It was a symphony of togetherness at the recent ICANN symposium at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law. One presenter
titled his paper on Internet governance after the Beatles song "We Can
Work It Out." And when commenting on a paper about "enhanced cooperation,"
I paraphrased the Stephen Stills song – if you can’t be with the ICANN you
love, then love the ICANN you’re with. And most agreed. The takeaway from the
conference was that we should work within ICANN’s current institutional
framework for better management of the domain name system (DNS), but at the
same time ensure that the U.S. (or any) government treat ICANN as an
independent, private-sector entity.
An audience of around 40 professors, law students and
industry representatives spent a day and a half listening to me and others
discuss ICANN – whether and how to get governments more involved, to improve
ICANN, to start anew, or encourage new DNS roots to compete with ICANN. Nobody
advocated for creating a new institution to manage the DNS but one of my fellow
panelists, Dr. Filomena Chirico of the TILEC- Tilburg Law and Economics Center,
called for more antitrust scrutiny over registry operators (such as VeriSign
for .com) and over ICANN itself. I argued against this, as antitrust regulation
comes with its own costs, and we should be careful to not narrowly define the
market for domain names to TLDs individually.
I also talked about how we can ensure the participation of
all interested parties, including industry and civil society. After all,
internet governance is a team effort involving businesses, ICANN as technical
manager of the DNS, and governments who provide law enforcement, consumer protection,
and intellectual property protection. We’re all on parallel streets toward same destination of
availability and integrity of the Internet. We just need guardrails so
that governments won’t encroach into technical management and ICANN won’t
become a tool for implementing public policy.