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Artificial Deadlines, Real Consequences

Executives of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) have been keeping the airlines in business this year, flying to the far corners of the globe to enlist support for ending a key relationship with the U.S. Government this September. It seems the question of ICANN’s readiness has taken a backseat to the imperative of meeting this hard-and-fast deadline.

But for the business community and everyone else who relies on a stable, secure Internet addressing system, the key concern is whether the
ICANN “transition” will preserve the safety and security of the system, not whether it will occur by an arbitrary date. I said as much in my comments to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration on its Joint Project Agreement (JPA) with ICANN.

One thing is clear: most of the people involved in the ICANN process support the idea of ICANN transitioning into a fully private-sector-led entity with a narrow scope and robust accountability mechanisms.  (see all comments)

But attempting that transition before ICANN is fully equipped to stand on its own would be dangerously and unnecessarily destabilizing. Yet that’s exactly what ICANN is trying to do, all in order to shed the JPA by September 2009.

What makes this particularly troubling is that ICANN knows what it needs to do in order to achieve the stability and accountability the community has been demanding.   Terms may differ, but a broad cross-section of ICANN participants have called for:

  • Accountability – specifically a mechanism that would make ICANN accountable to some entity other than itself.
  • Protection against capture – by foreign governments,
    cartels or bureaucracies seeking to impose greater governmental control.

The irony of ICANN’s fervent push to end the JPA is that community support for the JPA stems mainly from the belief that it is the only thing that currently addresses those organizational needs.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the JPA has clearly prevented aggressive governments and government bureaucracies from mounting a full-scale assault against ICANN. The JPA has also introduced a measure of accountability into the process, by requiring ICANN to justify its decisions to the U.S. Government.

The JPA is hardly perfect, but until we come up with something better, it’s our best bet to preserve private sector leadership of ICANN.

–Steve DelBianco