Lack of communication from ICANN could prove fatal

Speakers at an ICANN public meeting grumble at a lack of response from the board

A delegate to the public session with ICANN’s board at last month’s Wellington meeting warned that a lack of communication from the board might lead to the rise of alternative public networks with more responsive governing bodies.

“This event has gone astray from its original purpose, which is to let the public discuss and comment and interact with the board before the board takes a decision,” says Vittorio Bertola of Turin, a long-time ICANN participant.

”And now we have 95% of the time occupied by reports and then 5% of the time for public speaking.” Even then, time is limited to a few minutes per speaker because of other approaching events pushing at the deadline, he says.

”I have devoted several years of my life to ICANN,” says Bertola.

”So, it’s not a threat; it’s a warning. On the internet, things are really bottom-up by nature.

“I think that the best proof of how much ICANN is failing is the fact that this room is practically empty.

“Some may think that if people don’t show up things are just going smoothly … but the fact is that if people don’t show up [here], they will show up somewhere else and they will set up something else that suits their needs better.

”And, I guess, there’s plenty of people in the audience, and especially who are not in the audience any more, that would be able to set up alternate systems to what ICANN is managing now,” he says.

The contrary mood coalesced around the board’s decision earlier this year to give the .com management contract back to US company VeriSign, and settle the legal proceedings that were in train against it for having introduced controversial new services to the domain.

New Zealander Grant Forsyth, formerly a member of the business constituency lobby to ICANN, says business and other constituencies have a “serious concern that while we have continued to consistently respond to this question, and give you our view, in our view, we have been ignored.”

Forsyth referred to an earlier meeting when the board had been asked to postpone a decision on the VeriSign settlement until potential effects on other top-level domains had been evaluated.

“And you [chairman Vint Cerf] made the response that there were a couple of horse races going on here, and one race, the settlement of .com, could not be held over for another horse race to complete.

”Unfortunately, I think that’s a very poor analogy,” Forsyth says. “The ICANN that I have worked in the last five years I would much prefer to characterise as a chariot, where all the horses were well-harnessed together to speed the organisation to a commonly agreed destination, not a disparate horse race, where one horse has to compete against the others.”

He noted that the business community, like other constituencies, had now written to the US Department of Commerce on the VeriSign issue.

Cerf responded that just because the board had not agreed with those advocating caution it did not mean they had not been listened to. It is possible, he says, to listen and weigh up another’s ideas, as the board had, and still come to the opposite conclusion.

The criticism continued, however, with Tony Holmes, on behalf of the ISPs, alleging a lack of response from the board. “Being told ‘we have listened’ is not enough when the many points raised [about the VeriSign settlement] have received minimum acknowledgement of public response,” he says.

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