The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' lack of accountability urgently needs to be addressed in light of the proposed transition away from limited oversight by the U.S. Department of Commerce, state Thomas Lenard and Lawrence White in comments filed today with ICANN. "Although ICANN has functioned reasonably well, we cannot assume that an organization that is essentially accountable to itself, with no meaningful external controls, can continue to do so indefinitely," they warn. Moreover, "notwithstanding the fact that U.S. oversight has been quite light-handed, the diminished U.S. role will create a void that other governments are anxious to fill."
In their comments, Lenard, TPI President and Senior Fellow, and White, Professor of Economics at NYU's Stern School of Business, note that meaningful accountability requires external checks. However, "ICANN has no shareholders, members or donors. Its customers cannot go elsewhere, because ICANN has a monopoly on gTLDs, which provides it with an assured and rapidly growing source of revenue." Although U.S. oversight has been modest, the proposal to transition ICANN away from its contractual relationship with the Department of Commerce removes the one source of outside accountability.
"The most direct way to have external accountability is to modify ICANN's governance structure so that board members, or at least a significant number of them, are accountable to external groups," Lenard and White recommend. The authors propose increasing the representation of ICANN's direct users, including registries, registrars, and RIRs on the board. "These groups have the strongest incentive to see that the DNS works smoothly and apolitically and that ICANN focuses on the technical functions involved in administering the DNS, avoids mission creep, and addresses problems affecting the DNS (such as trademark issues) as they arise. This benefits all users."
Lenard and White suggest that "a modified board structure might also allow for representation by other constituencies." "However, given the longstanding goal that Internet governance should be private, we would not allot seats to representatives of governments."
The comments are available on the TPI website. The study, "Improving ICANN's Governance and Accountability: A Policy Proposal," on which the comments are based, is also available.