PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility
Overcoming ICANN: Forging Better Paths for the Internet

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David J. Farber
Peter G. Neumann
Lauren Weinstein
March 18, 2002

Overcoming ICANN: Forging Better Paths for the Internet

An Open Letter to the Global Internet Community

Despite its best efforts, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has proven overall to be a failed experiment in Internet policy development, implementation, and management. ICANN's lack of meaningful representation, and its continuing pattern of drastic and seemingly arbitrary structural and policy changes (among other shortcomings), have created an unstable and suspicion-ridden environment that is detrimental to the interests of the vast majority of Internet users around the world. The resulting overly politicized situation not only threatens the stability of the Internet itself, but also invites drastic and undesirable interventions by a variety of vested interests.

We will not in this document detail the range of specific problems and issues, which have become widely recognized and known. Key aspects of the problems relating to the Internet and ICANN have been outlined in previous statements [1], [2], [3], along with a set of basic proposed Internet guiding principles [4]. The continuing rapid deterioration relating to ICANN and its impact on the Internet now forces us to recommend the following three actions.

First, as an immediate temporary measure, all Internet policy, operational, and other Internet-related functions currently performed by ICANN should be transferred, as soon as practicable while maintaining continuity, to a different, already existing non-profit organization (or organizations) on a non-permanent, strictly stewardship basis. One potential candidate we would suggest considering for this role would be the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), although there are a range of other possibilities of course. The process to plan and begin a transfer of responsibilities from ICANN should be initiated immediately.

Next, we recommend that an intensive, international study be started at once, with a mandate to propose detailed and meaningful paths for the Internet's development, operations, and management. The goal of this study would be to help guide the formation of purpose-built representative organizations and policies that would be beneficial both to established Internet stakeholders and to the wide variety of organizations and individuals who are effectively disenfranchised in the current Internet policy environment. This study should consider both short-term and long-term alternatives, and could potentially be conducted by the National Research Council (NRC) and related international organizations, among other possible frameworks.

Our third recommended step would be for the results of this study to be carefully considered and, as deemed appropriate, to be implemented. Internet-related functions would be transferred from the temporary stewardship organization(s) to the entities developed from the study results.

Time is definitely of the essence if a potential "meltdown" of Internet policies, functionalities, and operations in the near future is to be avoided. There is in particular an immediate need to begin the process of depoliticizing the situation and providing opportunities for consensus building regarding the range of Internet issues. Wide consensus has already been achieved on at least one key point -- even by ICANN's current president -- ICANN is seriously broken. We agree, and we additionally assert that ICANN's history, structure, and behaviors strongly indicate that the most productive course would be for ICANN's role in Internet affairs to be discontinued.

This is not to cast aspersions on the efforts of any individuals involved with ICANN in the past or present. Rather, we feel that ICANN has failed as an organization, and that the amount of "bad blood" and institutional "baggage" it carries doom "reform" efforts within the organization itself to ineffectiveness at best. We come to this conclusion reluctantly, since in the past we have considered that there might be an appropriate continuing role of some sort for ICANN. Unfortunately, this is no longer possible.

We do not have all of the answers regarding Internet issues -- nobody does. The proposals above are not presented as any kind of fait accompli, but rather as an attempt to stimulate recognition that the Internet is facing serious problems that are in need of serious solutions. The search for solutions will be difficult, and will be a continuing effort that far transcends matters relating to ICANN. But half-measures will no longer suffice, and the status quo (however it might be disguised or "spun") can no longer be tolerated.

Some persons genuinely fear that alternatives to ICANN might lead to situations even worse than the current dysfunctional ICANN environment. That is indeed a non-zero probability, but the increasingly chaotic situation with ICANN makes degeneration a decided likelihood if ICANN remains involved with Internet matters.

The day of reckoning is already upon us. Work should begin immediately to define and implement collaborative processes that can provide hope of assuring that the Internet will be the best possible resource for the population of the entire world. The risks in change are real, but the need for change and the possibilities for meaningful and beneficial progress are even greater. If we do not take these steps, we may well be dooming the Internet to a future of mediocrity at best, or of decay, fragmentation, greed, and even worse outrages.

[1] PFIR Statement on Internet Policies, Regulations, and Control

[2] PFIR Proposal for a Representative Global Internet Policy Organization

[3] URIICA Announcement

[4] PFIR Declaration of Principles


David J. Farber
Tel: +1 (610) 304-9127
Member of the Board of Trustees EFF -
Member of the Advisory Board -- EPIC -
Member of the Advisory Board -- CDT -
Member of Board of Directors -- PFIR -
Co-Founder, URIICA - Union for Representative International Internet
     Cooperation and Analysis -
Member of the Executive Committee USACM

Peter G. Neumann or or
Tel: +1 (650) 859-2375
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Co-Founder, Fact Squad -
Co-Founder, URIICA - Union for Representative International Internet
     Cooperation and Analysis -
Moderator, RISKS Forum -
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Lauren Weinstein or
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility -
Co-Founder, Fact Squad -
Co-Founder, URIICA - Union for Representative International Internet
     Cooperation and Analysis -
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum -
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

(Affiliations shown for identification only.)