ICANN’s Evolution


Yesterday was a major milestone in the development of the Internet, a day which I would argue is a major positive step forward in its evolution.

The newly minted CEO of ICANN announced that the organization has entered into a long term agreement with the United States Department of Commerce (DoC), an “Affirmation of Commitments”  (the 4 minute video segment is worth watching).  This agreement basically sets out the rules of engagement for US oversight of ICANN including the fact that the organization will remain headquartered in America, that the DoC will have a permanent seat on the new top-of-the-foodchain “Accountability and Transparency” committee, as well as the notion that the introduction of new gTLDs is not a foregone conclusion, that their consumer benefit must outweigh the costs.  Of course there are numerous other details, but these are several of the major ones.

Why would I think the US having some oversight of ICANN is a good idea?  A bit of historical perspective is required.

To begin with, the new agreement is replacing the existing Joint Project Agreement which expired September 30, 2009.  The original goal, roughly a decade ago when all this began, was that ICANN would be set free of US oversight at the conclusion of the JPA and its predecessor Memorandum of Understandings, so it certainly has a precedent.

But what does the global Internet community get in return for this?  As it turns out, quite a bit.  The fact is that until today, ICANN was responsible to only one entity, the DoC.   Given that the Internet is a global resource, there were and are many, many critics of this arrangement.  Let’s be fair, if you are China, India, Russia – let alone numerous other less friendly countries – would you want all your Internet traffic coordinated through an organization that was fundamentally beholden only to the US?  The new “Affirmation” now makes ICANN responsible to all countries in the Internet community, not just the US.  It certainly addresses a number of the comments CIRA made during the DoC request for comments on this issue.

That’s great for countries, but what do we, ordinary Internet users, get?   Turns out we get a fair amount too.  Many individual citizens are pleased that the US has stepped back into a more equal, rather than preeminent role.  But I would say that far more importantly, the “Affirmation” ensures a far higher degree of transparency and accountability than has previously been the case. This is very important for a private corporation that is coordinating the Internet on behalf of the world!

There is also a significantly more robust commitment to the security, stability, and resiliency of the domain name system (DNS).  This is incredibly important for the functioning of the Internet and something that often gets lost in all the policy, money, and political squabbling.  Of course, I am a little biased because that is what we do at CIRA , since it is the critical function for all of us who actually have a hand in operating the Internet.

There is an explicit nod to the fact that both the interests of consumers and competition must be served.  This is very important for all those who make their livelihood as a result of the net as well as the general user, but I think it is especially important for those in less developed countries whose interests must now be truly taken into account.  Finally, the DoC has effectively demanded that Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) must be implemented ASAP, a key requirement for the next billion people to come online!

Is the “Affirmation” perfect?  No.  But is it a significant step in the right direction?  Absolutely.  Ask yourself this question, and be honest…If some country is to have some degree of oversight to ensure ICANN stays upright, who would you want…really?  I’ll tell you one thing, I know a lot of these people and they are smart, hard working, and committed.  I am not naïve about it, but I am certainly okay with it.

Are there going to be bitter critics and unhappy countries?  Of course.  It’s always easy to take potshots from the sidelines, but I think Rod Beckstrom did a remarkable job of threading the needle on a very complicated, highly political and deeply controversial issue.

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  • Bill Graham

    I mostly agree, but I think you miss one of the most positive and important elements of the Affirmations – the repeated commitment to serving the public interest. Since ICANN was set up that has been implicit, but now it is explicit. For the US and ICANN to recognize that there *is* public interest that is above the sometimes narrow interests of regular participants at ICANN meetings is a huge step forward. The “Affirmation” gets this right: governments are there to ensure their public’s interests are protected. That is the basis for their increased prominence, which is not the same as increased power.

  • http://www.thestar.com/news/article/698457 Jane Potvin

    Dear CIRA,

    In his September 21 Toronto Star article (http://www.thestar.com/news/article/698457), Michael Geist paints an unfortunate picture of the state of affairs at CIRA. Why in the world is CIRA blowing money on expensive door prizes? Why not offer to support to higher learning on Internet issues or simply give out domain names?

    Mr. Geist make a good point and a strong argument. I agree him and believe that if asked, most Canadians would also agree with him. There is really no reason for an organization like CIRA to dish out thousands of dollars in prizes.

    The fact that CIRA refuses to disclose the cost (as per 6 and 7 on http://cirablog.ca/2009/09/inaugural-post/#comments) is another issue. CIRA should be transparent, disclose the cost, and defend its decision. That would show leadership and earn respect. Hiding dollar figures will only breed more suspicion.

    Mr. Geist is one of the world’s leading and thinkers on Internet matters. He represents one of the most authoritative Internet voices in Canada. His column’s readership is likely in the tens of thousands. In that context, I expect and hope that CIRA will use this blog to respond to his ideas.

    Jane Potvin

  • Yves Latreille

    Bonjour monsieur Holland.

    J’aimerai bien participer à ces discussions. Mais malheureusement, je ne comprends pas un mot d’anglais.

