Fight over internet handover to ICANN goes right down to the wire

Congressmen threatening to derail IANA transition


What exactly will happen if ICANN doesn't get its way by September 30

What happens if the IANA contract is renewed and the transition doesn't occur on September 30?

Well, that all depends on what happens with the presidential elections. The official Republican platform has taken a very strong position against the IANA transition, meaning that a President Trump would almost certainly seek to prevent it from happening.

Hillary Clinton's position is less clear, although it is likely she supports the current administration's position and would probably push for the transition to take place.

The other big factor, of course, is what happens with Congress. If the Republicans lose either the House (unlikely) or the Senate (possible), then the IANA transition could sail through in a year's time with the details largely unchanged. If the Republicans retain control of both Houses, the transition is likely dead – at least in its current form.

The Reg perspective

We have covered the IANA transition and ICANN in some detail throughout this two-year transition process.

The truth is that ICANN as an organization is dangerously flawed. It has a staff that routinely bypasses the community it is supposed to serve to make decisions that suit its own ends, and a board that persistently fails in its duty to act as a check on staff.

At its heart, ICANN still believes it is in the best position to decide what happens to the internet: just as it did when it was formed in 1998 with a select group of internet elders in charge. In effect, the staff and board make decisions based on personal prejudice and then abuse the institutional autonomy they have been granted to make those decisions formal policy.

Through the two-year transition process, the broader ICANN community has yet again proven itself unable to separate what is good for the organization with what serves their own limited interests. ICANN's flaws are retained despite a lengthy and determined effort to use the IANA transition as a way to effect much-needed change.

The question therefore becomes: what benefit is there in delaying the transition?

US government officials are quite correct in their assessment that the failure of the transition to happen this month would undermine its credibility and almost certainly lead to a power shift in global internet governance away from the United States and toward more authoritarian states – the very thing that Ted Cruz and others say they are concerned about.

To prevent that shift, a President Clinton with a Democratically held Senate would need to put out an immediate statement expressing unqualified support for a transition away from the US government. That's a possible but far-from-certain scenario.

Redo?

The only advantage to a delay, therefore, would be to force the internet community to go back over its plan and improve it to make ICANN more accountable. It could, for example, get rid of its flawed and process-heavy proposals and replace them with a much simpler and more effective form of oversight.

But, again, there is no guarantee that that would happen, especially given ICANN's almost total intransigence to real change.

It is possible that if the transition collapsed, the US government would look afresh at the entire internet ecosystem, learn from the mistakes of the past 20 years, and try to develop an entirely new and more suitable governance approach for the internet of today and the future.

It could tear up ICANN and its fossilized flaws, get the internet back to its technical roots, and set up a new body focused on resolving the political and commercial issues that have turned ICANN into the mess it is.

But that is bordering on a fantasy scenario, especially since it would almost certainly result in the very UN-style body that Republicans are opposed to.

In short, the best solution for all concerned is for the transition to move ahead on September 30. To borrow from Churchill's famous quote about democracy, the IANA transition is the worst form of internet governance, except for all the others. ®


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