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US and EU could be victims of ICANN power shift

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2013, Domain Policy

Europe and North America could see an influx of new nations under changes to the way ICANN defines geographic regions, potentially diluting the influence of EU states and the USA.

Europe could soon be joined by several Middle Eastern countries, while North America could be expanded to encapsulate Caribbean nations.

The changes, which would alter the composition of key ICANN decision-making bodies, could come as a result of the Geographic Regions Review Working Group, which delivered a draft final set of recommendations over the weekend, after four years of deliberations.

Among its conclusions, the WG found that there are “anomalies” in how ICANN handles regions and that countries should have the right to move to a different region if they choose.

ICANN has long divided the world into five regions (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean) along unique and sometimes unusual lines.

The regions are used to ensure diversity in the make-up of its board of directors, among other things. ICANN’s bylaws state that no region may have more than five directors on the board.

The working group was tasked with figuring out whether the current geographic regions made sense, whether there should more or fewer regions, and whether some countries should change regions.

ICANN’s regions as they stand today have some weirdness.

Cyprus, for example, is categorized as being in Asia-Pacific, despite it floating in the Mediterranean, being a member of the European Union and largely speaking Greek.

Mexico and most Caribbean islands are in Latin America, as far as ICANN is concerned, leaving the US, Canada and US overseas territories as the North American region’s only eight members.

Then there are anomalies relating to “mother countries”. The Falkland Islands, for example, is physically found in the Latin American region but is classified as European by ICANN because it’s a British territory.

Under changes proposed by the working group, many of these anomalies could slowly shake themselves out.

But the working group decided against forcing nations from one region into another (with an opt-out) as had been proposed in 2011. Instead, countries could choose to change regions.

This is the key recommendation:

The Working Group recommends that the Board direct Staff to prepare and maintain ICANN’s own unique organizational table that clearly shows the allocation of countries and territories (as defined by ISO 3166) to its existing five Geographic Regions. The initial allocation should reflect the status quo of the current assignments. However, Staff should also develop and implement a process to permit stakeholder communities in countries or territories to pursue, if they wish, re-assignment to a geographic region that they consider to be more appropriate for their jurisdiction.

While this looks like a free-for-all — there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping France moving to Africa, for example — in practice the working group seems to be expecting certain shifts.

For example, some Middle Eastern nations had expressed an interest in moving from Asia-Pacific to Europe, while some Caribbean island states apparently feel more aligned with North America.

Assuming the recommendations are taken on board and regional switches are approved on a case-by-case basis, both North America and Europe could soon swell to include new countries.

The working group’s recommendations would avoid the seismic shifts previously envisaged, however.

There will be no separate region for Arab states, which had been requested. Nor will there be any forced move of territories into regions different from their mother countries (which would have proved politically difficult in the case of disputed land masses such as the Falklands).

While the report is being called “final” it has been presented for public review until October, after which it will be formally sent to ICANN’s board.

US and EU could see power diluted in ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2011, 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.