ICANN is enormously international, with a vast majority of the members on the board coming from outside the US

Peter Dengate Thrush chairman of the board, ICANN

It has been nearly a decade since the Internet Corporation for Assigned
Names and Numbers (ICANN) came into existence at Marina Del Rey, California.
ICANN was set up as a non-profit corporation to oversee a number of
Internet-related tasks previously performed by other organizations on behalf of
the US government. The chief task of ICANN is to manage the assignment of domain
names (over 145 mn) and IP addresses, popularly referred to as the Internet
Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function.

Yet, over the years, ICANN has been embroiled in controversiespolitical
and technical. The main grouse many people seem to have with ICANN is that it
seems to be a trifle more conscious to the whims and fancies of the US
government. In the past few years, there has also been an increasing chorus
asking for either ICANN to be freed from its obligations to the US government or
all together stripped of the role it plays.

Nonetheless, the ICANN boat seems to sail quite merrily. Recently, it
launched the .Asia domain name with much fanfare and also announced the shift
from IPv4 to IPv6. In the middle of all this jumble-tumble, there was also a
change of guard at ICANN; Internet pioneer Vincent Cerf was replaced by
barrister Peter Dengate Thrush as chairman of the board. It has been a
significant move, as many argue that by appointing a New Zealander, the board is
trying to play down its association with the US government.

Whatever be the reasons, one thing is clear, that Thrush is completely in
control of the developments at ICANN. It is almost impossible to pin down this
suave barrister. He seems to be ready at all times with facts, figures, and
arguments to prove his contention. Recently, Thrush had come down to India to
attend the 33rd ICANN Conference. Taking some time out, Thrush spoke at length
to Dataquest on the different controversies that surround ICANN and what he
feels about the coming years. Excerpts

Peter Dengate Thrush
chairman of the board, ICANN

What will be your main tasks as chairman of the board?
I think there are a number of tasks, starting with the most obvious oneto
chair the meetings of the board to ensure that the right direction is given to
the corporation. Thinking strategically, being aware of the opportunities, and
obligations we have to the environment and the society at large are major
responsibilities of the chair.

According to Prof Milton Mueller, ICANN has been generally willing to go
along with US control in the past. What do you say to that?
Milton is a good friend of mine, and we disagree on a number of things. I am
not quite sure of what you are referring to but what ICANN is prepared to go
along is a number of things that I mentioned earlier. First of all, we are very
happy to be a California registered corporation, as a result of which we get tax
advantages, which we are very happy to have in the US, so we are prepared to
meet the obligations of being a US corporation to get that advantage.

We are delighted to have the contract from the US government on the IANA
functions, and we are prepared to live with the obligations it creates. We work
closely with the US department of commerce in relation to the World Summit of
Information Society and the committee that came out of thatthe working group on
Internet governance (WGIG). So, we have a close relationship with the US
government. That said, that government has no greater say in the policy issues
that come before us, for example, the debate on whether or not to introduce .XXX
into the root.

There is speculation that the US government played a more influential role
than the other governments, but as a member of the board at that time and
someone who voted in favor of .XXX for entirely different reasons, I was unaware
of any untoward pressure from the US government. In the end, we are very clear
about what the issues are; we are a US corporation at the moment that brings
with it obligations and responsibilities, so if you are talking about that,
there is no problem.

The US connection is something that the media is much keen to focus on than
anything else. The reality is that ICANN is enormously international, with a
vast majority of the members on the board coming from outside the US. The staff
are spread across the world, the meetings are held almost anywhere but the US.
Probably, I think, it is more of a media issue than a real one.

In such a scenario, what do you see as the role that various governments
continue to play in the functioning of ICANN?
I think a strong governmental advisory committee (GAC) is seen as essential
to the well being of the continuous survival of ICANN. ICANN has to be the place
where all the interested stakeholders come together and much of what we have
done over the past ten years is building a structure in which all those
different people can come and can have their voices heard, and for a balance to
be struck in all the competing interests. My first 4-5 years at ICANN went
fighting on behalf of one of those voices, the country code managers, and there
is now a place in ICANN in terms of CCNA for country code managers to come and
talk to each other about whatever they want, talk to ICANN when they need to
about crucial issues for country code management.

Similarly, for the GAC, there is a place for governments to come together and
sort out among themselves whatever their issues are.

