I'm attending only my second ICANN meeting here in Prague since I left the role as Executive Officer and Vice President Corporate Affairs at ICANN in January 2010. I know it's been said before but I guess ICANN is like the lyrics in The Eagles song Hotel California: "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave".
Today at the meeting's opening, outgoing President and CEO Rod Beckstrom said that on his first day on the job he was given a 'blank sheet of paper' and told that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Department of Commerce was not going to be renewed by ICANN and "you better come up with something better and you have to get it done in 90 days because the MoU is going to expire."
It's great rhetorical flourish but the reality is vastly different.
There were reams of paper and seemingly endless discussions that took place before Rod's arrival. We were not starting with a blank piece of paper. It's to his credit that he allowed that to continue, but it's not healthy to perpetuate a belief that what replaced the Joint Project Agreement — the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) — was miraculously developed in the space of only weeks prior to the expiration of the JPA — that an accountability rabbit was pulled from the hat.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
It was ultimately the result of ten years of community effort.
But in the lead up to the JPA expiry, the direct negotiating and writing team was me, Theresa Swinehart and importantly — from the Department of Commerce (DoC) — the willing, creative and sincere cooperation of Fiona Alexander and Larry Atlas the then Senior Advisor at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Communication at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
The first written draft of what is now the AoC was exchanged with the Department of Commerce in June 2009, before the transition from a long standing President and CEO in Paul Twomey to the then newly appointed CEO, Rod Beckstrom and discussions about the words that might be in it commenced at least 8 months before.
When I left the organisation, there was a lot of buzz about this newly inked AoC, because it was a landmark agreement that concluded the long standing Joint Project Agreement. It was a buzz because it was the culmination of effort by the entire community over 10 years, not the work of any one individual.
Now all the talk is the possibility of almost 2000 new gTLDS and the capability of ICANN to deliver the introduction of those.
But it was very encouraging to hear Chairman of the ICANN Board Steve Crocker in his opening address today emphasise that the Board will not be distracted from the important work of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT).
With a new CEO in Fadi Chehade (whose opening remarks at ICANN 44 here in Prague demonstrate a man imbued with sincerity, experience and truth), it's ever more important to understand the evolution of the Affirmation and what led to its creation.
Indeed a concise history of the entire progress of the agreement with the Department of Commerce is found in the Board Minutes.
That history demonstrates the many voices that contributed to the AoC's development. There was also an extensive process by the Presidents Strategy Committee, not to mention all the work by the community itself since the inception of the organisation.
In many respects though, the AoC was formed from the original submission that the Board sent to 2008 Mid Term Review that the US department of Commerce issued concerning the expiry of the JPA. In it they said that after (then) 10 years of organisational performance the time had come for the JPA to be ended. They reinforced that view again in 2009 with an outline of what should be in the AoC in their response to the second NOI that was held in the lead up to the end of the JPA.
They said that the JPA should be replaced by a document that included inter alia:
If these elements look similar to what is in the AoC, it's because direct discussions with the Department of Commerce about the words in the Affirmation was an ongoing exercise over almost a year prior to the conclusion of the JPA.
Interestingly the original draft was called the 'Charter of Commitments'. But after concern by the DoC that the term "Charter" may not be appropriate, the word "Affirmation" was suggested by ICANN staff, because it basically means something that is declared to be true.
That's important because we wanted the commitments being made, to be true, sincere and a promise not only to the ICANN community, but also the community of Internet stakeholders at large.
That basis of truth and sincerity is what should continue to drive the AoC's ongoing implementation. But it should also drive the corporate memory of its creation.
By Paul Levins
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Minds + Machines