A Busy Time, to Say the Least
The past twenty months have been extremely busy for the ICANN community, and for both Business Engagement and North America Stakeholder Engagement at ICANN. Let me explain why.
In March 2014, the United States Commerce Department announced its intention to transfer stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to the global stakeholder community. This would involve ending its no-fee contract with ICANN to coordinate technical functions related to domain names, numeric addresses and related protocol parameters.
Prior to that announcement, Business Engagement at ICANN consisted largely of explaining how crucial ICANN's work is to any business that uses the Internet. It centered on encouraging greater and more diverse business participation in the multistakeholder model that shapes the future of the Domain Name System. Chief Technology Officers and technical teams within companies are usually aware of their dependence on the IANA functions, but often don't realize that developing future addressing policies depends on the volunteer community convened by ICANN.
Bringing more diverse voices to the table can be an arduous process. One CEO even told me, in reference to the global Internet, "I'll call you when it's broken." Happily, he did not hear me mutter "free rider" under my breath. I did eventually convince him to sign up for an ICANN newsletter!
This picture has changed with the U.S. government's announcement last March.
Expanding the Circle
First, a number of companies jumped in to actively help shape the transition proposals. Companies like Cisco, Oracle and GoDaddy joined the committee developing the transition proposal itself, while companies like Yahoo! and Google signed up as observers guiding the accompanying proposals to enhance ICANN's accountability mechanisms. These groups dedicated hundreds of hours (more than 600 hours over 363 calls or meetings) and the results will be posted for public comment in the coming weeks.
In addition to individual businesses, trade groups representing thousands of organizations submitted public comments to shape the proposals at every stage. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Software and Information Industry Association, Internet Association and Information Technology Institute are a few notable examples.
Businesses issued statements of support praising the Commerce Department's actions and supporting the transition process. Organizations such as AT&T, Microsoft, Intel, Verizon and the Motion Picture Association, among others, weighed in on the issue.
Finally, a group of newly interested businesses invited us to sit down with them to explain the workings of ICANN's multistakeholder model. This allowed us to show the link between the IANA functions on which they depend and the need for their participation at ICANN in shaping future policies.
This has allowed us to expand the circle of knowledgeable business stakeholders. Companies as diverse as IBM, Accenture, NewsCorp. MasterCard, Salesforce and Federal Express are now following the transition and have requested regular updates on the community's progress. At last count, 93 new companies had participated in such one-on-one briefings.
What's Ahead for Business Stakeholders?
While other stakeholder groups, including the global technical community, civil society groups, Internet users and governments all over the world have been engaged in the transition process, I'm writing this blog about business, mainly U.S. based businesses, because they will play an important role in the IANA stewardship transition.
Once the work of the ICANN community has concluded, the proposals will be delivered to the U.S. Commerce Department for review by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The U.S. Congress has also voiced its interest in the transition. Because U.S. industry is an important stakeholder in Washington, they will no doubt make their voices heard on the transition proposals.
What does this mean for the future of business engagement at ICANN? I believe we have reduced the number of free riders by bringing businesses into the transition work. We have also helped private sector organizations witness the workings of the bottom-up policy process up close. The great challenge ahead will be to keep them engaged in the community.
The signs are positive. At our public meeting in Dublin last month, all three constituencies within the Commercial Stakeholder Group received applications from new members. A session welcoming business newcomers was attended by 100 people and generated lots of questions for our panel of ICANN veterans.
A panoply of issues germane to business are currently being discussed at ICANN. These issues range from the technical and security related, to procedural and policy oriented. In the coming months, we will work with the community to welcome new business participants in this important work and make it easier for them to join. We will miss this opportunity if we cannot convert current levels of interest into sustained participation. The quality of ICANN's work, the health of the community and the sustainability of the organization depend on it.
VP Stakeholder Engagement
Global Business and North America