[discuss] ICANN governance structure

Shatan, Gregory S. GShatan at ReedSmith.com
Wed Mar 19 01:25:54 UTC 2014

The history of ICANN is fascinating stuff, and I'm sorry I wasn't there.

While what was and what might have been are interesting and instructive, they are not what is.

My ICANN history probably starts in a marginal way around 2005 and then picks up in 2007 or so when I first joined the IPC and joined a Working Group.  I've been fairly active in the GNSO since then, as one of the "little people" who toil in obscurity on Working Group matters, public comments, etc.  That's the basis of my perspective.

I'm pretty confident that I'm not working "within ICANN" no matter what a document in 1999 might have said.  The GNSO is not the DNSO and the DNSO is not what Jon Postel's DNSO might have been.  It's neither as far out of ICANN as it might have been or as far "within ICANN" as this makes it sound.

By reducing history to bare bones, it leaves a decided mis-impression.  By saying "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" it makes it sound we in the GNSO are all working under tight Board supervision, playing in a sandbox built by Daddy.  That's really very far from the truth.  The GNSO functions in an autonomous, removed and somewhat prickly manner vis a vis the Board.  Sure, policy recommendations need to be approved by the Board, and implementation is led by the staff (not the Board), with the GNSO keeping a sharp on eye on implementation (and especially implementation that starts to smell like policy decision-making in the wild).

The GNSO relationship to ICANN and to the Board and Staff of ICANN are unique in my experience.  To say the GNSO is "within ICANN" erases everything that makes the GNSO the GNSO.  Sure, it's not perfect.  We bitch and moan and we look for ways to improve it.  I could probably look at just about any organization and say "a substantial numbers of its [employees/members/constituents/citizens/performers/players/students/teachers] aren’t all that happy about the way it functions" and I would be right.  If I were a management consultant, somebody might even pay me a million bucks to say it (at great length and with charts and graphs).  Sure, there's room for improvement and lessons to be learned.  But it helps to start from a reasonable understanding of what the GNSO is and isn't in 2014.

Greg Shatan

-----Original Message-----
From: John Curran [mailto:jcurran at istaff.org]
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 7:37 PM
To: Mike Roberts
Cc: Shatan, Gregory S.; discuss at 1net.org
Subject: Re: ICANN governance structure

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" - <http://archive.icann.org/en/meetings/singapore/singapore-statement.htm>

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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