The board of directors at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) wants to hold a special meeting with their governmental members to discuss ways to head off the threat of United Nations (U.N.) intervention.
Vint Cerf, ICANN board chairman stated the board would like to hold a special meeting to discuss the role of Internet governance. He made his request in a letter to Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi, chairman of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), posted to the ICANN website yesterday.
The ICANN community is scheduled to meet in Vancouver, Canada, Nov. 30 - Dec. 4.
ICANN is fending off growing discontent among foreign countries who are angered by U.S.-centric policies that affect what is essentially an international Internet. Earlier this year, the U.S. reversed its policy to divest itself of veto power over the management of the 13 root servers that house the vast majority of top-level domains, such as .com and .net, to ICANN.
That global opposition has solidified around the U.N.-sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and its Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), which in July outlined four possible directions the world body could take regarding Internet governance.
U.S. officials are opposed to the U.N. taking over management of the Internet.
One of the WGIG recommendations was keeping ICANN intact but expanding the role of the organization's GAC. Cerf's letter to Tarmizi suggests that is exactly what it has in mind to fend off any move by the U.N. to subsume ICANN.
"As you have no doubt noticed, during the current [WSIS] a great deal of attention has been devoted to the role of governments in the process of 'Internet governance,'" Cerf wrote. "Obviously, this discussion directly relates to the role of the [GAC] in ICANN and raises the question of how that role could be strengthened within the existing multi-stakeholder mechanism and made more effective."
One possible way to accomplish this would be through the creation of a governmental supporting organization, which could give government representatives voting power on the ICANN board of directors.
The GAC is one of six non-voting liaisons to the board of directors, which allows government interests to be present and participate in board discussions and deliberations, but not vote.
The ICANN board has 15 voting directors: eight people selected by ICANN's nominating committee, an ex officio president and two voting members each from the three ICANN supporting bodies -- Address Supporting Organization (ASO), Country-Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) and Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO).
ICANN could decide, in the interests of giving governments a say in ICANN matters, to expand its voting members to 17 individuals by including two governmental representatives.
In its August response to the WGIG report, ICANN officials said the organization's model requires a continuous assessment of what can and should be done better and "while not perfect, continuously evolves and seeks to improve -- it is not static."
Ross Rader, director of innovation and research at Canadian registrar Tucows, said the challenges to give governments more say in the ICANN process would be formidable. It will require the wisdom of Solomon to pull off, he said, because ICANN's directors would not only have to make government representatives happy but the rest of the community as well.
The other advisory committee at ICANN is the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which also has one non-voting liaison in contact with the board of directors. The ALAC represents individual Internet users, and this committee might also want to have a voting seat on the board of directors if the GAC is given a voting director's seat.
"I'm not too concerned about the 'spectre of WSIS,' the threat from the U.N., as I am about ICANN itself, both as a philosophy and as an organization getting so distracted or divided up about the issue that it falls apart or implodes," Rader said.
He does add that if Cerf -- the "father of the Internet" for his role in the creation of the Internet and TCP/IP protocols -- can put together the Internet and all its moving parts, he should be able to figure something out to facilitate the resolution of this matter.
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