ICANN says it will tackle conflict-of-interest concerns

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has appointed an outside team to review its code of conduct following complaints of conflict of interest within the board and staff.

Rod Beckstrom, ICANN president and CEO, announced Monday that Jermyn Brooks, Aron Cramer and Mervyn King will review and provide advice about the ethics and conflict-of-interest policies at ICANN. "I believe it is time to further tighten up the rules that have allowed perceived conflicts to exist within our board," Beckstrom said in his opening address at ICANN's latest public meeting, taking place in San José, Costa Rica.

"This is necessary not just to be responsive to the growing chorus of criticism about ICANN's ethics environment, but to ensure that absolute dedication to the public good supersedes all other priorities," he said. Beckstrom's remarks followed criticism of ICANN's conflict-of-interest policy by the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Over the weekend, the NTIA cancelled a request for proposals (RFP) to operate the functions of the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA), saying it had not received satisfactory bids. It said it was adding new requirements for the RFP, including a "structural separation of policymaking from implementation," a "robust companywide conflict of interest policy," and "consultation and reporting requirements to increase transparency and accountability to the international community." IANA is currently a department of ICANN. Its functions include managing the DNS Root Zone and assigning generic top-level domains (gTLDs). The NTIA plans to reissue its RFP at a future date. In the meantime, ICANN will continue to manage its operations until September. The Internet community has been raising concerns about conflicts of interest at ICANN ever since the previous board chairman, Peter Dengate Thrush, left ICANN to chair Top Level Domain Holdings, a company expected to benefit from the planned introduction of new gTLDs. "Every director is required to file a statement of conflict of interest, which will be reviewed to ensure all potential conflicts are visible," ICANN board chairman Steve Crocker said Monday. The application process for the new gTLDs has heightened the call for transparency and accountability within ICANN, mainly because the people who serve the community are also business people who expect to do business with ICANN. "ICANN must place commercial and financial interests in their appropriate context," Beckstrom said. "How can it do this if all top leadership is from the very domain name industry it is supposed to coordinate independently?" Beckstrom said the new gTLD program has received 254 registrations online, with every registrant entitled to request 50 different gTLDs. The application deadline is April 12 and ICANN will reveal the applicants May 1. ICANN is expected to have a new CEO by July, when Beckstrom steps down. He cited potential conflicts of interest as one of the potential challenges for any new ICANN leader. "A more subtle but related risk is the tangle of conflicting agendas within the board that would make it more difficult for any CEO to meet the requirements of this deeply rewarding and sometimes frustrating job," he said. In the coming week, ICANN is expected to continue discussions on the new gTLD application process as it relates to brand protection and address issues of cybersecurity, IPv6 deployment and security and resilience of the Domain Name System.