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US and EU could see power diluted in ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2011, 10:54:49 (UTC), Domain Policy

A proposed shakeup of how ICANN divides the world into geographic regions could shift power away from US and European Union citizens.

Working group recommendations just finalized after over two years of discussion would see dozens of countries join the European and North American regions.

If adopted by ICANN, the proposals could potentially reduce the number of Western European and American faces on the ICANN board of directors.

ICANN currently recognizes five regions: North America, Latin America/Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia/Pacific. Under its bylaws, each region needs to have at least one seat on the board, and no region may have more than five.

After two years of deliberations, the volunteer Geographic Regions Review Working Group has now recommended that the five regions stay, but that many countries should be shuffled between regions to more accurately describe their location.

The North America group currently comprises just the US and Canada, along with a small number of US overseas territories. Mexico inexplicably counts as Latin America.

If the working group’s proposals are adopted, North America would lose territories such as Guam and American Samoa and gain more than 20 Caribbean and North Atlantic island nations, such as Jamaica, Barbados and the Cayman Islands.

The net result of this would be that when new ICANN directors are selected, the North American pool of candidates could be much more geographically and culturally diverse.

Europe’s boundaries would also be redrawn to encompass nations in the Middle East, which are currently assigned to the Asia/Pacific group.

Nations such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel would join Europe, as would former Soviet states such as Georgia, Tajikistan and Armenia. In total, Europe would get 24 new countries.

Some former colonial territories currently assigned to Europe due to their political heritage rather than their actual location would be shuffled into a more geographically appropriate region.

The British-owned Falklands would move to Latin America, for example, while French Polynesia and the British Indian Ocean Territory would join the Asia/Pacific region.

Again, a result of this reshuffle is that a region currently dominated by EU and other Western European states would have to be shared by a more diverse group of stakeholders.

Many of the moves make a lot of sense. In the current set-up, for example, the largely Greek-speaking EU nation Cyprus is in the same “geographic region” as Australia, some 9,000 miles away.

The new borders have been recommended to match the way the regions are currently handled by the five Regional Internet Registries, which allocate IP addresses to network operators.

The working group, in deciding to use the RIRs’ jurisdiction as a baseline, wrote in its report (pdf):

Fundamentally, ICANN is a technical organization and so aligning regions with the technical “infrastructure” of the numbering resource allocation system seems logical and defensible.

If adopted without modification, a total of 62 countries and territories would move to new regions, but many of these are the result of assigning territories to their geographic region rather than to the region of their mother country

The decision to stick at five regions will come as a blow to Arab states and some island nations, which had lobbied for new regions to be created to reflect their interests.

The working group has also recommended that any country or territory that wants to stick with its existing region is entitled to do so, but that once they do they’re locked into that decision for 10 years.

ICANN has opened the proposals to a longer-than-usual period of public comment, starting today and ending December 19, presumably in order to give the Governmental Advisory Committee and its members plenty of time to prepare reactions.

It seems unlikely we’ll see any formal adoption of the recommendations before the Costa Rica ICANN meeting in March 2012 at the earliest.

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