Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ICANN - a proposal for reform

ICANN at a crossroads: a proposal for better governance and performance by
Thomas M. Lenard and Lawrence J. White

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)—the non-profit company that is at the center of the Internet—has operated under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) since 1998. The MOU was replaced in September 2006 by the Joint Project Agreement (JPA) between ICANN and the DOC, which expires in August 2009. At that time, a decision needs to be made about ICANN’s future. Should the JPA tie with the U.S. Government be retained? Or should the link be wholly severed, as ICANN advocates? And, in either case, what governance structure would best promote Internet efficiency and innovation? This paper evaluates the structure and governance of ICANN to help inform the upcoming decision. In particular, it reviews ICANN’s structure and functions, and also the structures of a number of other organizations that perform a roughly comparable range of private-sector and quasi-governmental coordination and standard-setting functions, to explore what might be applicable to ICANN. We find that although ICANN has control over extremely important aspects of the Internet, it is largely accountable to no one. No organization with ICANN’s level of responsibility operates with the independence that ICANN enjoys, even under the current arrangement of nominal oversight by the U.S. Department of Commerce. ICANN’s proposal for complete privatization and termination of the DOC’s oversight would make the accountability problem worse.

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