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If the ICANN JPA Doesn’t Matter, Why Are So Many People Trying to Kill It?

ICANN’s President Paul Twomey was up before Congress today, making his case for why the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) between the US Commerce Department and ICANN should be allowed to expire in September. Among his reasons: the JPA doesn’t matter and if it goes away, “nothing will change” in the relationship between the U.S. Government and ICANN.

If that’s really true, Mr. Twomey should probably tell the governments of Russia and Brazil, the European Union, the International Telecommunications Union and the slew of other foreign and intergovernmental entities that have mounted a concerted campaign to terminate the agreement.

The JPA is the U.S. Government’s main tool for communicating concerns and guidance to ICANN (which was created by US government to transition management of the Internet to the private sector) Twomey is correct when he says that the agreement is short (just two pages) and contains little in the way of binding language, but the JPA also sets goals for ICANN to work toward, and provides ways to review and assess that progress.

For those that seek to impose greater governmental control over ICANN, the JPA is seen as a major obstacle. They’ve devoted significant resources to making sure it goes away in September of this year.

The United Nations wants the JPA gone so it can exert more muscle over Internet governance.  And the European Commission just proposed a new “G-12 for the Internet” to replace US government oversight when the JPA expires.

Seems to me that the JPA is a kind of Star Trek shield that protects ICANN from capture by governments.  Captain Kirk wouldn’t shut down his shields just when the enemy draws near, and neither should ICANN.

Mr. Twomey can’t have it both ways. If the JPA doesn’t actually matter, neither he nor the global Internet community should care whether it is extended. And if it does matter, he needs to come clean with Congress and the Internet community about risks we face when the JPA goes away.