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Nations at WSIS Better Off with an ICANN-Like Structure

Elliot Noss

There is much talk currently about the WSIS meeting taking place in Geneva this week which means some needed attention is being paid to Internet governance.

While some may view the term "Internet governance" as an oxymoron and my natural reaction is something along the lines of "I hope that they continue to view regulation as too complicated so that we Internet-folks can just keep doing what we are doing" I confess to knowing deep down that we would all be better off with a simple, effective policy framework than with the current anarchic state.

I would put the subject matter that best frames the need for governance into three buckets, privacy issues, enforcement issues (think spam and fraud) and taxation issues (I will refer to these as "PET issues").

Any talk of Internet governance need start with ICANN. ICANN currently deals only with names and numbers - the DNS and IP addresses. Structurally it is constructed to deal with those problems. The whole "is it a regulator or technical coordinator" debate seems to me to be away from the issue (and I say this while understanding the implications of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)), or at least the issue I want to shine a light on here. ICANN is doing a middling job in dealing with names and numbers currently. I am happy with some things and quite upset about others, but structurally I believe it is appropriate to its task. Dealing with names and numbers.

When I hear about developing countries dissatisfied with ICANN as it relates to Internet governance I do not hear "we do not like the way they are dealing with names and numbers", but instead hear "we do not want ICANN dealing with privacy or taxation or other issues because we do not have enough involvement" and there we agree. However, when these same people try and use the UN or the ITU as the vessels for these issues my blood runs cold.

Different problems require different structures to solve them and ICANN can provide some important structural lessons. The greatest positive in the ICANN structure is that each of policy, technical and business work together in one framework. I would note here that I believe, and my experience has been, that the interests of users are both able to be handled separately and, more effectively, are part of the agenda for each of the other three groups.

The ICANN model needs to be modified to deal with the PET issues. Each country has its own regime for taxation or privacy and certainly for enforcement. The interests and necessary involvement of governments need be much greater in dealing with PET issues. The ICANN model provides, imho, a great starting point. In fact there are interesting similarities (and of course differences) between this and the differences in the way ICANN deals with Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) and Country-Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs).

A tripartite structure, including policy, technical and business, should be absolutely central to any attempt to address these issues and the UN or the ITU are simply NOT THAT. I know that the people of the countries in Geneva calling for UN and/or ITU involvement at the WSIS meeting would be better off with an ICANN-like structure. Unfortunately I am not sure that the same holds true for the politicians and bureaucrats who will advocate these positions in Geneva.

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Reproduced with permission from Elliot Noss' blog E Land.

By Elliot Noss, President and CEO of Tucows Inc.

Related topics: DNS, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Privacy, Spam, Top-Level Domains

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