Engineer for over 14 years now and had been extensively training on IANA/ICANN domain name registration models as part of my part-time academic positions for over a decade, while I have also been participating in the WSIS and IGF processes as part of developing country participation in Internet public policy sphere. I have also been working for promoting awareness around Internet issues and implications in Pakistan! Before engaging with ICANN I had a vague idea of ICANN and always felt negative towards its technical coordination of the Internet domain and addressing space due to the noise and information overload around me. Another contributor to this thought process were the extensive debates around how the Internet should be governed and what is the stake for developing countries in the overall Internet Governance space. The fellowship proved to be an ice breaker for me when I was lucky to receive the fellowship. I had applied many times since WSIS 2005 but last year was the only time the opportunity openly welcomed me. The selection process is highly competitive and looks into one's possible participation in ICANN. As I arrived, my first agenda was to learn about ICANN as extensively as possible through attending meetings, interacting with ICANN Board Members, Rod Beckstrom, Fellowship Program management staff and the various GAC, GNSO, NCSG and ALAC members. In fact, I was sitting as an observer in the GNSO meeting on the day I arrived and during the following days took all the orientations on various issues that I could. I also participated in a lunch with the board and presented the case on how I engaged with ICANN from Pakistan. The details go on and on. I had one to one interactions with Rod and many other people and gained significant insight on issues that I had wrong ideas about. I was able to identify key inroads into the ICANN process for participation and thus I am participating considerably. I can literally write a book on the ICANN Fellowship Program and opportunities for engagement in ICANN and Internet Public Policy Space! In Nairobi, I felt it was time to give back to the ICANN Fellowship Program and I made sure that I got many more ICANN Fellows introduced to ICANN people, board members, developed partnerships on issues such as bringing more people from developing countries into the ICANN process, collaboration for upgrading to IPv6, participation in ICANN through NCSG and ALAC/Regional At-Large Organizations etc. It was like I was a public engagement representative ;o) but it was to increase the participation and effective engagement of developing country representatives. Nairobi. It was also time to take the floor on various issues in the public forums and at a lunch with the board, I stood up and defended the position of developing countries and regional issues in new gTLDs evaluation fees problems. The issue got trashed in the board decisions. I still felt that a lot has to be done and will continue to work on issues that are important to developing countries. It may be very easy to throw the importance aside of such a fellowship program but trust me, the ICANN Fellowship Program is helping many create a difference both in Internet Governance related issues in their developing country as well as participating and contributing in the ICANN process. The ICANN Fellowship program is a strong foundational pillar of the ICANN Bottom-Up policy making and engagement process that should be seen as an opportunity to include people from all across the world that would not have ever done so because of their underprivileged economic conditions. Today after two remarkable fellowship opportunities from ICANN, I am moving into a space for making more significant contributions through other avenues that I have shared with the fellow alumni as well. The ICANN Fellowship Program should be strongly advocated and widely promoted by the ICANN Community so that more people join in this important global Internet public policy process. I am confident that in a short span of time, stories of the contributions from these ICANN Fellowship Alumni will be told all across the Internet! Indeed, we should definitely find some time to meet in Brussels and chat! Best regards, Fouad

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