Breaking: A win for Africa! ICANN ditches plan to hand Governments more Veto power, “It’s off the table”

Source: CIO East Africa – Top Story

The ICANN proposed Bylaws revisions that would incorporate a higher voting threshold for the Board to determine not to follow the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) has officially been “taken off the table”.

Although a surprise announcement to the community, this has been confirmed by the ICANN CEO while testifying at the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation full committee hearing entitled “Preserving the Multistakeholder Model of Internet Governance” which was held on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 in Senate Russell Office Building, Room 253.

This confirmation came when ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade was asked by Sen. Deb Fischer whether the threshold change was consistent with ICANN’s” promise to limit the power of governments” in a post-US-oversight world, to which he replied

“You are right, this would be incongruent with the stated goals [of the IANA transition]. The board has looked at that matter and has pushed it back.  So it’s off the table.”

GACThis comes as a great response to the over 40 respondents including  the Internet Business Council for Africa, and DotConnectAfrica among others , who fiercely fought along with other global organizations for the internet community and more specifically on behalf of Africa.   This also may come at a surprise, as DotConnectAfrica application to the .africa gTLD is currently under an Independent Accountability Review (IRP),  contesting the decision made by the ICANN Board to reject its application based on “advise they received from GAC”.

It was clear from the onset that the idea was a non-starter, mainly because ICANN is in the progress of looking to become detached from the US Government oversight to a proposal that must be non- governmental. Why the ICANN Board entertains such a proposal until the community connects the dot to oppose it is yet another matter.

During the Joint Meeting of the GAC & ICANN Board Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at ICANN 51 meeting in Los Angeles in 2014, former ICANN Chair Heather Dryden sought an update concerning the proposal to which the ICANN Chair Steve Crocker replied

“Well, you’ve seen the substantial reaction to the proposal…….The reaction embodies, to some extent, misunderstanding of what the purpose and the context was, but it also is very instructive to all of us that the timing of all this comes in the middle of the broader accountability question…….So it is — I think it is in everyone’s interest, GAC’s interest, Board’s interest, and the entire community’s interest, to put this on hold and come back and revisit this in a larger context, and that’s our plan.”

Currently, the Bylaws require a simple majority of the Board (50% + 1) to vote to not follow a piece of advice from the GAC. The proposed amendments to the Bylaws would require 2/3 of the voting members of the Board to vote to act inconsistently with a piece of GAC advice.

Of the 40 comments posted to date on the ICANN site, none supported the proposed change. Amongst the concerns raised are: “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.”), Adding to this DotConnectAfrica stated that

“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.”

Others who opposed include Robin Gross who said

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.”, Another added that the proposed bylaw change “that has the potential to upend ICANN’s structure, and undo years of hard-won experience in consensus policy-making.”

This proposal was ideally and fundamentally toxic to any multistakeholder model arrangements. The announcement will come as a win for many who have disputed GAC’s current decision arrangement that has been called undemocratic and somewhat corrupt as members have been know sometimes to promote a consensus that favors pre-arranged or preconceived outcomes as presented in the case of .africa, .gcc, .amazon among other new gTLD applicants. Further GAC has no conflict of interest redress mechanism making it extremely difficult to challenge the decisions that they come up with in their ICANN triannual meetings.

This unlikely announcement therefore comes as a win for internet users who want to see more multistakeholder involvement and also accountability mechanisms strengthened as such a ruling would have inadvertently extended GAC’s regime into the ICANN board which is struggling to assure the community that it is accountability mechanisms are working even with global outcry for the increase of transparency and accountability.

It is very clear that if ICANN wants to increase its outreach and especially in Africa.   It should not look at bringing in more governments on board, rather it should look at increasing the multistakeholder threshold that includes individuals, private sector players and governments in an all inclusive mutually beneficial platform.