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ICANN: Just give us the keys to the internet – or the web will disintegrate

Do what we say or the UN will take over, techies walk away, cats and dogs living together

Domain system overseer ICANN has embarked on a campaign of fear and fuzzy logic in its latest bid to seize control of the internet from the US government without agreeing to limits on its power.

The handover of the critical IANA functions from Uncle Sam to ICANN was due to happen last week, but has been set back a year to October 1, 2016 following procedural delays and extensive negotiations.

Now, ICANN warns, unless the internet community makes concessions on the controls that it wants to place on the organization's Board, the process could take even longer – and that could lead to the end of ICANN itself, as well as the United Nations taking over the internet.

On a conference call this week between ICANN Board members and the chairs of the committees drawing up the IANA transition plan, one slide caught people's attention. It was titled "5 Risks we face if the IANA Stewardship Transition is Delayed/Fails," and they were:

  1. ICANN's community may fracture or fray slowly, becoming divided, acrimonious, bitter – potentially risking ICANN's stability, effectiveness, and impacting the participation of global stakeholders.
  2. The technical operating communities using IANA may go separate ways, with the IETF and the Numbering communities choosing to take their business elsewhere – ending the integrity of the internet's logical infrastructure.
  3. Governments (encouraged by G77) may lead an effort starting this year during the WSIS review to shift Internet Governance responsibilities to a more stable and predictable inter-governmental platform.
  4. Key economies that shifted positions since NTIA's announcement in March 2014 may reverse their support for "one Internet" logical infrastructure coordinated by ICANN.
  5. The resilience and effectiveness of the multistakeholder model will be questioned by those seeking solutions to the emerging Internet Governance issues in the economic and societal layer (e.g., cyber security, trade, privacy, copyright protections, etc.).

What's more, a second slide showed that unless the internet community finalizes its plans by December at the latest, the transition would in fact be delayed.

It was intended as a blunt message urging haste, but the first reactions to it by the skeptical internet community were largely mocking.

"Wow, that slide is a contentious parade of horribles if ever I saw one!" said one participant. Another noted: "I think the doomsday scenarios are just a bit exaggerated. We have to stop scaring people with the G77 boogeyman." Others chimed in with similar sentiments.

Ah, that's why

At the heart of the issue are changes that the internet community wants to make to the functioning of ICANN. Those changes would limit the absolute authority current enjoyed by the organization's staff and Board, and make them subject to the overall will of the internet community.

Such powers include the ability to fire individual Board members, veto the organization's budget, and force it to reconsider decisions if a majority felt the wrong decision had been made.

As you might expect, ICANN the corporation doesn't much like the changes and so has been fighting furiously to have them removed. Having failed to persuade the internet community that it didn't need such powers, last month the Board simply refused to accept the mechanism by which such powers would be enforced, namely the creation of a "member" of the organization, which would lend the community legal rights.

At an emergency meeting called to resolve their differences, the Board's chair Steve Crocker infuriated the community by refusing to accept the "single member" model – without providing a clear explanation as to why – and implied that he would rather stay under US government control than have the Board's absolute power constrained.

A week later, Crocker further antagonized the community by sending an email on behalf of the Board in which he also refused to accept even a watered-down alternative to that model.

"To be clear, the concerns that the Board raised on the Sole Member model still apply to a Designator model," he wrote. "The Designator model still introduces a new legal structure with powers that are intrinsically beyond the structure we have been using ... This is unproven territory and will require more detail and time to understand and test the impact on our bedrock multistakeholder balance."

Instead, he proposed that "the Board could commit to a future governance structure review triggered by key factors" – in other words, punt any actual change to some unspecified future date.

Quick! Quick! Dump your recommendations or you will run out of time!

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