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NTIA gives nod to IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2016, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has formally thrown its weight behind the community-led proposal that would remove the US government, itself in effect, from DNS root oversight.

Assistant secretary Larry Strickling held a press conference this afternoon to confirm the hardly surprising development, but dodged questions about a Republican move to scupper the plan in Congress.

The IANA transition plan, which was developed by the ICANN community over about two years, meets all the criteria NTIA had set out in its surprise 2014 announcement, Strickling confirmed.

Namely, NTIA said in a press release that the the plan would:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

Probably more importantly, NTIA agrees with everyone else that the plan does not replace NTIA’s role with more government meddling.

US Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy see things differently. They yesterday introduced the Protecting Internet Freedom Act, which would stop the transition going ahead.

Strickling said that NTIA has been talking to Congress members about the transition, but declined to “speculate” about the new bill’s likelihood of success.

“We’ve been up on the Hill doing briefings and will continue to do so with any member that wants to talk to us,” he said.

Currently, NTIA is forbidden by law from spending any money on the transition, but that prohibition expires (unless it is renewed) at the end of the current federal budget cycle.

The plan is to carry out the transition after that, Strickling said.

The current IANA contract expires September 30. It may be extended, depending on how quickly ICANN and Verisign proceed on their implementation tasks.

US gov: we can’t support ICANN accountability plan

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has waded into the ICANN accountability debate, possibly muddying the waters in the process.

In a blog post last night, NTIA head Larry Strickling said that community proposals for enhancing accountability were not yet detailed enough, and had not reached the desired level of consensus, for the NTIA to support them.

He urged everyone involved to simplify the proposals and to work on areas where there is still confusion or disagreement.

The comments were directed at the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG), a diverse volunteer committee that has been tasked with coming up with ways to improve ICANN accountability after the US government severs formal oversight of the IANA functions.

That group spent a year coming up with a set of draft proposals, outlining measures such as stronger, harder-to-change bylaws and improvements to the Independent Review Process.

But the main organizational change it proposed is where the most conflict has emerged.

CCWG thinks the best way to give the community a way to enforce accountability is to change ICANN into a membership organization, a certain type of legal entity under California law.

It would have a Sole Member, a legal entity peopled by members of each part of the community, which would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

The ICANN board doesn’t dig this idea one bit. Its outside attorneys at Jones Day have counseled against such a move as untested, overly complex and potentially subject to capture.

On a recent three-hour teleconference, the board proposed the Sole Member model be replaced by a “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism”.

The MEM would create a binding arbitration process — enforceable in California court — through which ICANN’s supporting organizations and advisory committees could gang up to challenge decisions that they believe go against ICANN’s Fundamental Bylaws.

Since this bombshell, a key question facing the CCWG has been: is the board’s view being informed primarily by its lawyers, or has Strickling been quietly raising NTIA concerns about the proposal via back-channels?

If it’s the former, the CCWG and its own outside counsel could robustly argue the community’s corner.

If it’s the latter, it’s pretty much back to the drawing board — because if the NTIA doesn’t like the plan, it won’t be approved.

Unfortunately, Strickling’s latest blog post avoids giving any straight answers, saying “it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of the community”.

But his choice of language may suggest a degree of support for the board’s position.

As I stated in Argentina in June, provide us a plan that is as simple as possible but still meets our conditions and the community’s needs. Every day you take now to simplify the plan, resolve questions, and provide details will shorten the length of time it will take to implement the plan and increase the likelihood that the plan will preserve the security and stability of the Internet. Putting in the extra effort now to develop the best possible consensus plan should enhance the likelihood that the transition will be completed on a timely schedule.

The emphasis on “simplicity” could be read as coded support for the board, which has repeatedly said that it thinks the Sole Member model may be too complicated for the NTIA to swallow.

Both the board and Strickling’s latest post refer back to a speech he made in Buenos Aires in June, in which he said:

If a plan is too complex, it increases the likelihood there will be issues that emerge later. Unnecessary complexity increases the possibility that the community will be unable to identify and mitigate all the consequences of the plan. And a complex plan almost certainly will take longer to implement.

Strickling certainly knows that the board has been citing these comments in its objection to the Sole Member model, so the fact that he chose to repeat them may be indicative of which way he is leaning. Or maybe it isn’t.

Either way, I think it’s going to be tough for the CCWG to easily dismiss the board’s concerns.

CCWG members are currently on planes heading to ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles for a two-day face-to-face meeting at which the chairs “expect that a large portion of our time… will be reserved to answering the tough questions”.

