How d'you solve a problem like IANA? Internet captains wrestle over US power handover

Ultimately it all comes down to trust – or the lack of it

Stacking the deck

Ever since the NTIA first announced the transition plan in March 2014, ICANN's staff and board have repeatedly tried to influence the process in their favor. The initial transition process was specifically designed to sway the end result in ICANN's direction and was received badly.

When the group's draft plan was published – particularly the aspect of keeping control of the contract away from ICANN – ICANN both publicly and privately started questioning the process and the plan and has been working behind the scenes to implement procedural changes that promote its ideas ahead of what has been the majority view so far.

It hasn't helped that ICANN board members have repeatedly shot down all ideas that do not fit with the model of the ICANN board retaining control over the contract, and in so doing, have failed to seriously contemplate other approaches.

That approach is all too familiar to ICANN community members, except this time there is a key difference: the ICANN board does not have final say over the end result. The US government does.

A related review into improved accountability measures that would force ICANN to explain its decisions – and potentially be overruled if it is found to have made a poor choice – has been met with the same stonewalling approach, further increasing the sense of distrust.

Cuts both ways

On the flipside, it hasn't helped that the review team has collectively displayed the multi-stakeholder model's worst characteristics by developing an overly complex structure that puts a version of itself at the decision-making center – even when many of the team have no actual experience of the IANA contract.

Despite widespread public criticism of the group's proposed "multistakeholder review team" (MRT), many within the group continue to push the measure – and hence themselves – into the powerful role. Those outside the review have started to speculate whether the group's members would still be so enamored with the idea of the MRT if they were barred from sitting on it.

A survey derived from public comments on the draft plan has led to some movement from the review team, however. Where once the MRT had control over every aspect of the complex four-group structure it had devised, it now appears to recognize that its role should be more limited and strategic, rather than operational.

But for many of those who are familiar with the actual functioning of the contract, the proposal reeks of lawyers and policymakers building castles in the sky, rather than the kind of lightweight, efficient model that's favored by engineers.

Regardless of the complexities, unless ICANN the corporation recognizes that it needs to change its approach and focus on how to bridge the significant trust gap that has grown between itself and those deciding the fate of its most important contract, the process is heading into an impasse that will prove difficult to resolve in the limited time remaining. ®

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