ICANN, ICAN'T, IWON'T: uWHAT? How the internet is actually run
Our ex-ICANN staffer spills the beans
Comment A few weeks ago in Los Angeles, internet oversight body ICANN met for the 51st time – apparently in order to suck as much life as possible from 2,000 souls suffering a collective case of permanent, misplaced optimism.
It was, as it always is, declared an enormous success, which is why you should ignore all the following observations by this attendee.
Every five years or so, ICANN decides something important, leading to epic efforts on the part of community members to be on the relevant committee.
The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) is the mother of all committees since it is tasked with putting forward a plan for pulling the US government out of its role at the top of the internet's infrastructure.
The 20 members appear to have spent hours designing the process by which others will send in proposals – which the group can then simply approve (or not).
Pretty soon, however, the ICG started to feel its words of wisdom were not being sufficiently captured, so it designed a tendering process to find a third-party secretariat to take notes of their meetings – and thus lift any pressure they might feel to write anything down or otherwise make sense of their meandering discussions.
As tradition dictates, the group has also set up two email lists: one public to contain all discussions, and one private for when people find the public list (Pssst: it's here).
Having taken away all barriers to structured, focused discussion, the ICG now stands at the mercy of whoever is willing to talk. And talk. And talk. And in that regard, the ICG has two supremely over-qualified candidates: Iranian government representative Kavouss Arasteh and ICANN IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group member Jean-Jacques Subrenat.
Breaking bad discussions
In what one ICG member informed us is an "almost unbearably bad" discussion dynamic, and another summed up as "just a disaster", the loquacious Arasteh speaks at length about much broader issues, while Subrenat interjects with what he confidently claims is the consensus view of all global internet users.
Fortunately, the ICG's dysfunction should not impact the actual transition of power from the US government.
Less fortunately, members of the ICG seem to think they should also be members of the groups designing the actual plans that they are supposed to objectively oversee and approve. And so the multi-stakeholder model's unquestionable wonderfulness continues on.
Where's ISOC's new leader? Busy saving the world
The Internet Society (ISOC) is a key organisation in the internet governance world, and even though ISOC and ICANN have disagreed at times, they have a close working relationship. The ISOC CEO is a frequent VIP at ICANN meetings, and vice versa.
There was some surprise then when there was – again – no sign of Kathryn Brown, who took over the organisation at the start of the year. Insiders have been grumbling about how she seems to be more interested in solving the world's problems than getting involved in actual internet issues.
Right on cue, an email arrives from ISOC noting that it "wishes to offer its thoughts and prayers to all those affected by the Ebola epidemic in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria" – and pointing to an online newsgroup that the organisation has created on its intranet called "Ebola TECH Response" where ISOC will "harness our collective technical expertise to assist communities affected by the Ebola epidemic".
As one long-time ISOC member noted shortly after receiving the email: "What the holy fuck has ISOC got to do with Ebola?"
Why exactly are you here?
While some were complaining that an internet CEO was not present, on the other side of the conference others were wondering why an ex-CEO had turned up.
As CEO of Nominet, the dot-uk registry operator, Lesley Cowley was a feature of ICANN meetings, even more so when she became chair of one of ICANN's supporting organisations, the country code name supporting organisation (ccNSO).
But having left Nominet in July after more than a decade in charge, following a degree of controversy, many were surprised to find Cowley continuing in her work within the ccNSO.
Things became heated when it was discovered Cowley's flight tickets — a round trip from London to Los Angeles, in business class no less — had been paid for by the organisation. Having been the second-highest paid CEO in the ccTLD industry (see PDF, page 45), the decision to pay for business class flights when many other members are unable to afford even one night in the venue hotel did not sit well.
She told the audience:
I am pursuing what's known as a portfolio career, which is a grand name for a collection of part-time jobs. They are primarily board roles, so some of you may have seen this week, that I will be chair of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in the UK.
This is a government agency appointment, and it runs a rather a big registry of 82m drivers and vehicle records, and it may be of interest to the ccNSO in time, essentially how registries outside of the DNS work.
Based on disgruntled members' corridor conversations, it looks like the next flight to the ICANN meeting in Marrakech might have to come out of her own pocket.
You're in charge. No, you are!
Somewhat unusually for the status-driven ICANN world, one of the most influential positions in the organisation — chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) — appears to be in limbo.
Canadian representative Heather Dryden made it clear a few weeks prior to the meeting that she intended to step down from the role at the end of the LA meeting (also ICANN's annual general meeting), even though officially the role is due to end at the next meeting in Marrakech in February. Dryden also made her decision clear to the two people going for the GAC chair position that she was off.
Unfortunately, the eventual winner of an election for the seat, Swiss civil servant Thomas Schneider, noted in his acceptance speech that it would take some time for him to reduce his current workload and suggested that Dryden stay on until the next ICANN meeting. Dryden was having none of it, leading to busy discussions about who would actually be in charge of representing the world's governments for the next four months.
To add to the confusion, there are now two sets of vice-chairs to the GAC. And in the election, the GAC selected an additional two vice-chairs because of the current workload. So currently, the world's governments have somewhere between zero and two chairs, and somewhere between zero and six vice-chairs.
Seemingly the only person not representing the GAC is the loser in the chair election, Lebanese representative Imad Hoballah.
ICANN announced just prior to the meeting that there was to be a new head of compliance, Allen Grogan.
Grogan had been personally hired by CEO Fadi Chehade as chief contracting counsel in May 2013 and is just one of a wave of employees brought on by Chehade since he started as CEO who have worked with him.
Chehade was himself brought into ICANN by his former co-worker and COO Akram Atallah.
Grogan will take over from Maguy Serad, who was hired by Atallah as senior compliance director and then promoted to veep on Chehade's first day as CEO.
The choice of Serad wasn't popular with compliance staff, who complained she had little experience in compliance work.
Serad is the wife of a former co-worker of both Chehade and Atallah, Roger Serad.
There's an app for that
With all the applicants for new gTLDs gathered in one place, it presented some with an opportunity to share war stories.
And it seems that many had had the same experience: concerted and unusual efforts to disrupt their applications with spurious complaints, astroturfing and procedural barriers designed to wear them down.
Having realised they were at the end of the same tricks, a number of applicants decided to go straight to ICANN with their complaints. From what we hear, ICANN is extremely keen to sort the problem out. And, at least according to our sources, its plan for doing so is to ignore them, turn down reconsideration requests, refuse to consider relevant documentation, and stick their fingers in their ears while singing "lalalalalala". ®