Students School Faculty on IANA transition: The Meissen proposal

One of the criticisms often made of IGP’s proposal for the IANA transition is that taking IANA out of ICANN is not a good idea because creating a new organization and transferring critical functions to it is too risky and destabilizing. But guess what? Short of just giving IANA to ICANN with no strings attached, there is no way to execute this transition without creating a new organization and/or new processes. It cannot be avoided. The only real question is what kind of a new entity it will be.

This fact was brought home to me last week by a group of students – many of whom, until that week, had barely heard of IANA and some of whom had no idea what it does. Isn’t it great when learning is two-way?

The European Summer School of Internet Governance, run by the indomitable Wolfgang Kleinwächter and held in the historic town of Meissen, Germany, has become an institution among the Internet governance crowd. The faculty are leading scholars and prominent participants from the industry, government, international organizations and civil society. The 30 or so fellows (students) are a highly international group ranging from PhD students to mid-career professionals in international organizations, the domain name industry and NGOs.

This year the students were given a role-playing exercise, the essence of which was to come up with a proposal for the IANA transition. They were divided into governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders. The two stakeholder groups developed separate ideas among themselves, and then negotiated a final proposal acceptable to both. Their finished, consensus proposal was presented at a session attended by one of the leading real-world judges of the IANA transition, Fiona Alexander, Associate Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Office of International Affairs (NTIA).

The final proposal – let’s call it the Meissen proposal – created a new multistakeholder Oversight Committee with 20 members, 15 of them from industry and civil society and 5 representatives of a government, one for each world region. This new entity would “select a contractor on a cyclical basis to perform the IANA functions” and contract with an auditor to ensure that the changes made by IANA “are in compliance with agreed upon policies and procedures…” The Oversight Committee would become the principal of the IANA contract; it would issue the contract for a fixed term and define and assess performance measures in the meantime. There would also be some new appeal mechanism, independent of ICANN, open to all stakeholders to adjudicate disputes related to implementation of the IANA functions.

This proposal did not necessarily create a “new IANA” and pull the functions out of ICANN. ICANN would be eligible to continue as the IANA contractor, but it would have no monopoly on it; the Meissen proposal created a new entity with the authority to award the contract to someone else if it got a better proposal or became dissatisfied with ICANN’s performance. In other words, the new entity fulfills a role almost exactly the same as that of the NTIA. And that just goes to show that if one wants hard accountability, there is no avoiding some kind of new organization, because the vacuum left by the NTIA’s departure must be filled somehow.

The students wisely rejected a “reporting” model of oversight, a model like the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) in which a multistakeholder committee reviews performance periodically but has no authority to change anything. At best, ATRT can issue a scathing report and hope that someone, somehow, takes some action to implement its recommendations. That is not an adequate model for real accountability. True accountability for the IANA functions means creating meaningful incentives to comply with policy and provide good performance; this in turn means giving someone external the ability to yank the contract and award it to someone else if there is malfeasance or poor performance. In fact, the IETF already has the ability to use someone else for its protocol registries; all the students did was suggest that the same accountability properties be extended to the names and numbers registries, as well as protocols, in an integrated fashion.

The judges of the proposal were unprepared for such a radical proposal, and for a while didn’t even seem to understand it. As the final proposal was read there was a beautiful but awkward moment as the idea that ICANN itself would be subordinate to another multistakeholder body dumbfounded the designated judges. This organization would actually have real power over ICANN. Wow, fancy that!

One could quibble with the details – or rather, the absence of critical details – in this proposal (e.g., where would the entity be incorporated and how would it be funded), but the basic idea is a good one. I could get behind an Oversight Committee composed of representatives of IANA customers, some user and civil society representatives as well as one government per world region.


6 comments

  1. Avri Doria

    As the faculty member who put together the practicum and acted as its secretariat, I have to agree with your praise of their outcome. I am not, however, as surprised as you at the fact that they came out with a good proposal. To see the seriousness with which this bunch of really intelligent younger professionals took their task, was an example to all the faculty of what can be done by a dedicated group of diverse intelligent youth. As I have often said about the Euro-SSIG before, a faculty member can learn a lot from these fellows.

    I am somewhat surprised at the characterization of the Chairs’ reactions. This was an educational practicum of a multistakeholder policy event, there were no judges, but rather practicum conference chairs. I believe the chairs understood the proposal; their questions were meant to tease out the details – it is the kind of thing that happens in practica.

    I also think you exaggerate the solution they came up with. For them to have discussed ICANN oversight would have been out of scope, they worked hard to stay in scope and should be commended for having done so. What they offered, rather, was transfer the Stewardship responsibilities for IANA to the multistakeholder oversight body.

