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Don’t mind me, ICANN — I’m Just One Stakeholder

The theory behind ICANN is that the Internet “community” – which is to say, all of us – determines what’s best for the Domain Name System (DNS). Many of us in the community have long questioned whether ICANN really allows our input to influence its decisions, but rarely are those suspicions so clearly demonstrated as they were this week.

Mike Palage, an adjunct fellow at the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF) and longtime participant in the ICANN process, did an excellent post
on CircleID documenting the broad-based criticism of ICANN’s proposal to add hundreds of new top level domains (TLDs) to the DNS. Both the Commerce Department and the Justice Department posted substantive criticisms, as did
NetChoice and many other businesses.

Palage posits that with so much outcry from the “community,” ICANN might be re-thinking increasingly unrealistic timeline for adding new TLDs. But Kieren McCarthy, ICANN’s general manager of public participation, responded by brushing aside the mountain of criticism, saying it was “perfectly normal – there was always going to be at least one stakeholder that was not happy” 

It’s surprising that ICANN dismissed the letter from the U.S. Department of Commerce so causally.  After all, that letter represents the views of the entire executive branch of the US Government — including the Obama transition team.

But it’s even more troubling that ICANN so casually dismisses a massive cross-section of the global business community with a brush-off like “just one stakeholder group is unhappy”.  The business community includes ISPs, content companies, application providers, and device makers who have spent a trillion dollars to bring the Internet to a billion people.  It also includes the consumer brands and financial services companies that want to protect their customers from fraud and phishing enabled when criminals abuse the DNS.

By dismissing the concerns of business as the complaints of just one stakeholder, maybe ICANN is reaching for the concept of “multistakeholderism” advocated by the United Nations. But as much as they may want to forget it, ICANN’s true DNA remains rooted firmly in the private sector. 
Moreover, only private sector investment will bring the Internet to the next billion users.  

The preamble to its Joint Partnership Agreement with the US Government says ICANN is to promote “private sector leadership in the innovation and investment that has characterized the development and expansion of the Internet around the globe”. And under ICANN’s responsibilities, that same agreement reads, “ICANN shall continue in its commitment to the private sector management of the Internet DNS, by promoting the security and stability of the global Internet…

I get that ICANN intends to just walk away from its partnership with the US Government later this year.  But I really didn’t expect ICANN to boldly declare independence from the private sector, too. 


Where exactly are they going once ICANN becomes independent? And to whom, if anyone, would ICANN be accountable?

By letting this new TLD process spin out of control, ICANN threatens injury to businesses that give it life.  And they’ve just added insult to injury by dismissing the US Government and multinational businesses as just “one stakeholder”.


Does ICANN believe this is inspiring “institutional confidence”?  Sounds more like institutional OVER-confidence to me.