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.
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