Two days before the ongoing MAG meeting, the 2017 MAG renewal was announced. The CSCG protested the lack of civil society representatives among the new MAG members. This brought back focus on the need for MAG reform. Our report on multistakeholderism had identified the lack of transparency and geographic diversity in MAG selections. These issues remain relevant as another set of MAG meetings kick off in Geneva.
The Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was renewed for 2017 on Monday. The renewal has attracted controversy as no civil society members were added to this year’s MAG. The announcement has brought into focus a persistent criticism on the lack of transparency in the MAG nomination process. The lack of transparency and geographic diversity in the MAG was discussed in our report on multistakeholderism. Some of its findings are relevant to the 2017 MAG renewal.
Created on the recommendation of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), the MAG is responsible for organising the annual IGF. The MAG is not a decision-making body by design. But Jeremy Malcolm (pp. 420-422) points out that the MAG effectively chooses issues that are debated on a global stage in the course of organising the IGF. In this respect, he argues that the MAG plays an important agenda setting role in internet governance.
MAG Nomination Process and Transparency
The make-up of the MAG is similar to the WGIG in that consists of representatives of all stakeholder groups (government, private sector, civil society and technical community). The selection of MAG members is made by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA) under the authority of the UN Secretary General. Nominations to the UN DESA are made through focal points from different stakeholder groups, but applicants can also apply to the UN DESA directly.
As noted in our report (pp. 70-72), once nominations are sent to the UN DESA, there is no clarity on how members are selected to the MAG. The only available information on DESA’s selection criteria are the five criteria listed on the IGF website. These criteria include achieving a geographic and gender balance and that representatives should have strong linkages to their stakeholder groups.
The controversy in this year’s MAG renewal arose out of the lack of new civil society representation on the MAG. The Civil Society Coordination Group (CSCG), which is the focal point for civil society nominations wrote to the IGF secretariat asking it to reconsider its decision. They pointed out that no civil society members were added to the MAG this year despite two civil society members retiring from the MAG (members are selected for 3 year terms and a third of the MAG retires each year). The letter also called on the IGF secretariat to select an additional civil society member to the MAG.
This is not the first time that MAG nominations have been controversial. In 2016, the CSCG wrote to the IGF secretariat asking for greater transparency and inclusiveness in selections to the MAG. Similarly, as discussed in our report (p. 73), an Indian civil society member nominated by the CSCG was not selected to the MAG in 2014. In the above cases, the CSCG had contacted IGF secretariat asking for greater clarity on how selections were made.
One of the findings of our report with respect to the MAG was on the geographic diversity of the group. As mentioned above, geographic diversity is one of the stated criteria based on which the UN DESA selects members to the MAG. Our report found that on average, 8-10% of MAG members were from the United States (based on their affiliation mentioned on the IGF website). As shown in the chart below, this was the highest percentage representation from any country between 2011 and 2015.
Membership by country as a percentage of total MAG Membership (2011-15)
Source: Multistakeholderism in Action
This trend has continued in the 2017 MAG renewal with 4 members or 7% of the MAG being from the United States. No other country has more than 2 members in the current MAG. The FAQ section on MAG renewals acknowledges this disparity. It stated that the MAG currently has an excess of members from Western Europe and Others Group. It also states that a new selection process will attempt to make the MAG more regionally balanced. It remains to be seen if this imbalance will be addressed in the next MAG renewal cycle.
The MAG nomination process raises questions on the transparency of the process and the diversity within the MAG. However, there is very little publicly available information or communication from the UN DESA beyond the criteria listed on the IGF website. The 2017 announcement was made one day before the IGF Open Consultations and MAG meeting were to begin in Geneva (1st March). A CSCG representative who circulated the letter believed that the issue of non-selection of a civil society member might be taken up at the meeting.
By Aarti Bhavana
The 11th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was held earlier this month in Guadalajara, Mexico. Established as a result of the Tunis Agenda, the IGF provides a space for discussing issues relating to the internet, where stakeholders can engage on an equal footing. Though it is not a decision-making forum, the IGF provides stakeholders the opportunity to share their work with others working in the same field.
