Archive for the ‘ICANN’ Category

The hollowing out of ICANN must stop

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last week, I did something I never expected to do. At the ICANN meeting in San Francisco, I stood up in front of several hundred people and the ICANN Board of Directors and delivered a full and frank criticism of the management of ICANN’s current CEO, Rod Beckstrom.

The response to this speech was overwhelmingly strong and supportive, both in the immediate and lengthy applause and, since then, in a constant stream of handshakes, twitter and facebook shout-outs, and emails – many of which were privately sent by current members of the ICANN staff. I am re-producing my comments here so that they may be more widely available and spark further public debate.

I know the Internet community well enough to say that this is not a popularity contest, and the support I’ve received for my comments isn’t personal. There is a widely shared and profound disquiet at how this organization has been managed, horror at the near-vandalism of the damage done, and a growing sense that it must stop.

“My name is Maria Farrell. I am a member of this year’s Nominating Committee, appointed by the NCUC (Non Commercial User Constituency), and I was previously a member of theICANN staff.

I have the distinction of being the first of a mass exodus of staff from the ICANN organization, in a series of forced departures which continue to this day.

I have kept silent and not spoken about this out of loyalty to the organization and respect for the leadership, and also my desire not to make a difficult situation worse for the ICANN staff. But my profound disquiet about how the organization is operationally being managed has moved me to speak to the Board today.

There has been a vast hollowing out of expertise, of relationships, of institutional memory, and of goodwill for this organization, and I believe the impact on ICANN ’s operational effectiveness has been profound. The impact on the international reputation is also quite an issue.

There is a climate of fear stalking the ICANN staff. People are afraid to speak frankly internally, and to speak unpalatable truths behind closed doors, the sorts of things that need to be discussed to allow the organization to function efficiently.

People are afraid of losing their jobs by doing their jobs.

The collegiality that we knew as former ICANN staff seems to have evaporated as we have hemorrhaged talent over the last year or so. The culture of collegiality has made way for one of managing up and managing expectations, rather than serving the community.

Operational planning is in some disarray, as budgets are made up as we go along, priorities change, and internal communication is nonexistent.

I believe also that ICANN’s relationships that have been cultivated around the world over many years and with much assiduity have been trashed.

This hollowing out of the expertise of the ICANN organization, of goodwill, and the trashing of its international reputation has come to such an extent that I believe it requires urgent board attention.

These are very harsh words. I don’t deliver them with any sense of ease or happiness, but I do believe although the board doesn’t wish to be involved in micromanagement, that it needs to pay attention to these issues.

Thank you.” (more…)

IPv4 endgame; following the money

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
As part of its campaign to be able to buy and sell IPv4 addresses in the profitable end game of numbering availability, Depository Inc., a US company led by David H. Holtzman (formerly of NSI) has written to ICANN complaining about the US regional Internet registry, ARIN. Depository wants bulk access to ARIN’s IP Whois in order to ensure accuracy of its own records, and says it doesn’t intend to use the database for direct marketing. ARIN rather unconvincingly argues that Depository’s stated use would contravene the community-developed acceptable use policy. Without bulk Whois, it’s hard to see how Depository can reliably sell routable address space to its own putative registrants. But how could a private firm with no obligation to the multi-stakeholder process or global Internet community get its hands on addresses and legitimately sell them on?
Many of these initial allocations were enormous; giving rise to the oft-stated complaint a few years ago that MIT had far more IP addresses than China. Initially, Internet address blocks were doled out to techies ‘in the know’ and in countries that got their Internet acts together quickly. In the early 2000’s, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which had initially ignored the Internet or railed against it – started clamouring to be the numbering authority. ITU’s argument that a closed shop of rich country engineers could not be allowed to divvy up the global public pool of address space resounded strongly with its largely developing country membership. But those interested in developing the Internet itself, and not simply using IP addresses as a communications ministry cash cow, agreed that the while the ITU proposal might arguably be fair, it was far from efficient.  Something had to be done. (more…)

ICANN’s 2011 Nominating Committee

Friday, December 17th, 2010

I’ve recently been appointed by the NonCommercial Users’ Constituency to ICANN’s Nominating Committee. The job of the committee this year is to appoint two Board Directors, three members of the At Large Advisory Committee, two GNSO Councillors and one ccNSO Councillor. This year’s committee, chaired by Adam Peake, has decided to grab the transparency bull by the horns and set up its own blog.

