As the ICANN54 conference in Dublin draws to an end, there is a palpable sense of progress toward consensus on an accountability proposal for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit organization which oversees many of the Internet’s critical technical functions. Adding a robust element of accountability to the global Internet community is a key condition for the United States to transition stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), where it has resided under a 1998 agreement, to the wider Internet community as represented by ICANN.
The NTIA has made it clear that an acceptable proposal must include the nuts and bolts of an overall transition plan and provisions to enhance ICANN accountability. The latter must garner consensus among the various stakeholders such as the ICANN board, the government advisory committee, the registry and registrar communities, etc. Achieving that has proven to be the greatest challenge these past few months.
The primary goal of the ICANN accountability work stream is to effectively increase multistakeholder community influence over ICANN governance without disrupting the stability, security, and interoperability of the critical IANA functions. Contrary to some views, a successful outcome will not make dramatic changes to ICANN operations. Rather, it will strengthen ICANN’s role in helping the Internet continue to thrive and expand.
At ICANN54, significant progress has been made. The accountability working group has achieved "rough consensus" on a governance model that would meet the above stated objective while also conforming to a set of principles NTIA established to guide the transition process, including preventing ICANN “capture” by governments and multilateral institutions. ICANN board members have participated in the deliberations, as have members of organization’s Government Advisory Committee, offering critiques and contributions to resolve issues and help push the activity closer to conclusion.
Work will continue after Dublin, including the task of identifying complementary changes to ICANN’s bylaws and other legal documents to empower the community’s new role in ICANN governance. Even so, the multistakeholder community has clearly signaled to the world a genuine sense of momentum, and that a thoughtful, well-vetted, responsible IANA stewardship transition is both possible and within reach.