Is ICANN Handling Too Many Policy Issues?

by David Olive on August 30, 2010

Earlier this month, published an article about ICANN’s policy development process. The author, Andrew Allemann, strives for balance but overall leaves the impression that ICANN has “policy overload,” handling too many policy efforts at once. Andrew also cites the technical and complex topics we ask the public to comment upon.

Since I was quoted briefly in the article, I’d like to share some additional thoughts.

Why so much Public Comment?

Public Comment periods are vital in satisfying ICANN’s goal to be a bottom-up multi-stakeholder policy making body and to provide openness and transparency in its policy development processes. An ICANN core value is to employ open and transparent mechanisms in policy development processes. Such openness promotes well-informed decisions, and ensures that people affected by a new policy can participate and assist in the policy’s formation. That’s why the Bylaws mandate public comment periods (for example, see Annex A, Sections 6 and 9).

The Affirmation of Commitments reflects the same principles, calling for ICANN to provide transparent and fact-based policy development, cross-community deliberations, and responsive consultation procedures. In the Affirmation, ICANN committed to provide detailed explanations of the basis for decisions — including how comments have influenced policy considerations.

Thus, the desire to hear all voices on each policy issue comes right from ICANN’s core. Frankly, we don’t want to limit public comments.

Is ICANN handling too many policy processes at the same time?

The answer is “No!” as soon as you consider the alternatives.

Three Supporting Organizations and a number of Advisory Committees can bring policy issues before the community. To which of them would we say, “Sorry, too busy to care about your issue; check back later”? Obviously, none of them.

An ICANN policy development process takes time to gather all viewpoints. Imagine how long it would take ICANN to address your particular policy issue if there were an arbitrary limit. If the ICANN community only handles seven or ten issues at once, that means all other issues remain parked indefinitely, probably for months. Notable achievements from this year, such as IDNs and DNSSEC going into the root, might still be waiting to happen. Do we want to slow our processes? Obviously, no. (Improve and prioritize better? Yes, indeed!)

Andrew reports that “some people” believe there are too many simultaneous policy issues pending, and are worried (with some justification) about overload in our volunteer community. This perception may be due to several factors, including:

• Our list of open issues initially looks confusing because issues have not been prioritized. The GNSO is about halfway through creating a method for prioritizing projects. Ranking their relative importance will help make them easier to take in all at once.
• Many policy-related reports exceed 100 pages. The GNSO has recently resolved that its reports should begin with an Executive Summary. This will help reduce the reading an individual has to do in deciding whether to comment.
• Our large, diverse volunteer community is avid and committed to follow the growing number of policy issues that reflects the increased global impact of the Internet.

We will also be examining the processes and mechanisms we use to manage the public comment process in hopes of identifying more effective and efficient ways to publicize, collect and organize community comments.

Policy development has an ebb and flow. Recently, we seem to be at high tide. Some of the tide will ebb when the new gTLD program launches and GNSO Improvements Initiative winds down. Five working groups will go away (one already has). Optimistically, the bulk of the GNSO improvements effort may be completed in early 2011.

We shouldn’t set an arbitrary limit to the number of issues evaluated by the ICANN Community. The issues arise from the community, and staff works diligently to support that work. We all recognize that many issues are both important and urgent to different parts of the ICANN community. I do not believe that ICANN is handling too many policy issues.

The ICANN community is also working hard to enhance our collective management of so many important issues, which is not always easy. Yet, if the current situation seems difficult, consider the alternative: Further delays in improvements to WHOIS.  The 65% of Internet users who do not speak English await IDNs in their own languages. Communities still waiting more years for their new gTLDs. Phishers continue defrauding consumers using techniques that DNSSEC can stop. If we must err, it is better for ICANN to handle too much, than for ICANN to handle too little.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew 08.30.10 at 6:06 am

David, it was a pleasure talking to you for the article. I think you have some great ideas on how to present policy issues to the community in a more “easily digestible” format. I look forward to seeing the results.

Jim Fleming 08.30.10 at 6:20 am

1. ICANN was only formed to do Proof-of-Concept Market Trials.

2. ICANN became (morphed into) the home of the IANA because of unexpected events.

3. ICANN continues to use “the IANA task” to morph into a new venture or “adventure” or “edventure”.

With all of the new DNS changes coming, ICANN serves no purpose. That was shown with the .CO launch, which does not involve ICANN.
Free market DNS forces can now shape the market.

Free market address space allocation technologies render “the IANA task” moot.

ICANN should be dissolved.

Jim Fleming 08.30.10 at 6:33 am

“Our large, diverse volunteer community is avid and committed…”

This is not true. Participation in ICANN is at an all time LOW. Look at how few comments are made on the numerous policy mailing lists.

Any notion of “large” or “diverse” or “community” is the result of a very large .NET population which can produce Look-e-Lous and Tire-Kickers as long as ICANN exists. As long as ICANN dangles a carrot of “new TLDs” out, there will also be the usual suspects, looking for low-hanging fruit.

The LARGE staff is mind-boggling. People familiar with the history of ICANN since the 90s can not fathom what 150 people do. People who have left ICANN privately confirm, “Not much”.

The .COM and .ORG incumbents are funding a charade.

