ICANN must change to achieve true independence

CEO Rod Beckstrom urges need to "tighten up the rules" that created "perceived conflicts" within board members; questions links between leadership team and industry it regulates.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The organization responsible for administrating the world's Web traffic must undergo further changes to gain true independence and diversify its board members to better reflect the user community.

Speaking candidly during his welcoming address Tuesday at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) week-long 43rd public meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, CEO and President Rod Beckstrom urged the Web regulator to operate independently in public interest as this was paramount to the future of the Internet and the organization.


Established in 1998 under the U.S. Department of Commerce, ICANN oversees the global infrastructure that matches Web addresses to their corresponding IP addresses.

It coordinates these identify-and-match tasks, enabling Internet users worldwide to locate and access a site via a decipherable Web address rather than a string of numbers.

The U.S. government in 2009 said it would relinquish ownership of ICANN.

Its staff comprise 30 nationalities and its executive team includes Lee Xiaodong, who is CTO of CNNIC and serves as ICANN's vice president for Asia.

Beckstrom, who will end his term as CEO on Jul. 1, alluded to frustrations he had felt during his tenure and pointed to "a significant threat" which currently exists within ICANN. He noted that while the organization had made progress, including the establishment of a subcommittee to address conflicts and ethics, he called for more to be done.

"It is time to further tighten up the rules that have allowed perceived conflicts to exist within our board. This is necessary not just to be responsive to the growing chorus of criticism about ICANN's ethics environment, but to ensure that absolute dedication to the public good supersedes all other priorities."

The organization must not lose sight of its role as "stewards of a secure, stable and interoperable Internet" as well as its responsibility to "preserve and evolve" the ecosystem for the next generation of users, he said.

He noted that since ICANN was founded, the global Internet user community had spiked from 146 million to nearly 2.3 billion.

In China alone, there were 505 million online users as of November 2011, representing a penetration rate of just 37.7 percent, according to the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

The growing Web community had driven greater transparency and changes in the governance of wholesale bandwidth, said Beckstrom, who stressed the need for ICANN to keep pace with the changes.

"ICANN must place commercial and financial interests in their appropriate context. How can it do this if all top leadership is from the very domain name industry it is supposed to coordinate independently?

"A more subtle but related risk is the tangle of conflicting agendas within the board that would make it more difficult for any CEO to meet the requirements of this deeply rewarding and sometimes frustrating job," he said.

He noted that the selection process for board members must be reformed to ensure candidates are fully independent and "free of conflicts". All directors should be financial independent of the domain name industry, he emphasized.

U.S. cancels contract bids
The U.S. Department of Commerce on Mar. 10 halted its request for proposals on a new contract for an organization to oversee the global domain name system because, it said, none of the bids it received met its requirements. Some of the stated requirements of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority included the need for structural separation of policy-making from implementation, a robust organization-wide conflict of interest policy, and provisions to reflect respect for local country laws.

The U.S. government body then extended its contract with ICANN for another six months, ending Sep. 30, and said it would reissue a bid at a "future date" but did not specify when this would be.

At a new conference Tuesday in Costa Rica, Beckstrom declined to reveal if ICANN had submitted a proposal, according to a Bloomberg report.

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