What Institutional Form is Needed to Replace ICANN?
ICANN was formed on the wrong model.Before going on summer recess, the U.S. Congress held a hearing which began an investigation of what ICANN is doing and how they have been formed by the U.S. Dept of Commerce.
Such investigation is needed. But it is only the beginning of the needed government effort to find a solution to the controversy over ICANN.
ICANN or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was created in Fall '98 as a private sector non profit corporation to take over ownership and control of certain essential functions of the Internet. These functions include among others, the IP numbers, the domain name system and root server system, and the protocols.
ICANN was created in the midst of a controversy over what would be the appropriate institutional form for the ownership and control of these functions of the Internet that are crucial to its operation.
At an ICANN meeting in January of 1999, a panelist from the Kennedy School of Government, Elaine Kamarck, explained that the nonprofit corporate form was inappropriate for the administration of functions like those that ICANN will be controlling. Since a company's or individual's economic life will be dependent on how these functions are administered, there needs to be the kind of safeguards that government has been created to provide. A nonprofit entity does not have such safeguards for the kind of economic responsibility that ICANN is being set up to assume.
The development of ICANN over the past nine months has indeed demonstrated that the nonprofit corporate form, the structural form of ICANN, does not have a means to provide internal safeguards to counteract the tremendous power to control the Internet and its users which is being vested in ICANN. Decisions that will affect millions of people are already being made by ICANN by a secretive process and by people far away from where there can be any of the needed input from those who will be affected by the decisions. A nonprofit corporate form under U.S. law does not have the kinds of checks and balances possible to prevent the conflict of interest and other abuses that an entity with the power to control the Internet will require. Such great power being vested in an institutional entity has traditionally required the machinery that government has evolved to be able to provide.
Recently on some mailing lists, discussion has begun on what is the needed institutional form to replace ICANN.
In trying to determine such a form, it is important to look at the history and development of the Internet. Contrary to popular opinion, the Internet is not a "finished" entity. It is a complex system of humans, computers, and networks which makes communication possible among these diverse entities. Scientific and grassroots science expertise continue to be needed to identify the problems and to help to figure out the solutions for the Internet to continue to grow and flourish. A report by the U.S. Office of Inspector General of the National Science Foundation on February 7, 1997 describes the need for continued scientific oversight and expertise in developing and growing the Internet. That report also points out that the U.S. government doesn't have the authority to give the control over the Internet's essential functions to the "private sector" because the U.S. government has a responsibility to protect and assure the proper oversight of these functions. There has been a long experience showing the need to have respected scientific expertise, not business personnel, charged with the leadership of scientific entities like the Internet. The business personnel dominating the ICANN interim board and the support organizations it is forming are incapable of providing the scientific leadership that is needed for the proper oversight and administration of these Internet functions .
A crucial aspect of the governance structure for the first 12 years of the life of the Internet had to do with being a part of the Information Processing Techniques Office (IPTO) of the research agency in the U.S. Department of Defense known an ARPA or the Advanced Projects Research Agency. ARPA/IPTO was created to make it possible for computer scientists to support computer science research like that which gave birth to and made it possible to develop the Internet. This early institutional form also made it possible for people of different nations to work together to build the Internet.
How this was done needs to be understood and the needed lessons learned for designing the institutional form to support vital Internet functions today and for the future.
U.S. government officials and officials of other governments around the world who want the Internet to be an important communications medium for the future need to be willing to raise the real questions to make this possible. And they need to be willing to look for the answers wherever they are to be found. The question of designing the appropriate institutional form to protect the essential functions of the Internet and to make scaling of these functions possible is a serious challenge. The U.S. government and other governments concerned with the Internet's future will need to support serious study of this vital issue so the problem can be solved and the appropriate institutional form can be designed to replace ICANN.
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