ICANN Board Signals Possible Compromise on Accountability

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By Thomas O'Toole

Oct. 21 – A drafting group working on an accountability plan for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers achieved a breakthrough of sorts when the ICANN board signaled its acceptance of a “single designator” corporate governance entity for enforcement of ICANN community decisions.

Resolving the question of how to hold ICANN accountable to its stakeholders is the biggest stumbling block to hammering out a plan for moving technical functions associated with Internet domain names to ICANN's control.

The drafting group, known as the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) had been working under the assumption of a “single member” enforcement mechanism. It is scrambling to revise its work, to determine whether the overall plan remained viable and to gain consensus among ICANN stakeholders for the new enforcement mechanism.

ICANN is incorporated under California law. Under the law, a designator has power to appoint and remove directors — but a member has more robust rights, and can override certain board decisions. Still, acceptance of a single designator would be a compromise by ICANN's board, which had proposed a plan that wouldn't make any changes to its governance structure.

Despite possible agreement on that point, however, other differences remain. Although revisions to the accountability plan have broad support within the ICANN community, the role of governments within the ICANN policymaking structures has led some groups to withhold support for the proposal.

A significant number of countries within the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) believe that the CCWG-Accountability proposal diminishes their influence because it provides that the ICANN board doesn't have to defer to GAC advice unless the advice reflects a consensus view within the GAC.

Some in the ICANN community believe that the accountability plan gives governments too much influence, because it allows in greater government participation in ICANN community processes.

In addition to concerns about the future role of governments within ICANN, other lingering concerns include transparency of ICANN operations and whether it can be compelled to remain a California corporation.

Delays are hard-wired into ICANN processes, which require that policies are not final until they reach consensus approval of all relevant stakeholders. Additional comment periods invite delay. But without comment periods, the final proposal will lack legitimacy among ICANN stakeholders.

The accountability proposal gives the “ICANN community”— as expressed by ICANN's many stakeholder groups and advisory committees — several new powers that it can exert over ICANN:

• the ability to block budget proposals and strategic plans;
• the right to approve changes to fundamental bylaws and articles of incorporation;
• the ability to block bylaws changes;
• the ability to appoint and remove individual board members;
• the ability to remove the entire board of directors; and
• the ability to compel binding arbitration of disputes with ICANN.


The accountability proposal is the last significant remaining piece of the policymaking work necessary for the ICANN community to complete work on the transition. Another working group within the ICANN community has already completed and gained consensus support for handling the technical functions without the need for supervision by the U.S. government.

The drafters on Oct. 21 published a new timeline for completion of their work. The new timeline includes publication of a third draft of the accountability proposal by Nov. 20, followed by a 30-day comment period, all with the objective of having a final report ready to send out for approval on Jan. 10, 2016.

The CCWG-Accountability group will hire a team of professional writers to hasten and polish the final proposal.

The ambitious new drafting schedule was greeted with skepticism when presented to community members, but the CCWG-Accountability leadership believes they have no choice.

Thomas Rickert, working group co-chair and director of the eco Names and Numbers Forum in Berlin, said that the tight schedule was achievable.

“You will not have the drafting burden,” Rickert told community members. “You will only need to read and check for accuracy.”

Assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Lawrence E. Strickling said Oct. 6 that he must receive the transition proposal, including the CCWG-Accountability's component, by early January in order to complete the transition before the Sept. 30, 2016 expiration of the government's current services contract with ICANN.

To contact the reporter on this story: Thomas O'Toole in Dublin at totoole@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joseph Wright at jwright@bna.com