CCG and the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG) organised a workshop that brought together active civil society participants from the IANA Transition to reflect on the process. The discussion was mainly centered around the Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability), which has been summarised in this post. With a long line-up of panelists, this workshop touched upon issues that were important to civil society, as well as successes and failures that could help develop strategies for future engagement. While the transcript for this workshop is not available yet, the video recording can be viewed here.
It has been a little over two months since the IANA Transition was successfully completed. The CCWG-Accountability, formed to make recommendations on enhancing ICANN’s accountability, completed the first phase of its work before this. Known as Work Stream 1 (WS1), this phase dealt with all the topics that needed to be completed before transition could occur. Now, CCWG-Accountability has shifted its focus to Work Stream 2 (WS2) and is busy with 9 subgroups working on different issues that were left to be discussed after the transition. However, the IANA Transition was a historic event that brought with it a treasure trove of experiences, invaluable as a guide for future work. Drawing lessons from this experience would require taking a step back and looking at the process as a whole. Luckily, the IGF provides just such a space.
Key issues for civil society
When the IANA Transition was announced in March 2014, civil society was among the voices that demanded increased accountability and transparency of ICANN. As Robin Gross summarised, routine violations with bylaws, top-down policies, mission creep, staff interference and opacity were just some of the reasons for this push. The call for enhancing ICANN’s accountability received support across the board, and was something with which the US government also agreed. The concerns raised had more to do more with the accountability of policy-making processes than of the IANA Functions, Milton Mueller explained. Accordingly, the CCWG-Accountability was created where civil society actors from NCSG and (At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) were very active. As Gross stated, it was critical to get strong community powers in order to hold the Board of Directors accountable (such as right to recall board members, oversight over the budget, approval for bylaw changes, etc.). Accordingly, there was a constant push from civil society for stronger accountability measures, be it for the structure of the Empowered Community, the Independent Review Process (IRP), role of governments, human rights, staff and community accountability, or transparency. Many of these issues are still being discussed in WS2. However, as pointed out by Alan Greenberg, it must be remembered that civil society being a large collective of stakeholders with diverse interests, does not have a single agreed position on these issues.
Failures and successes
The various accountability issues are nuanced and complex, and require external experts to join the process. For example, transparency and human rights. However, joining these discussions pose their own set of challenges. As Matthew Shears summarised, many barriers to participation often seen at ICANN were also reflected in the CCWG-Accountability process as well, such as the high time commitment, language of acronyms, and the quick learning curve. Since this process required an understanding of how ICANN functions as a whole, these challenges became all the more significant. As a panelist, I noted that discussions often tended to be centralised around the same few people, which made it difficult for people to join the conversation. Additionally, Jan-Aart Scholte observed that the civil society participation was mainly from North America and Europe. He continued to discuss another significant challenge- the lack of complete openness. While the IANA transition and the CCWG-Accountability are lauded for proving that multistakeholderism can work, we must not ignore the politics involved. He highlighted that crucial discussions and deals took place behind closed doors, and were later presented at the publicly recorded calls, meetings and mailing lists. He also pointed out that civil society was on the sidelines when it came to these private discussions, which reduced its ability to influence the outcome, unlike the other stakeholders involved.
One of the biggest takeaways from this process was observing the bridging effect of a common goal. As Shears noted, this process saw diverse stakeholders talk through options when there were conflicting opinions, perspectives and interests. However, with the completion of the transition, the common goal has gone away and he observed that participants are now falling back into their stakeholder group “silos”.
