Do you believe in Transition?

9 January 2008
By Paul Levins

This blog is one year old.

What better way to celebrate that fact than by telling you about ICANN’s latest report card. Usually you get a report card when you transition from one grade or semester to another. This report card is all about transition too.

When I say report card I’m being a little flippant because I’m referring to our submission to the mid term review of the Joint Project Agreement that ICANN signed with the United States Department of Commerce back in September 2006. The submission [pdf] is much more than a report card, although it does report on ICANN’s activities.

So what’s in the submission and what’s this about transition?

Back in 1998, the United States Government made a decision that marked it out as a leader in the area of expanding the Internet. If it wasn’t enough that the Internet was funded and built within the US, using largely taxpayer funds to invest in its development and research, the President directed the Secretary of Commerce to “privatize the Domain Name System in a manner that increases competition and facilitates international participation in its management”.

To its great credit, this is a position that the USG has held in the public domain for over nine years now. In doing so it has stood for values of freedom, enterprise, and importantly, coordination – not control. It has clearly had global interests in mind and understands the revolutionary power of the Internet for all the world’s people.

ICANN became the organization that was entrusted with the model that would, over time, take responsibility for co-ordinating the Internet’s unique identifiers, or the domain name system as most people know it. The USG and ICANN signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) to achieve this transition.

The US government hoped that the transition could occur within the two-year life of the MoU. Not surprisingly – given it was a completely new model of governance – the organization took longer than that to establish. In fact, in the nine years that ICANN has existed there have now been 7 MoUs and thirteen report cards. Each one has taken the process of transition one step closer. In 2006, a new Joint Project Agreement saw a few big leaps. From that document it was the ICANN Board that decided what its responsibilities would be and the reporting was from then on to the community through an annual report. But the JPA still represents a link to the earlier MoUs that applied more operational scrutiny.

The JPA also envisioned a mid-term review to determine performance in meeting the responsibilities and that’s where we are now – the DoC is asking people to comment on ICANN’s performance. The DoC asks: “Can ICANN do more?” to meet its responsibilities. Not only will the question generate “yes” answers, it should! If ICANN is a vibrant, flexible and learning organization then it can and will always do more.

The real question

The real question we should be asking is: what’s the next step toward transition?

The fact is we are now at a kind of crossroad. After this review, do we go sideways and establish another agreement or extend the JPA? Or do we go forward by concluding the JPA and commemorating it as a success?

The submission says that the next step is to complete the JPA because it has succeeded. It has been a success because it has achieved its purpose – ICANN is meeting its responsibilities. Can it do more? Yes and it always will. And the international community of observers and participants will always make sure it does!

Concluding the JPA would give a boost to confidence internationally that we are still moving to the full transition proposed in the White paper nine years and thirteen report cards ago.

So, if you believe in transition then read the submission and comment to the mid-term review process. Add your voice to taking another step forward.

As the Board’s submission says, concluding the JPA will assist in delivering on the White Paper’s original ideal that no single government should manage or be perceived to manage this function, but that a private organization where all the stakeholders are represented should.


Paul Levins