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A Modest Proposal for ICANN

Jonathan Zuck

When it comes to accountability, ICANN would rather be compared to other U.S. nonprofit companies than to the regulatory bodies it more closely resembles. If they truly wish to be treated like a nonprofit, rather than a regulator, there is a very simple solution: make all contributions strictly voluntary.

The ever-disappointed Accountability and Transparency Review Team for ICANN met with the ICANN board yesterday, and were told their expectations for real accountability mechanisms were simply TOO high. Instead of attempting to model accountability mechanisms after the global regulatory bodies ICANN most resembles, an ICANN Board member suggested that new accountability measures should be based on those of US-based nonprofits. I think this is a BRILLIANT idea.

American-based nonprofits like International Red Cross and the Sierra Club have the ultimate accountability mechanism. If they stop serving the needs of their constituents, their constituents can simply end their support.

With such a simple, effective mechanism in place, comprehensive and redundant systems of checks and balances really aren't necessary. Nonprofits know that they live and die on the trust and commitment of their supporters, and they act accordingly.

So if ICANN wants the community to get off its back about improving its accountability processes, the solution is simple. Instead of extracting a forced donation from every domain name registrant in the world, ICANN should make that donation optional.

On every registrar's checkout page, ICANN could include a simple checkbox with the caption "click here if you'd like to donate a dollar to support DNS management." If that change causes a minor drop off in ICANN's funding, ICANN could supplement its income with a global pledge drive in which it highlighted its achievements and asked users for their support.

Some of ICANN's executives may have to take pay cuts, and our beloved global meetings may have to be held in less exotic locations, but the accountability problem would be solved once and for all, and ICANN could have its wish of being compared not to regulators, but to other U.S. nonprofits.

Alternatively, ICANN's board and staff can abandon the utterly spurious argument that it should be treated like other nonprofits, and set about trying to correct the serious accountability flaws that have plagued the organization since its inception.

By Jonathan Zuck, President of Association for Competitive Technology (ACT). More blog posts from Jonathan Zuck can also be read here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Law, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

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