Grey Ribbon Campaign calls for Open ICANN Board Meetings
ICANN At-Large Membership Study Commmittee
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
by James Love Consumer Project on Technology http://www.cptech.org
I'm here at the ICANN meeting, having arrived in the late afternoon. I briefly sat in the on a meeting about the .org bids, and in another meeting organized by the "icannatlarge.com" organizing effort, which featured quite surprising presentations by Esther Dyson, followed by about 5 hours of gossip, drinks and food in the Marriott Grand Hotel, where the meeting is being held. We have wi-fi, which makes email easy.
Everything will lead up to the ICANN board meeting on Friday, and so far it looks like a depressing week. Most people say the June 20 "Blueprint for reform" document will be approved with a few changes on Friday. Among other things, ICANN is seeking to eliminate any possibility that there will ever be votes from the general public for anything, and doing its best to pass this off this as some consensus decision. ICANN also proposes to abandon an independent review board, and is seeking to adopt a statement on policy making that opens the door to just about anything.
The main thing here is about raising fears about what will happen if people don't go along with the ICANN "reform" proposal, no matter how bad it is. Many of these are seemingly inconsistent, and appeal as much to emotions as reason. Top on the list is the resentment toward the US for its current perceived control over the Internet DNS. Recent statements by members of Congress are being used to work people up over the US government taking over the ICANN functions. A large number of persons here find this a compelling reason to sign off on almost anything here, so that ICANN can (drum roll) sign a new MoU with the US DoC. Apparently having a really bad ICANN and DoC is held out as much better than DoC running the DNS without ICANN, as if this is something to worry about (plausible as a sustainable alternative), or the likely outcome of a failed ICANN.
Second on the list of feared things is the ITU, one possible replacement for the US DoC if there wasinternational management of the DNS. The ITU is now receiving some member government support for taking a greater look a the DNS, particularly among developing countries. One of the issues here would be the redelegation issue for ccTLDs, an obvious role that ITU could play. A number of persons here express fear that this would lead to undesired national government involvement in the way some ccTLDs are run, on the theory that the current ambiguity of who controls the ccTLDs has prevented some countries from being too ambitious in regulating domestic Internet activity (or taking away lucrative franchises). Clearly some ccTLD operators are nervous about ICANN, and some ccTLDs are nervous about national governments. For those who are worried about domestic governments, they had hoped ICANN would provide a buffer.
I asked people, if you don't want the US DoC to have the DNS MoU, and you don't want the ITU, what do you want? The GAC? The answer among many was, nothing - they want ICANN without any government involvement. What seems missing from this wish is any evidence that governments will just turn everything over to ICANN and give ICANN a blank check to do whatever it wants, without any public accountability. Plus, ICANN is asking goverments to take a larger role, and they are.
Meanwhile, ICANN itself looks more and more like a cartel, or a quasi-government that seeks taxes and unwanted supervision of a cartel. Verisigin doesn't want an expansion of the name space, unless they can run everything, and neither do the ccTLDs. ICANN is doing approximately zero to introduce new TLDs. This problem is so obvious that ICANN is being warned that if can face antitrust law suits, an issue Joe Sims is advising the ICANN board on, I was told.
The at large organizing meeting was small and even I was surprised at how weak the support is here for elections of any kind. Esther Dyson and Denise Michel gave long presentations on how the board would not tolerate anything that involved the general public electing board members, and they described the new official ICANN "reform" version of the at large, which is a highly structured consultation system, that ICANN controls from the top, and which is not capable of holding votes from individuals. Esther went on about how unpopular elections and were in Asia and parts of Latin America, and how little support there was for elections among the non US members of the ICANN board.
At one point I said "look, in the White Paper, individuals were going to have 8 of 19 board seats. In Cairo this was reduced to 5 elected members. Then there was talk after Accra of having an at large as a supporting organization, with 3 board members. Now in the blueprint document, they will have 1 of 19 members of a nominating committee. Can you tell me how that 1 member will be chosen?" At this point, Dyson told me I should stop criticizing people, and be constructive. The answer, of course, is that the ICANN board cannot tolerate even the election of one person to a 19 member nominating committee. Apparently the mere existence of a system for having elections is a taboo, because it might lead to demands that elections be used for more important things, and could provide evidence that the public doesn't agree with the decisions of the hand picked board members. Of course, it is ironic that we having this meeting in Romania, and headed next to the People's Republic of China, to finish the job of eliminating democratic input or mechanisms to express dissent or popular opposition to ICANN Board policies.
Three members of the atlarge.com temporary steering committee (Vittorio Bertola, Izumi Aizu, and Wolfgang Kleinwaechter) and were at the at large meeting, and to my suprise, each of them signaled a willingness to accept the ICANN proposal to abandon any voting from individuals, in favor of a promise by ICANN to consulate with the public on issues. The Dyson, Michel suggestion is to be very docile, or the ICANN board won't even allow the consultation process. It is of course also relevant
that the ICANN board wants to strip the ICANN General Assembly from the right to elect its own chair or vote on any motions.
I got into a debate with Denise about the value of pushing for a harder line on a role for the public in ICANN, mentioning the possibility that the US government could protect the rights of individuals in the ICANN process. Densie told us that she had 20 years of policy experience, and she knew exactly what was going to happen. She said: The US Senate would do nothing. The US House of Representatives would do nothing. The DoC would accept a slightly modified MoU in the fall, and the ICANN board would adopt the blueprint, without elections, in Shanghai.
Tonite Andy Mueller told me the ICANN board had one of its secret get togethers this evening, and agreed to approve the blueprint on Friday, with a few changes. The board is closing ranks, and trying only to cut whatever deals it needs to get the registries to go along. The $.25 per domain tax is not in the bag, according to some, while others say it will go through. There is an army of registry/registrars attending, but very few domain holders are here to complain about the tax, or to ask why they should have to pay, if they have no voice in the organization. The tax was just proposed on June 20. People have very low expectations that the US DoC will do anything to back consumer or civil society concerns about ICANN, and seem willing to give up on lots of things.
James Love, Consumer Project on Technology