Strategies for the future
While it may be a bit early to take a call on successes and failures, WS2 is still ongoing. It may be useful to try to replicate what went well, and learn from the challenges seen in WS1. Greenberg pointed out the utility of having regular informal discussions with members from other stakeholder groups in order to reach a compromise, something he recommended should be continued in WS2. The nature of the work being done by CCWG-Accountability requires finding a way to continue to work together, beyond just “looking for the lowest common denominator”, as Klaus Stoll suggested. Further, the range of issues being discussed in WS2 is diverse, and continues to require experts from outside the ICANN community to get involved. The strategy of clearly dividing the topics into separate issues was appreciated by Marilia Maciel, as it allows for easy identification of the different areas. She also pointed out that even though most of the discussion has been documented, it would be impossible to go through the tens of thousands of emails exchanged and hundreds of hours of calls. Drawing parallels with the effort required to understand the NetMundial Initiative retrospectively, she emphasised the need for documenting this process while it is still recent. CCG has attempted to do that over the past year, but the sheer volume of the discussions require more active participants to pen down their experiences and analysis to allow for a closer study later.
By Aarti Bhavana
With 3141 participants in attendance, ICANN57 (held from 3-9 November 2016) was the largest public meeting in its history. It was also the first meeting to be held after the successful completion of the IANA Transition. The transition greenlit the enforcement of the provisions of the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal, which consisted of two documents: the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) proposal and the Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) Work Stream 1 Report. Our previous posts analysing these recommendations can be found here.
The meeting week was preceded by a full day face-to-face meeting of the CCWG-Accountability on the 2nd of November. The group met to continue its discussion on Work Stream 2 (WS2), which officially kicked off during the previous meeting in Helsinki. Rapporteurs from many of the WS2 Drafting Teams and subgroups presented updates on the progress of work in the preceding months. This post captures some of the key updates.
ICANN’s incorporation and physical location in California has long been a source of contention for governments and other stakeholders. Jurisdiction directly impacts the manner in which ICANN and its accountability mechanisms are structured (for example, the sole designator model arises from the California Corporations Code). Greg Shatan, co-rapporteur of the Jurisdiction subgroup presented an update document on the progress of this group. While the current bylaws state that ICANN shall remain headquartered in California, stakeholders were interested to see whether the subgroup would look into the matter of relocation. It was stated during this meeting that the subgroup has determined that it will not be investigating the issue of changing ICANN’s headquarters or incorporation jurisdiction. However, should a problem yield no other solution in the future, this option will then be examined.
A substantial issue found to be within the scope of this subgroup’s mandate is that of “the influence of ICANN’s existing jurisdictions relating to resolution of disputes (i.e., “Choice of Law” and “Venue”) on the actual operation of policies and accountability mechanisms”. The group’s working draft analysis of this issue can be accessed here. Another mandate from Annex 12 of the WS1 report requires the subgroup to study the ‘multilayer jurisdiction issue’. This has been discussed in some detail in the draft document, which can be accessed here.
One of the concerns raised during the discussion was that the subgroup would not recommend any change and conclude in favour of the status quo. Reassurance was sought that this would not be the case. The rapporteur stated in response that one cannot predict the outcome of the group as there are no internal preconceptions. It was also pointed out that since the discussion ran the risk of being purely academic, it was important to get external opinions. Accordingly, it was agreed that a survey would be sent out to hear from registries, registrars, and others. Advice will also be sought from ICANN Legal.
ICANN has often been criticised for a lack of transparency in its functioning. This has largely been attributed to its hybrid structure, which is argued to not have the necessary active, passive, and participatory transparency structures. WS1 of the CCWG-Accountability attempted to address some of these concerns. The inclusion of inspection rights is one such example. However, a significant part of the work has been left for WS2.
This subgroup has made significant progress and shared the first draft of its report, which can be read here. This document discusses the right to information, ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy (DIDP), proactive disclosures, and ICANN’s whistleblower protection framework. A suggestion was made to include requiring transparency in Board deliberations, which will be considered by the subgroup. There was also some discussion on increasing the scope of the proactive disclosures for greater transparency. Suggestions included disclosure of Board speaking fees and requiring disclosures of contracts of amounts lower than $1 million (the current threshold for disclosure) as well. There was also a discussion on ‘harm’ as an exception to disclosure, and the need to define it carefully. A revised draft of the report will be shared in the coming weeks, incorporating the points raised during this meeting.
