ICANN55 – Marrakech

5 Mar 2016 - 10 Mar 2016

Marrakech, Morrocco

[Update] The Geneva Internet Platform team reported from ICANN 55 in Marrakech. Read the reports:

ICANN 55: Governmental discussions on the accountability proposal (5-6 March 2016)

by Sorina Teleanu

As the ICANN community is meeting these days in Marrakech, Morocco, one of the main subject of discussion is related to the so-called accountability proposal – a proposal that is supposed to define possible mechanisms through which ICANN would become more accountable to the global Internet community. This proposal is also being discussed by governments reunited in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).

GAC’s current role in ICANN

GAC’s role is to provide advice to the ICANN Board of Directors on the activities of ICANN as they relate to public policy issues. Currently, decisions within the GAC are made on the basis of consensus. The Board can decide not to follow GAC advice. In such circumstances, it needs to enter into discussions with the committee with the aim to try to find a mutually acceptable solution. If such a solution cannot be found, the Board will have to explain the reasons for not following GAC advice.

What is the accountability proposal saying about the GAC?

The proposal describes the creation of a new entity (called ‘empowered community’) that would have the ability to enforce a set of ‘powers’ to be entrusted to the multistakeholder community (such as removing members of the Board, rejecting ICANN budgets or changes to the ICANN bylaws, etc.). The empowered community will act as instructed by the so-called ‘decisional participants’ (constituencies within ICANN), and it is envisioned that the GAC would be one of these decisional participants (if the committee wishes to assume such a role).

The proposal also says that, if governments decide to act as a decisional participant in the empowered community, they cannot participate in the decision making process when the rest of the community challenges the way in which the ICANN Board has implemented a GAC consensus advice (the so called ‘GAC carve-out’).

Irrespective of GAC’s decision on whether to participate in a decisional capacity in the empowered community, the committee would preserve its current role of providing advice to the ICANN Board on public policy issues. In this context, another aspect of the proposal is related to the Board obligation to enter into discussions with the GAC when it decides not to follow GAC advice. The proposal says that the Board would have this obligation only in the case of GAC advice approved by consensus (meaning ‘the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection’). Rejection of GAC consensus advice would be possible with a 60% majority in the Board (as compared to simple majority now).

What is the GAC position on this proposal?

The GAC needs to provide its view on the overall accountability proposal and say whether it supports it or not. And this decision needs to be taken at the ICANN 55 meeting.

Governments discussed on Saturday and Sunday about this proposal, but could not (yet) reach an agreement. The main issues raised were the following:

  • On GAC’s participation in the empowered community

There is no decision yet as to how the GAC would want to participate in the empowered community (whether to act as a decisional participant or not). Some governments (such as Australia and the United Kingdom) expressed their concerns regarding a potential change in the status of GAC from an advisory committee to a decisional participant, and noted that they would not favour such an approach.

Concerns were also expressed with regard to the carve-out. This was seen by some members as representing a discrimination towards the GAC, in that there is no such similar provision in the proposal regarding the exclusion of other decisional participants from a decisional process concerning the way in which the Board has implemented their proposed policies or advice. Others noted that the mechanism is not entirely clear.

  • On the proposed changes regarding the rejection of GAC advice by the Board

This was the most controversial aspect discussed by governments, and there were two main diverging views.

Some governments (such as Argentina, Brazil, France, Paraguay, Peru) argued that, if the Board is obliged to try to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC only in the cases of GAC advice that is based on consensus, this would be equivalent to saying that the GAC should only make decisions on the basis of consensus. In their views, this amounts to an external involvement in GAC’s internal working methods, imposing rules as to how the committee should make its own decisions. While the GAC currently works on the basis of consensus, this is a decision that the committee has made by itself. The GAC should be allowed to define its own working methods and its own definition of consensus, argued these governments. References were made to the fact that, in a multistakeholder environment, all stakeholders should be treated equally and should be able to exercise their roles and responsibilities; in order for this to happen, it is important to respect the way in which each stakeholder organises itself, without having external rules imposed on them.

