Senator Burns Takes Aim at ICANN (Again)
Date: Thursday January 16 2003, @06:02PM
Topic: USA Goverment Relations

US Sentator Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) released his "top priorities for his chairmanship of the Senate Communications Subcommittee during the 108th legislative session." Grandly styled "the Burns NexGenTen Tech Agenda", it includes a broadside aimed at ICANN and promised for this spring.

ICANN Reform

Sen. Burns will take aim at the organization’s persistent half-hearted efforts at internal reform. The lack of accountability of this quasi-governmental organization poses serious problems for American national security. The recent “denial of service” (DOS) attack on nine of the 13 Internet “root servers” in October highlights these concerns. Constitutional issues are also troubling, including whether the Commerce Department was within its rights to grant such a huge responsibility to ICANN in the first place, potentially violating the “nondelegation” clause.

This issue demands immediate oversight. Sen. Burns will hold a hearing on ICANN Reform in the spring to address potential legislation to authorize ICANN’s continued existence.

From one perspective -- that of ensuring the orderly functioning of US democratic instutitions -- Senator Burns deserves nothing but praise for his actions. As I argued in Wrong Turn in Cyberspace, DoC's reliance on ICANN to regulate subverts the institutions of responsible government.

But what about the other perspective -- the global Internet perspective? Is this good for the Internet? I think so, but over at the ICANN Blog Bret Fausett expresses doubts. Here's his argument:

"an announcement like this is self-defeating. One of the most vital issues remaining with ICANN Reform -- solidifying relationships with the ccTLDs, RIRs, and root server operators -- is bound to be impacted adversely by the spectre of possible legislation over "ICANN's continued existence." If ICANN has failed in its mission, and if it fails at reform, part of the blame must go to Congress and the DOC. Without a clear path to privatization backed by a promise from the U.S. to give up aspects of its control, how can ICANN possibly gain the full and voluntary participation of those stakeholders residing outside the U.S.?"
I'm afraid I think this takes a very narrow perspective of what's in the global interest. It just isn't the case that it's necessarily in our interest for ICANN to solidify its relationships with the ccTLDs, RIRs, and root server operators -- especially when ICANN's idea of solidity is the 'pay and obey' contracts it's been extracting from the grateful new lessors of every ccTLD ICANN redelgates. Whether these hypothetical deals are in our collective interest depends of course on the terms of those deals -- and even more so on how ICANN behaves now that it has eliminated all internal avenues of dissent.

ICANN has taken the view that the reason it is so messed up is all the spanners thrown into the works by those same dissenters. It is conceivable that having seen them off, ICANN will blossom into an enlightened engineer-lawyer-king of the DNS. The odds of this, alas, are about on par with one's chances of winning the lottery.

The ONLY remaining substantial external checks on ICANN are (1) the ccTLDs (the RIRs are in theory a major check, but they have powerful incentives not to rock the boat these days, contract or no contract)and (2) the US government.

DoC is not focused on the job. The NTIA simply has too many other priorities that it ranks higher. Thus, we need Senator Burns to hold ICANN's feet to the fire -- there's almost no one else.

But what about the argument that the uncertainty created by the threat of hearings -- and maybe even legislation -- undermines ICANN's ability to get on with the job? I think, with all respect, the ICANN Blog has got this one backwards: what is undermined is only ICANN's ability to intimidate. What is increased is ICANN's incentive (otherwise almost non-existent, cf. the last 4 years!) to come to reasonable terms with the ccTLDs so that it can present DoC and Burns with a fait accompli. Look for a flurry of deals in the weeks before the hearing.

I'll make another rash prediction. Between now and the end of the next ICANN meeting, ICANN will do something so high handed that even the ICANN Blog will be cross. Things have been quiet of late. It's like sunspots. We're due.

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Senator Burns
by Anonymous on Thursday January 16 2003, @07:53PM (#10980)
Senator Burns this, Senator Burns that ... haven't we been hearing that for the last 2 years? Senator Burns was going to do something about the board squatters, Senator Burns was going to grill Vint and Louis until there asses were charbroiled ... Senator Burns was going to hang Esther Dyson for lying to Congress ... that's right, LYING to Congress. Time to recycle the "Senator Burns is going to blah blah blah ..." chant into the trash bin. Senator Burns isn't going to do didly-squat about anything ...
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The senator could start with...
by isquat on Friday January 17 2003, @09:42AM (#10984)
User #3363 Info |
The senator could start with finding out what happened to the two reports about the root servers, which ICANN contracted to deliver before end 2002. Where are they? A contractor that does not keep its contract, isn't such an entity easier to tackle?
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