At its recent meeting in Brussels, the ICANN Board resolved that it would publish the briefing materials that are supplied to it in order to make decisions.
This decision was widely seen by those familiar with ICANN as an effort by the Board to pre-empt what would be a recommendation from the independent review team that is looking at the organization’s accountability and transparency (the ATRT). The failure of ICANN to publish any of the material supplied to it by staff has been a bone of contention for a number of years and a large number of people had highlighted the issue to the ATRT in public sessions.
ICANN’s staff this week published, in two parts, 318 pages of Board briefing materials for its meeting in Brussels [Part one | Part two]. Two things immediately struck me when going through the material: one, large proportions of the material released was already publicly available; and two, huge chunks of the documents were redacted. How much exactly? Well, I endeavoured to find out:
So I have an unresolved sadness about ICANN at the end of this Brussels meeting, so I figured I would type it out to figure out why.
Like so many people in the “community”, I feel a strange sense of loyalty to the organization and yet spend about half my time being critical of it. I know how infuriating this is to the people trying to make it work and yet feel compelled to continue to point out where it is failing – at least in my expectations.
It’s not because I feel I can necessarily do a better job – if you’ve been on the inside you know that everything is an impossible balance of judgments. And it’s not because I feel slighted or determined to impose my will – I left on good terms and at the right time. But it’s sad that ICANN just isn’t living up to its potential and because it keeps making bad mistakes, while being incredibly defensive about them.
The organization should be firing on all cylinders at the moment: it is coming to the close of a process for new Internet extensions that will revolutionise the Internet; it has very recently introduced a range of non-English extensions, making the Internet truly global; it has a newish CEO and some energetic new faces; it grows larger and stronger by the day.
Earlier this year, the organization that oversees the domain name system, ICANN, saw the first use of its Independent Review Process – its highest level of review for decisions that affect billions.
The IRP decided conclusively against ICANN. The issue was whether the organization had been right to deny the application for dot-xxx as a new Internet extension: the Review Panel said it was not. Earlier today, the Board announced that it would accept the Review Panel’s findings and set in place a multi-stage process of approval before the extension – intended purely for adult content – is added to the Internet’s “root”.
In doing so, the Board accepted two of the five conclusions of the Review Panel. First, that the company behind dot-xxx, ICM Registry, had met the required sponsorship criteria for its application; and second that the finding it had not meet the criteria “was not consistent with the application of neutral, objective and fair documented policy”.
Earlier it had also accepted the first conclusion that the Review Panel drew: that the Panel’s declaration was advisory and did not constitute a binding arbitral award.
But what of the other two?
These two were crucial in that they were nothing to do with the dot-xxx case but were instead about the independent review process itself i.e. deciding the method by which the organization would be held accountable in future.
As flagged up yesterday, the ICANN Board has approved the dot-xxx Internet extension at its Board meeting just now in Brussels.
It did so almost unanimously (two abstentions) but rather grumpily, however, with several members saying they were “uncomfortable” with the decision and appearing the blame the “process” for forcing them to make a decision. The approving resolutions also stuck in several approval steps, which more members grumpily pointed to.
The resolutions – and a statement attached to the vote by the CEO – also purposefully stepped away from ICANN accepting recommendations by the independent panel review that will make it less likely that the Board will be told it has done the wrong thing in future.
This is slightly sad – the Board had a great opportunity to be big-hearted and to demonstrate that it does indeed believe that it should be held accountable and that it is not as arrogant as it sometimes comes across – but they blew it. And used the difficult nature of dot-xxx as cover.
The domain name system’s overseeing body, ICANN, will approve the controversial Internet extension dot-xxx, designed for online pornography, at its Board meeting tomorrow.
The pre-announcement came in an extraordinary statement read out at the start of the public forum at ICANN’s meeting in Brussels by the organization’s general counsel, John Jeffrey.
The statement said that the Board accepted the results of an independent review panel that the Board had made the wrong decision back in 2007 when it denied the application.
But then it went further to say it would approve dot-xxx, would enter into contract negotiations, and then refer that contract to the Governmental Advisory Committee to make sure they were happy with its contents, since they had raised concerns in the past.
The news caught the community by surprise, just as it was due to make its views known to the Board, but has so far been warmly welcomed by the community.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t go to many Wednesday sessions at ICANN Brussels. At least not physically. The remote participation tools mean that, unless you want to actually raise a point at the microphone, you can settle yourself down somewhere more comfortable and follow events on your laptop (and even your iPhone with the Adobe Connect app).
No need to cram into a room, or ask 10 people to stand up so you can squeeze past them. You can instead pick a more comfortable chair, next to a table, get a nice cup of coffee or maybe a beer or glass of wine and follow events online. The majority of ICANN meetings rarely heat up so you’re not missing much by not being in the room.
