ICANN latest: Will the internet be owned by Ted Cruz or Vladimir Putin in October?
Let's check in with the IANA madness
Why so long?
The key question that no one has asked though is: OK, so why did it take 20 years? And the answer is because of the organization that has run the contract and seeks to take it over next month, ICANN.
The truth is that the US government has maintained a very low opinion of ICANN for nearly 20 years – and for good reason. It is an unholy mess, and seemingly incapable of improving itself. Even after two years of discussion centered around gaining control of the thing that gives ICANN its real authority – the IANA contract – the solutions arrived at to make the organization function better are not going to work, despite the apparent belief from people that should know better that they will.
At Cruz's dreadful hearing earlier this week, Strickling admitted that there was nothing the US government could do about ICANN's functioning as an organization. Like everyone in the Department of Commerce, he must have despaired when an independent review report last month pointed out that ICANN's general counsel had written his own opinion that the organization's staff was not subject to its own bylaws. It's just one of a seemingly endless number of black marks against the organization.
Later on in the hearing, a former US government official who actually helped design the first iteration of ICANN and will soon become one of the organization's board members – Becky Burr – admitted that all the changes being sought weren't going to amount to anything unless there was a significant cultural change at the staff and board level.
Another long-time critic of ICANN, Steve delBianco of NetChoice, spoke in favor of the untested, convoluted and still-to-be-enacted changes that would finally make ICANN function properly. But when asked why the transition couldn't be delayed for one or two years, he noted that the delay would likely have no impact since the changes will only work in extreme situations and would probably not be used in that two-year timeframe. Which begs the question where exactly the drive for that cultural change is going to come from.
And so we have the situation where Ted Cruz is right (but for all the wrong reasons). We have US government officials who are also right to argue for the transition to move ahead as planned. We have Republicans who are right to be concerned, and right-wing think tanks and commentators who are raising the right questions. We have Democrats who are right in decrying the politicization of a technical function. And we have a technical community who are right that the transition will not impact what they do and will help strengthen the internet.
The only people who are wrong, sadly, are those who really will gain in power from the transition: the full-time policy wonks who follow ICANN around the world and make a good living from parsing and relaying its obscure discussions to others.
It was this "ICANN community" that has failed to sufficiently improve the organization to take on the serious responsibility of running the internet's critical technical functions. Whether they realize it or not, their lives and careers are now intricately tied in with working inside a dysfunctional organization. A lean, fully functioning ICANN would not need anywhere near as much constant attention.
Plus, with the organization bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, and spending more and more of it every year bringing that same community together in exotic locations around the world up to six times a year, it is not an unattractive proposition to follow around the dysfunctional organization.
Washington may be tearing itself apart over a world it knows nothing of, but those who will soon hold the future of the internet's evolution in their hands are sitting pretty. They're not going to ban the First Amendment; they'll be too busy having dinner at the Four Seasons. ®