In the view of other GAC members (such as Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom, the European Commission), the proposal does not tell the GAC how to make its own decisions, and does not prevent it to give advice that is not based on consensus. The Board would still be obliged to take that advice fully into account. They see the proposal only as an instruction for the Board on how to react to GAC advice. In their views, if the GAC provides advice that is not based on consensus, but only represents the views of one part of the committee, the Board cannot be asked to mediate between GAC members. Moreover, the proposal is seen as an improvement to the current situation, as it increases the threshold for the Board to reject GAC advice, and it also gives the GAC the possibility to engage with the community in the new mechanism.

  • On the overall proposal

It is not clear at this stage what position the GAC would have on the overall proposal. Some members said that they support the proposal going forward as it is, and would want the GAC to convey a message in this direction ( Canada, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom). They noted that the proposal should be seen in the broader picture, especially in relation to the IANA stewardship transition process. While it is a compromise solution, it would allow the transition process to move forward, and details could then be fine tuned in the implementation phase. Others (such as Brazil, France, Peru, Paraguay) underlined that the proposal is undermining the role of governments in ICANN’s multistakeholder mechanism. If implemented, the proposal would contradict the spirit of documents such as the Tunis Agenda, the NetMundial Statement and the WSIS+10 Resolution. Because of this, they would not be in favour of a GAC position to support the proposal as it is.

It seems the GAC will continue to explore three options in the next days: a) to express support for the proposal; b) to note that it does not oppose to the proposal going forward, and to underline the concerns being expressed by some governments; and c) to state the it does not have consensus on a position, or no position at all on the proposal.

More details on the IANA transition and ICANN accountability processes can be found here.

Welcome and President’s Opening Session (7 March)

by Sorina Teleanu

The ICANN55 meeting was officially opened today with the Welcome & President’s Opening Session.

Stephen Crocker, chair of the ICANN Board of Directors, mentioned in his welcoming note that ICANN is now at a crossroads, given the IANA stewardship transition process and the work on enhancing ICANN’s accountability. This particular meeting is a significant moment in ICANN’s history, as the Board is expected to endorse the transition and accountability proposals and submit them to NTIA by the end of the week. He noted that the work undertaken by the community to come up with these two proposals is ‘nothing but remarkable’, but that more work is still to be done, both on the US government side (reviewing the proposals), and on the ICANN community side (implementing the proposals, if approved by the NTIA).

Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Minister of Industry, Trade, Investment and Digital Economy of the Kingdom of Morocco, spoke about the importance that his government is placing on the ICT sector, and made reference to public policies that are being implemented in the area of bridging the digital divide and improving deployment of and access to Internet infrastructure.

He also touched upon the IANA stewardship transition, saying that this process can be seen as an illustration of the opening up of the Internet. Azine El Mountassir Billah, director general of the National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Morocco (host of ICANN55) spoke about the fact that the Internet brings significant opportunities (such as promoting growth, economic development, and innovation), but also challenges that need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner (such as the need to protect human rights on the Internet, to ensure cybersecurity, and to promote multilingualism). He spoke about the multistakeholder model of Internet governance and emphasised the fact that it is important for stakeholders to engage more with one another and create synergies between each other, in order to truly ensure a balance between themselves as equal parts in this model.

Appreciation was expressed during the session to the work done by Fadi Chehadé, the outgoing CEO of ICANN, since he took office in 2012, especially in the areas of expanding the Domain Name System (through the introduction of new gTLDs) and transforming ICANN into a more global organisation (through opening up hubs and engagement centres around the world). Chehadé himself thanked the community for supporting him in his efforts to transform ICANN into ‘an oasis, not a fortress’, and said that he will continue to support ICANN and be ‘its best cheerleader’.

Göran Marby (currently director-general of the Swedish Post and Telecom Authority), named as the next CEO of ICANN (to take office in May), made reference in its remarks to the multistakeholder model that forms the foundation of ICANN, and noted that this model is one of the reasons why he took this new job. He told the community that his role is to make sure that all the policies the community decides on are implemented in the correct way.

