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Once Begun is ONLY Half Done

There are only two mistakes that can be made along the road to truth: not starting and not going all the way.

In the brief history of Internet governance, few initiatives have been greeted with wider support than the recently signed Affirmation of Commitments between the U.S. Department of Commerce and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The praise is well deserved, but now it’s time to remind ICANN of the problems that the AOC did not solve, most importantly ICANN’s ongoing accountability gap. At an ICANN meeting, you can gauge the contention over an issue by the volume (in both senses of the word) of comments at the public forum. The discussion over the Affirmation of Commitments lasted barely 15 minutes. The AoC represents a major step forward for ICANN, transitioning the organization out of an era of U.S. dominance and into a truly global future, where governments and the international community share in oversight over a truly independent, private-sector-led consensus-building body. What it does not do is create a sustainable accountability structure for ICANN. That task remains—or should remain—squarely on ICANN’s plate.

Prior to the expiration of the Joint Project Agreement between ICANN and the U.S. Government, ICANN began a process of “Improving Institutional Confidence” to resolve outstanding issues relating to security, stability, transparency and, above all, accountability. I say “began” because despite some promising early efforts, the IIC process never managed to adequately address the problems it was created to solve. That would be fine, if the bright people involved with the process were continuing their important work, but there seems to be a belief by some within ICANN that signing the AoC ended their obligation to address these serious community concerns. In all the hours of concurrent meetings taking place over the past week, there wasn’t a single session devoted to the Improving Institutional Confidence process or for that matter to the top issue raised in that process: the challenge of creating an lasting, effective accountability structure within ICANN. If there was agreement on anything in the months leading up to the expiration of the JPA, it was that the ICANN board must be accountable to some entity or entities other than itself. In response to broad-based outcry from the global Internet community, ICANN’s President’s Strategy Committee offered several proposed solutions to the accountability problem. While none of these proposals hit the mark, their continued evolution was an encouraging sign that ICANN took the issue seriously. Now the global community is worried that ICANN was just waiting out the clock on the JPA. With it gone and the Affirmation of Commitments in place, it’s important not to declare victory and move onto other things. During a one hour session discussing the AoC, ICANN Board Chair Peter Dengate Thrush remarked that he would have preferred that these issues had been resolved prior to the expiration of the JPA but that other issues intervened including the launch of new gTLDs. I would contend that this very initiative raises the stakes for ICANN accountability considerably and far from being a reason to delay, the gTLD initiative represents a need for urgency in developing accountability mechanisms.

I hate to be the one to spoil the party, but very soon it’s going to be time to sweep away the confetti and get back to the serious work of ensuring that ICANN is accountable to the community it seeks to represent. Returning, if I may, to the wisdom of Buddha,

“An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea.”

By Jonathan Zuck, Executive Director at Innovators Network Foundation

Jonathan is a widely known and respected leader in the technology industry. As a professional software developer and IT executive with more than 15 years of experience, he brings an insider’s perspective to his role as Executive Director of the Innovators Network Foundation.

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