Stakeholders Support IANA Transition Model; Subsidiary Board, Reviews Need Fleshing Out

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By Joseph Wright

May 21 — The second draft of the primary plan for transitioning U.S. oversight of key domain name system functions to the global multistakeholder community has much wider support than the first draft ever garnered, although concerns about the relationship between a new entity created to house the functions and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers remain.

The results of a public comment period that concluded late May 20 show that the current plan to house the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority naming functions in an ICANN subsidiary or affiliate has widespread support from the stakeholder community. Or, at a minimum, they suggest the ICANN community would rather go forward with this plan than try to agree on another one.

“It represents an acceptable compromise, perhaps the only acceptable middle ground, between the advocates of an ‘internal’ and ‘external’ solution,” the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group said in a May 20 comment.

The comments did focus on several aspects of the plan that could use further development, such as the process for conducting five-year reviews of the newly created Post-Transition IANA entity (PTI), and revealed different visions for governance of PTI.

How We Got Here

The Cross-Community Working Group (CWG) to Develop an IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal on Naming Related Functions released its second draft plan April 22, calling for the creation of the PTI subsidiary to house current ICANN staff performing the day-to-day operational IANA functions. The plan emerged as a compromise between advocates of an internal model, housing the IANA functions within ICANN, and an external model in which they would housed in a separate entity contracting with ICANN for their performance. 

The CWG's first draft would have created an external contracting entity with the authority to issue a new request for proposals if ICANN's contractual performance was unsatisfactory. Many comments on the first draft considered the initial proposal unnecessarily complex, unwieldy and found it risked recreating accountability concerns in a new forum. Assistant Commerce Secretary for Communications and Information Lawrence Strickling, who announced the proposed transition and who will ultimately determine the sufficiency of any transition proposal, echoed those concerns in Jan. 27 public remarks.

How Will PTI Be Run?

The main point of contention among the comments is how PTI should be governed, perhaps because the nature of the PTI board of directors is left somewhat vague in the draft proposal. The proposal itself says only that the board “could be” an ICANN designated board that does not replicate the complexity of ICANN's multistakeholder board and leave primary accountability at the ICANN level.

“The role and the function of the PTI Board are not adequately defined in the proposal. We believe it is important to have a clear understanding of the role and function in order to be able to populate the PTI Board,” Paul Diaz, alternate chair of the gTLD Registrars Stakeholder Group (RrSG), said in a joint comment submitted on behalf of the gTLD Registries Stakeholder Group and the RrSG.

Diaz said the PTI board should consist of no more than five members with the very limited role of maintaining day-to-day IANA operations, and the board should be drawn from current IANA functions managers and one or two ICANN board members. If PTI is created as a public benefit corporation, this structure would be consistent with an “insider” board.

Alan Greenberg, chair of ICANN's At-Large Advisory Committee, submitted an ALAC comment saying the PTI board must be more broadly representative of the community and not disproportionately represent registries. ALAC was the primary community supporting an internal model for IANA, and Greenberg said ALAC continues to prefer such a model but is willing to accept the subsidiary compromise if cost and complexity issues can be sufficiently reined in.

The ICANN Board submitted a comment asking for clarification about just how separate PTI and ICANN would be, in areas for instance such as shared office space, accounting, human resources and legal staff. The board also asked how PTI director duties would align with ICANN strategy requirements, and what would happen if separate PTI and ICANN legal staffs provided conflicting IANA-related advice.

The NCSG raised an issue likely to be decided by the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) — whether the technical numbers and protocols IANA functions will also be housed within PTI. NCSG said that they should and that their respective technical communities — the Regional Internet Registries and the Internet Engineering Task Force — should be represented on the PTI board.

The ICG has already received numbers and protocols proposals that it must integrate with the CWG naming plan for submission to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications & Information Administration.

Review and Separation Processes Need Detail

Comments also suggested that two processes created by the plan require additional consideration before the plan is finalized. The first is a five-year IANA functions operator (IFO) review that could also be initiated as a special review if performance issues emerge. The second is the process for PTI putting the IFO contract out for bid as a last-ditch measure should other accountability processes fail.

The GNSO Business Constituency (BC) said it supports the creation of an IANA functions review team, but that such a body should be constituted only for reviews and should not be a standing body subject to mission creep. Its processes should be open, transparent and guided by its limited remit.

ALAC said the IFO review should also focus on the newly created Customer Standing Committee, the registry-dominated body that would oversee day-to-day IANA functions performance. ALAC also questioned whether the generic and country-code names supporting organizations (GNSO and CCNSO) were the appropriate escalation path for addresses IANA operational issues, given the stated CCWG goal of maintaining and enhancing the separation of policy-making and IANA operational functions.

The hypothetical IFO separation review process could be triggered by an IFO recommendation to escalate concerns. The CWG plan suggested two escalation approaches—either appointing five members of each SO/AC to a separation review team, or broadening the defined community through the ICG. The separation review would be performed under established guidelines for cross-community working groups and could lead to a range of outcome up to and including initiating a separation of PTI from ICANN.

The separation review remains one of the less complete portions of the proposal, and the CWG recognized that this portion of the plan is incomplete and highly dependent on Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG) outcomes.

Diaz said that no separation review should proceed unless supported by a majority of country-code and generic top-level domain registries, the direct customers of the IANA functions. This would assure that the separation review did not occur in spite of customer satisfaction with PTI's performance. Registries should also be represented on any separation review team, he said.

ALAC did not address the separation review mechanism but said the proposal should be edited to make explicit precisely what is to be separated from what as a result of that review.

The CCWG co-chairs said that separation review may also be proper subject for their proposal, and suggested the CWG might want to address the issue during the CCWG's pending public comment period.

Should Path Forward Be Slowed?

According to the CWG's published timeline, the end of the public comment period starts a brief new drafting period set to conclude by June 8. On that day the CWG intends to deliver the plan to its chartering organizations, the supporting organizations and advisory committees, for approval by June 25. The plan will then be delivered to the ICG for coordination with the technical transition plans already submitted by the numbers and protocols communities.

The BC, however, suggested in its comment that this timeline be altered. Because of dependencies between the CWG plan and the CCWG plan currently in its first public comment period, the BC suggested that a third public comment period should follow the next drafting round. That comment period, it said, should coincide with the second CCWG draft comment period scheduled to begin in late June so that the community can consider the two plans as an integrated whole.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com