Two weeks ago, the U.S. pulled off an Internet governance coup in Tunisia. Today, ICANN's Board of Directors is meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia. In between, among other things, ICANN was hit with three new law suits relating to how it does its job. If it's not one thing, it's another.
It's been just over two weeks since the World Summit for the Information Society folded up its tents (literally) in Tunis. I've been following the WSIS process for two years, and cumulating blog entries and news items for the last six months here. I also dedicated this November's issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin to the "compromise" that left the root zone of the Internet to the management of the U.S., and created a new Internet Governance Forum to accommodate the desires of the rest of the world to participate in decision making regarding the future use and impact of the Internet.
Now that everyone is back home, how is it going? Here are a few notes and reports from all over that give a sense of what's been happening.
First, as noted in an earlier entry titled Spin Sets in on Internet Governance Compromise everyone is claiming credit for how things did (or didn't) turn out. For example, here's an excerpt from a report atCoalfield.com from Congressman Rick Boucher (D--VA) to his constituents:
At my strong urging, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a measure which I co-authored to express the view of Congress that the Internet should remain open, free for all to use, global and seamless. The legislation was approved unanimously in the House on Wednesday, Nov. 16…. As a result of efficient and even-handed American management, the Internet has become a global pathway of instant communications, which has spurred economic growth, improved the quality of people's lives, and strengthened democratic institutions in this nation and around the world.
Things look rather different from the other side of the fence, however. While noting "In fairness to [the United States], it has maintained a relatively hands-off role in respect of the Internet," an editorial in the Abuja [Nigeria] Daily Trust posted at allArica.com also states:
Unpopular even before, this arrangement has now assumed a critical dimension with America's crude approach to its self-declared war on "terror." In the long run, this US control of the Internet will be as untenable as it is unacceptable.
A serious analysis of the impact of the Tunis Summit has been posted by Hans Klein, an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Partner in the Internet Governance Project who has been following and writing about the WSIS process for some time, can be found here.
Further details are also reaching the press relating to how the impasse over ICANN was finally broken. Two days ago, TheRegister.com.uk ("Biting the hand that feeds IT"), which enjoys an 8/10 Google page rank and always has lively stories, posts the full text of a letter sent by Condoleeza Rice to British Home Secretary Jack Straw on November 7, less than two weeks before the Tunis Summit convened, in an effort to reverse the impact of the EU's earlier desertion of the U.S. position on ICANN. The Register's Kieren McCarthy attributes great weight to the letter, concluding (rightly or wrongly) as follows:
In the letter, Rice used strong language for a diplomatic missive, to stress how seriously the US administration was taking the issue and how determined it was to retain ICANN in overall charge of the internet. European diplomats privately confessed that the letter had a significant impact on their position.
The result was that the EU never raised its inter-governmental forum again in World Summit meetings, and the end agreement stuck with the US position.
The Board of Directors of ICANN, meanwhile, is meeting today in Vancouver, British Columbia, and has posted the following agenda on its minutes page. It will be interesting to see how the WSIS experience informed and affected the decisions at today's meeting when the resolutions passed at the meeting are posted at the same Webpage.
One item that was not on the proposed agenda, but will presumably be discussed, will be several law suits filed against ICANN, as reported by sys.conNederlands in an article on December 1 titled Groups Tell ICANN That It Can't in Internet Domain Name Furor, and subtitled, " Lawsuits Filed in Wake of Proposed ICANN Renewal of Control". The article reports in part as follows:
Less than two weeks after the U.S. private-public agency ICANN received the go-ahead at the United Nations WSIS meeting in Tunis to retain control over domain registration, ICANN in turn proposed to allow Verisign to handle this task for it through the year 2012. And just as there were howls of protest that the U.S.-based ICANN would be prone to exerting undue influence over the Internet in our global village, there are new howls coming from global registrars over Verisign's continued monopoly on the key aspect of this critical function.
ICANN's draft proposal would give VeriSign exclusive control over the .com domain, and is being "vigorously opposed" by a group of notable domain registrars led by 1&1 Internet, who claim the plan harms competition within the Internet industry and could negatively impact end-users worldwide….
"The current draft of the agreement practically assigns .com to VeriSign forever," said 1&1’s Domain Expert Eric Schaetzlein, who will present the registrar community’s concerns to ICANN at its meeting this week in Vancouver. "This contradicts ICANN’s core mission to promote competition in the Internet industry, which was established in its own by-laws and in the Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. Department of Commerce…."
Meanwhile, two industry groups, The Coalition for ICANN Transparency (CFIT) and the World Association of Domain Name Developers (WADND), have filed antitrust lawsuits in U.S. federal court this week. So the dust may have settled in Tunis, but the controversy is hardly over around the world on the subject of Internet maintenance and governance.
I'll continue to report on this topic from time to time.
For further blog entries on WSIS/Internet Governance, click here