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ICANN vs. the Federal Reserve

Jay Fenello

The Internet is about to go independent.

After years of support and supervision, the U.S. Government is about to irrevocably relinquish its control over the Internet by transferring its authority to an independent corporation named ICANN.

As part of this push, the current chairman of ICANN posted this article to the Wall Street Journal (copied below via fair use): Broadening the Oversight of a Free and Open Internet

What's truly amazing about this piece, is how well it's done.

I found myself nodding in agreement with just about everything in it, especially the reasons why the U.S. Government should do the transfer, and the vision for the organization that takes over this role.

It was only after digesting this piece, that I remembered we are talking about ICANN here. You see, the Internet community has been deceived once before ...

On July 2nd, 1997, the NTIA started the process to transfer its authority over the Internet via a Request for Comments. Then, after thousands of comments were submitted by a wide range of Internet stakeholders, they were compiled into a "Green Paper" which stated:

Principles for a New System. The Green Paper set out four principles to guide the evolution of the domain name system: stability, competition, private bottom-up coordination, and representation.

As the Green Paper devolved into the White Paper, and the White Paper devolved into ICANN, the "representation" principal was the one that was constantly at issue.

Initially, ICANN fought against any representation for Internet users. But, in order to get the contract, ICANN begrudgingly allowed user representation on their board. For North America, that person was Karl Auerbach, one of the first elected representatives in cyberspace.

Unfortunately for everyone, this was a token gesture. Karl was excluded from all important decision making. Then when he complained and tried to change the system, he was removed from the ICANN board, along with all user representation.

Today, we don't know how ICANN came about, we don't know who is behind it, and we don't know how decisions are made in ICANN.

What's really going on here, is the powers that be are about to grant a perpetual franchise of control over who is who, and what is what, on the Internet.

It's similar to the transfer of authority over the money supply by the U.S. Congress to the Federal Reserve. Except in ICANN's case, once the transfer is done, there will be no way to undo it.

So while it may be true that many people and organizations support the transfer of authority from the U.S. government to an independent entity, many of the names mentioned in the article below have also expressed concerns with ICANN (in its present form) being that entity.

Today, ICANN continues to refuse all attempts to put in place some form of user representation, and continues to operate in secret with no transparency or sunshine.

If this transfer is allowed to go forward as is, I predict that, years from now, we will be watching with bated breath for decisions from ICANN, just like we watch for announcements from Janet Yellen today:

Will the Fed raise interest rates by 0.25%?

Will ICANN limit what transgender people can say in cyberspace?

Either way, we'll watch these decisions from afar, and wonder how those people came to have so much power and control over our lives.

Jay Fenello,
Phone: 770-516-6922

* * *

P.S. Here's the referenced article:

Broadening the Oversight of a Free and Open Internet
Stewardship by the global community will guard against 'capture' by one group or government.
By Stephen D. Crocker
April 19, 2016 6:31 p.m. ET

Today the global Internet connects three billion of us. While it has grown, the world has shrunk. Geographic distance has become less relevant as we can more easily access information, communicate and reach new customers.

The Internet has matured because it is free and open, led by the private economy and based on voluntary standards. It is built on the principles that define America: free enterprise and limited government.

It is those same ideals of privatization that frame a proposal recently sent to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that would transition stewardship of some key Internet technical functions away from the U.S. to a diverse and accountable global Internet community.

You can read the rest here:
Broadening the Oversight of a Free and Open Internet

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ICANN is a Lightening Rod but Not the Core Issue Here Sam Lanfranco  –  May 04, 2016 8:05 AM PDT

As a tiny non-profit constituency player within ICANN’s multistakeholder governance model I read Fenello’s ICANN observations with small dose of sympathy and a large dose of indigestion. There is ample scope to analyze the dynamics of policy setting within ICANN’s policy process and come away with concerns about process and outcomes. Commercial interests fund their self-interested participation in ICANN’s governance. The non-profit constituency depends on volunteer participation, and this tilts the playing field in the favor of commercial interests.

