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C-F No. 10 - Comments  
CivSoc of CPSR
Comments on Cyber-Federalist No. 10 - The Origins of ICANN's At Large Membership Submit comments by Email.

Thomas Roessler
2 April 2001

As a comment on the latest issue of the Cyber Federalist, Geraldine Capdeboscq makes some interesting remarks on the role and function of the At Large Membership.  She first notes that experts were fine for the management of the Internet as long as the US government was an accepted arbitrator between the interests involved. She then notes that they are still much better managers than consumer representatives, since they knowabout the "real problems", and possible solutions.

This brings up a first question: Is ICANN just about technical management?  Things such as the existence of the UDRP or the latest Verisign-related trouble make it abundantly clear that ICANN is more than just technical management.  And is it really just the consumer representatives who make things slow and cumbersome?  Or is it the very fact that different interests are at stake?  The struggle between ICANN staff and board and the DNSO over the Verisign Deal suggests that, from a technocratic point of view, almost any participation of those affected by decisions makes the process slow, cumbersome, and complicated.  Arguing only from an efficiency point of view, this kind of participation should be removed, and things should be left to ICANN's staff.  (Excercise for the reader: Apply this kind of argument to any democratic constitution.  Look at what
comes out after you applied the argument.)

In any event, I don't buy the "it's just about management, let the technocrats do it, they know better than the general public" style of argument which Geraldine is proposing. I also don't buy the role of a court jester for the At Large membership (and the DNSO?). There's more to the ICANN process than just reminding the technocrats that they are mere mortals, and may make errors.

Recalling the kind of language we are all so familiar with, ICANN is about the Internet community managing the DNS. However, it's not (or rather: it should not be) about a small part of the Internet community (possibly single, interested parties which capture the process) imposing rules on the rest of that community, and the net as a whole.

Of course, there may be "technocratic" approaches which actually may work - just let those corporations manage the DNS for whom the functioning of the name system and the Internet as a whole is business-critical.

But ICANN is not built in this way. Stakeholders of all kinds have been invited to participate in the process - now, efficiency can't be a reasoning for excluding certain groups, and it can certainly NOT be the reasoning for excluding end users.

Speaking a bit cynically, ICANN has opened up Pandora's box of participation quite some time ago.  They shouldn't expect to get the general Internet users back into that box.

Geraldine Capdeboscq
ex At Large interim member of the Icann board (1998/2000)
28 March 2001

Internet specialists were the best managers for internet problems as long as the majority of Internet Users (or consumers) were in the USA, where the Government, (or the Attorney of California) is  able to arbitrate on subjects which cannot be ruled only by university's or big companies's specialists.

They are still much better managers (as they are aware of the real current issues, and of what technical solutions could be choosen) than representatives of users, or consumers, who are not even aware of most aspects of the questions under discussion.

But  they have less and less authority to "rule" the Internet evolution, as its development requires now arbitrations on subjects depending of other regions of the world, where the authority of the US Government cannot be accepted as such,  and no global authority is in place. (The GAC creation however, was a temptative answer to the need of global authority...)

Simultaneously, the incredible growth of business interests involved in "Internet" developments gave more influence to companies with a global position, whose nature is to be more interested by customers  than by governments (supposed to represent citizens and different needs ) and to want to impose their business model .... whatever the local objections,which are supposed to be due to underdevelopment and unwillingness to understand the new  ways of progress.

The fact that potential customers are not necessarily citizens of democratic countries and that some internet users are even citizens of very undemocratic countries, and see the Web as a lever for freedom contributes to justify this approach.

Hence , the confusing messages of Icann between 1999 and 2000,  pushing the mixed notions of  Internet-Users and of Internet-democraty, and the discussions about the At Large Membership, which were led by Icann Management in total agreement with the US Governement, in such a way that the At Large Membership  was created , but could do nothing except  noise, and was positioned in the Icann structure as far as possible from the key discussions  on real issues.

And, as one of the reasons to create Icann ,rather than a public, UNO-like structure,was that it would be slow,  costly and unmanageable, it is not a surprise that Icann finds it difficult and costly and unmanageable to deal with representatives of users, which are less organised, and structured, and accustomed to compromise than governments, and in much more important numbers

De facto,  Icann  is now as tightly controlled by a small number of american specialists as Iana was, before Icann creation. As I am not a member of Icann anymore, I do not know what will be their relationship with the new Governement of the US, nor their ability to arbitrate between the interests at stake between the key funding companies, and their real power.

Then, is the At large Membership important anymore? However fuzzy, unfocussed, irrealistic, etc....the contributions of the At Large Members sometimes are, I think  they are usefull, at least 

  • to remind the Icann specialists  of their very weak legitimacy, and to make them aware of the sensitivity of some subjects 
  • and to ask the democratic governements to pay enough attention to  the conditions and consequences of Internet developments.

Is the At Large organisation well organised and efficient? Certainly it could be improved, in particular to better identify the representation of customers (by sectorial areas?) and of citizens (by geographies?)

But now, who or what  will be their lever ? As before, even if it will be more difficult : their legitimate will to understand and if possible control the evolution of something which is challenging so much our way of living : the Internet.

Craig Johnson
27 March 2001

Interesting take on the machinations that led up to where we are now.  However, people such as Tony Rutkowski, Stef, Milton, and even our own CPSR working group -- with comments on the green and white papers and participation in the ILPF process -- played a significant role in critiquing the "professional membership" approach of ISOC. 

Incidentally, you left out Tony's web site, which is still one of the best DNS resources --

CPSR Comments on DNS Reform. Comments before the NTIA, August, 1997 
CPSR Comments on "Green Paper". Comments before the NTIA, March, 1998. 
CPSR Proposals for the new Corporation. June 30, 1998 




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