On “The Affirmation of Commitments”

There was big news in the ICANN world today with the announcement of the “Affirmation of Commitments”. This is the document which will now govern the relationship between ICANN and the US government (“USG”) as well as the rest of the world (“ROW”).

This is an important step in ICANN’s evolution in two respects. It signifies a significant move away from formal USG control of ICANN and it further solidifies ICANN’s role in governing the Internet and that governance being global in nature, NOT controlled by the national governments of the world.

Remember that ICANN was created in 1999 and has had three different types of documents governing its relationship with the USG. We have gone from a “Memorandum of Understanding” to a “Joint Project Agreement” to now an “Affirmation of Commitments” (AoC). To quote Bret Fausett, in this ever lightening chain of commitments, what is the next step? Facebook Friends?

Seriously, this removes a serious problem for ICANN. Since its inception ROW has been troubled by the exclusive oversight that the USG had over ICANN. The Internet is global, so should the oversight be. This has led from time to time for calls for the UN, the ITU or some other quango to take over from the USG. The AoC addresses this and gives the ROW a large say in appointing the group that provides oversight to ICANN. This is a HUGE step forward.

Notice I did not say that the ROW has a say in oversight, just in appointing the group that provides oversight. This is equally important. The terms of this oversight are laid out in the AoC and what happens if ICANN does not abide by these terms is also spelled out, the AoC fails and we are back to where we were to try again. This is a fantastic way to allow ICANN to flourish independently and to keep ICANN a global, not international organization. Think of this as a trust and those appointed as trustees. They will determine whether the terms of the trust have been abided by. If there have not been complied with then ICANN reverts to its previous state of USG control and we start again.

In its day to day operations this will not make a lot of difference. There were VERY few circumstances where the USG had a heavy hand. The dis-allowance of .xxx and the occasional burst of input when big IP interests would complain about domain names and copyright are the few exceptions. The USG deserves a thanks for its role to date.

It is also very important that we (and by “we” I mean “we the Internet”) have avoided the UN or the ITU. Either would have been disastrous for ICANN in my view.

All in all a good day and another positive development in the young regime of Rod Beckstrom as ICANN CEO. Now let’s see if he can thread a needle on new gTLDs!

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