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ICANN CEO: Why The Internet's Future Is At Risk

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé spoke with InformationWeek about how the Internet can continue without US government oversight.

One of the goals of his trip to Silicon Valley, said Chehadé, was "to ensure that the risks of the failure of the current US transition of its stewardship over our IANA functions are clear to business leaders."

Beyond warning about the consequences of further delaying the transition, Chehadé said he encouraged business leaders to review ICANN's proposal once it's complete and, if it meets their needs, to share their views with political leaders.

"When you meet with a very senior person, a CEO or a senior counsel at one of the Silicon Valley firms, they once in a while need this distilled and presented at a level where they can engage and appreciate what's at stake," said Chehadé. "So part of this is frankly just to help distill the massive sausage-making effort that's going on and to ensure that people are involved with the right level of knowledge, and know when their voices are critical for the process."

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Timing is key. Chehadé said he welcomes the support of the business community in Washington, but stressed that such support will be most meaningful once ICANN's proposal has been submitted to the government.

The portion of the proposal that remains unfinished poses the greatest challenge: Describing in detail how ICANN itself can be governed to the satisfaction of everyone involved. Chehadé said his biggest concern is making sure that "whatever structure we end with is a structure that is not captured by any special interest or special agenda."

An Inclusive System

The fact that ICANN has been able to keep the Internet stable over almost two decades is fairly remarkable. And Chehadé believes that stability can continue. "For the 17 years we've been around, the governance structure of ICANN has proven to be very, very resilient," he said. "With all these years behind us, no one party has had the ability to control the policies and the outcomes of ICANN. We have built, I think, an accountable, transparent, and inclusive system that includes businesses, the private sector, users, governments, that is private sector-led but listens to all parties. It includes all the views, and builds policy from the bottom up."

Perhaps the most ambitious aspect of ICANN is that it aspires to include governments without being governed by them.

"Governments at ICANN have a role like no other role they play on the planet," said Chehadé. "They will tell you that. They are advisors to a board that does not include governments. Their advice has an important weight. But their advice must only come to the board and is recognized in a certain special way by the board if it's consensus advice. Which means 151 governments have to build consensus between them before they can even give advice to the ICANN board. That is amazing. You cannot find that anywhere else, in any other system or institution on the planet."

For all his optimism, Chehadé acknowledged the difficulty of the balance ICANN must maintain between the Internet's diverse stakeholders. "We have 151 governments in ICANN, thousands of businesses, user groups, NGOs, technical community players, engineers, all of these people have their own voices in the system," he said. "And if we lose the balance that has worked for 17 years, I think the model will have failed. That is the trick. And I am confident we will not [fail], because everyone at the table knows it has worked."