National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Larry Strickling has called for ICANN to strengthen its decision-making processes.
In a speech at the University of Colorado earlier this month, Strickling called out ICANN’s board of directors in particular, for its habit of choosing between competing views when the ICANN community fails to reach consensus via the multi-stakeholder process.
The speech went over ground covered in other recent addresses – namely, how ICANN fits into the wider international political picture.
The US is worried about moves by some nations within the Internet Governance Forum and the International Telecommunications Union that threaten to make the internet an exclusively government-run enterprise.
Developing nations in particular are likely to support such moves, as the internet is causing them to lose the revenue they make by terminating international phone calls.
An ICANN that makes decisions without true bottom-up stakeholder consensus plays into the hands of those who would replace it with a new treaty organization, Strickling suggested.
According to his prepared remarks, he said:
Organizations that convene or manage multistakeholder processes have to be vigilant to make sure they do not inadvertently interfere with the effort to reach consensus.
the ICANN Board increasingly finds itself forced to pick winners and losers because its policy development process does not always yield true consensus-based policy making. This is not healthy for the organization.
If stakeholders understand that they can appeal directly to the Board to advocate for their particular policy position, they have less incentive to engage in the tough discussions to reach true consensus with all stakeholders during the policy-development process.
Ironically, ICANN’s current public comment period into defensive new gTLD applications – which could lead to changes to its trademark protection mechanisms – was opened precisely because Strickling himself, under pressure from Congress, appealed directly to the board.
But I suspect he was actually referring to the Association of National Advertisers, which scarcely participated in the development of the new gTLD program before it was finalized but has been loudly threatening ICANN about it ever since.
As well as calling for more participation from industry, Strickling also stressed the need for more governments to get involved in ICANN, “finding a way to bring them willingly, if not enthusiastically, into the tent of multistakeholder policy-making”.
But what would an ICANN that waits for true stakeholder consensus before the board makes a decision look like?
Strickling did not offer a solution in his address, but he did refer to the Governmental Advisory Committee’s new formal definition of consensus.
Without explicitly endorsing the model, he described it like this:
if the group reaches a position to which members do not object, it becomes the consensus view even though some members may not affirmatively support the position.
I’m finding it difficult to imagine ICANN continuing to function if its board of directors also had to observe this kind of “consensus” among stakeholders before making a decision.
Trademark owners and registrars not objecting to each other’s stuff?
What would I write about?