By Aarti Bhavana
Yesterday was the last day of a long week of meetings at ICANN54 in Dublin. Coming in, it was clear that the main focus of this meeting would be the Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG-Accountability), with over 25 hours of sessions dedicated to the mammoth task of finding a proposal acceptable to the many stakeholders involved in this process. Since the Face-to-Face meeting in Los Angeles a few weeks ago, there has been a lot of chatter about the accountability proposal, revealing diverse opinions. In the end, one thing is clear: there is going to be a third draft proposal that will be open to public comments. This proposal will differ from the second on two major points:
Sole Member to Sole Designator: The Sole Member Model proposed in the second draft received a lot of criticism mainly on the grounds of lack of clarity. In its official comments, the Board proposed an alternative mechanism: the Multistakeholder Enforceability Mechanism (MEM). This led to the controversial F2F meeting between CCWG and the Board in Los Angeles in September. Ever since, there has been a marked effort to closely cooperate with the Board and find a solution acceptable to all. The Board has made it clear that it will not support any model that requires a substantial change to the existing structure of ICANN. The designator model fits its vision in that it requires the least change. Quite unsurprisingly, the Sole Designator Model has now replaced the Sole Member Model as the reference model going forward.
While the position of the CCWG and its co-chairs is not an enviable one, this entire process has been rushed ever since we got to Dublin. Despite some strong opposition to this model, CCWG’s inclination towards the Sole Designator model was apparent from the beginning of this meeting, which is indicative of its desire to draft a model acceptable first to the ICANN Board. The debate around Sole Membership versus Sole Designator has mainly centered around the PTI-separation. Advocates of the membership model are concerned that the Designator model is unlikely to provide recourse in case the Board refuses to enter into a discussion over the separation process. Others are apprehensive of the adversarial nature of this model as compared to the membership model.
Voting to consensus: The second draft proposal contained a process for weighted voting where participating Supporting Organizations (SO) and Advisory Committees (ACs) would exercise a certain number of votes in the decision making process of the Community Mechanism. This invoked several comments in opposition for a variety of reasons. In response, the CCWG chose to do away with the voting system in favour of a consensus model. This proposed system requires the SO/ACs to express their support or opposition to the exercise of the concerned community power, and only upon meeting the required threshold would the next step be embarked upon. The question is raised at each stage: whether to have a conference call, convene a community forum or ascertain consensus support. To move on to the next stage, there needs to be broad support reflected through a minimum number of voices in support. It differs from voting in the sense that even if just two objections were raised, the motion would fail, thereby creating a higher threshold than a normal voting process. However, many disagree with this categorization and argue that this is essentially a system of equal-weightage voting.
Finally, the issue of whether or not there should be a third public comments period was also subject to a bit of debate. Milton Mueller was among a group of strong supporters who felt that these developments substantially alter the second draft proposal that was sent out to the public, and multistakeholderism mandated that the public be consulted again over the changes. Members of the CCWG also agreed with this point. However, some were of the opinion that a fresh comment period will delay the already-delayed process even further and risk pushing the transition date beyond September 2016. The current timeline proposes a public comments period that will run in parallel with the period when the Proposal is submitted to the chartering organizations for initial feedback. This overlap has also elicited concerns from the community.
How exactly these changes will be manifested in the proposal will depend on the draft text and can only be known when it is released. The third draft proposal is expected to be open for a 35- day comment period starting on 15th November, with the plan of submitting a final report to the ICANN Board for NTIA transmission by mid-January.