A couple of recent articles have caught my attention because they offer scathing criticism of ICANN.
The first is a long and convoluted article by Kieren McCarthy on the .JOBS debacle. Kieren has basically written a feature that only a seasoned ICANN insider can hope to understand and that's a pity, because the points he makes appear very valid. Namely that ICANN is incapable of looking at itself in the mirror and admitting when it's wrong.
The second is an op-ed that makes it clear ICANN often has no-one but itself to blame for the bad press it receives.
Take the long list ICANN directors this article points its finger at as having a stake in the new gTLD game. Anyone not well-versed with the ICANN process would certainly look with some discomfort at the fact that several industry people sit on the Board of the organisation that is approving the Internet's biggest expansion ever. And, be thankful for small mercies, author David Rowan has apparently not heard of previous ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate-Thrush's damaging move to a new gTLD firm minutes after he'd led the Board to an approval vote for the program last June. Otherwise he would have surely painted an even starker picture of ICANN…
As it stands, the picture is bleak, and yes it is one-sided. The truth is that the reason the governance model that ICANN embodies is so strong is in part because it involves industry insiders. For that read people who actually understand what they're voting on! A welcome change from traditional politician-driven governance bodies where the decision makers don't know the slightest thing about the market they're looking at.
But ICANN has not been tough enough with itself in the past, and thus left itself wide open to such attacks. Under existing ICANN rules, Dengate-Thrush did nothing wrong. But that doesn't make it right, because there's a difference between doing what you're allowed to do and doing the right thing. ICANN has since beefed up the onus on its directors to disclose potential conflicts of interests and is asking them more clearly not to benefit directly from Board decisions. It should have come sooner.
Up until now, ICANN has also made a very poor job of explaining how it works, and the benefits it brings. Instead, when it doesn't work, ICANN just gets all upset and sulks, treating critics with at best disdain, at worst outright arrogance.
And that's a pity, because its public/private sector-led governance model remains better suited to something as fast-evolving as the Internet than some sclerosis-riddled organisation who's members might sometimes value state control more than individual freedoms or public service.
By Stéphane Van Gelder, Chairman, STEPHANE VAN GELDER CONSULTING
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