Many believe that unless this meeting is extraordinarily successful, it’s going to be tough for an IANA transition proposal to be approved by the NTIA under the current US administration.

Anger as ICANN’s member flops before board

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors came to blows with its key accountability working group this week, over proposals that would give ICANN the community the right to sue ICANN the organization.

An extraordinary three-hour teleconference between the board and the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG) Wednesday night came across like some kind of weird, Orwellian, passive-aggressive piece of emotional domestic abuse.

The CCWG, a group of volunteers coming from all parts of the ICANN community, has created a set of proposals for improving ICANN’s accountability to the community as part of its transition process away from US government oversight.

The idea is to create sufficient accountability mechanisms so that if in future the entire ICANN board grows goatee beards and turns Eeevil, the community will still be able to hold them to their bylaws commitments.

The CCWG, following the advice of an independent law firm, decided that the best way to do this was to turn ICANN into a membership organization with a “Sole Member”.

This member would be a legal entity run by community members that would have the right under California law to sue ICANN if it ever failed to live up to its bylaws.

For example, if ICANN refused to implement the decisions of an Independent Review Panel, the member could seek to have the ruling enforced by a court.

This is just one of many proposals made by the CCWG currently open for public comment.

Highly unusually for a public comment period, the ICANN board is going to be a commenter in this case. While its comments have not been published yet, it has taken advice from its lawyers at Jones Day that may give an indication of how it is leaning.

Wednesday night’s call was designed to give the board the chance to bring its initial thinking to the CCWG.

Instead, it wound up being almost entirely about the proposed membership model and the board’s statements that while it supported the CCWG’s proposals 100% it also wanted them fundamentally rewritten.

The board wants the idea of a Sole Member model thrown out and replaced with a new arbitration process that would be legally enforceable in California courts.

So, instead of a legal-entity “member” suing ICANN, some as-yet unidentified community entity would take ICANN to arbitration. The decision of the arbitration panel could then be enforced by the courts if ICANN failed to abide by it.

When CCWG members asked who, in the absence of a legal entity, would take ICANN to arbitration and then sue it, the board had no answer. Instead, directors said the CCWG’s legal advisers should talk to Jones Day to hammer out the “technical” details.

Some members claimed that it would be “impossible” to give the community legal standing to sue ICANN without a membership model. Others said that the board’s 11th hour suggested rewrites would make it “impossible” to hit the deadline for a final proposal by the Dublin meeting next month.

At least a third of the 2-hour 47-minute call was wasted as the CCWG struggled to understand the doublespeak the board had brought into the discussion.

Directors continually insisted that they “completely supported” CCWG’s proposals on enforcement “without reservation”, while simultaneously saying the Sole Member model should be thrown out.

Half way through the call, CCWG co-chair Thomas Rickert reflected exasperation among members: “There is obviously difficulty to understand by many on this call how you fully support what we are doing while proposing something which appears like a complete rewrite.”

Shortly thereafter, Chehade responded:

Why don’t we just agree that we are agreeing with you that the community must be able to get enforcement in California courts, that we will ensure that they have the standing to do it without question. And if we are all in agreement that we are in agreement with each other let’s then let the technical people go solve this. If they call come back and tell us that frankly that advice was flawed, then let’s deal with it then in good faith. But that’s what we’re sharing with you.

Directors said that the proposed member model might have unintended consequences, and that the US government may not approve a proposal that overly complicates ICANN’s legal structure.

An hour later, the CCWG was still scratching its head, nerves were beginning to wear, and the tone was getting increasingly testy as the CCWG repeatedly asked the board to explain how it could express support and simultaneously propose an alternative solution.

“There is absolutely no new proposal,” Chehade said, eventually. “We are embracing your proposal and the objectives of the community. Please hear me on this. There is no new proposal.”

He said:

Take your work and break it down: board removal, standing reconsideration, enhancing – getting the IRP back on the track we set, you know, fundamental bylaw, binding arbitration or mechanisms of enforceability. All of the things you have come up with, we are accepting. So when your reaction to our two last hours is that we’re refusing to add any accountability, I don’t know how you come to that frankly…

you yourself in the proposal say that this proposal is not finished, it needs a lot of work. So what we’re saying to you is let’s take this proposal which is not finished and let’s figure out ways to make it real, and real in the next few weeks so we can move forward…

The only area where we are telling you we would like to propose a different mechanism to achieve the same goal is the enforceability.

The whole three hours reminded me of a nightmare-scenario interview where the interviewee has been media-trained up the wazoo and refuses to sway from a set of vaguely scripted talking points.

But which proposal is the right one for ICANN?

