News, views and what I choose to dos

USG Submission to the GAC Scorecard re New gTLDs

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance · (2) Comments · by Jan 31st, 2011

Background: At a meeting in December, the ICANN Board and GAC agreed to a special session to be held in February that would be dedicated to trying to find a way to deal with GAC concerns over the new gTLD process and the dot-xxx application. The GAC has been preparing documents for the meeting – and so too, it is believed, have been the ICANN staff.

The details of the United States government submission – which is the most crucial submission due to its relationship with ICANN and its dominant position in the GAC – emerged late last week. They have caused somewhat of an outcry particularly because it suggests that any GAC member would be in a position to veto any gTLD application – which would clearly make ICANN’s processes sub-ordinate to governments. Since the whole point of ICANN is to provide for a multi-stakeholder decision-making process, it is no surprise that this request has got people’s backs up.

There are other suggestions that will almost certainly infuriate other arms of ICANN, some of which go directly against others’ policy decisions, as well as a Board resolution, so there is now a big question over how successful the GAC-Board meeting will be, given the size of the gap to be bridged in just two days.

Anyway, a fuller analysis later but in the meantime below is the full text of what is believed to be the final submission from the US government to the GAC:

So what does that weird GAC wording actually mean?

Category : Domain names, ICANN, Internet governance · (5) Comments · by Jan 27th, 2011

UPDATE: The ICANN Board just published the minutes from its meeting on Tuesday and intriguingly it has formally “triggered” the GAC-Board consultation that is explained in greater depth below.

That means the Board is prepared to say it disagrees with the GAC on 17 March and then, presumably, will approve the Applicant Guidebook at its formal Board meeting the next day.

On Tuesday I wrote a piece about the damaged decision-making process at ICANN at the moment. Right at the top I wrote:

Adding concern to the general vagueness is the inclusion of precise wording that means something specific, although no one is quite sure what. It is this:

“This meeting is not intended to address the requirements/steps outlined in the Bylaws mandated Board-GAC consultation process.”

This wording is indecipherable to any but the greatest of insiders. And that fact, combined with the reality that this Board-GAC meeting is one of the most significant Internet governance meetings in the past five years, makes it all the more frustrating.

Somewhat inevitably, people have emailed me saying “but aren’t you an insider? So what does it actually mean?” So, as briefly and as an coherently as I can manage here is my explanation for what this means. I am more than happy for people to disagree or add perspective in comments below; in fact, I’d encourage it. But anyway, here goes…

A damaged process and a damaged community

I haven’t written for a while. There’s usually two reasons for that: either I have been horribly over-worked, or I need a break from the strange, incestuous and often bitter world of Internet policy and governance. In this case, unusually, it is both.

Here’s the big news from the world of Internet governance: some vague details of a meeting between the ICANN Board and governments, in the form of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), have emerged. But adding concern to the general vagueness is the inclusion of precise wording that means something specific, although no one is quite sure what. It is this:

This meeting is not intended to address the requirements/steps outlined in the Bylaws mandated Board-GAC consultation process.

This wording is indecipherable to any but the greatest of insiders. And that fact, combined with the reality that this Board-GAC meeting is one of the most significant Internet governance meetings in the past five years, makes it all the more frustrating. Despite the global impact, and the open processes, and the much-vaunted bottom-up multi-stakeholder model, here is a very, very small group of people making crucial decisions about the future of the Internet and they are using arcane and indecipherable terminology in order to keep everyone else out.

[But if you *really* want to know what it means, read this post.]

ICANN Day 1: Sane Board, crazy community. What happened here?

Category : ICANN · (1) Comment · by Dec 7th, 2010

According to chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, the ICANN Cartagena meeting is “not that much different” to others. I’d beg to differ.

Not only are there a number of very big topics coming to fruition here in Cartagena but there is a bigger change afoot in this organisation that oversees the Internet’s domain name system.

First off, and the first time in many years, the ICANN Board is, well, looking like a Board. Usually its members look tired, a little stressed out, and are not exactly excited about talking to people or answering questions. But in Cartagena, they seem relaxed, are freely mingling (when their schedule allows), and have a comfortable confidence that is oddly reassuring.

