Split could force NetMundial Initiative back to the drawing board

Technical community gives ICANN a slap over net governance overreach

The controversial NetMundial Initiative (NMI) may be heading back to the drawing board following a meeting of the internet's big cheeses in Washington last week.

Following a "very constructive, frank, and candid discussion" between ICANN, the Internet Society (ISoc), Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the group put out a joint statement which said the NMI would "go back to the community to ask them on what they need in a platform for Internet Governance".

The statement lists a further two points that ICANN says it will take back to the NMI Transitional Committee "for their consideration", namely:

  • Build a step-wise approach to creating the initiative, that is, defining its Terms of Reference and Tasks it will undertake before the Initiative takes its final form and structure.
  • Consult with the global community on these proposals.

Whether that means that ICANN will put plans for a larger "coordination council" of the NMI on hold remains to be seen. ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has been driving the creation of the council in an effort to launch it at the January meeting of the world's business elite in Davos. He may still try to make that happen and use the joint statement as a discussion point for a council meeting.

Fell at the first hurdle

The statement follows a tumultuous few weeks after ICANN, which along with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Brazilian internet organization CGI.br, announced the NetMundial Initiative, supposedly to build an online platform for sharing of internet governance issues.

The response to the plans - not least the decision to create a 25-member council on which the three organizers awarded themselves "permanent seats" - was hostile.

Within a week, the Internet Society disowned the effort, saying it was "concerned that the way in which the NETmundial Initiative is being formed does not appear to be consistent with the Internet Society’s longstanding principles."

That rejection was followed by the IAB which called the council "premature"; the International Chamber of Commerce which produced a multi-page document of concerns, and parts of civil society which said they had "serious misgivings" about the process.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has already started work on exactly what NetMundial says it want to achieve: an online platform for internet governance related policies. The Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO) already has a demo site and has produced an extensive feasibility study.


Although we have been told by people familiar with the meeting of the internet organizations in DC last week that it was as calm as the statement appears to make out, the split of views within the technical community - with ICANN on one side and everyone else on the other - is still plain to see.

The statement reads: "The ISOC attendees, the IAB and IETF chairs would rather see the structure defined after setting the terms of reference and scope of the work. More work needs to be done by NMI and with the various communities involved."

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