Supporting Organisation (SO)/Advisory Committee (AC) Accountability
With the SOs and ACs being given greater powers under the Empowered Community, it is essential to ensure that they themselves do not remain unchecked. Accordingly, SO/AC reviews need to take place. This subgroup is tasked with the mandate of determining the most suitable manner of enhancing accountability. During this meeting, four identified tracks of activities were presented: (i) SO/AC effectiveness; (ii) evaluating the proposal of a ‘mutual accountability roundtable’; (iii) developing a detailed plan on how to increase SO/AC accountability; and (iv) assessing whether the Independent Review Process (IRP) should also apply to SO/AC activities.
Preliminary discussions have taken place on the first two tracks. It was decided that track 3 could not begin without some input from the SO/ACs. Accordingly, a list of questions was developed with the aim of better understanding the specific modalities of each organization. After a brief discussion, it was decided that this list would be sent to the SO/ACs.
Apart from these updates there was also a discussion on the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) 3 and an interaction with the ICANN CEO.
ATRT3 and WS2:
During the Helsinki meeting, it was pointed out that the 3rd review of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT3), scheduled to begin work in January, would have a significant overlap with WS2 topics (6 out of the 9 topics). After some discussion, it was decided that a letter would be sent to bring this to the attention of the ICANN Board. This letter also laid out possible ways to proceed:
- Option 1- ATRT3 and WS2 work in parallel, with a procedure to reconcile conflicting recommendations.
- Option 2- Delay ATRT3 until WS2 is completed.
- Option 3- Limit the scope of ATRT3 to assessing the implementation of ATRT2. ATRT4 can then make a full assessment of accountability and transparency issues before 2022 (preferred path).
- Option 4- ATRT3 continues with its full scope, with CCWG focusing only on the remaining issues. The ATRT recommendations could then be discussed by CCWG.
The Board’s response stated that while this was of concern, it was a decision to be made by the larger community, and brought it to the attention of the SOs and ACs. In Hyderabad it was decided that CCWG-Accountability will continue to follow up with the Board on this issue, while the SO/ACs deliberate internally as well.
Exchange with ICANN CEO
ICANN CEO Göran Marby’s meeting with CCWG-Accountability was arguably the most engaging session of the day. Central to this discussion was his recent announcement about a new office called the ICANN Complaints Officer. This person “will receive, investigate and respond to complaints about the ICANN organization’s effectiveness, and will be responsible for all complaints systems and mechanisms across the ICANN organization”. It was also stated that they would report to ICANN’s General Counsel. The last provision was not received well by members of the CCWG-Accountability, who stressed on the need for independence. It was pointed out that having the Complaints Officer report to the General Counsel creates a conflict of interest, as it is the legal team’s responsibility to protect ICANN. Though this was raised several times, Marby insisted that he did not think it was an issue, and asked that this be given a fair chance. This discussion was allotted extra time towards the end of the meeting, and there seemed to be a general agreement that the role and independence of the Complaints Officer needed greater thought and clarity. However, this remains the CEO’s decision, and any input provided by CCWG-Accountability will merely be advisory. It will be interesting to see whether he decides to take into account the strong concerns raised by this group.
The substantial discussions in WS2 are only just kicking off, with some subgroups (such as the Diversity subgroup) yet to begin their deliberations. The Transparency subgroup is making good progress with its draft document, on which CCWG-Accountability input is always welcome. It will be worth keeping an eye on the Jurisdiction subgroup, as this remains a divisive issue with political and national interests in the balance. Much remains to be done in the SO/AC Accountability subgroup, which is working to better understand the specific internal working of each SO/AC. This is an extremely important issue, especially in light of the new accountability structures created in WS1. CCWG-Accountability remains an open group that anyone interested can join as a participant or observer.
