Controversy over proposed ICANN voting hits Internet governance

In its struggle to find a better balance between the demands of industry and governments, the body that essentially controls the Internet’s naming and number system has proposed  making it harder to ignore recommendations from its international Government Advisory Committee.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has proposed increasing the threshold its board needs to ignore recommendations from the GAC to a two-thirds vote, making it harder to ignore the committee.

In a column today University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist complained that would give governments – including China, Russia and others sometimes hostile to the West – “enormous power” over ICANN, “coming close to an effective veto.”

Technically, ICANN doesn’t have to follow government advice, Geist writes, but the proposed bylaw change would make it “exceptionally difficult to overcome government demands.”

However, Canadian Evan Leibovitch, head of the Internet Society of Canada and vice-chair of ICANN’s public advisory committee, says that may not be the case.

The GAC still has to be unanimous in its recommendations to ICANN, he noted in an interview with ITWC this morning, “so I don’t see this as bad news.”

It may not be good news to domain owners, he acknowledged, and for end users “it’s a mixed blessing.” The GAC has taken up a lot of its time with trademark protection issues, which for some businesses is important, he said.

On the other hand, he added, in the work of his committee there’s often been common ground with governments on consumer protection policies. “Governments have occasionally protected end user interests in a way that hasn’t come from the rest of the ICANN community,” he said.”

“Giving governments more say in ICANN  isn’t all bad, isn’t all good.”

In addition, Leibovitch noted, the proposed new rule for GAC would bring it into equality with the rule for the industry’s advisory committee to ICANN, called the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO — made up of generic domain name companies and registrars). The ICANN board can only ignore GNSO recommendations on a two-thirds vote.

ICANN was set up by the U.S. government to control the names and number system of the Internet. In theory Washington still retains control. However, after a number of international fights, including at a Dubai conference where Canada, the U.S. and others refused to sign a telecom conference resolution, there have been attempts to give governments more say in overseeing the Internet while trying to limit their influence.

That’s why ICANN set up a panel last December to set up a panel to look at its governance (see story above).



Howard Solomon
Howard Solomon
Currently a freelance writer, I'm the former editor of and Computing Canada. An IT journalist since 1997, I've written for several of ITWC's sister publications including and Computer Dealer News. Before that I was a staff reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Brampton (Ont.) Daily Times. I can be reached at hsolomon [@]

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