â€œLack of Accountabilityâ€?, â€œMalign Oligarchyâ€?, â€œRegulatory Captureâ€? â€“ these were some of the concerns raised during the ICANN review open meeting held February 28th at the Department of Commerce (DOC) in Washington, DC. The concerns come as ICANN moves closer to full privatization.
ICANN currently operates under a Joint Project Agreement (JPA) that gives the US Government oversight and some authority over ICANN. The JPAâ€™s three-year term expires in September 2009. The meeting was the part of the DOCâ€™s mid-point review of the JPA to assess ICANNâ€™s performance and readiness for full privatization.
A consistent theme throughout the morning was whether a fully privatized ICANN would be responsive to and accountable to its many stakeholders. Panelists as diverse as representatives from Network Solutions, Yahoo, Nominet, Consumers Union and a copyright association all expressed doubts as to whether the ICANN board is sufficiently accountable to the various groups that are affected by its decisions, and stated their fears that if the ICANN board ever became dominated by a particular interest group little could be done to correct the problem.
The comments came from two five-member panels composed of a mix of business, user, registry, registrar, and international representatives as well as some audience members. Most speakers agreed with the aim of full privatization of ICANN, and complimented ICANN on substantial recent progress especially in the area of transparency. The international representatives expressed their desire for the end of the US Governmentâ€™s authority over ICANN. But deep concerns about ICANNâ€™s accountability, structure, and its ability to enforce its contracts led the business and user group panelists to say that ICANN was not yet ready to operate without oversight from the US Government, despite assurances from ICANN leadership to the contrary. The consensus of the panelists was that ICANN has a lot of work to do during the remaining 18-months of the JPA if it wants to demonstrate it is ready for full privatization.
The meeting follows a request for comments on ICANNâ€™s performance that generated over 170 submissions from a wide variety of interested parties (though around 70 were identical one page submissions from individuals). Phil Corwin submitted a very detailed critique of ICANN’s performance on behalf of the ICA. A number of other thoughtful responses were submitted, including one in particular by Danny Younger, on behalf of domain registrants.
My personal opinions on the meeting will appear in a separate editorial piece.
Editor’s Note: We’re very pleased to have Nat Cohen join us as a contributor. Nat was able to attend the recent meetings in Washington discussing the ICANN JPA.
Nat Cohen is the founder and President of Telepathy, Inc. and StateVentures, LLC. Telepathy holds an extensive domain portfolio with a focus on brandable, generic domains. StateVentures owns and develops a portfolio of geo-domains, including several state dot-com domains. Its current development focus includes the OceanCity.com resort guide and the RezEZ online hotel reservation system. Nat lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two daughters.