U.S. Web Exit Plan Clears Penultimate Hurdle

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By Joseph Wright

March 9 — Plans to end U.S. technical Internet oversight have cleared the last contested hurdle before submission to the U.S. government.

Three Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers constituent organizations March 9 approved a revised governance proposal that is a required companion piece to the operational details of the transition proposal, which were completed in October 2015.

The votes came after a two-year saga to create the draft plan the U.S. Department of Commerce requested in March 2014 to privatize Internet oversight in ICANN's hands. The plan now goes to the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which must review it to ensure it satisfies the U.S. government's criteria for the privatization.

Controversy over the Governmental Advisory Committee's role in ICANN's new governance structure was the last sticking point in the plan. Some GAC members balked at what they saw as meddling in its internal procedures, while representatives of non-commercial Internet users elsewhere in ICANN said the GAC shouldn't step outside its advisory role by participating in new accountability measures. But though this led to some “no” votes, it didn't derail the process as feared.

Twelve Recommendations Approved

The governance proposal includes 12 recommendations that empower ICANN's community groups to enforce greater accountability for the organization through a series of checks on the board of directors. They include the ability to recall board members, the right to approve changes to certain bylaws designated as fundamental and the capacity to take the board to binding arbitration through an independent review process.

The GAC will participate as one of the empowered community groups under the plan. In return, the Cross-Community Working Group for Enhancing ICANN Accountability limited the GAC's special advisory role, requiring full consensus with no dissenting votes for official GAC advice. Official GAC advice gets special consideration from ICANN's board.

The GAC informed the CCWG in a March 8 letter that it “had no objection” to forwarding the proposal to ICANN's board for transmittal to the U.S. government. The GAC supported 11 of the recommendations but failed to agree on the full consensus requirement.

The Generic Names Supporting Organization, which serves as ICANN's primary policy-making body, approved the proposal in a series of March 9 votes by its council.

“We can state affirmatively to the CCWG co-chairs that the GNSO Council has adopted the CCWG supplemental report and its 12 recommendations,” GNSO council Chairman James Bladel of GoDaddy Inc. said.

A package of seven recommendations with no objections passed without comment in a voice vote. The GNSO council considered five other recommendations individually. Four of the recommendations passed 18-2, while the other passed 19-0 with an abstention.

All “no” votes and abstentions came from representatives of non-commercial stakeholders, the group some feared most likely to derail approval of the proposal. Two Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group representatives on the CCWG filed minority statements disagreeing with portions of the proposal relating to the GAC.

“A number of members of the NCSG remain concerned about the impact of changing the traditional role of the GAC from an advisory committee to a decisional participant in the empowered community,” NCSG representative David Cake said.

The Country Code Names Supporting Organization, which represents registry operators for national domains such as Canada's .ca and Australia's .au, also approved the plan in a 15-0 vote, with two abstentions.

Next Steps

ICANN board chairman Steven Crocker said March 7 that the board would “gratefully endorse and accept” the proposal and forward it to the U.S. Department of Commerce without delay. The board is scheduled to meet March 10, and consideration of the transition proposal is on the agenda.

The Commerce Department is expected to take about 90 days to review the proposal.

The CCWG's work isn't quite done. Co-chair Mathieu Weill said in an e-mail to the group less than an hour after the final approval vote that the Commerce Department will require new bylaws for implementing the plan to be in place before the end of its 90-day review. Bylaws drafting should be completed by April 8 in order to allow for a full public comment period, Weill said.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bna.com

For More Information

The plan can be found at https://community.icann.org/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=58723827

The GAC's letter can be found at http://src.bna.com/dce

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