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Prepare for the Worst, But Hope for the Best

Byron Holland

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the importance of the timeline leading up to the September 2015 deadline for the IANA oversight transition proposal. In that post, I explored the nature of U.S. politics and how it can affect the transition if we, as a community, are not diligent in our efforts to meet that deadline.

Since then, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has held its first meeting and a conference call, resulting in some new information that necessitates an update to that post.

In doing so, my intent is not to be alarmist, but the facts remain — there is a lot of work to be done, and there is little time to do it in.

When you map the variety of meetings, consultations and work we have to accomplish, it's daunting. While there is no specific timeline for the work of the ICG set yet (as far as I'm aware), at the IETF meeting in Toronto, Alissa Cooper, the acting chair of the ICG, presented her sense of the key milestones for their work. We've borrowed her image and used it as a base for the following graphical representation of the events leading up to September 2015:

The first thing you should notice is that the full proposal from the ICG is due at the end of June 2015, not September. This recognizes the fact that the NTIA needs sufficient time to consult with its stakeholders — government agencies and the like — about the proposal before it is finalized, and this could take several months. The last time the IANA contractor was up for renewal in 2012, the NTIA spent more than a year engaged in a process that resulted in it being re-awarded to ICANN. The other date to notice is December 31, 2014, the date the ICG has identified for community proposals to be submitted.

What does this all mean? Our time is incredibly short to complete this important task and the consequences of not finishing it are making me increasingly concerned. I stand by my assertion that we only get one chance to do this. Fact is I feel a sense of unease whenever I hear ICANN community members saying that if we miss the September 2015 deadline, it's okay, because the IANA contract can be extended.

If you follow U.S. politics, you know how partisan the debate about the IANA transition is. From ill-informed media reports to political grandstanding, there's no shortage of talking heads bemoaning the 'president's decision' to turn the Internet over to bad actors.

The problem is that it may be extended into the term of a U.S. political establishment hostile to the NTIA backing away from its traditional oversight role. By not meeting the deadlines, we risk having to push the internationalization of the IANA functions through during a time when both houses of Congress could be controlled by the Republicans and a Republican president (after the election in 2016).

Are they uninformed and using the issue for their own political gain? Absolutely. Does that mean that we should ignore them? Absolutely not. They have the authority to affect our processes, from legislation that can delay the process to an outright block of the transfer, and they are watching this process very closely. So far, Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) and Rep. Kelly (R-PA) have put forward bills to impede the process of the internationalization of the IANA function. At the U.S. Internet Governance Forum, Greg Walden presented an impassioned defense of the .COM Act in his keynote.

These are some pretty high-ranking Congressmen that wield considerable power — for example, Walden is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. They also have some well-defined ideas about what the outcome of the oversight transition process should look like.

Given the current rhetoric in Washington, the internationalization of IANA won't stand a chance once Obama become a 'lame duck' president or has vacated the White House. The IANA oversight transition initiative is the result of his office and his staff. It may not be well known outside of North America, but when there is a change of government in the U.S., all senior public servants are replaced. There is an extremely high probability that most, if not all, of the Obama administration's advisors will leave their positions at some point in the next two years. Moreover, this exodus of senior-level bureaucrats usually begins the year before as they seek employment in the private sector. So, there is a strong probability that Larry Strickling — among others — will not be around to shepherd any final IANA transition proposal through the corridors of power in Washington (note that this is a personal observation based on historical precedent. I have no knowledge on Larry's — or anybody else's — plans).

What happens when the inside champions for the internationalization of IANA move on? Who will be left to push the file through?

My fear is this — if we do not meet the September 2015 deadline, we will have failed. The next administration in Washington will have no appetite to try this process again. It may be viewed as a failure of not only the Internet governance community, but of the efficacy of the multi-stakeholder model itself, and that's not something we want to put at risk in light of the increasing threats it faces.

We are all aware that prior to the NTIA's announcement in March there was significant discussion about the extent of the U.S. government's control over the Internet. It's been a key driver of the push toward a multi-lateral model for Internet governance. If Congress denies a proposal to internationalize the IANA functions because of our inability to meet the deadlines, it will make U.S. control over the Internet a demonstrable fact in the eyes of much of the world. We do not need to give the opponents of the multi-stakeholder model more reason to call for multi-lateral control.

Yes, this is speculation, but the potential outcomes are real and could derail our entire process. I think we should heed the words of Benjiman Disraeli who said, "I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best."

Let's focus our energies on the IANA oversight transition. It is our most pressing issue at this time — we need to put aside the weight of he perceived wrongs of the past and move forward in trust as a true multi-stakeholder community.