Middle East strategy and the way forward (7 March)

by Nadira Alaraj

The meeting on the Middle East strategy, on 7 March, was organised and moderated by ICANN vice-president Baher Esmat, and Fahd Batayneh, manager of the Global Stakeholder Engagement for the Middle East.

The strategy was developed by a working group in 2013 with the objective of fostering two-way engagement between ICANN and the Internet community in the region, promote the domain name industry, and broaden the understanding of the Internet governance ecosystem in the region. As the implementation of the three-year strategy is coming to an end, the session served to discuss the main activities, including the capacity building ‘train the trainers’ programme on technical knowledge, and the summer school on Internet governance in Kuwait, Istanbul and Tunis. Through the strategy, different outreach programmes were organised and undertaken, including: the ME DNS Forum, regional webinars, ICANN MEA newsletter, media interviews, establishment of the DNS Entrepreneurship Center, and a new MEAC DNS Study.

The second part of the session was dedicated to discussing questions such as, ‘if there is still a need for such a strategy working group? If so, should it be limited in its membership? Should it be open for anyone interested in this work? What tasks should the group undertake? If no such group is needed, what would be the working modalities for ICANN to continue to meet community’s needs in the Middle East and Adjoining Counties region?’

The participants confirmed the need for the continuation of the different programmes that have been accomplished under the current strategy. The need to strengthen the community and to have ICANN resources in Arabic were also mentioned.

A follow-up to this meeting will be in the form of e-mail exchanges among the community to discuss and determine the composition and format of the working group, if it is agreed that the working group will continue to remain operational.

High Level Governmental Meeting – Exchanges over the IANA stewardship transition and enhancing ICANN’s accountability (7 March)

by Sorina Teleanu

A High Level Governmental Meeting was held today, and it brought together around 100 high-level governmental representatives from around the world, to exchange views of a number of issues related to ICANN-related activities and the role of governments in the ICANN framework. The IANA stewardship transition and the enhancement of ICANN’s accountability were part of the meeting’s agenda, and the summary below is intended to outline the main points that were raised by governmental delegation on issues related to these two topics.

Support for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance was expressed by most governments. Some also underlined the need to preserve the free, open, and inclusive nature of the Internet, and to ensure it is secure, reliable and non-fragmented.

Governments’ roles and responsibilities with regard to Internet related public policy issues were reaffirmed numerous times (Colombia, China, Denmark, Pakistan, Portugal, Russian Federation).

The need to respect the roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders in Internet governance processes, including within the ICANN framework, was also mentioned; in this regard, stakeholders should retain their autonomy in deciding on their own internal procedures and mechanisms (Argentina, Brazil, Egypt).

Some concerns were expressed over the fact that ICANN is not yet a truly internationalised organisation and that efforts in this direction need to continue (Brazil, France, Portugal, Russian Federation). It was also said by some that the Internet is a global resource, and, as such, should be governed at an international level (Russian Federation), even within the context of an intergovernmental organisation (Sudan).

The ICANN accountability proposal was seen by some as marginalizing governments within ICANN, not treating them on an equal position with other stakeholders, not allowing them to fully exercise their roles and responsibilities, and, thus, endangering the multistakeholder model (Brazil, France, Peru, Russian Federation). Others said that the proposal is not diminishing the role of the governments, but, on the contrary, would allow them to more extensively engage with the ICANN community and to influence the decision making processes (Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, United Kingdom). In this regard, support was expressed by some for governments to continue to exercise an advisory role within ICANN, with regard to public policy related issues (Belgium, Canada, Denmark, United Kingdom).

General support for the IANA stewardship transition process to be completed was expressed during the exchanges of views. Some noted that the transition would strengthen the multistakeholder model of Internet governance and would bring more trust in it (Sweden, Japan). It was also mentioned that, once the transition process is finalised, the system should be continuously reviewed and improved (Sweden).

Support for the accountability proposal to move forward, in order to allow the transition to take place, was also expressed by some governments (Canada, Denmark, Netherlands). The need for the various actors in the ICANN community to continue to communicate and collaborate in order to try to find a compromise among themselves was underlined by some governments as key for the success of the transition process (Belgium, Colombia, China, Egypt, Iran, Germany, Japan, Netherlands).

