Last week in San Juan, Puerto Rico, I attended a meeting of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Saturday and Sunday were all-day working sessions to grind-out policies for assigning new top level domains (TLDs) and for making the Whois service more compatible with European privacy laws.
And that was just the weekend schedule – before the official meetings that ran Monday through Friday. Working within ICANN’s multi-stakeholder consensus process can be a tiring and often frustrating experience, but ICANN is where the work gets done (eventually).
The meetings were open to anyone, but I’ll admit that the excruciating detail and acronym soup make ICANN working groups opaque to all but the most dedicated Internet policy wonks. Still, the sessions were packed with business and government representatives with a stake in the future of global internet governance.
So why were no business or government officials from world powers like Russia and China there in San Juan?
These nations are ICANN skeptics. They are pushing the United Nations to take a bigger role in Internet governance. China and Russia covet ICANN’s role in managing the domain name system (DNS), and they have insisted this be added to the agenda for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to be held in Brazil this November.
But if China and Russia want more say about internet governance, their best bet is to participate in ICANN instead of trying to get the IGF or some other UN or government agency to duplicate or eliminate ICANN’s role as technical manager of the DNS.
Greater participation by the Chinese and Russians in ICANN is the surest way to balance the influence of the U.S. government (who invented the Internet). Moreover, Chinese and Russian internet businesses should value ICANN since it is primarily run by private sector interests.
Despite my frustrations with ICANN, I’m convinced that it is a far better steward of the Internet than anything that might be cooked up by the United Nations. The UN is an organization of governments, and government surely has a role to play in Internet governance. But it is the private sector that has spent a trillion dollars developing the Internet. It is the private sector that has brought Internet connectivity to a billion people around the world. If the Internet is to continue to grow and thrive, technical management of the DNS belongs with a private sector organization like ICANN.