ICANN has been accused by its founding CEO and original chair of abandoning the organization’s core principles and accepting commitments it knows it cannot enforce in order to push through the sale of the .org registry later this week.
In a furious letter [PDF] from Mike Roberts and Esther Dyson to the attorney generals of California and Pennsylvania, the DNS overseer is also accused of circumventing its own decision-making processes and using the coronavirus pandemic to push through the $1.13bn sale.
The two internet veterans ask the state’s top legal representatives to step in and suspend any sale for another six months “to permit your offices, ICANN and the US Congress, to revisit the questions of ICANN’s process and public-interest regulatory duty at a point when the pandemic is no longer the public’s principal concern”.
ICANN is due to decide at a board meeting on Thursday whether to approve or block the sale of the registry from the Internet Society to private equity firm Ethos Capital.
But despite five months of discussions and repeat efforts by Ethos to tackle concerns, many in the internet community remain extremely skeptical of the deal, particularly its financing and the unusual corporate structure of Ethos, which comprises no less than six different companies, all of which were registered on the same day in 2019.
“We write to express our deep dismay at ICANN’s rejection of its defining public-interest regulatory purpose as demonstrated in the totally inappropriate proposed sale of the .ORG delegation,” the letter begins. “ICANN is failing to deliver on the purpose it was created to serve, and is abandoning its core duty to protect the public interest.”
Roberts was ICANN’s first CEO and was in charge of the organization for its first three years as it attempted to put a structure around the domain name system (DNS).
Dyson was its chair for the first two years. Back then, ICANN was a semi-autonomous body overseen by the US government. That oversight ended in January 2017 after a number of new accountability measures were introduced to ensure ICANN would remain answerable to the internet community rather than itself.
The most important of those new measures is called “Empowered Community” and, in theory, allows the internet community to force the organization to hand over documents and pause decisions. It has failed on its first use, Roberts and Dyson note, referencing a letter from ICANN’s general counsel in February that rejected an effort to use the oversight.
The oversight request [PDF] asked for records covering ICANN’s consideration of the .org sale as well as details on the process it would use to gain the internet community’s approval of its decision. ICANN responded [PDF] by claiming the request “exceeded the permissible scope” of the mechanism and refused to hand over any documents.