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Should we cut ICANN loose? Not now…

There’s a lot of talk these days about ICANN’s future and specifically whether the organization should go out on its own later this year. While everyone seems to agree that ICANN must end up as an independent entity, I for one just don’t see how it is ready at this point. And, by prematurely pushing the organization out of the nest, I think we risk making a real mess that no one will be well placed to clean up.

ICANN simply isn’t ready because it doesn’t yet have the pieces in place. It takes too long to make decisions – though its making big efforts to improve processes. It has just started some programs, like outreach to Emerging Markets and more and better work with governments – but these need time to bear fruit. It also needs to formalize many of the core operating arrangements (e.g. on root server operation, on contract renewal or non-renewal, with the regionals) that it will be essential if it is to continue to provide service to a growing, worldwide and increasingly challenging Internet community.

One thing is pretty certain in my way of thinking. If as a result of political pressure the Department of Commerce cuts the cord too soon, there will be an effort to push today’s ICANN aside and replace it with some sort of UN organization. This in my mind would be a disaster.

Change for its own sake is hardly a benefit from the user perspective. Having worked with the UN system over the course of years, I hardly think they could do a more efficient job than ICANN – even without the proposed ICANN improvements. (Politics aside I wonder whether they could actually do the job at all, outside of the realm of endless debate, where they could match ICANN word-for-word). Seriously, though, as a user, I want REAL independence, not polemics. If our goal is to keep ICANN as apolitical and as functional as possible, well, the UN wouldn’t be the first place I’d recommend.

So what to do? Let’s set a timetable. Let’s really push to make the organization more open and more accountable to the “rest of the world” where tomorrow’s new users will come from. Let’s make sure they ICANN does the things they promise in their action plan. Let’s finish the job of making ICANN ready for prime time – with the stamina and resources to get the job done. Regardless of what you think of the current relationship with the Department of Commerce, that just makes sense.

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