Governing the Commons:
The Future of Global Internet Administration
September 24-25, 1999, Alexandria, VA, U.S.A.
Statement by Theresa Amato
The Consumer Project on Technology & Executive Director, Citizen Advocacy Center
Civis Romanus sum, Ich bin eine Berliner (sic), I am an Internet user. Today, the global boast of freedom is "I am online."
I am an Internet user. I don't own a domain name. I don't know about addresses and protocols. I don't sell anything online. I don't belong to CPSR or ISOC. And, I don't work for NSI. I am just an individual who uses the Internet to work, to play, and to live better.
So why am I losing sleep over the current attempts to administer the future of the Internet?
In November of 1998, when the Department of Commerce designated ICANN, the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers, to serve as the entity responsible for four key functions of the Internet, many questioned why a U.S. private sector nonprofit corporation would be an appropriate vehicle for global Internet administration. If the U.S. government just needs someone to assign names and numbers, why do we need to create a private sector nonprofit governing structure to do this, and why should this global common resource be subject to the powers of the attorney general of California? If the idea is to create a global governing structure that will make Internet policy decisions about the domain name system, the allocation of address space, the assignment of protocol parameters, and the management of the root server system, then what will be the structure and powers of this new regime, what is its source of legitimacy, and how will it embody the inclusive, bottom-up characteristics of the Net while ensuring competition and stability?
In January, the Berkman Center for Internet & Society hosted a membership conference to discuss models for ICANN membership. In the ensuing months, several stakeholders from around the world poured a tremendous amount of energy, working fast and furiously, to create three ICANN supporting organizations, several working groups, and provisional charters. Yet, as uncivil wars unfolded on the net about how this entity called ICANN should be developed, if at all, and as reports of the ICANN meetings and resolutions in Singapore and Berlin were posted, distress signals started to emerge with greater volume.
In late spring, Michael Froomkin, David Post, and David Farber, who are all on the conference agenda, created ICANNWatch, and in early summer, Ralph Nader and Jamie Love sent Esther Dyson a letter filled with questions seeking some answers about the powers and role of this entity that would adminster the Internet. Congress held a hearing entitled "Is ICANN Out of Control?"
Last month, I had the opportunity to go to Santiago, Chile for the Consumer Project on Technology to watch the development of ICANN first hand, from the end-user perspective. On the first morning of the first day of my first chance to see up close how ICANN operates, I was told I couldn't attend the Government Advisory Committee meeting, despite the fact that it is a standing committee of ICANN, and despite the fact that ICANN's bylaws state that ICANN shall operate in an open and transparent manner. The Secretariat of this committee said that being a U.S. citizen didn't constitute having the proper credentials. So my first observation was, why is administration of the Internet secret and statist?
On the afternoon of the first day, I watched as the Domain Name Supporting Organization people met. ICANN is structured to allow seven predominantly commercial constituencies to discuss the administration of domain names, but there is no room for the individual domain name holders. When the DNSO General Assembly passed a resolution to support a petition for inclusion by Individual Domain Name Holders, the ICANN Board would not accept the General Assembly's resolution. So, why is Internet domain name administration dominated by commercial interests? And, why is there no room for the individual domain name holders in the discussion of Internet domain name policy? What is the relationship between the constituencies and the Board? And, where are the voices of all the other stakeholders?
On the morning of the second day, I learned that the ICANN grievance procedure prevents the ordinary user from having any role in determining who would be the arbiter of disputes over ICANN's decisions. The supporting organizations can help pick the judges, but the members -- the Internet users, have no say. When ICANN starts to pass policies that look like legislation, such as determining the terms of agreement between ICANN-accredited registrars and registrants, and the rights or lack thereof of end-users, where does an Internet consumer go to seek redress, and under what law? Making policies for the assignment of names and the routing of numbers does not seem to be the equivalent of just assigning names and routing numbers.
On the afternoon of the second day, I learned that all the competing businesses can sit around and agree exactly on the dispute policies that they will use. I also learned that the ICANN Board was willing to create a whole level of bureaucracy to avoid giving potential, future, "maybe we will have them or not some day" members of their corporation any derivative action rights. By this point, I started to wonder why someone would want to be a member of an organization in which everything looked tilted against them.
On the third day, the first open official meeting of the ICANN Board, I learned that at a public meeting ICANN could cover such diverse subjects as the ongoing lack of membership, dispute resolution, supporting organizations, grievance procedures, domain names, funding, terms of office, and approve everything, with little discussion and no objection in record speed.
Thus, a month ago, I left Chile with the impression that everyone was in a big hurry to get something done. That disenchantment with the status quo -- and the prevalent feelings among those present that anything would be better than the U.S. Government and Network Solutions, Inc. -- meant that Internet governance decisions would be made by ICANN, even if it were no more than a tin can.
The developments of the last decade make apparent the need to discuss what we are creating in the name of Internet administration. CPSR should be congratulated for hosting this conference to take a serious look at the challenges of governing a global common resource.
What kind of administration is necessary for the Internet? And, is there any current institution or model fit to administer the Internet?
Here, in the unenviable position of helping to enlighten us about the
last decade of technological and governance issues, and where ICANN is,
could, or should be going are our three very distinguished panelists, Jean
Camp, Hans Klein, and Tamar Frankel.
Created before October 2004