    Specifically, and in their words:

    1. A multi-stakeholder Oversight Committee accountable to their respective stakeholder groups should be constituted for stewardship of the IANA function. This Oversight Committee’s mandate will be to oversee only IANA’s operational implementation of additions, changes or deletions in the DNS root zone, and to report on these activities. The committee shall achieve this by performing the following functions:

    a) selecting a contractor on a cyclical basis to perform the IANA functions currently performed by a special unit at ICANN; monitoring and final authorization by professional auditors contracted by the committee to ensure that such changes are in compliance with agreed upon policies and procedures for the IANA functions.

    b) establishing a performance measurement framework for the IANA function composed of a set of qualitative and quantitative performance indicators of level of service expected by a global multi-stakeholder community that includes the technical community and end users developed by a cross-community working group;

    c) ensuring accuracy of changes to the DNS Root Zone made by IANA through real-time monitoring and final authorization by professional auditors contracted by the committee to ensure that such changes are in compliance with agreed upon policies and procedures for the IANA functions.

    The Oversight Committee shall have 20 members, of which 5 will be nominated by governments (reflecting the 5 ICANN geographic regions; one government representative from each region) and 15 of non-governmental stakeholder groups. Membership shall reflect regional and multi-stakeholder balance on a rotational basis.

    An appropriate percentage of the fees provided by those in a contractual relationship with IANA shall go to fund the Oversight Committee and its related contractual commitments.

    Furthermore, the Oversight Committee shall engage the auditor(s) to prepare a quarterly public reports on the performance of IANA against an agreed upon set of qualitative and quantitative performance indicators of level of service expected by the multi-stakeholder community and end users, including timeliness of implementation of requested changes, transparency of decision-making to be sure to meet the service levels expected by the customers and community.

    2. An appeal mechanism open to all stakeholders should be established to adjudicate disputes related to implementation of the IANA function based on the agreed upon policies and procedures. The following issues should be determined following cross-community consultation: 1) the criteria for selection of officials to the appeal body; 2) the nature and powers of the appeal mechanism. The findings of this body shall be binding.

    3. While this committee does not have the mandate to address broader issues related to the accountability of ICANN, in order to ensure trust in the systems and structures that maintain the technical operations of the Internet, the committee strongly recommends that a multi-stakeholder working group be formed to explore options for the further internationalization of ICANN.

    In time we will get their full statement into the EURO-SSIG’s web pages, but this is the meat of their agreement. The rest was all those Wherefores and Wherases you find in all such statements.

    I am incredibly proud of the work these students did.

    • Milton Mueller

      Avri
      Thanks for commenting and especially for publishing the basic elements of the proposal. Nowhere did I say that I was “surprised” at the quality of the proposal.
      I am however puzzled by one of your points. You wrote:
      “For them to have discussed ICANN oversight would have been out of scope, they worked hard to stay in scope and should be commended for having done so. What they offered, rather, was transfer the Stewardship responsibilities for IANA to the multistakeholder oversight body.” This observation may stem from a misreading of my statement that “ICANN itself would be subordinate to another multistakeholder body.” I meant only that ICANN’s authority to operate the IANA functions would be subordinate. Of course, this is a very important form of oversight nevertheless, as misbehavior in the policy realm might lead to withdrawal of the IANA functions by the new contracting authority.
      You also say:
      “I am somewhat surprised at the characterization of the Chairs’ reactions. …I believe the chairs understood the proposal; their questions were meant to tease out the details.”
      I actually disagree, I would stand by the characterization in the original story. Both chairs seemed taken aback and unprepared for a proposal that was not ICANN-centric. Ms. Alexander, for example, asserted that she didn’t understand why they proposed new dispute resolution mechanisms when ICANN already has its Ombudsman, the IRP and reconsideration. But this question showed a misunderstanding, as the students proposed a new appeals mechanism for the new oversight committee, and since the new oversight committee was not part of ICANN, it makes no sense to expect it to use ICANN’s appeals or dispute resolution mechanisms. Another chair asserted that the proposal required a new intergovernmental treaty, which is simply not true. My impression is that the chairs were not ready for the proposal and spent the first 15 minutes or so wrapping their minds around its implications.

  2. Brenden Kuerbis

    Thanks MM, Avri, et. al for sharing the Meissen proposal, and congrats to the fellows on their ideas. One question – how does the proposal deal with a critique voiced by NTIA that proposals which sought “to create a new body or a separate body to handle [ICANN accountability]” would simply “create a new accountability issue in terms of how that organization, whatever it is, will itself be held accountable.”[1] I see in the proposal text that 1) members of the IANA Oversight Committee are “accountable to their respective stakeholder groups” and, 2) there is a proposed appeal mechanism. Any idea(s) suggested for how the former might actually be implemented? Perhaps that was a detail beyond the exercise, but it seems easier said than done in some stakeholder cases.

    [1] http://www.ntia.doc.gov/speechtestimony/2014/remarks-lawrence-e-strickling-assistant-secretary-commerce-communications-and-i

    • Dami Kofo

      The issue of checks and balances of this new super group should not be a much of a problem. This I think can be handled when the representatives of each stakeholder entity is revolved periodically: annually or biennially.

      Additionally, an engagement code or bylaws of engagement or what you will should spell out expressly the following: how the members of this super-body can engage, dissensus management and the production of a majority-vetoed outcome report or an unanimous executive report which essentially reflects the decision on whatever agenda that gets tabled before them.

      That is my thought.

  3. A Rebentisch

    I still don’t get why you need a multistakeholder representation for that.