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Consensus Interruptus

It took a trip to California — the land of the gold rush — to discover that most elusive of ICANN aspirations: consensus.


ICANN kicked off this week’s meeting in San Francisco with a parade of Internet pioneers discussing the past, present and future of ICANN. One-by-one, they got up and agreed on these three principles:


1) The multistakeholder model is worthy (and it’s working)
2) ICANN is the right organization to manage the Domain Name System
3) ICANN can do better at being accountable and transparent to its constituents


On this, great minds really do think alike. Whether it was “Father of ICANN” Ira Magaziner calling for greater transparency where consensus cannot be reached, or “Father of the Internet” Vint Cerf urging ICANN to “strive for transparency” and provide extensive rationale for decisions, these luminaries echoed demands of the global ICANN community over the past several years.


ICANN insiders might focus on points of contention that came out of this morning’s comments — whether on new gTLDs or the future of the IANA functions — but I was more interested by those areas where ICANN pioneers clearly agreed.


We may take for granted that the multistakeholder model is best, and that ICANN is the right multistakeholder model for managing the Domain Name System. But that position is hardly universal around the world. Governments who crave more control over the Internet favor the United Nations and its International Telecommunications Union instead of ICANN and its multi-stakeholder approach.


But here’s an area where we heard complete consensus today: ICANN isn’t perfect, but it’s our best hope for reflecting the global Internet community in the management of the Internet.


Which brings us to the final point of consensus: the need for continuing ICANN improvement. If Internet stakeholders are going to keep traveling all over the planet to defend ICANN and its multistakeholder process, we need to see ICANN making real progress to address our consensus-tested concerns.


The U.S. Commerce Department’s Lawrence Strickling offered ICANN a way to address this critical area of consensus, saying “the board needs to move with all dispatch to implement the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT).” The ATRT was yet another example of a consensus process within ICANN that actually worked, generating substantive recommendations for ICANN to strengthen its accountability and transparency. Those recommendations now sit with the ICANN board, which is responsible for their implementation.


We’ll be watching closely to see how that actually happens. In his opening comments today, ICANN President Rod Beckstrom insisted that ICANN intends to “fulfill and exceed our responsibilities under the Affirmation of Commitments,” which seemed in keeping with this morning’s theme of consensus, until Rod added “…subject to receiving appropriate resources.”


Then later today, ICANN Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush agreed with a commenter who worried that maintaining “trust” in the domain name system was an “impossible job”. But didn’t ICANN just affirm its commitment to promote consumer trust as it creates hundreds of new top-level domains?


Hopefully ICANN’s leaders weren’t giving us a preview of “consensus interruptus”.


–Steve DelBianco