ICANN’s remit is around the security and stability of the domain name system. Within ICANN that produces ample conflicts around the creation of new generic top level domain names (gTLDs) such as .sucks, .africa, and .health, and around issues of data privacy and transparency with regard to domain name ownership.

As for Fenello’s reference to the risks ICANN deciding to limit what transgender people (or others) say online, content is outside ICANN’s remit and a contested issue for national governments. ICANN has no say whatsoever. Fenello’s assertion that little is known about ICANN, again leaves me with a tiny dose of sympathy. ICANN probably ranks near the top in terms of the open data government movement in terms of access to content and process data. ICANN does present a problem common to all open data efforts. With so much accessible data it is hard to find desired individual data within the vast cloud of data, and as with any governance process, some aspects are less transparent than others. Also, of course, funded commercial interests can mine that data more effectively than constituencies can, depending on limited volunteer help.

Lastly, there is a bigger problem here, and that has to do with the public and not with ICANN. There are layers and layers of national, regional, and global policy issues, outside ICANN, with regard to the Internet Ecosystem. Policy decisions are made that will shape what become the rights, constraints and obligations of individual and organizational citizenship in the Internet ecosystem.

That citizenship is being shaped without citizens being engaged in the process. Commercial interests are their but the levels of awareness and engagement by citizens, promoting their interests and defending some notion of the “common good” is mainly absent. This is sort of the reverse of George Orwell’s 1984. There the public was propagandized about a non-existent war taking place just over the horizon. Here the public is ignorant about a real war over the rights and obligations of Internet citizenship that is taking place all around them.

If something is amiss here, while ICANN demands unwavering monitoring and engagement, the bigger gorilla in the room is the shaping of Internet citizenship outside ICANN’s remit and scope of practice. The public citizenry needs to become more aware and engaged in building the rights and obligations of citizenship in the Internet ecosystem at all levels. ICANN is only a small piece of that.

Empty words ... all empty words Fred Showker  –  May 07, 2016 7:00 AM PDT

Until ICANN can insure its own policies none of this rhetoric matters. It's all empty words.  ICANN needs to be scrapped, and a new instrument put in its place. Rolling it out on its own is the worst mistake in the internet's history. You'll see.  Unfortunately most people are blinded by the scope of the problem, and fail to see how corrupt ICANN is, and how they are positioning the org to rise above the law and serve only the cybercrime industry. ICANN caused the problem, and has made people rich beyond imagination. You don't think they'll suddenly become honest now, do you?  Wait and see. . . . . https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/stuck-icanns-oubliette-garth-bruen

What? Seriously ??? Fred Showker  –  May 07, 2016 7:07 AM PDT

I'm sorry I cannot seem to DELETE the previous comment.  I went and studied the article on the WSJ that is cited above.  I cannot believe you swallowed that. The whole thing????

Did you guys actually read that article?  Did it start with a series of lies?  Did it ignore the fact that ICANN has no intention of honoring the wants and needs of the public, and has published an internal paper to that effect? 

You need to study up on the history and present failing of ICANN.  Maybe you'd write a more honest article.

Governance Issues and Struggles inside and outside ICANN Sam Lanfranco  –  May 07, 2016 8:56 AM PDT

@Fred The issues around the global, regional and national governance of the Internet are all real (including the struggles within ICANN). As a tiny player from the NGO civil side ICANN engagement I can see that up close and personal.

The key point in this discussion however is to remember that ICANN is only a small piece of the Internet ecosystem governance pie, and while it is important within its narrow remit and important to hold accountable, the majority of issues around governance and Internet ecosystem policy will be decided elsewhere.

At a bigger level it does not really matter who, ICANN, or someone else, is in charge of the stability and security of the DNS system, determines what sorts of policies surround new gTLDs, how relationships with Registries and Registrars are defined and what registrant data is kept and accessible by who under what conditions. Of course ICANN, or someone else, can exercise policy within that remit well or poorly.

However, the bigger struggles around the rights and obligations of citizens in the Internet ecosystem will be mainly shaped by the political jurisdictions in which citizens have national (or regional) citizenship, and shaped in policy processes in which ICANN or a similar organization would have, at most, a secondary role.

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