Think Again

Phil Lodico ⬥ 31 March

The Technology Policy Institute (TPI), a Washington-based think tank that is focused on “the economics of innovation, technological change, and related regulation in the United States and around the world,” recently released a study on ICANN titled “ICANN at a Crossroads: A Proposal for Better Governance and Performance.”

The study rightly recognizes that “although ICANN has control over extremely important aspects of the Internet, it is largely accountable to no one.” It also accurately observes that, “no organization with ICANN’s level of responsibility operates with the independence that ICANN enjoys, even under the current arrangement of nominal oversight by the U.S. Department of Commerce,” and that, “ICANN’s proposal for complete privatization and termination of the DOC’s oversight would make the accountability problem worse.” However, the study’s recommendation that ICANN should be restructured so that it is governed directly by the registrars and registries is deeply flawed.

For all intents and purposes, the registrars and registries already hold the reigns at ICANN, and the policies that come out of the organization tend to favor these contracted parties. The problem is that the interests of the contracted parties are oftentimes contrary to those of the rest of the Internet community. This is the reason we see decisions such as the one to open up the domain name space to new TLDs: a scenario that’s great for contracted parties (who get more inventory to sell and get to regulate how it is sold) but will probably mean nothing but confusion and increased enforcement costs for Internet users and brand owners. Unfortunately, things are likely to get worse—the GNSO, a significant policy making component of ICANN, was recently restructured to solidify the voting power of contracted parties.

ICANN is supposed to represent the diverse interests of its constituencies: the suggestion that governing power should be handed over to just two of those constituencies whose interests conflict with the other constituencies does not represent the best way to restructure ICANN. Think about it—in what other market do the same folks who make money off the product sold also set the policy that governs its distribution?

The problematic policies that are coming out of ICANN are a result of a broken system; when one particular group comes into power in an organization and governs according to its own economic interests instead of working to ensure a stable and secure space, you run into trouble.

There is no question that it is time to rethink ICANN, but I would assert that ICANN should be structured according to a system of checks and balances that will ensure that the needs of the wider Internet community don’t get sidelined by the business interests of contracted parties. We need a better-regulated system where Internet users and those representing the wider Internet community have a greater role in governance. 

Tags: brand owners, contracted party, domain names, GNSO, ICANN, internet community, Internet governance, nominal oversight, Registrar, registry, Technology Policy Institute, think tank, TLDs, TPI, U.S. Department of Commerce

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