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Oi, ICANN! Get to the bottom of this bottom-up process, haul ass – ex-Prez advisor

Squeaky bum time for internet policy wonks

Internet oversight body ICANN received a second kick to the buttocks on Saturday morning – this time from erstwhile US presidential advisor Ira Magaziner.

Just a day after Assistant Commerce Secretary Larry Strickling told a room of internet policy wonks that they needed to get a move on or risk undermining the process to shift US government control of the top level of the net over to the internet community, Magaziner upped the ante.

"I think you can fail. And I think you're right on a knife's edge now as to whether you'll succeed or fail. Time is running out," he said.

Magaziner was largely responsible for the creation of ICANN back in 1999, when he persuaded President Bill Clinton that the systems for the nascent internet should be overseen by a new body run by the private sector.

"I feel a bit responsible for having gotten you all into this 17 years ago when we advocated for this transition," he told the roughly 80 attendees comprising ICANN's staff and Board and an internet working group that has been working for a year on a range of new accountability mechanisms.

As with Strickling's plea yesterday to stop talking around the issues and make some decisions, Magaziner started off gently: "Let me first of all, thank you all and congratulate you all on all the hard work you've done."

But he then warned that the slow pace of movement could have dire effects.

"As the political season develops next year, something like this, no matter how meritorious and how well constructed, could irrationally get caught up in the political process here and therefore, defeated or put off," he cautioned. "I think you have a limited amount of time to get this done and for the US government to consider it and pass it."

Magaziner also pleaded with the ICANN community to use its leaders to make decisions rather than engage in endless chinwags.

"This has been a very bottom-up process. You consulted widely. You've taken opinions. But a process where everyone gets to agree on everything at every point at some point is not scalable," he said.


Magaziner continued:

The board didn't come down from god. It didn't come through some coup by a general. It had a process that appointed the board and there it is. You may like them, you may not like them. Doesn't matter. They're the board. And the heads of the seven groups [ICANN's supporting organization and advisory committees] have a designation and their constituencies.

My suggestion would be that coming out of today you know, you have the discussions. The board ought to designate chairs if they want to get the heads of the seven groups and that group try to facilitate a set of discussions to resolve the remaining issues in the next couple weeks.

You're not going to resolve some of these issues with hundreds of people sitting around in a room and another however many online.

He also warned the current group not to try to do too much.

"The place where people get into trouble and groups get into trouble is when they try to overreach. And the task of accountability that was assigned to this group was, as the chair said this morning, to replace the ultimate backstop of the US government with a community-based backstop.

"The committee was not charged to completely rewrite the way ICANN works. Now I'm sure ICANN can be improved and there ought to be an ongoing process to improve the way it works, but this particular committee and NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] didn't ask you to completely redo ICANN."

And, in case he hadn't drummed his point home enough, Magaziner went for the full guilt trip.

"I've had a multi-faceted career now. And I've had successes and failures during my career. As I look back on my life, there have been cases where I was involved in something big and something potentially historic.

"And I thought that the ideas that I and my colleagues had were absolutely brilliant and I fought for those too long and didn't realize when it was time to effect a compromise and the thing went down completely. And those are the biggest regrets I have in my life."

He added:

You have a tremendous responsibility here and you've been given the opportunity to do something historic.

I can assure you if this thing takes you too long and it fails for that reason or if you can't get consensus and you're letting your dislikes or your fears or distrust get in the way and this thing goes down, you'll regret it for the rest of your lives because you will have missed an historic opportunity to do something.

And just to be absolutely, completely, totally clear, he finished up: "You really have to do this. You have to get focused now, be willing to delegate some authority here, set up a process in the next couple of weeks to get this done.

"You are running out of time. And it will be terrible for the internet, terrible for everything, all of you have worked for if you let this go down."

The group then spent the next hour discussing the possible inclusion of human rights wording into the organization's bylaws. No decision was reached. ®

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