    L’ACEI semble vouloir se positionner entant que chef de file sur la scène internationale. Mais l’ACEI n’invite même pas les francophones à participer à son blogue situé sur le site internet http://www.cirablog.ca.

    Pourquoi exclure les francophones et le Québec ?


    Yves Latreille

  • http://www.cira.ca Byron Holland

    Hi Bill,
    I thnk you are absolutely correct in highlighting the commitment to serving the public interest. It is one of the key elements in the “Affirmation.”
    Another that I think worth mentioning, particularly from the Canadian context is the treatment of the “WHOIS” function (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whois ). The “Affirmation” makes specific reference to keeping WHOIS information transparent and visible to all. This is in contrast to Canadian envirmonment where we provide privacy protection for all individual users ( http://www.cira.ca/whois-policy/ ). From a privacy protection perspective, CIRA is the leading regisrty in the world, quite a contrast from the direction ICANN is taking.

  • http://www.cira.ca Byron Holland

    Hello Jane,
    Thanks for your comment, though it likely would have been better placed with the previous posting rather than one about a major change in the global governance of the Internet.

    While I have profound respect for Michael and the contributions he makes to the Canadian Internet landscape, he is simply wrong when it comes to some of the criticisms he has recently levelled against CIRA.

    In a sense, I could not agree with you more. I wish we did not have to buy door prizes. As a member driven organization, we are required to have certain levels of participation at our AGM. In spite of the fact that we send out email notifications to all our Members and all our Registrants encouraging them to participate, in addition to advertising it on our website and personally calling all Members in the local area, it is very difficult to guarantee the required number of people for an AGM. Further, we had an open mike session on a contentious topic – WHOIS (http://www.cira.ca/whois-policy/) in addition to a very compelling keynote speaker – activities that should generate interest and engage the Membership. Believe me, there is nothing we would like better than for robust participation, but the reality is it is difficult to get people to take the time out of their busy days to engage with us. As a case in point, many of our critics regarding lack of participation themselves to not make the time to participate in our AGM.

    As a result, a few door prizes constitute one minor part of an awareness campaign to build participation in the AGM process.

    In terms of our finances, we are very transparent as I have noted many times before. You may not agree with us spending a few thousand dollars on prizes to encourage participation, but there is certainly nothing to hide here. We listed them all, in full detail, on our AGM website. What you are really talking about here is the business judgement of using prizes to incent participation. While I too would prefer it if Members would participate simply for the benefit and joy of being part of the Internet governance process, at this point we still require some added incentives to ensure participation. I can assure you however, we are working on it!

    You can view our complete audited financials at http://www.cira.ca/annual-reports/2009/en/f_financial_01_en.html. Our Member elected Board of Directors approves the budget, which we are then held accountable for. Subsequently the audit committee reviews all the financial information and then our auditors, specialists in not-for-profit companies, review and certify our financial statements. At this point we publish them for all to see as per the link above.

  • Byron Holland

    Bonjour Yves,
    Merci de votre commentaire. L’ACEI s’engage à fournir un service entièrement bilingue à tous ses titulaires et registraires, reflétant en cela la dualité linguistique du Canada. L’infrastructure de notre blogue est conforme aux meilleures pratiques adoptées par l’industrie pour les forums publiés par les médias sociaux du secteur privé et des ONG, c’est-à-dire que les commentaires y sont affichés dans la langue d’origine de leur auteur. Cette pratique est largement répandue à l’échelle nationale et internationale, eu égard à la nature dynamique et en constante évolution de ce médium. Lorsque nous recevons des questions en français, comme dans le cas du commentaire que vous avez soumis, une réponse en français sera fournie.

  • Yves Latreille

    Monsieur Holland,

    Je ne comprends pas votre réponse. Vous dites que « L’infrastructure de notre blogue est conforme aux meilleures pratiques adoptées par l’industrie pour les forums publiés par les médias sociaux du secteur privé et des ONG, c’est-à-dire que les commentaires y sont affichés dans la langue d’origine de leur auteur. »

    De quelles « meilleures pratiques » et de quelle « industrie » parlez-vous ?

    Nous sommes en 2009. Vous devriez peut-être vous familiariser avec les pratiques contemporaines, courantes, et canadiennes relatives au lancement de discussions publiques par les chefs d’entreprises nationales.

    Industrie Canada a mandaté l’ACEI à offrir un service à tout le publique canadien. Vous devriez peut-être vous familiariser avec les meilleures pratiques des entreprises mandatés par le Gouvernement du Canada à offrir des services à tout les canadiens et canadiennes. Entant que chef de l’ACEI, et auteur principal du blogue de votre organisme qui est imputable envers tous les canadiens et canadiennes, vous ne pouvez pas moralement décider de communiquer qu’en anglais aux anglophones.

    Vos opinions et articles de forums sur la gouvernance de l’Internet sont d’intérêt à tous les canadiens et canadiennes. J’ai beau à croire que vous avez des observations et des commentaires éducatifs et intéressants. Pourquoi ne faites vous pas inclusion des lecteurs et des internautes francophones ? Vous êtes en position unique pour démontrer un leadership prodigieux. Vous voulez positionner l’ACEI à un niveau de chef de file international? Ouvrez-nous la porte !

    L’ACEI est probablement la seule organisation au Canada, mandatée par le Gouvernement du Canada à offrir un service public à tous les canadiens et canadiennes, avec un chef qui amorce ses communications publiques en anglais seulement. Êtes-vous heureux de cela ?

    Vous avez nommé le blogue de l’ACEI « Public Domain. » Vous attendez-vous à ce que les francophones apprennent l’anglais pour comprendre ce que communiquez PUBLIQUEMENT à tous les canadiens et canadiennes ? Vous auriez peut-être du nommer ce blogue « English Public Domain. »

    En effet, et bien malheureusement, votre réponse reflète l’attitude d’une organisation qui détient un monopole dans son « industrie » au Canada. En outre, l’ACEI semble exploiter ce monopole en ne prenant pas compte du fait que des centaines de milliers de canadiens et de canadiennes ne peuvent pas lire l’anglais.

    Monsieur Holland, l’organisme dont vous êtes chef détient des richesses extraordinaires. Je ne vous demande pas de traduire tous les articles de forum. Je vous demande simplement d’amorcer vous articles et discussions en anglais et en français pour que les francophones comme moi puissent les comprendre et participer. Ouvrez-nous la porte ! Est-ce trop demander étant donné la situation financière extraordinaire dont vous bénéficiez ? Vos budgets sont gras, bien gras. Il ne manque pas de revenus à l’ACEI.

    Monsieur Holland, pensez-y bien. Avec un article de 600 mots à chaque deux semaines, et à 50 cents le mot pour les traductions, le coût total pour une année complète ne serait que 7 800 $. Alors que le Canada célèbre le 40ième anniversaire de la Loi sur les langue officielles, il n’y a donc aucune raison, aucune loi, aucune limite technique, aucune « meilleure pratique » et aucune pression budgétaire présente ou future qui empêche le chef de l’ACEI d’amorcer des discussions ouvertes et publiques avec les anglophones et les francophones. Monsieur Holland, ouvrez-nous la porte !

    Vous dites que « Lorsque nous recevons des questions en français, comme dans le cas du commentaire que vous avez soumis, une réponse en français sera fournie. » Alors je vous demande, POUVEZ VOUS S’IL VOUS PLAIT M’EXPLIQUER EN FRANÇAIS CE QUE VOUS AVEZ DIT ET EXPLIQUÉ UNIQUEMENT EN ANGLAIS DANS VOS ARTICLES PUBLIÉS LE 18 SEPTEMBRE ET LE 1ER OCTOBRE 2009 ? À 1 229 mots pour ces deux articles, et à 50 cents le mot pour la traduction, ce ne devrait pas coûter plus que 614 $.

    Yves Latreille

  • Guillaume St. Armand

    M. Holland,

    Je suis totalement d’accord avec les points de vue et arguments d’Yves Latreille. Ce domaine est publique ou il ne l’est pas.

    En ce qui concerne la gouvernance de l’Internet, j’aimerai mieux comprendre la position de l’ACEI vis-à-vis les enjeux relatifs au commerce traditionnel.

    Dans le contexte de l’affirmation de l’ICANN, nous retrouvons un zone économique plus ou moins grise étant donné la nature dynamique de l’Internet (citation du paragraphe no. 2 : « The Internet is a transformative technology… »). Le commerce électronique ne peut que co-exister avec le commerce traditionnel. Par contre, dans le commerce traditionnel, nous ne retrouvons plus des pas de géants. La révolution industrielle, et ses méthodes d’antan, se retrouve maintenant dans les livres d’histoire. Mais nous en dépendons toujours pour croître notre PNB. Donc comment relier les deux extrêmes pour assurer la stabilité de l’Internet et du commerce traditionnel pour les générations à venir ?

    Merci. Guillaume St. Armand

  • Jack Hollinger

    Not sure what’s going on here but I agree with Yves. The cira blog’s terms of use are published in english only.


    And they state “This blog was established as a vehicle to share CIRA’s insights on industry happenings and to highlight CIRA’s role in maintaining a reliable online environment for all Canadians.”

    All Canadians should mean ALL Canadians. Cira needs to rethink this one.

    Go Yves! Go Habs!


  • Tony Lyons

    In terms of the language issue – might I remind the participants in this forum that Canada is made up of a linguistically diverse population, and that languages such as Mandarin and Hindi are more common than French and English in some locations. So what is Mr Holland supposed to do – respond in every language that’s posted? He was asked a question in French, and he responded in French. It’s already a bilingual blog – which is unheard of. What more do you want? have some common sense for goodness sake.

  • http://www.ciratalk.ca Jim

    I can see, and agree with Jack’s point. Tony took it to the extreme but one thing that was close, is that English and French are the two “official languages” of Canada.

    One thing http://www.ciratalk.ca is hoping to bring to Dot-Ca owners the one thing CIRA wouldn’t, an oppotuntiy to mix, mingle and chat & learn. But it’s only in english.

    I find it very rude of people to respond in french to a blog article written in english.