Governmental Advisory Committee agrees not to object to the ICANN accountability proposal (8 March)

by Sorina Teleanu

After several days of face-to-face discussions at the ICANN55 meeting, the Governmental Advisory Committee adopted a position on the so-called accountability proposal. The main elements of this position are outlined below:

GAC’s role in the proposed ICANN environment

While GAC members agreed that the committee should retain its advisory role in relation to the ICANN Board, the nature of GAC’s participation in the proposed empowered community mechanism was one of the main points of discussion. The issue was whether the committee should assume the role of decisional participant within this mechanism, as envisioned by the accountability proposal, or whether it should simply extend its advisory role in relation to the empowered community. While the matter has not been fully settled yet (although discussions have been initiated long before the ICANN55 meeting), the GAC decided to ‘express its willingness to take part in the empowered community mechanism as a decisional participant, under conditions to be determined internally’. This means that the GAC has accepted this part of the accountability proposal as it is – with governments having the right to act as part of the empowered community, while discussions are to continue within the committee on the conditions under and the modalities through which it would exercise such a decisional role.

The GAC carve-out

According to the accountability proposal, if governments decide to act as a decisional participant in the empowered community, they cannot participate in the decision making process when the rest of the community challenges the way in which the ICANN Board has implemented a GAC consensus advice. While some governments expressed concerns over this aspect of the proposal, noting that it creates an imbalance between the GAC and other decisional participants (that do not have similar limitations imposed on them), a common position could not be agreed on this issue.

Proposed changes regarding the rejection of GAC advice by the ICANN Board

One of the recommendations in the accountability proposal is related to the treatment of GAC advice by the ICANN Board. Currently, if the Board rejects GAC advice, it  is obliged to enter into discussions with the GAC in order to find a mutually acceptable solution. According to the accountability proposal, this obligation only applies with respect to GAC advice approved by consensus. Some governments interpreted this as an external involvement in GAC’s internal working and decisional making methods, while others saw it as a simple instruction for the Board and a way to avoid having the Board mediate between governments. These two opposing views could not be reconciled, and the GAC was unable to adopt a consensus position on this specific recommendation.

The overall proposal

The GAC could not adopt a consensus position to support the overall accountability proposal. While a portion of its membership would have wanted the committee to explicitly endorse the proposal in its entirety, others could not adhere to such a position, because of concerns related to the issues underlined above.

However, the Committee agreed to convey to the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG) that it does not object to the transmission of the accountability proposal, as it is, to the ICANN Board.

Joint ICANN Board and ALAC meeting to discuss outstanding issues (9 March)

by Glenn McKnight

At largeOne of the interesting sessions at ICANN55 is the ICANN Board and the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) meeting to discuss the outstanding issues of end users and ICANN policies (or lack of policies) pertaining to the Domain Name industry. During this week, the 146 At Large structures  representing the end users (non-commercial sector) voted to support the CCWG proposal. As of today all the communities have supported the move to adopt the proposal with some opposition on some of the 12 resolutions.

Another emergent trend is the ALAC review to be contracted to re-exame the function and deliverables of ALAC in the ICANN ecosystem. Currently, there are multiple groups, each with their own particlar approach and constituency, including the Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC), the Not-For-Profit Operational Concerns Constituency (NPOC), and ALAC, all of which represent non-commercial interests and are engaging civil society in every part of the world. In the case of  ALAC, this group is divided into five regions: NARALO for North American, LARALO for Latin America, EURALO for Europe, APRALO for Asia Pacific, Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe, and AFRALO from Africa. [Anyone interested in becoming either an organisational ALS or unaffiliated member can consult the At Large website.]

Internet governance public session (9 March)

by Sorina Teleanu

In the already established tradition of ICANN meetings, a public session on Internet governance was held this week, and it was dedicated to an overview of processes such as the WSIS+10 review, the Internet Governance Forum, and the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation.

