The views expressed in this blog post are the author’s alone.
Midway through ICANN 52 in Singapore, it seems safe to speculate the IANA transition will not be complete within its stipulated date of September 30, 2015. Indeed, there is chatter in the hallways of the Fairmont Hotel that the “deadline” will be extended by a period of six months or so. Much depends on the draft proposals currently being deliberated by the three cross-community working groups – on names, numbers/ protocols, and accountability.
The most contentious of the lot seems to be the naming proposal – details of the proposed Multistakeholder Review Team that will receive the baton from the US government after the transition are far from clear. At the time of writing, it appears almost certain these working groups will be unable to break new ground at ICANN-52. Simply put, the extension of the IANA transition deadline is set to become an integral part of the politics and process of transition itself. If the date is pushed beyond September 2015, it is important to analyse its impact on
- The Indian “position” on the IANA transition in particular and internet governance in general
For ICANN, extending the IANA transition date is definitely a setback. It reflects the reality that the Corporation’s supporting organisations and advisory committees have not been able to field a unified vision of what the post-transition scenario must look like. Internal differences among CWG-Names members, as I’ve written here, persist. The ICANN Board, on the other hand, has expressed its desire to become the permanent, institutional custodian of IANA functions, rather than leaving it to a “separate, contracting entity”. The CWG-Names draft proposal is an “overreach”, the Board has suggested, revealing deep divisions between the ICANN “bottom-up” community and its leadership. Several ICANN stalwarts here told me that extending the date is not a watershed moment in itself – their reasoning seems to be that any policy proposal of the sort that the IANA transition entails requires long, drawn out negotiations between competing stakeholders. While this is arguably true, the future role of ICANN also depends on the political timeline that the US government is sensitive to.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s decision of March 2014 to hand over IANA oversight to a multistakeholder entity has been met with opposition from some quarters within the United States, especially among Republicans. Protests have reached a crescendo in recent months, leaving the US government with little choice but to complete the transition as soon as possible – especially before the current administration begins to wade into its “lame duck” period. The US Congress has already passed legislation that prohibits the government from using budgeted money for the purposes of effecting the IANA transition before September 30, 2015. It is no surprise then that the US government delegation has made its presence visibly felt at ICANN 52 (prompting one commentator to say NTIA is “overplaying its hand”). Clearly, Washington D.C. is aware what the potential implication of a non-transition might be. On the first full day of ICANN 52, Ira Magaziner, the Clinton administration’s pointsman during the creation of ICANN, went on record to ‘warn’ that “an alternative universe was possible in 1998, and it is still possible now.”
The ICANN is a multistakeholder organisation, and now finds itself in a very delicate situation. Its views can neither be (or perceived to be) dictated by the imperatives of one organisation, nor can it afford to come up with a half-baked transition proposal. The first situation would lead to the question “Are some stakeholders more equal than others in internet governance” while the second one poses the more vexing one “where does multistakeholderism go if ICANN fails to deliver”. The second part of this series on ICANN52 will focus on the latter.