Study suggests some sort of accountability required before ICANN is set free.
A new study, to be formally released Wednesday, suggests that ICANN must be reformed before its ties with the U.S. Department of Commerce are severed. The Joint Project Agreement between ICANN and the Department of Commerce concludes in August.
The study was authored by think tank Technology Policy Institute (TPI) and was co-authored by TPI’s Thomas Lenard and Lawrence White, a Professor of Economics at the NYU Stern School of Business. The study compares the structure and accountability of ICANN to several other similar organizations.
The authors write:
ICANN sits at the center of and has control over extremely important aspects of the Internet. This is an extraordinary position for a modest-sized non-profit organization that has almost no accountability. ICANN’s board is the ultimate decision-making authority for the organization. But that board has no shareholders to which it is accountable and no government agency to which it must answer (other than the loose oversight of the U.S. Department of Commerce). The board itself has considerable influence over the processes and entities that determine board membership. And, of course, ICANN itself is not a governmental organization and thus does not have the ultimate legislative accountability that would accompany a governmental structure.
ICANN employees often cite the company’s non-profit status as proof that it has the best interests of the internet community in mind. But the study points out that even non-profits have self-serving motives:
On being a non-profit structure: ICANN likely has multiple internal (or implicit) goals in addition to the technical administration of the DNS. Some of those goals may be useful, but they may well also include objectives that are not socially beneficial, such as: increasing ICANN’s influence on Internet policy; increasing the size of the organization; and increasing employees’ compensation, perquisites, and stature
I agree with the premise of the study — that ICANN needs to be accountable before being privatized — but disagree about to whom ICANN should be accountable. The study suggests that the registries and registrars are ICANN’s constituents. I believe the ultimate constituents (and funding source of ICANN) are domain name owners. Domain name owners’ objectives are not always aligned with the registrars and registries, and these interests must be considered.
You can read the report including TPI’s view of new top level domains, on TPI’s web site.