ICANN’s (Un)empowered Community

Now that the proverbial shit has hit the fan, with regards to the announcement that the .ORG registry has been sold to private equity, something I predicted might happen, many in the ICANN community have wondered how to undo what has been done.

There actually exists a theoretically very powerful mechanism within ICANN dubbed the “Empowered Community“, which should be perfect for such a situation. In theory, it can:

• Reject ICANN and IANA budgets, and ICANN operating and strategic plans
• Reject standard Bylaw amendments
• Reject PTI governance actions
• Approve fundamental Bylaw and Articles amendments, and asset sales
• Recall the entire ICANN Board
• Appoint and remove individual ICANN Board directors (other than the President)
• Require the ICANN Board to review its rejection of IANA Function Review (IFR),special IFR, Separation Cross-Community Working Group (SCWG) creation,and SCWG recommendation decisions
• Initiate community reconsideration request, mediation, or Independent Review Process (IRP)
• The rights of inspection and investigation

However, there’s a big problem. Like other aspects of ICANN, it too has been captured by registry operator interests or those who have current or past associations with them.  There are currently 5 designees listed, and they are:

  1. Keith Drazek, of Verisign (operator of the .COM registry)! And he is formerly of Neustar, another registry operator. You can be confident Verisign loves the .ORG contract renewal. In fact, in 2006 when I raised the alarm over tiered pricing in registry contracts,  for the .ORG, .INFO and .BIZ agreements, it was Chuck Gomes of Verisign who was one of the few voices that wrote to support such egregious proposals. Champagne bottles were likely popping at Verisign when they saw that the .ORG contract’s terms were changed in 2019 to allow uncapped fees. Keith Drazek also chairs the GNSO Council, which has unjustly banned me from participating in any GNSO working groups.
  2. Maureen Hilyard who not only was on the Pacific Islands Chapter of the Internet Society (the Internet Society owned “Public Interest Registry” which ran .ORG), she’s on the board of directors of DotAsia (another registry operator). As a member of the At Large, she drafted the comments on the renewal of the .ASIA agreement (which was open for public comments around the same time as the .ORG agreement), even showing that draft to the rest of the DotAsia Board for approval, despite the obvious conflicts of interest (see May 2, 2019 transcript of the CPWG, pp. 16-19, where I called it out. I left the At Large in disgust the following day).
  3. Stephen Deerhake, who is or was associated with the .AS country code registry operator.
  4. Manal Ismail, who is currently on the GAC, but “has also been involved in launching Egypt’s new Arabic ccTLD” (another registry operator).
  5. Axel Pawlik who recently stepped down from RIPE (which deals with IP addresses, not domain names).

Thus, it’s clear that 4 of the 5 members of the so-called “Empowered Community”, which has the power to recall the entire board and initiate community reconsideration requests (among other powers) have current or past association with registry operators. The likelihood they intervene on the community’s behalf to challenge the decisions of the ICANN Board regarding .ORG is low, given they simply don’t reflect the broad sets of stakeholders in the community.

This represents another accountability mechanism that is broken and captured, and which cannot be used by the entire community (ordinary users, domain name registrants, and other stakeholders affected by ICANN decisions) to hold ICANN accountable and reverse bad decisions.

The need for drastic action to change the composition and review the entire structure of ICANN, to eliminate this capture now, and the ability to do so in the future, should be clear.