You can probably put this down to the fact that they have met frequently, in person, and for several days in the lead-up to the meeting. All the swirling issues around them have clearly been thrashed out and they are singing from the same hymn sheet. Not bad considering there is 21 of them and that the expression “herding cats” doesn’t even begin to do them justice.

Election race heats up for Internet users’ ICANN Board seat

Category : ICANN, Internet governance · (2) Comments · by Nov 26th, 2010

The first round of voting has taken place for what is an important and historic election: a voting seat on the board of ICANN for a representative of ordinary Internet users.

In the lead after the first round is Sebastien Bachollet (with 43.75 percent of the vote); followed by Alan Greenberg (31.25 percent) and in third place Pierre Dandjinou (25 percent). Coming last, Pierre will drop out leaving Sebastien and Alan as the remaining candidates in a second round of voting.

Only the Council of the At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) have votes (that’s 21 people). The voting window is short – from now until the end of Sunday. So we should know the result by Monday morning.

The election is important because the ALAC represents ordinary Internet users and it is the first time since aborted elections 10 years ago that there will be a voting member for this group of people in an organisation that decides crucial aspects of the Internet’s future evolution.

ICANN begins to find its feet with published Board materials

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance, Journalism · No Comments · by Oct 29th, 2010

Credit where credit’s due, the disclosure of Board materials of the organisation that oversees the domain name system, ICANN, has greatly improved since its first and woeful effort.

The materials for a special Board meeting held in September over the “new gTLD” process are clear, organised and understandable. They also help to publicly demonstrate the large amount of professional work that goes on at ICANN. The issues in front of ICANN are clearly and concisely laid out, complete with arguments and recommendations with rationale. ICANN should be rightly proud of this sort of work.

The September materials also show clear improvement over those for the previous meeting in August – which are not as well structured and suffer from many of the same fault as previous months. That said, and despite a clear improvement for September, several significant procedural problems remain with the publication of Board materials, namely:

  1. There is no notice that the materials have been published. This is important and very easily rectified
  2. There is no explanation or apparent timeline for publishing the materials. This is unprofessional
  3. Entire sections – including their titles – continue to be redacted. There is no explanation for this redaction, and no mechanism for querying the redaction. So long as this unaccountable process is allowed to continue, there can never be full confidence in the publishing process as at any time, staff are in a position to redact whatever material they wish with no requirement to justify that redaction. The Board should be in charge of the redaction process – and they should be in a position to justify any redaction publicly. There should also be a process for publishing redacted material after a certain period of time.
  4. The materials are published in a very unhelpful format: long PDFs on a page four pages deep on the ICANN website. This hugely limits the ability to find and digest the information. If ICANN were to spend a little more time making its most important documents available as text on webpages, it would benefit significantly from all the tools that exist on the Internet. As a result, its work would find a far greater audience.
  5. There are some errors in the work product. If ICANN were to learn to relax its control mechanisms, it may find that the broader community is in a position to *improve* the Board materials, and so improve decisions made by the Board
  6. There materials continue to demonstrate a very insular approach to information provision – everything given to the Board comes through a staff filter. What is lost is a broader context. There is plenty of high-quality commentary and analysis on issues before the ICANN Board; the Board should be in a position to see this. If the staff work product is sufficiently high, it will stand on its own. Without a mechanism for external material, Board members will continue to be lobbied on a personal basis, encouraging the insider culture that remains entrenched within ICANN and continues to damage its reputation on the broader stage.

ICANN review team: FAIL

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance · No Comments · by Oct 8th, 2010

I’ve sent the following note to ICANN’s Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) on its own mailing list that it pays no attention to.

I’m frustrated that they have become a part of the problem, rather than the solution. And in reviewing their draft recommendations, you can’t help but be struck by the vagueness, lack of focus, and weak wording. Anyway…


Becoming what you set out to change. In this, you have failed miserably.

Gandhi said: “You must *be the change* you want to see in the world.”

When you put out a call for ATRT members to provide statements of interest in being a member of the team, you received 26 applicants.

