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The Need to Keep Congress Fully Informed

The MOU between the Department of Commerce and ICANN includes a series of specific milestones that the corporation is required to accomplish by certain specified dates. One of the specific requirements placed on ICANN by the agency is to define “a predictable strategy for selecting new TLDs using straightforward, transparent, and objective procedures that preserve the stability of the Internet….” The MOU goes on to state that “(strategy development to be completed by September 30, 2004 and implementation to commence by December 31, 2004).”

ICANN did produce a “strategy document” by the end of September. Christopher Ambler, who has served in numerous internet governance-related duties, often in a leadership capacity, with organizations including the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP), the Open Root Server Confederation (ORSC), ICANN, and ICANN’s Domain Name Supporting Organization (ICANN DNSO), had a rather pungent commentary on the ICANN document. Specifically, Mr. Ambler made the following statememts concerning the ICANN TLD plan:

1. “ICANN wasn’t ready. This is a rush job to meet a deadline.”

2. “The Department of Commerce should reject this document as completely insufficient. This is like having a term paper due, and submitting just the bibliography.”

3. “This suggests to me that ICANN has no plan, and would like nothing more than to continue to delay.”

4. “I cannot imagine how ICANN could put a plan into operation by 31 December, when there isn’t even a plan.”

However, what is most interesting about the situation is not Mr. Ambler’s views of the ICANN plan nor even NTIA’s views of the ICANN document. Instead, what it is of greatest importance is how NTIA described ICANN’s progress in meeting their duties under the MOU to the U.S. Senate.

With respect to ICANN’s progress to meeting their duties under the MOU to define and implement a new strategy for selecting new TLDs, an NTIA official testified before the United States Senate’s Subcommittee on Communications of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and stated that “the Department will be expecting ICANN to: ... complete and implement a predictable strategy for selecting new TLDs by December 31, 2004…”

Thus, the NTIA official completely omitted from their testimony the fact that ICANN was already supposed to have “defined” such a strategy and that some type of strategy document had already been made available to the agency by ICANN. Instead, the NTIA official appeared to give the impression that there was a single end-of-year date by which a new TLD selection strategy was to be defined and implemented.

One theoretical advantage for NTIA from their presentation to the Senate Subcommittee is that they were not in a position to comment on or answer any questions regarding the strategy document that they received from ICANN.

To survive in its present format, ICANN needs to earn and maintain the trust of numerous stakeholders, including the Department of Commerce, the United Stated Congress and innumerable internet users around the globe. Development and maintenance of such trust is the responsibility of many stakeholders including NTIA, ICANN’s accountants and various internet watchdog organizations and blogs. In the long run, NTIA could have benefited by directly addressing the concerns raised by Mr. Ambler regarding ICANN’s TLD strategy plan before the Senate Subcommittee.

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Jothan Frakes  –  Oct 7, 2004 7:36 PM

Fundamentally, I can see one area that could benefit the perception of legitimacy of the Internet Society and the ICANN experiment:

    Demonstrate Legitimacy.

ICANN’s presentation in last week’s hearing was a textbook illustration of how they undermine themselves in the area of creating legitimacy.

Legitimacy comes from avoiding taking the opportunity to distort truth when it is presented.  It is built, earned, and developed.

Like many other stakeholders in the Domain Name industry, I watched the Senate hearings on ICANN last week.

I heard Senator Burns (who I respect immensely), ask some very direct and appropriate questions.

When he queried Paul Twomey on ICANN with regard to not making documents publicly available, I spit my coffee from laughing so hard when I heard Twomey state that the documents had been subject to some public review. 

Twomey described security as one of the constraints to public dissemination, and that seems somewhat reasonable. 

He went on to describe ‘public’ review as having taken place in one of the meetings at the ICANN public meetings where the particular documents in question were discussed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ICANN public meetings, they take place in very remote and diverse locations, quite distant from the United States, like Tunisia, Malaysia, and South Africa.

If you happened to be interested in having that information publicly presented to you, you would have had to have happened to be in one of the tiny meeting rooms in Kuala Lampur, where this took place (perhaps Vint Cerf transmitted it to Mars as well ;]—that could equally be interpreted as ‘public’ distribution ).

If you weren’t present in that tiny room, in that particular hotel, at that particular time, in that remote country, tough luck reviewing these ‘public’ documents.

To take that approach and stretch the meaning of ‘publicly’ to this extent, and to willingly do this to a Senator’s face in a public hearing, this is the type of mehavior that seems to erode the legitimacy of the ICANN experiment from within.

So, what can the ICANN eperiment do to aid in presentation of legitimacy

Keep it real.

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