How exciting was ICANN 52?

The fifty-second ICANN meeting was held in February 2015. Originally planned for Marrakech, the meeting was switched to the 2014 venue of Singapore because of fears about the Ebola epidemic elsewhere Africa. My retrospective on ICANN 52 is presented below.

It was a tense meeting, but not because of the switch to Singapore. The tension stemmed from the fact that oversight of the IANA functions was a constant theme, running through every session. And from the fact that the week drew to a close without the numerous discussions apparently having moved the process forward at all.

Oversight of the IANA functions was again the focus

Proceedings were of course dominated by the US authorities' handover of responsibility for supervising the IANA functions. In March 2014, the US announced that it wanted to transfer its historical responsibility for oversight of the IANA functions to the international internet community. ICANN – the body that performs the IANA functions – was asked to organise the transition. For more information about the transition process and what the IANA functions are, please refer to my earlier blogs.

The domain name community hasn't yet reached agreement

The schedule called for each of the sub-communities associated with the individual IANA functions (domain names, IP and AS numbers, protocol parameters) to have a proposal for oversight of its own field ready by the end of January 2015. Both the number community and the protocol parameter community managed to meet that deadline. The domain name community did not, however. Indeed, it has still not reached agreement at the time of writing.

Opinion divided on how IANA functions should be transferred

At the moment, two groups are working on proposals for the domain name function. First there is the IANA working group, which was given the task of formulating a transfer proposal. Unfortunately, this working group has been unable to reach consensus as to whether it should be possible for the community (in the last resort) to transfer the IANA function to a body other than ICANN at any given time. Many stakeholders regard that as an important principle, but opinion is extremely divided as to how the principle should be implemented. The working group has now engaged a law firm to advise on the legal implications of the various suggested solutions.

ICANN accountability arrangements must be in place before transition

The second group active in this field is the Accountability Working Group, which is looking at ICANN's structure. The Accountability Working Group's particular focus is how to ensure that decisions are made within ICANN in a sound, consensual and responsible manner and are subject to proper supervision and control. Although such matters were originally separate from the IANA oversight transition, they have since been linked – first by the domain name community itself, and later by Larry Strickling on behalf of the US government. ICANN must have accountability arrangements in place before the IANA oversight transition can go ahead.Unfortunately, the Accountability Working Group did not start work until December. It has, however, made a positive start. Ultimately, what is at issue here is representation within ICANN.

Supervisory body to oversee the ICANN board

At present, the board is ICANN's supreme decision-making body. The board is appointed partly by the community and partly by a specially created committee, known as the Nomcom. The drawback of the existing structure is that, once appointed, board members are expected to concern themselves primarily with the organisation's interests and that is what they do. Consequently, in recent years a strong perception has developed within the community that the board does not always succeed in taking proper account of the interests of the various stakeholders. The Accountability Working Group is therefore trying to devise community-based mechanisms to replace the ultimate authority that the US government currently has over ICANN by virtue of the IANA oversight arrangements. Amongst the ideas being considered by the working group is the creation of a supervisory body, on which the chairs of all ICANN's component communities (country code community, generic code community, internet community, etc) are represented. The suggestion is that the supervisory body would have the power to review decisions of the board and/or to dismiss the board.

ICANN meeting was mainly about liaison with the wider community

Both working groups used the numerous sessions of ICANN 52 mainly to talk to the wider community about their activities. Proceedings were therefore completely dominated by transition issues. However, neither group had reached the point where substantial discussion of their proposals was possible. Consequently, the meeting was ultimately a little uneventful.

SIDN actively involved with both working groups

As manager of one of the world's biggest country-code domains and an active ICANN participant, SIDN has a material interest in the activities of both working groups. The US government's transfer of oversight of the IANA function to the internet community is very important for the multistakeholder model; if the process were to go badly, the model's credibility could be seriously harmed. SIDN is therefore represented in the Accountability Working Group by Roelof Meijer, while I myself am a member of the IANA Working Group. A revised timetable has been drawn up, under which a definitive proposal should be in place by June. Even that looks like a very ambitious target to me. What we can be sure of is that a great deal of time will again be devoted to this subject at the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires at the end of June.

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Maarten-Simon-thumbnail

Maarten Simon

Legal & Policy Advisor

+31 26 352 55 00

maarten.simon@sidn.nl

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