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Is domain overlord ICANN the FIFA of the internet? We'll know this weekend

Future master-of-the-web heading down dangerous path

Back to the accountability issues

All of these issues, which have been growing in size, frequency, and brazenness in the past few years, are well known to the internet community. Many of them find their way onto industry blogs, tech news sites and, on occasion, the mainstream press.

But, just like FIFA, the response is: well, what's to be done?

It is this question that members of the working group on accountability have been working on for a year. The group contains a number of people who have closely followed ICANN for a decade or more and see the IANA transition as possibly the only remaining opportunity to stop the organization's slow decline into corruption.

Those efforts are going to come under fierce attack this weekend. ICANN's Board will push for the internet community's "sole membership model" to be replaced with its own plan – what it calls a Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism (MEM).

The MEM plan is deficient in just about every respect.

  • It does not give the internet community the ability to force ICANN to act.
  • It does not allow the internet community to move the IANA contract, even after it has run through the long process needed to reach that decision.
  • It only allows the internet community to challenge decisions the ICANN Board has already made, rather than stop it moving ahead with a plan.
  • It only allows a very limited group of Board decisions to be challenged.
  • It leaves the decision up to experts that ICANN pays under rules that ICANN Corporate devises.

These are just a few of the flaws. An analysis has identified pages of them, and yet most of the discussion is now revolving around the Board's proposal.

Under ICANN's proposals, the internet community would be forced to go through an arbitration process almost identical to the one that it created last time around, the independent review process (IRP): a process that the IRP panel itself said in its last judgment was fundamentally flawed. And a process that ICANN Corporate interfered with when it lost its first case, simply changing the wording to make it harder for ICANN to lose.

As for the enormous cost of that arbitration process – from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each time – ICANN has offered to pick up the cost.

Everyone closely following the process knows this is what is happening. But unless you are subscribed to the right mailing list and reading every email, you would have missed the independent legal advice, its memos, matrices, and legal responses that pull ICANN Corporate's arguments and proposals to pieces.

One of those memos notes: "The Board Proposal presents a different outcome to the debate – thought to have been resolved with the selection of the Community Mechanism as Sole Member model – regarding where on the trust-versus-enforcement continuum enhanced accountability mechanisms should be positioned so as to hold the ICANN Board accountable after the NTIA transitions out of its traditional and historic role."

It may not make any difference. All of the national football organizations knew for years that FIFA was wrongly managed, but they still turned up at every meeting because they wanted to be in the World Cup.

They felt powerless to act. FIFA rewarded those that did not make a fuss, promoted those that played along, and sidelined anyone who resisted. It soon became in everyone's best interest just to leave things be.

When it comes to ICANN and the internet, what will it take for good men to do nothing? By Monday, we should know. ®

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