ICANN Can't and Won't

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(Courtesy: ICANN)

By Ann-Marie de Veer
Saturday 22 March 2014

On Friday 14 March the US National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) announced its "intent to transition key internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community". It went on to state that it was asking "the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS)".

When this nugget of news found its way into the mainstream media (MSM) the headline, formerly a benign statement of intent, "NTIA Announces Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions" had transmuted into "U.S. to relinquish remaining control over the Internet at The Washington Post and U.S. to Cede Its Oversight of Addresses on Internet in The New York Times.

In both of these reports, plus others, the focus of the narrative was on power ("transition to something that doesn’t just give the power to one stakeholder" - The New York Times) and control ("relinquish federal government control" - The Washington Post), none of which were mentioned in the original report by NTIA who communicated the following four principles to ICANN in its online statement:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

This disparity in emphasis suggests than neither the national or international community is convinced by US government protestations that governance is the nexus of the issue and continue to harbour notions that it is simply about power and control of the internet.

In its defence, the NTIA cites a carefully worded paragraph in their online statement that the:

policy expressed in bipartisan resolutions of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives (S.Con.Res.50 and H.Con.Res.127), which affirmed the United States support for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance

as its primary support and that the:

NTIA will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution government

as their primary concern. They also cited the 1998 NTIA Management of Internet Names & Addresses - Statement of Policy as further support of the governance line.

However, what is not mentioned from this Statement of Policy report is that on 1 July 1997:

the President (Bill Clinton) directed the Secretary of Commerce to privatize the domain name system (DNS) in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management. (Introduction)

and that it envisioned:

Under the Green Paper proposal, the U.S. Government would continue to participate in policy oversight until such time as the new corporation was established and stable, phasing out as soon as possible, but in no event later than September 30, 2000. (Page 4, Para 4, Creation of the New Corporation and Management of the DNS)

Further, that:

the new corporation be incorporated in the United States in order to promote stability and facilitate the continued reliance on technical expertise residing in the United States, including IANA staff at USC/ISI. (Page, 4 Para 4, Creation of the New Corporation and Management of the DNS)

and that:

Some commenters also suggested that the proposal to headquarter the new corporation in the United States represented an inappropriate attempt to impose U.S. law on the Internet as a whole. (Page 4, Para 4, Comments)

Interestingly, it would seem that the NTIA's selective use of citations and referencing has successfully steered most stakeholders away from the contentious issue of location and focused its detractors attention on the somewhat nebulous concepts of a multi-stakeholder, stable, secure and open internet of which most are the preserve of national governments.

Whether ICANN will ever escape the tentacles of the US government remains to be seen and if the current time-frame (1998 - 2015) for its path from initial incorporation to a multi-national non-governmental entity is a measure of future progress then the prognosis does not look good.

ICANN can't and won't be going anywhere soon.