ICANN Affirmation: US Giving Up Internet 'Control'?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 10/04/2009 07:25:00 PM
Or so says a recent Guardian headline reporting on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN's new Affirmation of Commitments. This topic should be of great interest to IPE followers who view continued US discretion over the function of the Internet as evidence of US hegemony. The new document replaces the original 1998 Memorandum of Understanding between the US Department of Commerce and ICANN--a newly-established non-profit corporation--"to privatize the management of the domain name system (DNS) in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management." Among other things, it was tasked with:
  1. Establishment of policy for and direction of the allocation of IP number blocks;
  2. Oversight of the operation of the authoritative root server system;
  3. Oversight of the policy for determining the circumstances under which new top level domains would be added to the root system;
  4. Coordination of the assignment of other Internet technical parameters as needed to maintain universal connectivity on the Internet; and
  5. Other activities necessary to coordinate the specified DNS management functions, as agreed by the Parties.
The status quo for eleven years since the beginning of ICANN and Department of Commerce involvement has become increasingly questionable given the proliferation of Internet users worldwide. That is, it was more of an American institution overseeing a global information network. Call it a cyber-democratic deficit. Accordingly, many of the complaints about the ICANN-DoC set-up pertained to the global governance of other interested parties in an institution supposedly tasked with fostering international cooperation.

In early 2008, ICANN sent a message to the Department of Commerce saying it sought independence from the US government. It justified this plea by saying most of the original objectives of the ICANN/DoC arrangement were already fulfilled and ICANN had to be changed to accommodate more international stakeholders. Fast-forward again to the end of September 2009 and this MOU has now been replaced with the aforementioned Affirmation of Commitments that should welcome more input from international stakeholders. Here's what ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom had to say:
ICANN was created to help move the domain name system that holds all the names and all the addresses together on the internet globally. Rod Beckstrom - ICANN Chief Executive Officer And it was meant to transfer that responsibility from the U.S. government into the private sector, into a multi-stakeholder nonprofit organization. And the JPA was set up to assist that transfer and to make sure that transfer was successful.

With the conclusion of the JPA [Joint Project Agreement with the Department of Commerce], it means we've hit that target after 11 years and we're now mature enough to move on to the next phase of our global development. So it's a real exciting time for us to enter a whole new level as an organization.
Among the important bits alluding to internationalization in the text are these:
4. DOC affirms its commitment to a multi-stakeholder, private sector led, bottom-up policy development model for DNS technical coordination that acts for the benefit of global Internet users. A private coordinating process, the outcomes of which reflect the public interest, is best able to flexibly meet the changing needs of the Internet and of Internet users. ICANN and DOC recognize that there is a group of participants that engage in ICANN's processes to a greater extent than Internet users generally. To ensure that its decisions are in the public interest, and not just the interests of a particular set of stakeholders, ICANN commits to perform and publish analyses of the positive and negative effects of its decisions on the public, including any financial impact on the public, and the positive or negative impact (if any) on the systemic security, stability and resiliency of the DNS.

5. DOC recognizes the importance of global Internet users being able to use the Internet in their local languages and character sets, and endorses the rapid introduction of internationalized country code top level domain names (ccTLDs), provided related security, stability and resiliency issues are first addressed. Nothing in this document is an expression of support by DOC of any specific plan or proposal for the implementation of new generic top level domain names (gTLDs) or is an expression by DOC of a view that the potential consumer benefits of new gTLDs outweigh the potential costs...

9.1 Ensuring accountability, transparency and the interests of global Internet users: ICANN commits to maintain and improve robust mechanisms for public input, accountability, and transparency so as to ensure that the outcomes of its decision-making will reflect the public interest and be accountable to all stakeholders by: (a) continually assessing and improving ICANN Board of Directors (Board) governance which shall include an ongoing evaluation of Board performance, the Board selection process, the extent to which Board composition meets ICANN's present and future needs, and the consideration of an appeal mechanism for Board decisions; (b) assessing the role and effectiveness of the GAC and its interaction with the Board and making recommendations for improvement to ensure effective consideration by ICANN of GAC input on the public policy aspects of the technical coordination of the DNS; (c) continually assessing and improving the processes by which ICANN receives public input (including adequate explanation of decisions taken and the rationale thereof); (d) continually assessing the extent to which ICANN's decisions are embraced, supported and accepted by the public and the Internet community; and (e) assessing the policy development process to facilitate enhanced cross community deliberations, and effective and timely policy development.
So, in theory, this should mean less overt DoC involvement coupled with greater participation by foreign stakeholders. I've been online since 1994 and I am interested to see if the Internet truly evolves in a manner which increases cyber-participation among different interests--especially those which are not friendly to America but desire a significant web presence nonetheless. Could exclusively alphabetic TLDs have been a form of censorship to those unfamiliar with its associated languages, for instance? We'll see if the transition really means a proliferation of URLs and texts in different languages.