ICANN CEO and Chair to attend WCIT opening

Chehade aims to "bring clarity" over organization's role

ICANN's CEO and chair will attend the opening ceremony of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) as the guest of the ITU and the government of the United Arab Emirates.

The invitation, as well as the decision to accept, is noteworthy after more than a decade of barely concealed mistrust and contempt between the two organizations.

Clearly expecting some criticism from the Internet community for attending the event, CEO Fadi Chehade pre-recorded an interview in which he gave his reasons for attending.

"It’s time to engage," Chehade said in the ICANN-produced tape, arguing for a "new season of understanding" and pledging to avoid the "public wars" between the two organizations. He also stated that both the ITU and ICANN have roles that are "clearly separated and well-defined" but that they may be "confusion" over what those roles are. He would bring clarity to the situation.

Chehade's acceptance follows on from Toure publicly offering to work with ICANN in a speech at the Internet Governance Forum just weeks earlier in Baku. The two met and with some diplomatic groundwork put in by ICANN's new government relations head, former Egyptian minister Tarek Kamel, an invitation from both the ITU and UAE were soon forthcoming, providing suitable political cover for both.

Bad blood

There have been a number of notable attempts at rapprochement between the two organizations in the past, each faring badly.

ICANN invited ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure to speak at the opening ceremony of its meeting in Cairo in November 2008 but Toure's speech ended up infuriating many in the audience through what was perceived as an attack on ICANN's legitimacy. He later ended up in a shouting match with the French government representative (who now sits on the ICANN Board), with the two needing to be physically separated.

One year later it was ICANN's turn to infuriate the ITU when new CEO Rod Beckstrom took the stage during a main session at the Internet Governance Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2009 and proceeded to shout down an ITU representative who asked about IP block allocation.

In October 2010, a very tentative peace agreement was reached after some highly contentious discussions at the ITU's Plenipotentiary in Guadalajara. The ITU recognized ICANN (and a number of other Internet organizations) in a footnote and vowed to work with the organization on issues of shared interest.

Mistrust

Nothing came of that agreement however, and ICANN is still refusing to become a sector member of the ITU in order not to give the ITU perceived legitimacy in the Internet space. For his part, Toure consistently points to ICANN's procedural flaws, delays and reliance on the US government as a way of bolstering the ITU's position over the Internet.

The decision by Chehade and Crocker to attend is all the more interesting given what has been a frenzied attack on the ITU and WCIT in recent weeks by the US governments and mostly US-based organizations, particularly Google's Vint Cerf, who for seven years was ICANN's chair.

Chehade has promised to internationalize the organization he took over in September this year as well as work more cooperatively with other organizations in the Internet sphere.