Of these, 17 were “endorsed” – although we don’t quite know through what process or why.

Of these 10 were chosen for the team – although we don’t quite know through what process or why.

When Becky Burr was kicked off the team for an apparent conflict of interest that she had declared from day one, the ccNSO replaced her with Chris Disspain – a very able and respected member of the community but not someone who was in the original 26 applicants, or 17 endorsed candidates.

Just this week, Willie Currie has stepped down from his position on the ATRT because he has taken a job with a regulator in his own country. The NCSG part of the GNSO replaced him with Carlos Alfonso – a very able and respected member of the community but not someone who was in the original 26 applicants, or 17 endorsed candidates.

This begs two big questions:

Is ICANN’s independent review dead in the water?

I have avoided the meetings of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) into ICANN for a few months because it was so incredibly frustrating to listen to 60 minutes of people organising hotel rooms in different parts of the world while the ICANN Board and staff ran rings around them.

But the meeting popped up while I was in front of my computer this afternoon so I decided to listen in. The 90-minute scheduled meeting lasted just over 30, and nothing was discussed except for organising its next trip – to Boston this time – and what sort of meeting the ATRT would have with the Board when the review team is on the final leg of its international tour of pointlessness in Cartagena in December.

While this was going on I noted a new document had appeared called CA-Corp-Law. It’s a PDF so I downloaded it and read it and it comes from ICANN Board/General Counsel. You can download it here [pdf]. And it states that ICANN is *legally* obliged to never allow a process that forces the Board to act. I then spent the next 15 minutes trying, and failing, to get the review team to discuss the fact that its entire work product had no weight whatsoever in ICANN’s eyes.

I thought the ATRT was dead in the water before this point. But now that the team won’t even discuss the fact that it is wasting its time, I think it’s pretty certain that the fearless wolf of review has been beaten, neutered and house-trained and that being forced to recognise that it is also toothless was too much for it to bear.

The ATRT is a dud. ICANN’s accountability problems will remain. Next time this issue explodes, it may take ICANN down with it.

Here’s a copy of the chatroom for the meeting. You may be able to sense my frustration:

Finishing up the rules for new Internet extensions

ICANN logoTwo very interesting things are happening today that may have an enormous impact on the Internet for many years to come.

First, the ICANN Board is meeting at a special two-day retreat in Trondheim, Norway, in an effort to finalise the rules for new Internet extensions. This process have been going on for more than five years – two years longer than was planned – and it appears that everyone is now tired of the back-and-forth and wants results. The hope is that the “Applicant Guidebook” will be formally approved at the ICANN meeting in Cartagena in December.

The second interesting thing is a letter [pdf] from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN to the Board giving very precise and useful comments about what it feels about some of the outstanding issues in the new rules. These letters are usually carefully timed and this is no exception – it appears the day before the Board retreat. It is also a fair assumption that the ICANN chairman and CEO and senior management already know much of what was in the letter and may have helped in its production.

So, here’s the big question: will the Board be able to make the decisions necessary for a fifth and final version of the Applicant Guidebook to be produced in time for the Cartagena meeting?

I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say Yes; I think they will be able to do it. Well, almost all of it, with the rest thrashed out in Cartagena. Here’s why and where I think the axe will come down.

New ICANN Board members: painful progress

Category : ICANN, Internet governance · (2) Comments · by Sep 13th, 2010

Last week, the independent nominating committee of ICANN choose three new Board members: Bertrand de la Chapelle, Erika Mann and Cherine Chalaby. It was the European round of the organization’s top-body renewal.

Rather frustratingly, no details were given of the new members’ background or skills in the official announcement so it’s been a bit of guessing game in ICANN circles about who two of the three actually are and whether they’re a good choice.

Add to that the fact that the three retiring European members of the Board (Dennis Jennings, Jean-Jacques Subrenat and Harald Alvestrand) are thought to have put themselves forward for re-election – and so actively weren’t chosen – and you have the latest scandal in the Internet governance world.

I could go on a long and boring analysis of all this but there’s never any harm in being concise and getting to the point, so here’s what I think in five bullet points: