Wsis barks, icann moves on

Internet Governance the Next

The controversy over "Internet Governance" has by a hair in December 2003 the success of the "World Summit on the Information Society" (WSIS) impossible. The final compromise was to ask UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to set up a working group to make proposals on how to proceed before the second WSIS summit in November 2005. But while eight months after the summit it is still not clear how the "Working Group on Internet Governance" (WGIG) is to be put together, the private "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers" (ICANN), whose dominant role in WSIS had divided opinion, will continue to circulate. At the recent ICANN meeting in Kuala Lumpur at the end of July, ICANN, rather unimpressed by the WSIS discussion, took concrete steps to underpin its claim to leadership in strategic areas for the further development of the Internet.

Technicization and depoliticization

ICANN’s leading heads, Chairman Vint Cerf and CEO Paul Twomey, have developed an interesting double strategy, with which they on the one hand let the fundamental critics run into the void and on the other hand systematically and consistently create facts, which even those cannot get past, who initially had good reasons to imagine an Internet world without ICANN.

The line of argument that ICANN has been repeating prayerfully since the WSIS Summit is that the WSIS Information Society theme is much bigger than the Internet theme, and that even the "Internet" is much rougher than the management of IP addresses and domain name and root server systems. Governments had a crucial role to play in all the gross WSIS ies – from eCommerce to cybercrime – but in the technical management of domain names, governments were not needed. Here it would be sufficient if there were functioning communication channels for the case when political questions arise in border areas. And that’s where ICANN has "Governmental Advisory Committee" (GAC) on its side. The GAC recommendations are not binding on ICANN, but this will of course be taken care of, if necessary by setting up a mediation committee, which after the ICANN reform can now be called upon for potential cases of conflict between the GAC and ICANN. .

But for the moment there is no such case in sight. Cerf and Twomey are careful to put a friendly face on governments to reare those UN members who accuse ICANN of overriding the national sovereignty of states.

At the same time, and this was particularly evident in Kuala Lumpur, beyond the political rhetoric, ICANN is driving the practical process of developing the Internet at a cruder pace, launching it into technical terrain that is increasingly difficult for governments to navigate. After much procrastination, ICANN has now implemented the new IPv6 address protocol in the root. This is not only a response to the somewhat naive criticism of some developing countries that "digital divide" This is also reflected in the uneven distribution of IP addresses, which has taken the wind out of the sails, said Laar in The Hague. With IPv6, not just billions, but trillions of IP addresses can now be assigned, which will increase the role of the "Regional Internet Registries", an important constituency of ICANN, and of IANA quite objectively strong in the medium term.

In addition to IPv6, ICANN’s acceleration tactics have also led to further progress in the implementation of internationalized domain names. This is also a highly complicated technical process, since every character that is not based on the shortened Latin alphabet, the so-called ASCII code, has to be newly translated into numbers via so-called language tables in order to enable communication between two computers. The governments rightly say that the handling of the national language is a sovereign matter of the states and contains sovereign aspects, but how this is to be implemented in detail, the members of the GAC have to rely on the recommendations of the IETF, which in turn sits as a liaison on the ICANN board.

The third example, the extension of the domain name space, also shows that ICANN has learned from its mistakes. The evaluation of the seven new TLDs introduced in 2000 such as .info, .biz or .museum, was more than self-critical. ICANN criticized its own circumstantial contracts, which some had also seen as gagging, and promised to make everything simpler, faster, and more manageable. The test is in the offing, if already until the next ICANN meeting in December 2004 in Cape Town some further sTLDs – candidates are u.a. .mobi, .post, .jobs and .xxx – could see the light of the cyber world.

New role for users and the US government

Even more remarkable than this acceleration in the depoliticization and technification of ICANN’s core business, however, is the fact that even in the political realm ICANN 2 is becoming more and more a political entity.0 sets a new tone.

First, there is the new way of dealing with the so-called "At Large Members". For four years, the question of whether and how many directors should represent Internet users on the ICANN Board of Directors has been the subject of bitter debate. After the ICANN reform, the individual users were kicked out of the Board altogether and reduced to a toothless At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC). However, having seen in the WSIS process that governments also find it difficult to grant civil society representatives access to their negotiation and decision-making processes, Paul Twomey has turned the tide and will now not mude to point out that, unlike WSIS, at ICANN individual users representing civil society groups not only have free access to all meetings, but also sit on all panels with so-called "Liaisons" represented and presented in the "Bottom up"-Policy development process are involved. No board decision without the ALAC being heard. ALAC now even gets its own budget. And so ICANN suddenly appears again much more democratic than WSIS.

The second new note concerns the core criticism of many WSIS governments: the dominating role of the U.S. government. ICANN is a puppet of the US Department of Commerce (DoC), one could hear in Geneva again and again. That is why many developing countries in particular preferred the ITU. The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between ICANN and the DoC expires in October 2006 and to the surprise of many, Twomey, with the approval of DoC representatives, declared that this will be the last MoU. ICANN is then released from the leash of the US government and sent into autonomy.

It remains to be seen how serious this is, but in Kuala Lumpur both Paul Twomey and Susanne Sene, the new First ICANN Lady on the DoC, repeatedly stressed that the time had come to end the more symbolic US special role. As evidence of this, reference was made to the procedural details of the newly created emergency committee that would have to take over the business in the event of ICANN insolvency. This committee should be composed of representatives of all ICANN Constituencies and all governments. But there is no separate permanent seat for the US government in this committee, nor is there a veto right.

Showdown until 2006?

Between 2004 and 2006, however, there is still the 2. Phase of the WSIS World Summit. WSIS II must then decide on the report of the United Nations Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) (shadow boxing on the East River). Swiss Ambassador Markus Kummer, appointed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head the WGIG Secretariat in Geneva and make recommendations on the composition of the working group, is however still in the consultation phase. His hope is that by October 2004 he will have put together a personnel tableau that will enable Kofi Annan to give the members of the "Group of gurus" to hand over the certificate of appointment.

PrepCom2 in February 2005 will then see a first interim report. The final report is due in July 2005 so that PrepCom3 can prepare recommendations for the November 2005 summit in September 2005. In the meantime, ICANN has added to its own calendar: December 2004 in Cape Town, March 2005 in Buenos Aires and July 2005 in Luxembourg. It will be exciting to see how the balls will continue to fly back and forth between ICANN and WGIG.

The book by Wolfgang Kleinwachter will be published soon in the Telepolis series: "Power and Money in Cyberspace. How the World Summit on the Information Society is setting the course for the future."