At the ICANN Public Forum in Singapore yesterday, I likened the ICANN to a community garden: fertile, colorful and above all, worthwhile, but not without a few troublesome weeds. Today's Board vote to adopt the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) is a vote to pull those weeds.
As good as voting for this weed-pulling exercise is, completing it will be even better.
No other issue in ICANN's portfolio — including new gTLDs — is as important to the long-term viability of the multi-stakeholder model for DNS management than making necessary improvements to accountability and transparency.
New gTLDs may expand ICANN's reach and scope, but it is a commitment to true accountability and transparency that will protect ICANN against those who would impose external control over it. Indeed, now that ICANN is dramatically expanding the universe that it oversees, accountability and transparency have become even more important to its continued viability.
I hope that nobody involved with the ICANN process needs to be reminded that the multistakeholder model for DNS management is locked in a mortal struggle, as sovereign governments and organizations like the UN's International Telecommunications Union (ITU), continue their efforts to wield more direct control over the Internet, and by extension the DNS.
An ICANN that is demonstrably accountable to its global constituency is an ICANN that is well defended against these efforts, but as long as ICANN remains stalled on making real improvements to accountability and transparency, it remains vulnerable to the claims of some governments that it is not adequately representative of Internet users worldwide.
ICANN's vote today establishes a clear path forward. A comprehensive weeding work plan if you will.
While not perfect, the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team represent a significant and meaningful set of improvements for ICANN to undertake. Implementing those recommendations — and implementing them effectively — will constitute the most significant set of accountability improvements that ICANN has ever undertaken.
As always with ICANN, the devil will be in the details, in this case, how quickly and effectively ICANN implements the ATRT provisions, and, of course, whether they are able to establish effective metrics by which to gauge their success. The lack of effective communication regarding the ATRT during this week's meeting in Singapore was not the most auspicious start to this process. If ICANN is going to improve its accountability, it should start by being accountable about how it makes those improvements. But the board vote is hopefully the start of a clean slate, and a new commitment to the principles, as well as the letter of the recommendations.
There's a Chinese expression that if you don't grab the roots of the weeds when you garden, then the weeds will come back when the spring wind blows. ICANN now has its orders to grab the weeds.
It's time to start pulling.
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