SOTN: Private sector borrows IGP's ideas; govts apparently balk at splitting ICANN

With civil society unfortunately not invited to participate in Wednesday's State of the Net panel on the “Future of ICANN and Internet Governance,” it was heartening to see that IGP's work infiltrated the discussion anyway.

The Washington-insider panel centered on what should be done when the USG-ICANN Joint Project Agreement (JPA) expires in September 2009. Unfortunately, no audio or transcript of the event was made available. Based on other accounts the usual positions were laid out for the audience. NetChoice's industry advocate Steve DelBianco pleaded for trademark interests and religiously played the “takeover by other governments” fear card, Brazilian government official Everton Lucero expressed the mantra of other powerful governments that the U.S. has “inappropriate control of ICANN and the DNS,” and ICANN's Paul Levins maintained that ICANN was already an “independent organization” and sought to dispel fears of ICANN gone wild in a post-JPA world.

Only when DelBianco suggested (apparently in response to the concern of sovereign governments over ICANN's US-based contractual mode of governance) that ICANN's responsibilities could be split in two – with ICANN continuing to regulate gTLDs and some other organization overseeing ccTLDs – did things become revealing. The idea that you could create coordinated competition among root-level Internet naming and addressing institutions as a form of peer-to-peer accountability is actually an idea worth examining further. It's an argument the IGP made in it's 2005 paper, “What to Do About ICANN: A Proposal for Structural Reform.” Under such a scenario, policy for gTLDs and ccTLDs could be set by different institutions, while the coordinated root zone file entries remained unique and consistent globally. The market could then decide the preferable policy regime for registering domain names.

But Lucero and Levins apparently balked at DelBianco's suggestion, both of whom said it would be a “bad” idea. Levins' reaction could be expected, ICANN's revenues and power are growing, and ICANN would not want to see this diminished by losing relationships with ccTLDs. However, Lucero's negative response was more telling, because it illustrates again how much power governments have gained within ICANN. Other governments are increasingly comfortable with the role of the GAC, and its ability to give “policy advice” and do end runs around the “bottom-up” policy process when things don't go their way. And eventually, even DelBianco backed away from his suggestion, labeling it “non-serious,” lest splitting ICANN responsibilities weaken the stranglehold of trademark interests on global TLD policy.

Lost and unheard in all this were the interests of Internet users, and the sad reality that the fear of governments taking over might just come true if real accountability and oversight measures are not put in place at ICANN.

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