ICANN is constantly criticized on issues of transparencythere hasnt been
sufficient public disclosure. Your comments
I think ICANN is reasonably transparent in terms of its processes going on
in public. In fact, we were recently audited by a global body, which found that
we had very high levels of transparency. That said, we could always do better.
We are doing more; we have got a manager of public participation, who is doing a
great job of running alternative methods of making information available.

We are working toward substantially improving the quality of the website,
where you can find all the things published in the past and we are working
toward making the website much more user friendly. We have got blogs running.

It will be fair to say that we genuinely accept that we want to run in a
transparent way. The reality is that if we dont do that, then we need to stop
and go back and explain and get the community behind us on a particular issue.
That will be much more complicated and time consuming than if we just take the
trouble to be clear about what we are doing. So, first and foremost, I think it
is a passion for most of us to make sure that things are done in a transparent
way. From a business perspective as well, it is the best way to run a business,
keep the community informed and move in the same direction.

I think that the objection is that there are insufficient accountability
mechanisms and again we take it seriously and are exploring ways to make sure
that the individual components of ICANN are responsible to their communities and
that ICANN itself is collectively responsible to the whole of the community.

There also seems to be much debate and discussion our spendings by ICANN.
Consular of European Top Level Domain Registry had apparently accused ICANN of
lack of financial prudence, stating that the organization set for itself
unrealistic political and operational targets. Your view
Again, that is quite interesting as I am not quite sure where that quote
came from. But the answer to that is you tell us which part of the budget you
want us to do away with, and we will stop spending that money. We have just
published our budget, with operational planning coming closely behind it. All
the things in it are the things that have been asked for, if not demanded by the
Internet community. They want these services, they want these things provided,
and someone has to pay for it.

There is a discussion doing the rounds that decisions at ICANN are not
driven bottom up, and that the organization is not paying real attention to the
Internet user community at large…
If that were true, we would all be very concerned. In fact, it seems to be
on the contrary; take the recent example of IDNs, there has been a huge pressure
for that from the bottom up, it has been dealt with appropriately by referring
to that as a technical matter affecting the substrate, going deep into the
engine and we do that with considerable caution. So, the internet engineering
task force has been developing appropriate protocols and we have taken time to
test those and given our feedbacks to the community. I think these are the kinds
of things people say, with an outcome that they dont like.

Sometime back, during an interaction with Dataquest, Sir Tim Berners-Lee
had stated that the Internet could happily survive for the next ten years
without an introduction of a new top-level domain name. What do you feel about
I concur with Sir Tim. We dont need multiplicity of top-level domain names.
We could only do with one; we dont need country code domain names, and other
domains as well. But then it is not the question of need; it is a question of
want. My view is that if the market wants it, provided it does no harm, then
they should have them.

How has been the response so far to the introduction of .Asia, .EU, and
I dont have the numbers, but talking to the .Asia people, they seemed to be
very pleased with the way their launch has gone. .Eu is also raking substantial
numbers of registrations. There are a number of measures of success; large
numbers, or large revenues may not be the best criterion to judge success.

What are your views on domain name trading?
I think it is tremendously exciting; the market is vibrant and expanding.
Trading creates jobs, it creates wealth, and is part of our charter to create
competition, and it is one small aspect of the same.

What is ICANNs commitment to multilingualism?
We are extremely committed to multilingualism. Again, it is a question of
budget; we havent been able to afford it but at the last meeting at Los
Angeles, for the first time we had simultaneous interpretation in six-seven
different languages, and it was hugely beneficial to non-English speakers to be
able to understand and participate in our meetings. Most of us thought it was a
tremendous advance, so there is a commitment to multilingualism.

What could be Indias role at ICANN?
Indias most visible role at the moment has been with providing the
secretariat to the GAC, and we are very grateful for the same. There has also
been some financial support for the meeting conducted in New Delhi recently.

As Indias economy grows and as the Internet user base widens, companies will
become more active. ISPs could join hands with ICANN in places like the ISP
committee and businesses with the business constituency. There are many places
at ICANN where we would be pleased to see greater Indian participation.

It has been close to ten years of ICANN. What do you make of it?
I think the ten years have been longer than anyone of us had expected in
1999, when we were arguing about the bylaws and thats reflected in the fact
that the MoU with the US government, while building of ICANN, was set for two
years. Later, we realized that we had almost all the things that had been listed
in the original document, sort of blueprint set out on a white paper. We have
tackled all the huge challenges that we faced in 1999. So, I think, we usher
into the next decade with much confidence.

Shashwat DC

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