The future of ICANN and the Net: act now or shut up

The whole issue over who runs the Internet and how, comes to a head on 30 September when the Memorandum of Understanding ([tag]MoU[/tag]) and [tag]IANA[/tag] contract between the US Department of Commerce ([tag]DoC[/tag]) and [tag]ICANN[/tag] end.

To date there has not been a single public meeting over this fundamental state of affairs and, incredibly, even ICANN itself has not provided time to discuss it at its last meeting before the contract ends, starting today in Marrakech.

Considering the months, years, of debate surrounding the US role with regard to the Internet and its connection with ICANN, not just by the Internet community but also by companies, governments and politicians across the globe, it seems incredible that discussion has been so muted.

As an aid to this process, here then is a quick resource of what has happened and where we are:

  • 19 May 2006: [tag]NTIA[/tag] publishes “notice of intent” to hand ICANN an extension of its sole source contract to run the Domain Name System (DNS) – the MoU (here is a full resource).
  • 23 May 2006: NTIA publishes a “notice of public meeting” and asks for comments on the “continued transistion” of the MoU with ICANN.
  • 27 May 2006: NTIA receives its first comment from Chris McElroy in which he attacks the famous misnomer that ICANN is run by a “bottom-up process”, and calls for ICANN to be split into two separate organisations: one for technical work and one for policy.
  • 7 June 2006: Old Internet warhorse Bill Manning sends an email in which he also points out massively failings within the ICANN system.
  • 13-16 June 2006: NTIA receives 48 emails (5 of them accidental resends). There come from across the world and cover every segment of the Internet community. They also all say exactly the same thing: a very short response drawn up by Milton Mueller as part of his Internet Governance Project. It is this:

The Internet’s value is created by the participation and cooperation of people all over the world. The Internet is global, not national. Therefore no single Government should have a pre-eminent role in Internet governance.

As the US reviews its contract with ICANN, it should work cooperatively with all stakeholders to complete the transition to a Domain Name System independent of US governmental control.

  • 17-20 June 2006: NTIA receives eight more emails, seven of them repeating the same two-paragraph point above, one from Milton Mueller personally. The last one comes from Houlin Zhao, one of the ITU’s main directors, in which he points out that the ITU has a mandate “to undertake certain activities related to management of Internet names and addresses, including to liase and cooperate with appropriate entities” and then provides a link to a huge, unwieldy webpage of resources.

And that’s it. The deadline for comments to the NTIA is 7 July, and the public meeting will be held on 26 July.

I only hope that the people meeting at ICANN this week have the wherewithall and drive to hold a series of meetings and come up with a text to send to the NTIA that gives a considered response to the entire ICANN model of Internet governance.

Because that is precisely what ICANN should be able to do. Everyone will be in the same room, if people can’t manage to come up with a statement with regard to the organisation’s own existence, then it would be distinctly hypocritical to my mind to continue criticising it from the sidelines.