[discuss] ICANN governance structure

John Curran jcurran at istaff.org
Tue Mar 18 23:37:21 UTC 2014

On Mar 18, 2014, at 11:15 PM, Mike Roberts <mmr at darwin.ptvy.ca.us> wrote:

> Perhaps a little background would help on this item.

Sure...  I was there, but would love to hear your perspective.

> In the summer of 1998, there was an effort to socialize - globally - the White Paper recommendations about a new non-profit entity to become the home for functions previously managed by federal research agencies.  The signal to noise ratio of these meetings was not good, for obvious reasons.  Jon Postel and his IETF colleagues were alarmed by the prospect of an ICANN Board doing wholesale damage to Internet infrastructure as a result of ignorance, malevolence, or both.  Joe Sims, Jon’s lawyer (pro bono by the way), created a variation on the standard corporate committee structure in which considerable autonomy was ceded to three “Supporting Organizations,” covering the three responsibility areas of protocols (PSO), numbers (ASO) and names (DNSO).  The Bylaws provided that these SO’s would be self-created by a community process with experts in those areas and would be prima facie the voice of authority on policy, subject to the Board’s final approval.  Most of the year 1999 was consumed in the process of populating the SO’s.

Fine so far.

> We’ll never know whether Jon’s plan would have succeeded because he didn’t get to preside over it.  In his absence, the two technical pieces, PSO and ASO, felt a lot of discomfort about their implied subservience to the USG through ICANN.  Especially since their membership and functions had long since become global.  They moved to the “distant” but cooperative relationship with ICANN that exists today.

Umm... Actually, we went into ICANN Singapore meeting (this was March 1999) with 
both ASO and PSO principals on-board with the formation of ICANN.  ICANN had 
even issued a call for DNSO applicants, and the initial Board had reviewed two 
applications for recognition as the ICANN Domain Name Supporting Organization.  
At the public meeting, the Board indicated that it would not adopt either of 
the two, indicating that the community deserved "the best DNSO possible" (to 
the best of my recollection) and instead outlined some concepts and a structure 
(with constituencies) on which a Domain Name Supporting Organization advisory 
group _within ICANN_ would be based.  When I pointed out that this was contrary
to initial ICANN Bylaws, the Board took that under advice and in the end decided 
to change the Bylaws to align with the chosen direction.  For reference (or to jog 
the memory of those who were there), feel free to review the "Summary of Actions 
Taken by the ICANN Initial Board of Directors at its Meeting in Singapore" - 

So, perhaps it would be best to say we don't know whether Jon's plan would
have succeeded, not because he didn't get to preside over it, but because 
it underwent substantial change during implementation.  As a result of this
change, ICANN added DNS policy development _within ICANN_ (terminology per the 
ICANN Board's own statement above) in addition to its overall coordination 
duties and its IANA implementation duties.  Additionally, it meant the DNS 
service provider community lost an opportunity for self-organization with an
independent voice and finances of its own, i.e. distinct from that gained by
participation in the Internet names and numbers coordination organization.

Given that the original blueprint was to have structural separation for 
policy development (as you put it above, "considerable autonomy ceded")
from ICANN proper, the decision to bring the DNSO within ICANN meant that
the Board approved the actual process for DNS policy development, approved
the policy outputs of the development process, led the implementation of 
the DNS policies including approval of individual DNS requests... pretty 
much everything except actual insertion of DNS entries into the root zone, 
and all of this in addition to its original mission of coordination and 
oversight across the entire Internet identifier ecosystem (much as Jon
et al had done as "the IANA".)  The departure from the original plan made
it challenging to see how an organization doing all things DNS was also 
going to provide oversight for itself, not to mention creating some
significant long-term organizational repercussions for ICANN given the
the growth of DNS policy development compared to its original tasking.

> The DNSO/GNSO relationship has seen many adjustments over the years, and it is fair to say that substantial numbers of its constituents aren’t all that happy about the way it functions. There are disparate views on whether ICANN’s SO’s, as such, have been a success or not.  Careful scrutiny will be required on constituent structures in any new arrangements.
> In that context, Barry’s hub and spoke idea has merit and ought to be explored.

Indeed.  It might be good to seek common understanding of what principles
regarding accountability are desirable, and then consider what strengthening
and restructuring of ICANN's existing mechanisms are best suited to satisfy.


Disclaimers: My views alone, particularly regarding historical events. Note, however, 
             that I am the CEO of ARIN, and ARIN's performance of its mission for the 
             community is predicated upon a stable and secure environment in which to 
             operate (including protection the community-based multi-stakeholder policy 
             development model); this obviously drives some of my underlying concern 
             in making sure that ICANN has foundational strength sufficient to succeed 
             for decades to come, including in circumstances sans NTIA oversight.

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