By Aarti Bhavana
The much-discussed IANA transition has finally been completed, now that the U.S. Government’s contract with ICANN for IANA Functions has expired. This brings to an end the governmental oversight of these functions, a plan outlined back in 1998, and transfers it to a global multistakeholder community. The Centre for Communication Governance’s coverage of the transition over the last two years can be accessed here. In addition, our recent report on multistakeholderism discusses the role Indian stakeholders have played in ICANN over the last 5 years. It is a useful introduction to the way policy is made in ICANN’s multistakeholder model.
In March 2014, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its intent to transfer the oversight of key Internet domain name functions to a global multistakeholder community. In the months that followed, working groups were set up to develop proposals both for the stewardship transition, as well for enhancing ICANN’s accountability. Both proposals were finalized and sent to the ICANN Board of Directors to be transmitted to NTIA. On 9th June 2016, after careful evaluation, the NTIA announced that the proposals met the criteria outlined by the NTIA in March 2014.
Despite meeting all the requirements set out, the weeks leading up to today have been far from smooth. Last week, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Sub-committee held a hearing on “Protecting Internet Freedom: Implications of Ending U.S. Oversight of the Internet.” The opposition from the Republicans, led by Sen. Cruz, has also been supported by Donald Trump. There were also attempts to delay the transition by including a rider in the U.S. Government funding bill. This was ultimately not added, leaving the path clear for the transition.
However, in a dramatic twist two days ago, four U.S. states filed a lawsuit in Texas to block the transition. The motion for a temporary injunction was heard by the federal court a few hours ago, and denied. This officially brings a two year long process to a successful end. Many Indian stakeholders participated in the transition process as members of the multistakeholder community. However, as our report on multistakeholderism shows, there is scope for greater Indian engagement with ICANN and its policy processes.
In the midst of this celebration, it must be remembered that the work is not over. Efforts at increasing ICANN’s accountability are still ongoing with Work Stream 2, and consist of several critical topics like transparency, diversity and human rights that require the same level of effort as the transition. As discussed in our report‘s on ICANN Chapter, accountability is an issue on which ICANN has faced serious complaints in the past. The next stages of the transition offers stakeholders an opportunity to address these questions.
By Aarti Bhavana
With just a month left for the 30th September deadline, ICANN has been busy completing all the tasks required by NTIA to ensure a smooth transition. The question of whether or not the IANA transition will happen has been answered via a letter from Assistant Secretary Lawrence Strickling (in response to the Implementation Planning Status Report). He announced that the transition is moving according to plan, and that the NTIA will allow the IANA Functions contract to expire on 1st October. Though this response was expected, it is still reassuring to receive official confirmation that this will bring to an end the U.S. government’s stewardship role over the IANA Functions, barring any unforeseen circumstances. In light of this update, this post unpacks the various implementation processes that have been going on ahead of the transition.
On 10th March 2016, the ICANN Board transmitted the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal to the NTIA, which consisted of two documents: the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) proposal and the CCWG-Accountability Work Stream 1 Report. This came two years after NTIA’s initial announcement about its intention to transfer the U.S. government’s stewardship role over the IANA Functions to a global multistakeholder body.
On 9th June 2016, after careful evaluation, the NTIA announced that the proposal met the criteria outlined by the NTIA in March 2014. These criteria were laid out in March 2014, to ensure that the proposal:
- Supports and enhances the multistakeholder model;
- Maintains the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
- Meets the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services;
- Maintains the openness of the internet; and
- Does not replace NTIA’s role with a government-led or intergovernmental organization solution
In the mean time, the ICANN community began working on the implementation of the recommendations proposed in the two reports, as they are a prerequisite for the transition to take place. This involved amending existing documents, drafting new contractual agreements, procedural changes and other organizational changes. In response to the NTIA’s request, ICANN prepared an Implementation Planning Status Report detailing the completed and ongoing implementation tasks.