Over the years, NomCom has been criticised for being too secretive about what it does. Picking Board Directors and other key leadership positions is a touchy business. People send in very detailed applications for these roles and are assessed by an appointed committee of their peers. It’s not surprising that the community wants privacy for applicants, on one hand, and to understand what’s happening and when, on the other.

To me, it’s pretty clear that as a committee we can communicate a lot more about what we’re doing on, say, recruitment, or when we’ll meet and broadly what we’ll be doing – while keeping complete confidentiality for the candidates. That’s where the blog comes in. It’s not an ‘official’ communications channel. For formal announcements of deadlines and such, will always be the authoritative place to go. But for talking to and hearing back on, for example, how we can do recruitment better, there’s no better place.

Where improved transparency gets a bit knotty is in developing and using black and white selection criteria or very detailed role descriptions to make the final decisions. This is one of the recommendations of the draft ATRT report, and is a good idea on the face of it.But the fact is that selection priorities change from year to year. One year, the Board may need geographic diversity from a particular region, the next; management expertise is the priority. And the perennial dilemma of continuity versus change will always be with us. To accommodate the reality of different priorities in different years, we could end up with document so broad as not to be terribly useful, either practically to the NomCom, or reassuringly to the community we come from.

Checklists and box-ticking are extremely useful in highly formalised operations where the decision tree is complex, but nonetheless finite and well understood. Like, say, open heart surgery or flying a plane. These approaches are of less value if applied strictly to the NomCom situation where, let’s be honest, it’s decision-making by committee in a politicised environment where no one even agrees on what success looks like, apart from having a slate of agreed candidates by the end of June 2011.

Fundamentally, it’s a question of trust, and trust has to be earned. Being open about what we do and how we go about it is an essential step. Developing and adopting selection criteria is one part of that. Taking action to communicate about the NomCom and listen, consider, discuss and act on what we hear back will be the hallmark of this year’s committee.

As someone who was staff support to the 2009 committee as a member of Paul Levins’ team (who created and pushed the transparency and accountability agenda within ICANN), and is now a member of the 2011 NomCom, I am really happy to continue playing this one forward.

Internet’s Government Advisory Committee is raising its game

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

http://www.youcellar.comAt the ICANN GAC (Government Advisory Committee) and Board meeting this week in Nairobi, the first topic was the GAC Secretariat. The question was ‘how can the GAC get more secretariat and policy support for its  work?’. For a dry and dusty sounding question, it actually touches on crucial issues of the role of governments in coordinating the domain name and numbering systems. Today I can happily report that last night, GAC moved much closer to pooling funds for secretariat and policy support. Brazil and the Netherlands are already committing funds to the project. This will be a very important step for the GAC as it will help it to be more effective within ICANN, and also demonstrates governments’ real commitment to the process.

The big reason GAC needs to beef up its support system is so it can do real work between ICANN meetings. Right now significant intersessional work, such as that on the GAC’s principles on IDN ccTLDs, is the exception and not the rule. The GAC wants to have input on the public policy aspects of big ICANN decisions, but it moves too slowly to play its full and expected role.

Asking everyone else to slow down to GAC’s pace just doesn’t cut it. The delays caused create ill will amongst the rest of the community and mean the GAC has less clout than it thinks it should have. Or, as non-GAC people might put it, the GAC wakes up towards the end of a long and public policy process and tries to insist on fundamental changes. As Ray Plzak – co chair with Heather Dryden of a Board/GAC working group – said, the GAC has learnt the hard way that “the longer you wait in a process, the stronger your statement has to be.” And the harder it is to have any impact, and the less your peers in other stakeholder groups think of your ability to be a team player.


Whither .XXX?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

http://www.cobrasoft.beWhat’s going to happen this week on .XXX? Nairobi is the first public board meeting since the independent review panel’s nonbinding declaration in February  that ICANN acted against its own rules in refusing to go ahead with .XXX. Reports that ICANN is going to ‘do something’ about .XXX have gone around the world via BBC news, and even surfaced on the radio in rural Ireland. The ICM team are out in force here in Nairobi, and there is endless speculation about what will happen at the Board’s meeting on Friday.

