If you read anything today about ICANN taking over the internet, make sure it's this

Hodgepodge of flawed ideas, bad processes


ICANN control and politics

The most controversial aspect of the plan is to give ICANN full control of the IANA contract.

The internet community remains extremely wary of giving ICANN control of anything, given its long history of opaque and questionable decision-making.

The US government's control of the IANA contract has given it significant leverage over ICANN in the past (without the IANA contract, ICANN loses most of its authority), including forcing the organization to halt progress on its flagship policy program until it had properly addressed concerns.

Most importantly, the US government has explicitly used its control over the IANA contract to force ICANN to improve its technical handling and update its systems and processes. In 2011, the NTIA put the contract out for rebid and ran a public comment process on what improvements needed to be made in order to draw up a new and improved IANA contract. ICANN actually failed to meet the NTIA's criteria, leading to scrambling on its part to improve its processes.

As such, when the US government announced it would transition away the IANA contract, an early decision by the internet community was that it should be possible to take the IANA contract away at some future date as a way to force ICANN to improve.

A majority of people in the internet community were in favor of creating a separate entity that would hold the IANA contract and then award it to ICANN. However, after intense lobbying by ICANN, that approach has been slowly whittled away to the point where it is proposed that ICANN will have full control of an affiliate that runs the IANA contract.

That affiliate will have between three and five board members. ICANN will choose three of them – and will be entitled to choose them from its own board under the current proposal. And it will be entitled to select the other two members, or whether they are even added to the Board. In other words, the distinction between ICANN and IANA will be virtually non-existent and separation all but impossible.

Suspicious goings-on

As we have noted previously, despite a majority being in favor of a separate entity holding control of the IANA contract, the affiliate model came out as the preferred model following a process run by a set of independent legal experts.

The legal experts were paid by ICANN. While the legal experts made their key decision, the group was closed off to the internet community – something that went directly against the process' policy of openness and transparency. There were just four people representing the internet community allowed into the group; most groups have comprised between 10 and 30 people.

The recordings of those meetings have not been made available, again going against process norms. And the co-chairs of the group – and overall process – invited both ICANN's legal team and its own external legal experts to sit in the closed group. While the internet community was represented by two individuals, ICANN was represented by three lawyers. They were talking to a group of five outside lawyers, all of whom were being paid by ICANN for their services.

When the key decision was made to go with an ICANN-controlled entity instead of a separate entity, the legal group was opened up and ICANN's legal team withdrew.

In addition to that series of unusual events, the ICG team have given the affiliate plan a "workability" rating of just 53 per cent.

Anything over 50 per cent was considered workable and anything under 50 per cent not workable. But if you dig into the criteria used to reach that 53 per cent, it equates to a score of 8 out of a total of 15. If the process had arrived at a score of 7, it would have been deemed unworkable.

There were five criteria, each of which could be given a score of 0, 1, 2, or 3. Zero signified "significant requirements or negative impact," while 3 signified "no requirements or impact." The first three criteria scored 1, 0, and 1 respectively, giving it just two out of a required eight.

As such, the last two criteria needed to have zero impact and so score three each for the plan to be approved. Those criteria were:

  • Impact on the IFO customers resulting from using the new method, and
  • Potential impact on the security, stability, and resiliency of the DNS

The ICG decided that a "perfect score" of 6 out of 6 was deserved on these last two criteria, despite it having already decided that the new affiliate would have a "moderate or negative" impact in both its complexity and new working methods, and that it would have a "significant or negative" impact in creating the new affiliate.

Just to be clear, a score of 2 would signify "minor requirements or impact." That looks like a much more realistic choice, but would of course have caused the overall plan to be deemed "unworkable" by the ICG's own methodology.

By way of comparison, the other elements of the overall plan received between 73 and 80 per cent score, with two exceptions: the ability to make actual changes to the root zone – covered above – and the creation of the review committee that would be able to break IANA away from ICANN, which also scored 53 per cent.

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