Jim Fleming 08.30.10 at 6:46 am

“If we must err, it is better for ICANN to handle too much, than for ICANN to handle too little.”

If ICANN is dissolved. Most Internet users would not notice.

Prior to ICANN, Registries were capable of managing their own customer base, now called Registrars. Any ISP or webmaster or attorney or person with a clue could be a Registrar. They did not need to be “accredited” by Esther Dyson’s Labor Union.

With the new DNS, the concept of central Registries dissolves. People can return to the True Internet Architecture. Central, single points of control, are 1970s thinking. Bottle-necks and choke-points become the focal points.

ICANN is a shining example of how NOT to do it.

Fortunately, the Free Market telecom situation in the .USA will allow people to route around ICANN as it continues to grow and morph.

Jim Fleming 08.30.10 at 8:32 am

“The ICANN community is also working hard…”
Doing what ?

Who is “The ICANN community…” ?

Are elections held for the ICANN Board ?
Who is on the ICANN Board ? Who placed them there ?

Why are Registrants (RegiGrunts) supporting Million Dollar Non-Profit Salaries ?

When is the .COM Re-Bid ?
When is the .NET Re-Bid ?
When is the .ORG Re-Bid ?

Are .ORG leaders elected by the 8,000,000 .ORG RegiGrunts ?
Where does $56,000,000 per year go in the .ORG opaque society ?

Jim Fleming 08.30.10 at 10:42 pm

People seem to ignore that the Internet is a Tribal Structure.
The Tribe is going to do as they please.

Appointing DC policy wonks and frat boys to ride around in limos sending text messages to each other about The Tribe, is a waste of time and m0ney. Regulators who think they are going to drive up with their tinted windows and avoid getting out of the car because “their shoes might get muddy” will be ineffective.

The Tribe is going to do as they please. They write the code.

Jim Fleming 08.31.10 at 9:35 pm
“ICANN’s regulatory regime (such as it is) makes adding “new tld’s” difficult.”
“ICANN (speaking of the community, not the staff) is a hive mind and you can
not usefully ask what it thinks.”

Hemo 09.03.10 at 10:53 am

You so care about hooking up 3rd world dump countries with special domains omg. Let them learn god damn english.

“Phishers continue defrauding consumers using techniques that DNSSEC can stop. ” And how the god damn hell is this icans responsiblity? You want to control the whole internet now or what?
We don’t need DNSSEC neither ipv6 go work on the roads or cleaning up the gulf…

Jim Fleming 09.03.10 at 12:17 pm

The Internet is like the NFL. When it started, everyone stood around the edge of the field. Then, people were pushed into grandstands. Some moved to skyboxes. The vast majority of people now WATCH on TV.

ICANN, Geeks & Domainers are still standing at the edge of the field. They are out of touch with what people REALLY see on their screens.

What do you see here ?
Hint: try “Kisses”

The Internet views censorship (and artificial scarcity) as damage and ROUTES AROUND IT or encapsulates and eclipses.
There is no longer any need for ICANN.
ICANN should be dissolved.

Brandon Pavlov 09.06.10 at 4:14 pm

Ahead of ICANN, Registries were capable of managing their own client base, now known as Registrars. Any kind of Isp or even website owner or attorney or even individual having a clue is actually a Registrar. They didn’t have to be “accredited” by Esther Dyson’s Labor Union.

koltuk yıkama 09.13.10 at 3:35 pm

With all of the new DNS changes coming, ICANN serves no purpose. That was shown with the .CO launch, which does not involve ICANN.
Free market DNS forces can now shape the market. Free market address space allocation technologies render “the IANA task” moot.

Jim Fleming 10.05.10 at 4:41 pm

Reponse to Twitter Tweet…
@antonyvc My take on ICANN Board retreat:

Why do you continue to put your head in the sand with regard to the major changes happening in digital communications ?

Are you unaware of what happens at a T.R.A.F.F.I.C meeting like the one coming up in Miami, South Beach ?

Have you considered the forces at play in the .VEGAS CES AVxx in January ?

Have you been tracking the demise of NANOG and the ARIN evolution?

Do you factor in the IEEE, VLANs and the new WIFI unlicensed spectrum and the ITU currently meeting in Mexico ?

Have you also mixed in changes coming from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Apple ?

What about the last mile and last 6 feet in the consumer’s Home Theater with DLNA ?

Add to the above the reality that 25% of Americans will soon be over 65 and a new generation of .KIDS are not going to pay attention to ICANN. They will build a new net, thank you very much. Some will likely make a lot of money. There may be movies made about them.

Yes, the salmon still continue to swim upstream in search of those elusive ICANN gTLDs. When they get them, they may also realize they come with a hook, line and sinker.
There will be people waiting to charge to make those available to the consumers. ICANN will have very little Market Reach.

2012 will be an important election year for many Americans. All of the flavors of the .NET should be ready for the Cotillion or Coronation. ICANN will NOT be invited to that.

Anonymous 10.15.10 at 3:37 am

No, I don’t think ICANN is handling too many policy issues. And by allowing international domain names, it confirmed its relevance. So I wouldn’t vouch for its dissolution either.

Anonymous 08.09.12 at 1:58 pm

Allowing international domains is relevant to its purpose

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