FAQ About the Berkman Centerís Role in ICANN
How did the Berkman Center get involved in the DNS mess?

The Berkman Center became involved in the process leading up to the formation of ICANN in July, 1998, during the meetings of the International Forum on the White Paper (IFWP), a series of conferences aimed at gathering consensus as to how--and by whom--the domain name system and related Internet functions would be coordinated in the future. These meetings were prompted by a U.S. Government policy statement, the "White Paper," calling for the creation of a new non-profit corporation, "newco" to coordinate key Internet management tasks. Tamar Frankel, Professor of Law at Boston University and Chair of the IFWP invited Berkman Center Executive Director Jonathan Zittrain to accompany her to the first of these meetings in Reston, Virginia. Zittrain and fellow Berkman Center faculty member Larry Lessig were tapped as moderators for the IFWP meeting in Geneva, and the Center constructed a public interest Web page that contained the complete compendium of IFWP-related materials, including a Berkman-drafted document comparing the various proposals generated during the process.

Then what happened?

As a September 30 deadline for presentation of proposals for a "newco" to the U.S. government approached, the IFWP struggled to move from calling meetings of stakeholders to developing a proposal reconciling interests among them. Network Solutions, which had developed its own suggested bylaws, offered to participate in an IFWP-sponsored process. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) had also been developing bylaws, and was uncertain about such participation. The Berkman Center accepted a request from the IFWP steering committee to organize a meeting among IANA, NSI, and others to hammer out a consensus solution. The Berkman Center called off the meeting at the request of both NSI and IANA when their private negotiations were successful enough to produce a progress toward a joint proposal between them--a proposal that eventually, after further modification, became the proposal that IANA submitted to the U.S. Government as the proposal for ICANN.

The "Boston Working Group" was formed as an informal gathering of people who had planned to attend the Berkman Center-organized meeting and wanted to continue to develop a consensus proposal even without delegates from IANA and NSI.  BWG submitted a competing proposal to the U.S. Government, elements of which were added to the ICANN bylaws at the urging of the U.S. Government.

What is the current connection to ICANN?

In October of 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was incorporated. The corporation, which sought formal recognition by the U.S. Government as the new coordinating body for the DNS and related functions, asked the Berkman Center to facilitate an open meeting, held in November, at which ICANN board members would introduce themselves to the public and gather input as to how ICANN could more adequately represent the broad scope of Internet stakeholder interests.

ICANN also asked Berkman Center fellow Molly Shaffer Van Houweling and later, fellow Andrew McLaughlin, to take positions as advisors to ICANN in addition to their work as Berkman Center fellows. Both requests were granted, initiating an ongoing Berkman Center-ICANN collaboration that has resulted in the Berkman Center providing technical meeting support (scribing, webcasting, and remote participation faclitation) at ICANN Open Meetings in Singapore, Berlin, Santiago, LA, Cairo, Yokohama, Marina del Rey, Melbourne, and Stockholm. ICANN does not pay the Berkman Center for these services, but it pays rental fees for equipment used and pays some technical staff who work at the meetings. Berkman Center affiliates Rebecca Nesson and Benjamin Edelman have subsequently worked for ICANN.

Fellow Diane Cabell is a panelist for one of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution service providers that was accredited by ICANN to resolve disputes concerning bad faith registration of domain names. The UDRP service providers are independent corporate entities operating under a contractual agreement with ICANN.

How did the Representation in Cyberspace study get started?

The U.S. Government formally recognized ICANN in a Memorandum of Understanding on November 25, 1998, following adoption of some alterations to ICANNís bylaws that were urged at the public meeting on November 14. ICANN subsequently requested that the Berkman Center undertake a study of possible options for its membership structure. The Berkman Center agreed to do so, and Jonathan Zittrain was named to ICANN's Membership Advisory Committee (MAC) as a non-voting liaison between the committee and the membership study. Tamar Frankel joined the Berkman Center as a fellow in mid-December to contribute to this and other projects.  Along with members of the MAC, the Berkman Center produced a final report on membership issues that was presented to the ICANN Board of Directors and the public at the March 3 ICANN meeting in Singapore.  The Berkman Center also provided technical support for that meeting--producing real-time notes, audio and video webcasting, and other on-site and online support.   Upon the completion of the RCS study, MAC member Diane Cabell accepted a Berkman fellowship.

Why is Berkman doing the study, or working with ICANN at all?

The Berkman Center undertook the RCS study in the same spirit in which it has undertaken its other collaborations with ICANN: we are working constructively to improve an organization whose success may be important to the future of the Internet, and whose structure is fascinating to anyone interested in questions of cyberspace governance. The Berkman Center was not paid for this effort beyond reimbursement for the out-of-pocket expenses associated with our work.

Our mission at the Berkman Center is to investigate the real and possible boundaries in cyberspace between open and closed systems of code, commerce, government and education. The ICANN membership study represents the mainstay of our research into open government, constitutionalism, and cyberspace, and Charles Nesson and I have given counsel to ICANN in these areas. Although we havenít masterminded a grand experiment in which our collaborators are unwitting participants, we do feel that we are all participating in a grand experiment that we hope will produce lots of good resultsóboth pragmatic and academic. We're also users of the Net ourselves; we have interests that come from being members of ".edu" and ".org."

We are an independent research center, and as such have a large tent--Larry Lessig is under it, as are Zittrain, Nesson, Cabell, our students, and our fellows. Our institutional interest, if there can be said to be one apart from the sum of our parts, is in exploring forms of coordination--governance, even--well-suited to the medium of the Net and its traditions. We're also users of the Net ourselves; we have interests that come from being members of ".edu" and ".org." Beyond that, Andrew and Molly have special duties to ICANN apart from their affiliation to Berkman.  (Note that Shaffer Van Houewling has since left her position at ICANN for a federal clerkship.)

What about the Membership Advisory Committee?

Berkman Center Executive Director Jonathan Zittrain was a non-voting liaison to the MAC, working in large part to coordinate the efforts of the MAC with the RCS study.

Where else is the Berkman Center-ICANN relationship described?

In hearings before the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, Committee on Commerce, U.S. House of Representatives (July 22, 1999), Jonathan Zittrain submitted testimony that further describes the relationship between the Berkman Center and ICANN.

  Last updated on October 19, 2000 by Ben Edelman