The implementation process has been divided into three separate work tracks:
Track I: Root Zone Management (RZM)
In parallel to the work being done for the IANA Stewardship Transition is another track working on root zone management (RZM). The NTIA requested ICANN to work with Verisign to develop a proposal to transfer the NTIA’s role with respect to the RZM, while preserving the safety and stability of the DNS. Accordingly, Verisign and ICANN developed a proposal, which is part of the implementation process. A parallel root zone management system was built to simulate root zone functions in the absence of the NTIA, and has successfully completed its testing phase. Verisign and ICANN entered into a new agreement for root zone management functions, a service Verisign has been providing under a Cooperative Agreement with NTIA for decades. The ICG and CCWG-Accountability processes were developed by the community in keeping with the principle of multistakeholderism. However, the RZM process has been criticized for being closed. Only the draft agreement was open for public comment, while negotiations took place privately. This track has now been completed.
Track II: Stewardship Transition
This track pertains to various implementation tasks required by the ICG proposal. One such task has been the incorporation of Public Technical Identifiers (PTI), the entity established to perform the IANA functions. This entity shall perform the IANA Functions according to the IANA Naming Functions Agreement (which is currently open for public comments). This track has also been working on the Service Level Agreement (SLA) for the IANA Numbering Services, which has been signed by the Regional Internet Registries and will come into effect on the date of the transition. A Customer Standing Committee (CSC) has been formed to ensure satisfactory performance of the IANA naming functions for its direct customers, in the absence of the NTIA. Further, a Root Zone Evolution Review Committee (RZERC) has also been formed to assist the ICANN Board with major architectural changes of the DNS root.
Track III: Accountability Enhancement
This track relates to the Work Stream 1 tasks from the CCWG-Accountability report. In May, the ICANN Board of Directors passed a resolution approving the amended bylaws. Further, the Articles of Incorporation have also been amended and passed.
This track is also working on implementing enhancements to the Independent Review Process (IRP) for claims filed once the bylaws come into existence. Further, work is also underway on a number of other processes, such as updating the reconsideration process; initiating the new reviews required by the bylaws; incorporating the Affirmation of Commitments into the ICANN bylaws; and operationalizing the new community powers under the CCWG-Accountability report.
Further details about the status of the three tracks can be found here.
 For more details about these processes, see the IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal Implementation Planning Status Report, pp 23-24.
By Gangesh Varma**
The ‘control-of-the-Internet’ rhetoric never lost its appeal. The domestic politics in United States, particularly the opposition from Republican Senators, is not a new obstacle to the IANA Transition. The Republican Party Platform for 2016 captures the key policy positions of the Republican Party for the Presidential elections and includes a section on “Protecting Internet Freedom”. It has been suggested that the individual efforts of some Senators has now been consolidated into an official party position. The Congress had earlier succeeded in blocking the NTIA from using any funds for executing the transition. Some fear that this delay tactic may arise as an issue in the form of a rider in a bill around this September when the NTIA’s contract with ICANN is set to expire. Waiting for the consequences of these blocking efforts to unravel provides an opportune moment to reflect on the 56th Public Meeting of ICANN, held in Helsinki, Finland from 27-30 June, 2016.
ICANN 56 was a meeting of many firsts: it was the first B-meeting format as per the new ICANN Meeting Strategy. It was also the first meeting after the NTIA approved and endorsed the IANA Transition Proposal and happens to be the first meeting since Göran Marby officially took over as CEO. As per the B-Meeting format, ICANN 56 was a policy forum. This meant that the meeting would focus purely on policy development and outreach. Stripping down the ICANN meeting to a much leaner format without the public forums, public board meetings, or exhibition areas provided a short but intense four days focussed on policy discussions. At the heart of the meeting were the three active Policy Development Processes (PDPs):
New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP
The New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP looks at the experiences of the New gTLD Program so far, and is tasked with making recommendations for changes and improvements, if any. During ICANN 56, the Working Group provided a recap of the discussions so far, and also engaged with the GAC in a session detailing the work pending and done so far. The Cross community session also saw interesting debates on multiple themes including use of country and territory names, geographic names, and public interest commitments. The PDP has been organized into four key work tracks. More details on this PDP can be found here.
