News, views and what I choose to dos

ICANN’s two missing accountability clauses

Category : ICANN, Internet governance, Journalism · No Comments · by Jun 25th, 2010

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.

ICANN Day 3: Good news all around

Category : ICANN, Internet governance, Journalism · (2) Comments · by Jun 24th, 2010

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.

Why ICANN doesn’t need to go back to the GAC over dot-xxx

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.

ICANN Day 2: The bells! The bells!

Category : ICANN, Journalism · No Comments · by Jun 22nd, 2010

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.

ICANN Day 1: Was it – dare we say it – actually fun?

Category : ICANN, Journalism · (1) Comment · by Jun 21st, 2010

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.

Beckstrom: You are not a pipe

Category : ICANN, Journalism · (2) Comments · by Jun 21st, 2010

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.

ICANN Day 0: A lot of yakking, a little movement

Category : ICANN, Journalism · (2) Comments · by Jun 20th, 2010

Strolling through Parc de Bruxelles at 8.30am, with barely a soul in sight, and only the occasional car on the road, I couldn’t help but wonder whether to go back to the hotel and have a lie-in. It’s a Sunday after all. Even the outside of the giant see-through jigsaw that is the Mont des Arts was undisturbed and peaceful.

Enter this strange industrial maze and visit the registration booths lost in a huge foyer; wander through the hotel-kitchen corridors, and squeeze into a tiny metal lift to the second, third or fourth floors. Still nothing. But open one of the identikit doors – behind each of which you half-expect to find a flight of concrete stairs – and there they all are. The deciders of the future of the Internet’s domain name system.

I can remember when Sunday at ICANN meetings was a pleasant and relaxed affair – people arriving, bars full of banter, lots of gossip and schedule sharing. But the Day of Rest has been pulled into the meeting over the past two years as the workload increased, and today, in Brussels, it has irrevocably become a full day of work.

I say work. At any given time, half the people in a room are idly typing away at their laptops and paying little attention, a quarter are half-listening and half staring into space, and the remainder are listening to the one person who is currently talking into the microphone.

The ICANN Board by the ICANN Board

Self-evaluation paints picture of Board at odds with itself

A self-appraisal of the ICANN Board has just been posted on the organization’s website.

In it, Board members rate 89 different measures of their own performance according to a seven-measure rating from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree”. Unfortunately, despite plenty of figures in the documents, there is zero analysis of what this all means, so I have gone through them and prepared one.


What is striking from the self-evaluation is how ill-at-ease the Board is with itself. You can see a spread of all the averages on particular topics in a graph below. The median is 4.6 which comes between “Neither agree nor disagree” (rated 4) and “Somewhat agree” (rated 5).

Graph showing all ratings for topics

I would expect a healthy Board, especially one whose main philosophy is to build consensus, to average out around 5.5 – between “somewhat agree” and “agree”.

But this graph only tells half the story – the real problem appears to be that the Board strongly disagrees with itself. If you look at the variation in ratings between different Board members, you see an extremely high level of disagreement.

Press attack on LibDem leader: the last gasp of 20th century media

Category : Journalism · (5) Comments · by Apr 22nd, 2010

It is with some inevitability that the British press this morning launched into a huge anti-Nick Clegg attack – but all the same it is sobering to see it in reality.

As leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg has set the UK election on fire following the first ever televised debate of political leaders, where he came out of it looking like a politician who may have a fresh approach, and the old Labour and Conservative figureheads looked like the same people saying the same things that the British people have had for the past 30 years.

Clegg leapt in the polls and although there is no way the LibDems will enter power, it does put them in an extraordinary position given the split across the country between the other two parties.

What today’s papers highlight starkly however is that the British newspapers (with the exception of the Guardian and Independent) look just as old, out-of-date and mired in old-world politics as Gordon Brown (Labour) and David Cameron (Conservative).

The headlines are so ludicrous, the charges so trumped-up, and the attack so mindlessly biased that it lays bare what the papers have always been – mouthpieces for powerful men. But what those power-players have forgotten is that newspapers also need to be in-step with society and reflect people’s views and attitudes rather than so transparently trying to manipulate them.

In remembrance of Guy Kewney

Category : Internet, Journalism · (10) Comments · by Apr 8th, 2010

So I am a pretty poor choice to write something about Guy Kewney, who passed away earlier today my time and in the early hours UK time.

I have never worked alongside Guy. I have never edited him or been edited by him. In fact, I think I have never written for the same publication as him at the same time; this despite us both working in the same small field in the same city in the same country for more than 10 years.

The reason that I feel a terrible compulsion to write whatever I will write below is that I have been wracked by tears three times in the past six months because of Guy’s illness. First when I heard about it (much later than most friends since I was in the US and constantly busy); second, when I heard the chemo hadn’t worked; and third when it sunk in just a few hours ago that it was done, that Guy had really departed and I would never see or speak to him again.

I have seen the webpage set up by friends of Guy’s to run through their reminiscences of him. I loved reading it because it confirmed what I already knew about this man: that he was a journalist of the highest order. Straight, honest, firm, determined, unswayed, resolute, smart, funny, intelligent, often brilliant. But, sadly, none of these memories firmly adhered to mine.