Who Should Hold the Reins?

Phil Lodico ⬥ 27 April

We’ve talked a lot about the governance issues in ICANN, but it’s trickier to discuss ways to go about fixing these issues. For example, if one of the problems is that there’s no accountability in the current system, how do we go about creating oversight? Should that oversight come from a government organization? If so, which government(s)?

Having a government involved in Internet regulation would certainly have its advantages; hopefully a government would not have a monetary interest in Internet policy, for one. That’s actually a big problem with ICANN—the organization regulates a global resource but is basically controlled from within by just two of its constituencies. Unfortunately, these groups rule by looking out for their vested financial interests rather than the best use for the resource. Of course, putting any community in such a position of power would produce a stilted result.

Think about it. When we want an objective, unbiased perspective in national governance, we remove the oversight body and its individuals from the influence of their constituencies. In the US Supreme Court, life appointments remove the need to pander to constituent desires for reelection. Maybe we need the same type of government-controlled judiciary body in place at ICANN—we can keep the bottom-up policy development process but then have an oversight body that can weigh in on the propriety of policy decisions.

Then again, you have to consider the other side of the coin. There could be drawbacks to a government controlled Internet— for example, China’s well-known efforts to control the content available to and posted by its public. Or, as reported by Domain Name News, the Kyrgyzstan government’s efforts to put the country’s ccTLD dot-KG under state control and establish policies that increase barriers to domain name acquisition. Many see this as a move to reign in free speech and as a step back from the country’s development as a democracy.

Any change to Internet governance needs to be done carefully and thoughtfully, but the conversation needs to begin now because the current system simply isn’t working. We shouldn’t be afraid of exploring and talking about all the possibilities for improving the space. Discussing the pros and cons of even the most extreme scenarios can help us better recognize what needs to be done.

Tags: accountability, ccTLD, China, Domain Name News, domain names, financial interests, ICANN, Internet, Internet governance, oversight, policy development, US Supreme Court

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