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Internet Governance

Reflections from the world of Internet governance: Part 2

Establishment Over

So we have now moved on from the early establishment phase and the NTIA IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group – better known as the ICG – have started to tackle some of the difficult topics on its plate. At the time of writing significant progress has been made on some topics while others are still evolving. In this piece I will give an overview of that progress and point to where work is continuing.

Thankfully now, the charter for the group has been agreed, and I want to thank the many people across the Internet Society community who commented on the proposal. This charter clearly focuses the ICG outward, rather than inward on the thoughts of the individuals that make up the group. For the project to be a success, it needs to have a strong community focus and this was something mandated by the NTIA in its March statement; the charter has set a tone for a community driven process.

Establishing Ways of Working

The main issues before the ICG can be divided between procedural questions around the ways the group will work, and of the work itself. Procedural issues have covered items such as whether there should be a Chair, or a system of Co-Chairs, whether the ICG should be supported by an independent secretariat and how documents should be created, distributed and stored.

The role of the Chairs has also come up for discussion with the tasks identified and split amongst the group. A system of three Co-Chairs was agreed because it was felt that the work was both large in number and substantial in scope. It was also felt that the ICG wanted to signal that no one person was “in charge” in the classical sense of leadership. Often it is easy to assume that the “Chair” of a group can speak on behalf of the group; we all felt that this should not be the case with the ICG.

As with nearly all multi-stakeholder approaches, there is little in the way of a procedures manual and many of us come from different cultures, organisations and stakeholder groups so have very different experiences and ways of thinking and working. Because of that, and even with the deep experience in Internet policy, technology and governance – as well as a broad range of related areas – the ICG collectively has, many of the procedures are having to be created and agreed each part of the way.

Timeframe

The US government contract for the operation of the IANA functions is due to expire on 30 September 2015. The ideal time frame, therefore, would be that the ICG gathers and compiles a final proposal before that time.

The government official, Larry Strickling, has said that this time could be extended. Realistically, also the US government will move to election mode in November 2015, and while it is also important that political parties have the opportunity to put clear policy platforms in place before their electorates, the risk for this process is that it may become needlessly politicized, or that staff and personnel changes may take effect and set the entire process backwards while new people learn the landscape.

Thus the ICG has compiled a “first pass time frame” working backward from 30 September 2015 and it continues to evolve as we flesh out the specific steps along the entire process. To meet this deadline, it is essential that each of the communities involved organizes itself timely and appropriately so that they can decide and reach the best approach. Groups also need to work together across the communities so that, where possible, agreement can cover more than one community.

Consensus

Even with years of experience at IETF, IAB, ICANN and across the Internet governance landscape, consensus is a concept we are yet to set in stone as a standard. While it might seem a simple fact that consensus means “everyone agrees”, there really are more subtle tones to that state. The IETF has for many years held a position that “rough consensus” was good enough, and in many contexts “rough” was easy to define. The question, however, is how rough is rough, really? And, how is that determined when you can’t all be in the room to hum?

With some of us remotely participating at times, should we take a vote? Does the vote require everyone to vote at the same time (including remote participants)? What if some people abstain?

It turns out also that consensus really exists in grades. Sometimes it is said, that “consensus means no substantive objections”. However to other people this could be interpreted as the opposite of consensus.

I like to compare consensus with water. We all know we need water to survive, but how pure does it really need to be? We not only need it to drink, but also to water the plants that feed us and to wash in. That water doesn’t need to be as pure as the water we need to drink. We can also survive better on impure water than on highly pure water. Even salt water has its place, especially when enjoying the benefits of the sea. Similarly there is the consensus we’d like, the consensus we need, and the consensus we may have to tolerate.

We are certainly aiming at this stage to identify and classify those items carefully along the way that need complete support, clear majority support, areas for greater refinement and others where we need to define and clarify the areas of difference and dissent.

I can assure you that at this stage there is no consensus on the topic of consensus! On the other hand, I can also be confident that at this stage this isn’t cause for worry.

Request for Proposal

The really substantive piece of work for the ICG is yet to come, but significant progress has been made towards defining a common format for proposals to transition the IANA function from the existing approach to a new state has now been drafted. This Request for Proposal (RFP) draft is expected to be out for comment by the community soon, and hopefully soon after that we can start receiving proposals!

Ways to Participate

Once a draft RFP is released, I look forward to hearing the community’s view on it. As usual we have a mailing list (ianaxfer) and more recently a Connect web-based forum. The Internet Society will be holding in person meetings in a range of forums over the next year and we hope to have IANA transition sessions where we can.

At the upcoming Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey, there will be a main focus session entitled IANA Functions: NTIA’s Stewardship and ICANN’s Accountability Process on Friday 9:30 – 11:00am where further reflections and issues will be discussed.