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10 Oct 2015
ICANN is in the midst (I wouldn't yet say the middle) of its transition from oversight by the US Department of Commerce to oversight by something else. A Cross Community Working Group on Accountability delivered a long report in August that proposes a new oversight structure for ICANN. But it has the practical problem that the ICANN board really, really hates it. Having looked at it, I can't entirely blame them.
ICANN is incorporated as a California non-profit corporation. Some non-profits have legal members, some don't, and ICANN is one of the ones that doesn't. In the ones that have members, the members somehow select the board, often in complex ways with different kinds of members having different rights. In the ones that don't, the board is essentially self-perpetuating, with the board selecting its own successors, or designating other people to do so. ICANN does the latter, with various constituencies picking one or two board members apiece, and a nominating committee composed of people from various constituencies picking eight. (I was on the 2015 nominating committee.)
The CCWG proposal changes the ICANN bylaws so ICANN becomes a membership organization with one giant member, which is an informal association of all of the constituencies. The member has the right to appoint and fire board members, approve the budget, and a bunch of other oversight authority. While I entirely sympathize with the desire to get ICANN's ever growing budget and staff under control, that's a different issue from the NTIA's oversight. The NTIA agreements give NTIA the right in the short term to veto changes to the root zone, and in the long term not to renew the IANA contract and award it to someone else. That's it. So it seems to me that it would be a lot easier to solve the NTIA transition problem and the other problems separately.
If the goal is to replace the NTIA oversight, they should do just that. Keep the giant single member (or turn it back into multiple members, it hardly matters), but have that member control a new small entity that I'll call Blobco. This entity exists to be the other end of the contract that replaces the NTIA agreements. The contract gives Blobco the same rights that NTIA has had, veto over root changes, and the option not to renew.
I would think that Blobco could do all that with a staff of one or two people, who would consult the groups in the giant member as needed. They'd have to figure out how to raise the small amount of money required -- perhaps as part of the transition the IANA trademark and domain name, which have been kind of a political football, could go to Blobco, which could then license them back to ICANN as part of the agreement. Or since the constituencies in the giant member claim this is important, they could each kick in a small amount and fund it themselves.
This plan allows ICANN to continue to be organized just the way it is now, with the IANA function just where it is now, only with a slightly different contract. It doesn't address all of ICANN's other issues, but they're not what the transition is about.
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