With regard to the WSIS+10 process, it was underlined that the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 (and reflecting not only views of governments, but also input from various other stakeholders)  reaffirmed the WSIS framework for Internet governance, as set in the Geneva and Tunis phases, but also brought some updates to the commitments assumed in 2003-2005. As such, it was agreed that the WSIS action lines should be linked to the sustainable development goals, as this would bring benefits to both implementation processes. The mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) was extended for another 10 years, and a commitment was made to further develop the concept of enhanced cooperation.

Reference was made to the fact that the multistakeholder, bottom-up model is the most appropriate approach to deal with Internet governance issues. Even if there is no one size fits all solution, as one specific way of addressing one issue might not work in the case of other issues, it is essential to ensure that all stakeholders are allowed to participate in Internet governance processes, and fully exercise their roles and responsibilities. With regard to ICANN, it was said that what happens within this organisation has a significant impact on how the world perceives the multistakeholder approach, and, as such, it is of outmost importance that ICANN evolves in a manner that is fully consistent with the framework provided by WSIS.

An overview was given of the planned activities of the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, reinstituted though the WSIS+10 resolution. Much as its predecessor, the group will have a multistakeholder nature, and it will build upon the previous work on mapping Internet governance issues, identifying existing mechanisms for addressing them, and outlining gaps that need to be filled. The composition of the group is to be announced in May 2016, and approved by the United Nations by July. While the stewardship over the management of critical Internet resources is expected to be within the focus of the group, if significant progress is made with the current IANA stewardship transition process by July, this might allow the group to concentrate on other Internet governance issue as well.

With regard to the Internet Governance Forum, it was underlined that, while the WSIS+10 resolution reconfirmed its mandate as set in the Tunis Agenda, it also called for improvements in its working methods, as well as for a strengthened participation of developing countries. The 11th annual meeting of the IGF is expected to be held in the second half of November 2016, in Mexico, and a first round of open consultations is scheduled for early April, in Geneva. In line with the objective to encourage involvement of individuals from developing countries in the IGF process, the IGF Secretariat is engaged in a number of capacity-building activities, such as: providing funding opportunities for qualified individuals to attend the IGF annual meetings and/or the open consultations, supporting national and regional IGF initiatives throughout the world, and encouraging summer schools on Internet governance.

Looking at the future of the Internet governance ecosystem, it was said that it is important for all stakeholders to continue to work together, in an environment of mutual respect and recognition of each other’s roles and responsibilities, and build upon the consensus that has already been achieved on some Internet governance issues.

Event announcement

[Update] Learn more about the IANA transition process, including the process to enhance ICANN’s accountability, on GIP Digital Watch’s dedicated page, IANA Transition and ICANN Accountability. The page includes latest updates, upcoming and past events, and the process in detail.

[UpdateICANN56, scheduled to be held in Panama in June 2016, will be moved to another location due to the severity of the Zika Virus outbreak in the Latin America region. A search is currently underway to identify an alternate location where the Zika Virus is not a concern. We look forward to returning to Panama for a future ICANN Meeting.

ICANN’s 55th meeting – ICANN55 – will take place in Marrakech, Morocco, on 6-11 March 2016. ICANN meetings provide the opportunity for an internationally diverse group of individuals and organisations to come together and discuss and develop policies for the Internet’s naming systems. A broad range of Internet-related topics are discussed at each meeting.

ICANN57 (18th AGM) will be held on 29 October – 4 November in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

More information about upcoming ICANN meetings can be found here.

ICANN meetings in brief

  • ICANN meetings are held three times a year in different regions to enable attendees from around the world to participate in person. One meeting of the meetings doubles as the organisation’s annual general meeting, during which new board members take their seats.
  • ICANN meetings are free and officially run for a duration of five days (Monday to Friday). There are also several pre-meeting workshops and working sessions when the volunteer members of their supporting organisations and advisory committees initiate their work.
  • ICANN meetings offer the best opportunity for face-to-face discussions and airing of opinions among knowledgeable people dedicated to the continued stable and secure operation of the Internet.
  • ICANN meetings offer a variety of sessions such as workshops, open forums, and working meetings on the development and implementation of Internet policies.
  • Remote participation is possible while the meetings are going on. ICANN offers several tools such as streaming live audio and video, chatrooms, and online question boxes.
  • Detailed logistics and information about each