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.