ICM has no interest in being fobbed off with an invitation to join the new gTLD application process. That process is horribly delayed, of still uncertain timing and outcome, and would expose ICM to immediate competition from other porn-related TLDs. ICM has assiduously played by the rules and understandably does not wish to go to the back of the queue.

This could go one of two ways. First and most likely, the Board will fulfill its legal obligation to consider the panel’s decision by having, and being seen to have at its public meeting on Friday, a discussion of the ruling. Then, perhaps regretfully, it will punt on any action by adopting some sort of delaying mechanism. One way to buy time and maybe even some credibility would be for the Board to put the 2007 registry contract with ICM out for another round of public comment. ICM says it will take legal action if there’s any delay, though this might be hard to justify if it’s ‘just one more’ round of public comment. (more…)

My completely unreliable notes of the GAC/Board meeting on 9 March

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I seem to have done a lot more typing than thinking today. It’s what my old LSE prof, Patrick Dunleavy would call a classic work displacement technique. One method I use to keep me focused on very long sessions is to take close to verbatim notes – it keeps my mind from wandering and makes me think harder about what I hear. As I’ve spotted that the public GAC/Board meeting that just finished only has an audio stream on the meeting website, I’m posting my Completely Unreliable Notes in case they’re useful to anyone else.

I hesitate to post these notes as the last thing I want to be known as is Typing Girl. This may be ICANN and it may be 2010 and the day after International Women’s Day, and not an episode of  Mad Men. But the next thing I know, someone will be slapping me on the rump as I fetch their coffee. (In much the same fashion that Alec Baldwin grabbed Kathryn Bigelow’s after he gave her the 2nd Oscar. Classy guy.)

Anyway, I’ll run the risk of the perils of patriarchy and reproduce the notes after the fold, as a public service. Enjoy.

Disclaimers: if you read anything surprising or controversial, check against the audio recording in my link above. I’m far too lazy to put people’s proper names, and in the case of a couple of GAC reps, I don’t actually know them. So employ your best guess that ‘Bertrand’ is the suave Frenchman, Bertrand de la Chapelle, Rod B is indeed ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom, and ‘Norway’ is, ahem, the government representative from Norway. Full list of GAC members is here. (more…)

ICANN Nairobi; CEO throws down the gauntlet to African governments

Monday, March 8th, 2010

After an amazing dance performance to open its Nairobi meeting this morning, ICANN’s CEO and President Rod Beckstrom threw down the gauntlet to African governments. In his opening speech, Beckstrom got quickly through the usual platitudes about the Internet’s potential to speed up economic development. He instead highlighted successes in development led by using a more bottom-up approach (the ‘Internet approach’) and identified Kenya as a leader. But despite all this good work, Beckstrom noted, there are still a billion people in Africa that need to be connected. What should be done for them?

Beckstrom invited east African heads of state from the IGAD meeting in this building tomorrow to come over to the ICANN meeting, taking ‘a few small steps for them and making a big leap for the Internet in Africa’. Then he told us how he really feels…

Beckstrom threw down the gauntlet to all African governments, asking them to:*

  • Shatter telecoms monopolies. He asked ‘how can the poorest people on earth pay the highest internet prices?’ and called out high connectivity costs as an impediment to development.
  • Dispel the untrue stories about the Internet circulating in Africa, specifically the myth that there aren’t enough IPv6 addresses for African countries. He said Afrinic, the regional Internet registry for Africa, is one of the finest RIRs in the world and has over a trillion addresses to give out already. Globally, IPv6 create enough addresses to give a million each to every man woman and child in the world. Beckstrom called on African leaders to hold their ministers responsible and dispel those dishonest scarcity stories. He went so far as to say that people who spread dishonest stories cannot be trusted to make policy.
  • Get more involved in Internet policy making. 19 African countries are represented on ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, but over 30 are missing. If these countries don’t have a seat at the table, how can they shape the future of the Internet?
  • Look at the Internet not just as a part of critical industrial structure, but as a platform for the future and for development.

Stopping just short of calling unnamed government people liars, Beckstrom unleashed some bold rhetoric about IPv6 and how, implicitly, untruths about the numbers available are being used to further a political agenda that is emphatically not bottom-up, not multi-stakeholder and not in the interests of anyone who wants an innovative, open and end to end network. It was a brave speech which, by some accounts, had already been toned down to better meet the political sensitivities of the region. Many thought it still went too far. (more…)