The Next Generation Registration Directory Services (RDS) PDP
The Next Generation RDS PDP looks at the new service that is to replace the WHOIS, which provides the registration data of domain name registrants. At ICANN 56, this PDP was the site of extensive debates on privacy. Some argued for the need for more information from a domain name registrant, and more data on the directory service. Others argued the opposite and sought for collection of lesser information, and greater protection for a registrant’s privacy. The concerns of various stakeholders ranged from the need for reliable information for law enforcement to the protection of whistle-blowers. More details on this PDP are available here.
Rights Protection Mechanisms PDP
The Rights Protection Mechanism PDP is a large over-arching PDP that covers all rights protection mechanisms in all gTLDs. This PDP is split into two phases. Currently in its first phase, the working group is reviewing all the rights protection mechanisms developed for the New gTLD program. The second phase will review the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process. During ICANN 56, the working group discussions looked at community feedback on some of the RPMs to be reviewed in phase one, such as the Trademark Clearinghouse etc. More details on this PDP are available here.
IANA Transition related sessions
While the PDPs received significant amount of attention, some interesting sessions such as those on updates regarding implementation phase of the IANA Transition, never made it to the official schedule. The sessions relating to the IANA Transition were rather muted in comparison to ICANN 55 at Marrakech. This could be because of two things. First, the transition proposal has already been approved, and endorsed by the NTIA. Whereas, at ICANN 55 the proposal was still being debated, and awaited the endorsement of the chartering organizations. Second, after the NTIA has approved the proposal, and asked ICANN to provide an update on the status of implementation by August 10, 2016. This implies that the ball is now in ICANN’s court to simply carry out the plan. Except that this illusion of the transition moving ahead without hurdles falls apart with the Republican efforts and possible requirement of approval from the US Congress.
The GAC, on the other hand, had a colourful discussion on its role in the post transition Empowered Community. The session saw reignited debates on the role of governments and had countries reinterpreting the ICANN 55 Communique. The ICANN 56 GAC Communique held no surprises nor was it as eagerly anticipated as the ICANN 55 GAC Communique. Members of the GAC also expressed the need for more time and formal work sessions particularly the need for more time to draft the communique.
Outside the Official Schedule
While the new meeting format can be appreciated for it unflinching focus on policy development, its ability to encourage all avenues of policy discussion is limited. For example, the Cross Community Working Party on Human Rights was not allotted a formal working session. It however had a joint session with the GAC Working Group on Human Rights and International Law where it discussed the progress of work so far, in addition to plans for future work.
Joining others that did not feature in the official schedule, the CCWG on Internet Governance had a session with ICANN Board Working Group on Internet Governance and ICANN CEO. This session discussed the role of ICANN in the larger internet governance ecosystem. With the formation of the Board Working Group on Internet Governance led by Markus Kummer, it is imperative that the CCWG on Internet Governance introspects its scope and function. With the bottom-up policy mantra that ICANN and its CEO ardently espoused, it is essential that ICANN’s role in the larger internet governance arena be developed with inputs from all stakeholders in the ICANN community. This is something the CCWG on IG can and should facilitate.
In some ways, ICANN 56 reflected the transformation ICANN is undergoing. Stakeholders were required to imagine their new roles and responsibilities in the post transition ICANN yet remain grounded in its current structure and policy making framework. ICANN is going about its work quietly, maintaining what some might call a low profile, until the domestic US political disturbances are settled. While the transition is yet to happen, the pre-requisite implementation work is almost complete. The impact of the IANA transition, if it does happen, will not only be felt within ICANN and its community, but will be a testament to multistakeholder processes and institutions in the internet governance ecosystem.
**The author is grateful for having been provided the Non-Commercial User Constituency (NCUC) Travel Support Funding for attending ICANN 56.