IBCA Comments: ANA warns that ICANN decision-making could be reduced to political logrolling

The Association of National Advertisers has warned of the dangers behind plans to enhance the GAC’s role in ICANN decision-making, arguing that the move would weaken the multi-stakeholder model and – absent transparent procedural safeguards – could see governments make concessions on internet governance decisions in a bid to receive political favours elsewhere.

A recent comment period (which closed on September 14, with a reply period deadline of October 6) centres on a revision of bylaws that would incorporate a higher voting threshold for the board to determine not to follow the advice of the GAC. At present, a board majority is required but, under the proposals, two-thirds of the board would be required to act inconsistently with a piece of GAC advice. Dan Jaffe, executive vice president for the Association of National Advertisers, expands: “Presently GAC opinions get more attention than every other group – if they make a recommendation, the board at least give comment or feedback if they don’t go along with it. But what they are saying now is that you have to accept their recommendations unless you get a two-thirds majority of the non-conflicted board. Where there are conflicts that will lower the number on the board who can take action, so to then get the required majority will be much more difficult.”

For Jaffe, the proposal has the potential to disrupt ICANN’s bottom-up, multi-stakeholder approach and place ICANN decision-making firmly into the international political arena, telling World Trademark Review: “The GAC is made up of a melange of countries and some of these are very dictatorial and want to supress communications – they certainly aren’t all favourable to marketplace approaches as that is not how their governments and economies operate. And there are no real procedures built in – the GAC can make a pronouncement and not have to come up with any justification or clarity as to what their view is, so even if you want to critique it you would have nothing to go on. To suddenly say that the GAC – with no procedural safeguards – can force views onto the internet community is a very substantial step. And you could see cases of government logrolling, where deals are made as they want support something elsewhere. That is the worst kind of process.”

Of the 40 comments posted to date on the ICANN site, none support the proposed change. Amongst the concerns raised are:

  • the increased control it will give to governments (Robin Gross, a member of the Executive Committee of ICANN’s Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group but speaking in his personal capacity, laments: “This would mark a truly significant change in the overall power structure at ICANN that would dramatically empower national governments (some democratic, some authoritarian) over the management of critical internet resources at the expense of those who participate in the bottom-up policy development process.”
  • the impact of the change on consensus policy making (Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows, states: “Here we are, looking at a proposed bylaw change that has the potential to upend ICANN’s structure, and undo years of hard-won experience in consensus policy-making.”)
  • the lack of transparency in GAC decision-making (The Secretariat for the Internet Business Council for Africa writes: “The GAC in itself has not set any operating principles that will guide it on any matters that cover conflict of interest, transparency or the multi-stakeholder approach.”)
  • the disproportionate ability of GAC members to place concerns onto the ICANN agenda (DotConnectAfrica states: “Any GAC member can propose GAC advice. Although in principle such advice is put to a vote, no quorum of GAC members is required for a vote to be held and many GAC members cannot attend every GAC meeting due to other commitments or cost. As a result, GAC advice can be approved and sent to ICANN on the vote of only a handful of people).
  • that the proposals do not encourage government participation in the development of ICANN policy (Google counsel Aparna Sridhar states: “The proposed bylaws change would further cement the current arrangement between the GAC and the other stakeholder groups, wherein the community develops policy largely without direct governmental stakeholder participation and the GAC weighs in at the end.)

While the comments to date take similar stances, Jaffe encourages brands and other stakeholders to make their voice heard, concluding: “We have tried to alert our members and people really need to look at it internationally.  Groups that have not yet been heard from may want to weigh in – it will be a shame if the broad range of interests in the ICANN world are not heard from with regards this significant issue.” Read more