"Being Dutch, multistakeholderism is in my blood."
Maarten Botterman is the new Chair of the ICANN Board
ICANN is one of the internet's key organisations: a non-profit entity that administers the root and decides on things such as the delegation of top-level domains. Maarten Botterman's involvement with ICANN goes back to 2010, and he's been on the board since 2016. Now he's heading up the organisation after being elected Chair at ICANN's Montreal meeting on 7 November. Maarten is the first Dutch person to hold the prestigious position.
How does one become ICANN Chair? Do you respond to a job ad?
Botterman: "No, it doesn't work like that. ICANN's board discusses the position annually. If you want to be considered, you have to let the board know. And that's what I did. The board members, including the new ones joining in November, decided at the workshop in September that they wanted me to do the job. The decision was then formalised by a vote at the ICANN meeting in Montreal. It's been good having two months to prepare, for which I've had a lot of help from the outgoing Chair, Cherine Chalaby."
Maarten Botterman (right), the new chair of the ICANN board
What makes you suitable for the job?
Botterman: "I've been active within ICANN for some years now. In my new role, I can build on the knowledge and experience I've gained as a member and Chair of the Public Interest Registry Board and working in fields such as information security and internet governance. And, of course, I've got three years' experience on the board of ICANN itself, where I've often contributed to the governance activities. Then there's the fact that I'm a bridge-builder, someone who always looks for common ground. I think those things make me suitable."
What appeals to you about ICANN?
Botterman: "I want to help make the world a better place for my children by ensuring that the internet continues to serve the world's needs. I want the internet to be an open and transparent place where knowledge and facts are shared. During my career, I've been involved with telework, social networks and the Internet of Things, and I've worked for the European Commission as Scientific Officer on the Information Society Research Programme. The social impact of the information society and new technologies has been a consistent theme of the posts that I've held. And internet governance is extremely influential in that context. So ICANN is highly relevant to my field of interest. ICANN makes a vital contribution to a unified, open and globally interoperable internet. Another thing that appeals is that there's no other organisation where the interests of nation states, the business community and individual internet users all carry as much weight."
What kind of power do you have as Chair?
Botterman: "Within ICANN, policy is defined by the global internet community. The ICANN organisation then has responsibility for implementing that policy. The board's role is supervisory. We make sure that the things that need to be done are done. And done in a lawful and responsible way. As Chair of the Board, I help to set the agenda and I see to it that we do our work well and effectively."
How much of your time is devoted to your ICANN role?
Botterman: "Chairing ICANN is pretty much a full-time job. So I've had to clear my diary of other commitments, especially during the preparatory period. For example, I've stepped down from the chair of the NLnet Foundation's Supervisory Board and I've ended various other activities, such as working for the Institute for Accountability in the Digital Age and the IGF Dynamic Coalition on the Internet of Things. I'm confident that those other organisations are in good hands. The changeover has been very smooth. Of course, I'll be less able to work specifically for the Dutch internet community, but I'm still going to involve myself in discussions on matters of general interest. And maybe my input will be enhanced by having an inside view of what's happening at the top of ICANN."
What challenges await you?
Botterman: "One of the main things is going to be increasing the stability and security of the internet's system of unique identifiers. That'll involve a lot of hard work and investment. But it's something we've got to do; the world's criminals aren't all sitting on their hands. We're also looking at authorising another tranche of generic top-level domains (gTLDs). In that context, it's important that we learn from the last round of delegations. Then there's the GDPR and its implications for the Whois. We've drawn up a Strategic Plan for 2020-2025, which provides an integrated picture of the things we need to be doing in order to continue fulfilling our mission properly. It's now three years since the IANA transition. What's the best way of ensuring that we continue to work effectively with the ICANN community under the new constitution? The multistakeholder system has been extremely successful. So it's vital that we safeguard the model and make sure it doesn't founder."
How significant is it for the Netherlands that you're now ICANN Chair?
Botterman: "My role is protecting the interests of the global internet community, not working for the Netherlands. Nevertheless, I hope that the presence of a Dutch Chair will contribute to the country's reputation. And, of course, I'll be bringing a Dutch mindset to the job. We Dutch are good at cooperating. You could say that multistakeholderism is in our blood. Because multistakeholderism is essentially the same as what we call 'poldering': our country was created by people working together to reclaim land from the sea."