By Byron Holland, President and CEO of CIRA. More blog posts from Byron Holland can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation

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Comments

Analysis Misreads US Politics and Abandons Linkage Between IANA Transition and ICANN Accountability Philip S. Corwin  –  Aug 23, 2014 12:43 PM PDT

Byron:

With all respect, I must take exception to your analysis. It misreads US politics. Even worse, it advocates pushing the IANA transition through to meet an artificial deadline in isolation from assuring that it is accompanied by a final plan for and assured implementation of enhanced ICANN accountability measures.

While President Obama will not officially be a lame duck" until January 2015, he may already be a functional lame duck. With popularity rating hovering at 40 percent many Congressional Democrats are scrambling to distance themselves from his Administration in advance of the November 2014 midterm elections. Further, pollsters uniformly agree that Republicans have a better than even chance of retaking control of the Senate in this election. Should that happen it does not means that a Republican House and Senate can pass any legislation they desire regarding IANA or ICANN, as Senate rules require a minimum of 60 votes to do almost anything. Hence, if any action were to be taken it would have to be somewhat bipartisan in nature.

Second, if the IANA transition and enhanced ICANN accountability plans are not completed by September 2015 it does not mean that the process will continue for the full two-year length of the requisite contract extension and therefore extend into the first year of the next Administration (and of course it is a fruitless exercise at this point in time to even speculated as to who the candidates for President will be in 2016, much less which will prevail or what the composition of Congress will be in 2017). President Obama does not leave office until January 2017, which means there will be 16 months after September 2015 in which the dual tasks can be completed while he remains in office. That appears to be sufficient time to get both jobs done right.

Fadi Chehade and Larry Strickling both testified before two Congressional hearings this spring that September 2015 was a goal and not a deadline, and that there would not be a problem if an extension was necessary – if either retreats from that position next spring or summer it will have negative political ramifications for the completion of the transition. Further, at his recent AEI appearance Secretary Strickling voiced the NTIA’[s view that the IANA transition should not be completed until there was a final accountability plan accompanying it; when he was asked about the possibility of the need for a contract extension, he indicated that would be fine and specifically noted that it would not imply that the process need go of for another two years.

Third, you are correct in your view that “time is incredibly short to complete this important task” of drafting a final IANA transition plan by June 2015, the date required to assure NTIA review by September. The corollary is that the available time is almost surely inadequate to complete an accompanying proposal for enhanced ICANN accountability. The accountability process is lagging several months behind the one for the transition. The issues are more complicated both substantively and politically. And ICANN is not helping matters at all by trying to push forward with its August 14th, fait accompli proposal for an accountability process that is at odds with the weight of the public comments received and with the sentiments of the GNSO and NCSG. The result is a proposal for an overly complicated mechanism that appears designed to dilute community input, uncertainty about whether the community will even participate or decide instead to form its own CCWG, and deepened mistrust between the community and ICANN staff. This is most unfortunate and does not bode well for expeditious consideration of accountability matters. If ICANN had instead simply supported the community in forming a CCWG on accountability matters the process could already be moving forward.

It is true that initial Congressional reaction to the transition was quite partisan, although a number of prominent Democrats – including former President Clinton, whose Administration created ICANN – voiced concerns. But a lot has happened in intervening months. The transition and accountability may be a big issue within the ICANN/IG bubble we inhabit, but in the wider world of politics they are barely on the radar screen, and will certainly not affect the outcome of a single Congressional election. This means that members of Congress will largely base their positions on input from the technology companies and trade associations as well as civil society groups active on Internet issues in Washington. And the message that members of both parties are getting is not one of opposition to the transition but rather insistence that it be accompanied by meaningful accountability reforms.

When Congress returns in September we will likely see a more bipartisan approach that resonates with that message. Since I wrote earlier this month about the growing coalescence around a core set of Principles underlying enhanced accountability (http://www.circleid.com/posts/20140807_constituencies_coalesce_on_iana_transition_icann_accountability/ ) those Principles have gained further support both within the US and abroad. A review of those Principles indicates that anything that meaningful would be very unlikely to emerge from the accountability process that ICANN staff is trying to impose on the community, and that the leverage provided by the transition will likely be necessary to assure the adoption and implementation of any reforms of such breadth.

I would be happy to see both processes completed by September 2015. But if a contract extension is required to get the jobs done right it does not mean the tasks will not be completed during the Obama Administration. The worst result would be to rush through an IANA transition plan in advance of robust accountability enhancements — as failure to implement them would be directly contrary to the views of the ICANN community expressed through a bottom-up multistakeholder process, and could well pose the greatest threat to ICANN’s long-term viability.

Sincerely, Philip

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