I’m not the only one to have realized this. Which explains entirely and absolutely why the 1,000-seater main room had an audience of roughly two for the GNSO Council meeting.
When it comes to bums on seats, the GNSO Council beats only the ICANN Ombudsman in turnout and yet, year-on-year they insist on being in the main room, leaving popular events (DNSSEC this time) to be forced into smaller rooms.
Why? Well the Council claims that it needs the full stage to hold all its members (conveniently ignoring the fact that it actually doesn’t, and they could use the GAC room for one). The real reason is habit and a grand sense of self-importance.
This Friday, it looks as though the ICANN Board will follow the clear conclusions drawn by its independent review and approve dot-xxx.
Given the importance of the first use of the review process, the importance of the Board being seen to be accountable and the fact that the community was pretty unanimous in recent public comment, it is pretty much the only reasonable course of action.
The question then is: how do things move forward? The company behind dot-xxx, ICM Registry, has published what it thinks is the best approach, but in both pieces of work put before the Board by ICANN staff, has been the suggestion that the Board would need to go back to the GAC before making dot-xxx a reality.
The question is: why? Unfortunately, neither paper makes it particularly clear. As far as I can determine, not only is there no need to go back to the GAC over dot-xxx but it also unlikely to serve any real purpose, and it may even put the GAC into a difficult position where it effectively approves a controversial top-level domain.
Nothing aids careful discussion and debate more than loud repetitive ringing. So thank you the Square Meeting Centre in Brussels for introducing not one but two ringing systems that go off every 30 minutes: a fire alarm and the bells from the nearby cathedral.
Despite this auditory assistance, the second (third) day of the ICANN meeting saw plenty of discussion. And some testy exchanges.
Most lively was when ICANN finally came good on its six-year promise to provide the country code managers with a figure for how much they actually cost the organization.
This has been a long-running argument: the country code managers will only providing voluntary contributions (because they don’t want to implicitly accept ICANN has authority over them), and ICANN wants more cash than it gets through this system.
The stalemate was finally broken when ICANN finally produced some figures this morning. Unsurprisingly, the ccNSO didn’t react to an annual invoice stretching to millions of dollars with unbridled glee. So what did it do? Well, it reads like a punchline to an ICANN joke: it created a working group to discuss how it might pay it.
This approach irritated ICANN’s chairman – who comes from the ccNSO – who complained that maybe the ccNSO should have thought about how to pay before now. Current chair Chris Disspain complained back that there wasn’t much point in going down that path when it wasn’t known whether the bill would be $1 million or $10 million. And so on, back and forth.
What was interesting though was, like receiving a restaurant bill and wondering whether your group really did have six bottles of wine, the ccNSO started drilling into what it was actually being asked to pay for.
After a slumbering, almost tedious, first day, the meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) came alive today for its official opening.
Gone were the musical extravaganzas of the previous two meetings (a shame?), but CEO Rod Beckstrom made sure there were fireworks by giving a defiant speech to his organization’s critics.
The VIP quotient was also pretty high, with EC President Herman Van Rompuy and the European Parliament star-turn Silvana Koch-Mehrin appearing on stage and EC vice-president Neelie Kroes providing a video message.
The politicians gave policy-wonks a wide variety of cheap thrills by throwing in knowing but vague statements about Internet governance and the IANA contract. But Beckstrom went to town, insisting on his autonomy when it came to the simmering dot-xxx issues, the new Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT), and public criticisms of comments he had made at the last meeting about the DNS’ security and stability.
The ATRT – which has been doing the rounds talking to all constituencies this week – was not happy and fired back just a few hours later in its public meeting with a statement that, fascinatingly, has since appeared on ICANN’s front page.
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom gave a defiant opening speech at the opening of the organization’s meeting in Brussels.
Answering accusations that the organization is ignoring its own accountability processes, that the staff and Board have insufficient checks on their work, and that he himself had overstepped the mark in comments he made to governments at the last meeting in Nairobi, Beckstrom was unapologetic.
“Much has been made in the media of ICANN’s consideration of the application for a dot-xxx top-level domain, which the board will address this week,” he acknowledged, before repeating the assertion that caused much of the trouble: that the decision, made by an independent panel, was “non-binding” on the Board.
Instead, Beckstrom pointed, rather weakly, to how he had “been struck by the transparent way ICANN is dealing with this controversial issue”.
Transparency – and accountability – are hot topics in ICANN at the moment, especially with an independent review team containing the US Commerce Secretary looking at the organization specifically on these two issues.
That team has just started its work but already Beckstrom appeared to make it clear he was prepared to ignore their conclusions if he didn’t agree with them. Pulling a quote from a 2007 report by the One World Trust, he pointed out that ICANN “is a very transparent organization”. But it is still improving, no matter what others may say.