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Post JPA: Tempered Happiness

The Affirmation gladdens me. The Affirmation worries me. The Affirmation makes me wonder what is next.

I am of course referring to the Affirmation of Commitments between the United States Department of Commerce (DoC) and ICANN. In the respect that the US is loosening its grip on ICANN a little, this is a good thing. Symbolically, of course it is gigantic — ICANN no longer sends its reviews to DoC, as the CEO says, it sends them to the world. And this is a good thing. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent this will affect anything material in the long run. As both ICANN and the DoC were well known to point out, they never did interfere in ICANN in any direct oversight sort of way. And of course the DoC contract with IANA remains in effect. But, I am happy about the symbolism of this move.

What worries me is that instead of loosening the control of governments, that control was strengthened. It was almost a joke among some of us in the United Nation's Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) that when it came to choice between the uninationalization of ICANN and the multinationalization of ICANN, we chose denationalization. By denationalization we meant the establishment of a true multistakeholder regime with equal participation of Nations, the private sector, civil society and the Internet technical community. Up until today, ICANN was one of the most advanced examples of this form of multistakeholder regime.

Today, I am no longer so sure.

I am concerned that support of the multitstakeholder ideal has been put into the hands of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC). The Affirmation gives non-governmental actors the right to participate in the soft oversight of reviews, only to the extent that the Chair of GAC allows it.

This concerns me.

In some haunting ways it reminds me of being back in WSIS, were we had to ask the Government Chair of the WSIS for permission to speak or to even sit in the room. Now he was a really good guy and often let us speak and even let us use some of the empty chairs in the room. And I for one was very appreciative.

I have been told by some people I like and trust that I should not fret about this. Everything will be OK, the multistakeholder ideal will prevail. And didn't I notice that the words multi-stakeolder are used in the Affirmation? Twice even?

And the Chair of the GAC is still a really good guy who I like and trust in so many ways.

So I believe that he will allow non-governmental actors from the private sector and from civil society to participate. I believe it will be OK.

I do.

Really, I do.

At least I think I do.

But should it rely on belief? Should it rely on trust of a single individual and his ability to do the right thing?

I don't think so. I think there needs to be some sort of institutionalization of the multistakeholder ideal in this Age of Affirmation. I think ICANN needs to take some firm and visible steps to increase both the reality and visibility of multistakeholder outreach even before the first review team is formed. Perhaps even some senior staff needs to be tasked with supporting, really supporting (not managing), the ideal of a multistakeholder model.

On October 1st we will have new ICANN and on October 1st is important that something be done from the start to Affirm the continuing importance of the multistakeholder ideal and model. Something needs to be done to convince those of us in the Supporting Organizations and in the non-governmental Advisory Committees (especially ALAC that, at the very least, should have shared in the GAC's review responsibilities) that we still matter and that we have something more then just hope and trust to pin our expectations for the future on.

By Avri Doria, Researcher
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Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance
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