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The Ultimate Solution to Internet Governance: Let ITU and ICANN compete

Milton Mueller

Controversies over ICANN led to the creation of the Working Group on Internet Governance, but so far there have been few specific proposals for change.

The Internet Governance Project has entered that breach with a new policy paper: "What to Do About ICANN: A Proposal for Structural Reform." The proposal, by Hans Klein and myself, proposes three clean, clear but probably controversial solutions to the criticisms that have been made of ICANN.

The criticisms that have emerged from the WSIS process include unilateral U.S. oversight, concerns about the role of national governments, the exercise of governmental powers without corresponding mechanisms for accountability, and a lack of legitimacy.

The paper proposes three structural reforms. The first is to create an international oversight body to replace both US oversight of ICANN and ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee. That's right - if you get the supervision function right then you don't need to have governments directly meddling in the day to day administration of ICANN. You can abolish the GAC.

The second is to restore ICANN's global Board elections. I can see eyes rolling in some quarters, but the more experience we have with the "reformed" At Large Advisory Committee the better those 2000 elections look. ICANN has too much power over domain name users to not be made accountable in some way to domain name registrants. It's simply not feasible to expect ordinary domain name users to devote half of their life to building and maintaining RALOs. It is much more feasible to give them a vote. I challenge anyone who defends current mechanisms of input to explain to me - someone who has participated in them from day one - how they are more fair and effective than simple Board elections. And everyone knows that the oeprational concerns about global elections can be fixed if we want to fix them.

The most controversial of the suggestions concerns the ITU. People in the US Internet community love to beat up on the ITU, and I am not a big fan of it as an organization myself. The fact remains, however, that a lot of countries, especially developing ones, see it as a more legitimate forum for policy making and administration. So if ICANN and ITU represent two radically different governance regimes, why not let them compete with each other? Let ccTLD managers and Internet Protocol address users pick their governance arrangements, by sharing responsibility for the Internet root zone between ICANN and the ITU. No one on their right mind can tell me that ICANN can delege IPv6 address blocks to regional registries but not to the ITU. ITU can easily be given an IPv6 block to play with. And as for the ccTLDs, even the US Commerce Department-funded National Research Council concluded that ICANN has basically failed to attract the support and participation of ccTLDs. Coordinated competition between ICANN and ITU is the perfect resolution to the small-minded bickering that's been going on since 1996.

Reforming ICANN and coordinated competition with the ITU would improve the climate around Internet governance, retaining the best aspects of the privatized and governmental models.

By Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy
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Re: The Ultimate Solution to Internet Governance: Let ITU and ICANN compete Richard Henderson  –  Apr 06, 2005 10:52 AM PDT

I think Milton Mueller and Hans Klein's paper "What to do about ICANN" is really well-informed and makes balanced suggestions which deserve serious attention.

I guess the question is - how to achieve their adoption.

I think the paper homes in on central issues.

The irony is that although ICANN has resisted what the paper refers to as 'democratisation' (indeed, it reversed the process in 2002), if adopted, this could significantly strengthen ICANN's own credibility. It is extraordinary that ICANN does not move in these directions at a time when its own legitimacy (as a quango of the Department of Commerce of a single nation) is often called into question. Building legitimacy based on global and societal representation, rather than intra-national and governmental controls, could create a model which protects the Internet / DNS functions from too much political interference and allows for genuine self-determination by multiple stakeholders/constituencies.

I also like the model of a competitive yet shared role for ICANN and, say, ITU. After all, ICANN itself was launched in part with a view to promoting competition. Why should not ICANN itself not be part of a wider competitive market with more choice.

I commend "What to do about ICANN" for further study and consideration.

I hope this gets plenty of attention from all parties.

With kind regards,

Richard Henderson

Re: The Ultimate Solution to Internet Governance: Let ITU and ICANN compete Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Apr 12, 2005 6:14 AM PDT

In order for ICANN and ITU to compete, there should be at least a common set of ground rules, to avoid two competing and subtly if not overtly different systems getting built. 

Especially in the realms of domain naming and IP allocation, there is a single system for which different camps have different ideas for control .. with operators scared of just what is going to happen when these two systems start to fork because of ideological / political differences, and demanding that the status quo be maintained, with some of the reforms proposed being adopted, at least the ones that don't involve governance for governance's sake, but actually do highlight lacunae in the existing infrastructure.

In that sense, your proposal to restore, perhaps with some changes, the ICANN board elections, does make sense, as does winding up the RALOs / ALAC.  Extending ALAC and RALOs are not going to do more than an expensive mistake.  Efforts should be concentrated in making ICANN truly international but giving it direction, by reviving elections to the ICANN global board

Hand in hand with this would be for ICANN to mend fences with people or organizations with substantial technical skills, that it has had differences with in the past, and who have remained influential critics of ICANN - critics who are definitely not motivated by some of the more obvious issues that a lot of the ITU proposal supporters fear. Their technical skill and the respect they command will be invaluable to ICANN.

A lot of the criticism targeted at ICANN from some economies in the WGIG comments phase, and in mailing lists such as has revolved around fears and admittedly hazy ideas about ICANN, and about the administration of root servers. 

These fears include -

Allegations of overt control of ICANN / IANA by the USA

A fear that root servers are "only 13 in number, served by a super secret hidden root based in the USA, and to root servers only located in highly developed countries .. [completely ignoring or not understanding anycast, of course],

.. and coming to a lot of support for the Houlin Zhao proposals, a sense that IP addresses are a national resource and so must be in the nation's control much as telephone numbers are .. no matter that extending a telephone numbering paradigm to IP address allocation may not produce the results that some people expect it to produce)

Re: The Ultimate Solution to Internet Governance: Let ITU and ICANN compete Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  Apr 14, 2005 6:03 AM PDT

For a rather detailed overview of this situation, I would strongly recommend reading Geoff Huston's article in the latest (March) issue of the Internet Protocol Journal (www.cisco.com/ipj/)

Highly recommended reading, that.

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