Beats me. What does seem quite clear to me is that the board and CCWG are at odds now, despite what ICANN says, and that the expected delivery of a final accountability proposal by Dublin is in serious doubt.

Following the call, ICANN chair Steve Crocker posted a blog post that sought to clarify the board’s position, characterizing it as agreement in principle but disagreement on implementation. He wrote:

We have suggestions on how these [CCWG proposals] could be operationalized. With regards to the mechanisms for community enforceability, where the current proposal still warrants much detail that may not be achievable we have a suggestion on how to deliver on it in a stable way, as increased enforceability must not open up questions of, for example, capture or diminishing of checks and balances.

The Wednesday meeting’s audio, transcript and other notes can all be found here.

US gives ICANN an extra year to complete transition

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2015, Domain Policy

US government oversight of ICANN and the domain name system will end a year later than originally expected.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last night that it has extended ICANN’s IANA contract until September 30, 2016, giving the community and others more time to complete and review the transition proposals.

NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling wrote that “it has become increasingly apparent over the last few months that the community needs time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the U.S. Government and then implement it if it is approved.”

Simultaneously, NTIA has finally published a proposal — written by ICANN and Verisign — for how management of the DNS root will move away from hands-on US involvement.

The extension of the IANA contract from its September 30, 2015 end date was not unexpected. The current contract allows for such extensions.

As we recently reported, outgoing ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade had guessed a mid-2016 finalization of the transition.

Regardless, expect op-eds in the coming days to claim this as some kind of political victory against the Obama administration.

Part of the reason for the extension, beyond the fact that the ICANN community hasn’t finished its work yet, is legislation proposed in the US.

The inappropriately named DOTCOM Act, passed by the House but frozen for political reasons in the Senate by Tea Party presidential hopeful Sen Ted Cruz, would give Congress 30 legislative days (which could equal months of real time) to review the IANA transition proposals.

There are basically three prongs to the transition, each with very long names.

The “Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community” is the first.

That was created by the multistakeholder IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) and deals with how the IANA contract will be managed after the US government goes away.

The second prong comes from the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability, which deals with how ICANN itself can improve its accountability to the internet community without the Damoclean sword of US intervention hanging over it.

The CCWG’s latest draft report would strengthen the ICANN board against capture by, for example, making certain bylaws harder to amend and giving the community the right to fire directors.

Both of these proposals are currently open for public comment here.

The third prong, which only appears to have been published this week, deals with the nuts and bolts of how changes to the DNS root zone are made.

The current system is a tripartite arrangement between IANA, NTIA and Verisign.

When a TLD operator needs a change to the DNS root — for example adding a name server for its TLD — the request is submitted to and processed by IANA, sent to NTIA for authorization, then actually implemented on the primary root server by Verisign.

Under the new proposal (pdf) to phase the NTIA out of this arrangement, the NTIA’s “authorization” role would be temporarily complemented by a parallel “authentication” role.

The proposal is not written in the clearest English, even by ICANN standards, but it seems that the current Root Zone Management System would be duplicated in its entirety and every change request would have to be processed by both systems.

The output of both would be compared for discrepancies before Verisign actually made the changes to the root.

It seems that this model is only being proposed as a temporary measure, almost like a proof of concept to demonstrate that the NTIA’s current authorization role isn’t actually required and won’t be replaced in this brave new world.

Chehade confirms he’ll be gone before IANA transition is done

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has laid out his current best thinking for the timeline of the IANA’s transition from US government oversight, and he’ll be gone well before it’s done.

At the opening ceremony of the ICANN 53 meeting in Buenos Aires today, Chehade described how June 2016 is a likely date for the divorce; three months after his resignation takes effect.

Chehade said:

I asked our community leaders, “Based on your plans and what you’re seeing and what you know today, when could that finish?” The answers that are coming back to us seem to indicate that by ICANN 56, which will be back in Latin America in the middle of 2016, a year from today, the contract with the US Government could come to an end.

He showed a slide that broke the remaining work of the transition into three phases.

Work being carried out within ICANN is not entirely to blame for the length of time the process will take.

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration needs 60 to 90 days to review the final community-developed transition proposal.

And under forthcoming US legislation, 30 legislative days will be required for the US Congress to review the NTIA’s approval of the plan.

Thirty legislative days, Chehade explained, could mean as many as 60 actual days, depending on the yet-unpublished 2016 Congressional calendar.

He urged the community focus hard on Phase One in his graphic — actually producing a consensus transition plan.

The target for delivery of this is the next ICANN meeting, 54, which will take place in Dublin, Ireland from October 18 to October 22 this year.