Not Over ’till the Fat Lady (Congress? Verisign?) sings

The plan for reforming ICANN’s accountability mechanisms passed an important hurdle this week at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech, Morocco. All of the chartering organizations of the Cross-Communication Working Group on enhanced accountability (CCWG) have now approved the plan. The ICG approved the IANA stewardship proposal months ago. we are almost ready to transmit the plan to the NTIA.

The small advisory committees such as SSAC, RSSAC, and ALAC had no trouble approving the plan some time ago. In Marrakech, all eyes were on the GAC, which could not make up its mind, but it did issue a statement more or less endorsing the plan on Tuesday. The GNSO had some important qualifying comments, but passed it overwhelmingly Wednesday afternoon, and shortly after the ccNSO passed it by an even larger margin.

This was cause for many congratulatory comments, and indeed it does represent a critical milestone in the transition. But we are not done. There are still a number of hurdles to jump over. It is best to remain alert, especially to the implementation details and some important unfinished business, before getting too excited. Here is a quick list of unfinished business:

1. The CCWG’s lawyers and ICANN lawyers must work together to translate the CCWG proposal into specific bylaw amendments and bylaw language.

This has to happen fast, to give time to the NTIA and the U.S. Congress to review and approve the actual implementation. Just as there is many a slip between the cup and the lip, there is the potential for all kinds of mischief in this phase. The community must be able to carefully review the exact wording of these new bylaws. Right now the lawyers cannot even promise a date for when this will be ready, but they say it will not be before March 31. If so, that will give the community only one week to review and approve the new bylaws before they are sent to the NTIA as the final proposal. The NTIA says it must have everything by April 8 to meet its September 30 deadline.

2. The Root Zone Management Agreement negotiations between ICANN and Verisign are not finished.

We don’t know anything about what is happening there, but critical issues are at stake. Operational control of the DNS root zone depends on how this is handled. We don’t want ICANN to centralized control over the root zone by being able to unilaterally take over Verisign’s function, but we also want Verisign to be accountable to the community as well. We have to be careful that short-term deals between ICANN and Verisign don’t become long-term institutionalized constraints.

3. NTIA must review and approve the proposal, and Congress must approve the NTIA’s plans.

So one can expect hearings and absurd editorials from the Wall Street Journal and other kinds of posturing.

We congratulate the ICANN community on its ability to pull off this complex and pioneering act of institutional change. But it’s not time to relax.


  1. Thierry Moreau

    My understanding is that Verising-in-the-loop is nothing more than a last line of defense for the NTIA-in-the-loop paradigm that is expected to cease with the new institutional arrangement.

    At least I could not identify significant operational added value to the Verisign involvement (take the root zone file and distribute to root zone operators). The DNSSEC deployment project was an opportunity for reviewing the Verisign role and its continuation (through this process) was, in my opinion, a sign that the NTIA had a policy agenda in this specific issue.

  2. Hans Klein

    This issue will come to the US Congress just before the presidential election, yes? But no serious policy work gets done in election season; there is too great a likelihood of politicization. Perhaps this proposal won’t be taken up and will safely lie dormant until after November 8. But my guess is that the Wall Street Journal and various candidates for public office will have a field day sounding an alarm about “China’s takeover of the Internet.” Why would the NTIA schedule such a policy proposal to come to Congress just before an election?

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