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Washington Post: ICANN Departures After Web Suffix Vote Draws Criticism. How Damaged is ICANN?

Khaled Fattal

ICANN Chairman and other departures after the board's vote to approve the New generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) in Singapore draw criticism, reports The Washington Post.

Shortly after the vote, Peter Dengate Thrush joined a New gTLD Group which stands to greatly benefit directly from this vote on the program he led on for nearly 3 years. This appears to have caused grave damage to ICANN's credibility internationally drawing international Press and Governments criticism over conflict of interest.

In fact, this has been one of the widest and hottest controversies being discussed amongst ICANN community members and elsewhere recently. Everyone seems to have a strong opinion on it. Many have chosen not to express their displeasure with it publicly because some stand to benefit from the new gTLDs as either applicants, or consultants, or service providers for applicants, or all of the above and no one wants to appear to rock the boat that may slow down the program they have plans to benefit from hence the "politically correctness" behind this public silence. So be in no doubt, the unease and displeasure I have heard is widespread.

Fundamentally, I believe our decisions under adversity define us. So do our choices when supposedly "unmissable" financial offers and opportunities come our way. Such decisions can then characterize the positive or adverse legacy we leave behind not only on us for years to come but even more on the institutions that brought us in to lead, and the processes they use in this selection.

I must first state for the record, we do plan on applying for many New gTLDs. Second, we also represent many who plan to apply as well, and in multiple scripts, IDNs, our strength. But this did not and does not cloud our judgment when it comes to serving the "Global Public Interest" since almost a decade before the USG placed it on ICANN as a responsibility under their AOC agreement in 2009.

A more recent case in point is a draft petition to the ICANN board sent to me by very close friends seeking my signature and support prior to it being sent to the ICANN board for consideration. The petition hoped to reduce fees on multiple strings of same applicants, namely bundling.

The petition claimed its approval will aid Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). In fact upon reviewing it I believed it served no one in the IDN regions but that it stood to serve first and foremost those with deeper pockets in the English Internet to get reduced fees for applying for their brand or ideas in multiple languages/scripts. I also felt the reasons the petition claimed would help IDNs seemed also misleading. And although such a petition, if accepted by the board, would mean hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions less in fees on me as well as my clients, I declined to sign it because it conflicted with my sense of values and convictions and the role towards the IDN regions worldwide that I have upheld myself to since the early days of ICANN — in essence holding myself accountable to my own sense of values of what is and what is not acceptable to me and my conscience, regardless of any presence or absence of any byelaws.

I also know Peter well to know he is a good and a decent man. But I believe his decision was a grave error in judgment whose price may end up being paid by ICANN itself, the ICANN community, and the group and the people he joined with the price/cost being in international damaged currency of credibility and character to all concerned

I have no knowledge of any direct evidence of any conflict of interest, but the world we live today in is a world of perceptions, and perceptions are often stronger than reality, especially when one is entrusted to lead on serving "The Global Public Interest".

A departing chairman must be of a minimum wisdom to be able to distinguish with clarity between their personal role and its respective possible benefits from the role in which they were empowered and entrusted to serve this "Global Public Interest" as per the AOC. Even if byelaws don't exist to guide them on the right decision, (which says a lot in itself about ICANN's transparency), one's personal values and wisdom, if up to the task, should. If one's values fail to guide them correctly when crystal clarity is most needed, then all their previous and future decisions come into question, and justifiably so. In December 2010 I wrote saying that the real threat to the single root of the Internet seems to come from ICANN, of all places. Today, this adds more validity to fuel this argument.

More crucially, this judgment has caused grave credibility damage to all concerned but significantly it reignited old concerns about the vague transparency inside ICANN and its processes. The Nominating Committee, for example, that delivers to ICANN its board members which still functions like a closed private club despite repeated widespread calls for serious reforms and greater transparency in how the board is selected or better elected.

Before you read the Washington Post report below ponder the inescapable questions I believe must be asked, answered, and addressed by ICANN as an organization serving this "Global Public Interest". The ICANN community and the international community should weigh in on this, each befitting their roles, responsibilities and impact if lessons are to be learned and corrections made.

We live in the era of the Internet infused today with real "People Power" that we have all witnessed recently changing the unchangeable. Significantly more democratic processes, not window dressing, are urgently needed to be in place to restore the gravely damaged ICANN credibility before it is too late and in time for New gTLDs going live.

The status quo will not be salvageable if it cannot serve all Equitably, Fairly, Democratically, and above all, Transparently. This is fundamental to any internationally acceptable governance of the current Internet or the imminent Multilingual Global Internet thru the New IDN gTLDs if ICANN monopolistic role can survive this, if ICANN and IANA are to survive this intact.

For those who may think this is laughably funny, just remember, Ben Ali, Mubarak and Qaddafi also laughed thinking they were also invincible.

Is ICANN listening in its ivory tower? Is the NTIA paying close attention? And how will they answer some the following questions that must be asked?

To read the questions I raise and the Washington Post report, click here.

By Khaled Fattal, Group Chairman, MLi Group & Producer "Era of the Unprecedented
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