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Cyber-Federalist 2: Yokohama Meeting


Reflections on the ICANN Meeting in Yokohama

July 17, 2000

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)
The Internet Democracy Project


ICANN's board meeting in Yokohama Japan wrapped up yesterday after an eventful four days.
What follows here is a report of the major events:
    1. Government Officials Question Privatization
    2. User Representation Not Killed, Only Weakened
    3. New TLDs -- $50,000 to Apply
    4. Launch of the Civil Society Internet Forum

1. Government Officials Question Privatization
ICANN received some remarkable public criticism in Yokohama from two high government officials.  Paul Twomey (head of the Governmental Advisory Committee) and Christopher Wilkinson (the European Union's lead official on ICANN) made comments relating to a proposed bylaws revision to reduce and possibly eliminate elected (At Large) user representatives on the Board.  The officials warned that an unbalanced Board could invite government oversight of ICANN -- which could, in effect, end the ICANN experiment in privatization.

In separate public comments, these two officials presented a vision of the ICANN board as consisting of two parts: an Internet supply industry association (the 9 Supporting Organization directors) and a consumer association (the 9 At Large members).  In this vision the two associations balance each other, with industrial interests matched by consumer interests.

To date, however, only the industry association part has been implemented, leaving industry interests unopposed by consumer interests.  With only one interest represented, ICANN risks becoming a supply industry association.  (To use language only slightly more direct than that of the officials, ICANN risks becoming a cartel -- a combination of independent business organizations formed to regulate supply of goods by the members.  Cartels are often illegal or regulated.)

Twomey noted that if ICANN would continue to develop as a one-sided industry association, then it might be necessary for governments to regulate it to protect consumer interests.

In other words, the fundamental principle underlying ICANN -- that the Internet should be managed by the private sector -- was publicly questioned by two officials.

2. User Representation Not Killed, Only Weakened
Policies about elections were the hottest issues in Yokohama.  In addition to government officials, numerous participants also spoke out against the proposal to reduce At Large directors.  Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy and Technology, who sounded the initial alarm about this proposal just a few days before the Yokohama meeting, was among those who spoke cogently at the public comment period.

Nonetheless, the final bylaws revision adopted by the Board still weakens user representation.  While five directors will be elected this fall, the remaining four seats will remain closed for another two years (until the Annual Meeting of 2002).  Thus, user representation will be constrained at 5 of 19 seats, rather than 9 of 19 as envisioned in the bylaws.

The near-unanimity of Board members in their support for measures to weaken At Large representation was striking.  Of nineteen directors only one, Vint Cerf, questioned the reduction. All other directors were either silent or spoke in favor of the proposal to reduce elected representatives.

Rules for electing At Large directors also changed.  The Board lowered the threshold for candidate nominations from 10% to 2%.  In light of the possibility that a very large number of individuals might receive nominations, the Board capped the number of nominees at not more than seven per region.

See the final resolutions:

3. New TLDs -- $50,000 to Apply
The Board's decision on new top-level domain names (TLDs) was mixed.  Before the meeting, many people predicted that a very small number of TLDs would be authorized, perhaps as few as two.  Yet in discussions, Board members talked more of a range of six to ten.  Ultimately they left the number undetermined.

The big surprise was the application fee: the mere submission of an application to operate a new TLD will cost USD $50,000.  The Board felt this was necessary to cover evaluation costs.  While such a fee might be appropriate for businesses, there was concern that it could effectively eliminate non-commercial applicants.

The Board also singled out protection for intellectual property rights as a consideration in selecting who would be awarded a new TLD.  This priority given to commercial rights in Internet coordination (as opposed to rights of speech, privacy, or consumers) is consistent with previous Board policies.

See the final resolutions:

4. Civil Society Internet Forum
The Yokohama meeting was the scene of intense activity by civil society groups.  While organizations like the Association for Computing Machinery, the Consumer Project on Technology, and the Center for Democracy and Technology have regularly represented the civil society perspective at ICANN meetings, the coming At Large elections have stimulated more groups from more regions to become active.

This meeting was notable for two new initiatives.  First, some thirty NGOs from Korea traveled to Japan to attend the meeting.  This was the biggest civil society participation in an ICANN meeting to date.  They were led by the Korean Internet Forum, which sponsored an ICANN workshop in Seoul just days before the Yokohama event. See:

The second initiative was organized by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR, this author's affiliate organization) working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in the Internet Democracy Project and also with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and JCA-Net of Japan.

These groups' Yokohama forum was one of the biggest non-commercial meetings of the four-day period, with some seventy people in attendance.  There they discussed the "Civil Society Statement on ICANN Elections," a comprehensive list of issues for the upcoming elections.  This document won approval "in principle" at the forum. The Statement is still in a comment period and can be found at:

During the four days in Yokohama these two movements came together to form the "Civil Society Internet Forum." The Civil Society Internet Forum will define a public space in each of ICANN's five electoral region for discussion and debate around elections. The guiding values of the Forum include democratic participation, open processes, and a fair balance between rights of trademark, consumers, speech, and privacy in ICANN policy-making.

Over one hundred participants at the Yokohama conference signed a petition supporting the mission of the civil society forum and urging ICANN to work with it to promote user participation in ICANN elections.  The petition was accepted by ICANN Board Chair Esther Dyson.

The Steering Committee of the new Civil Society Internet Forum consists of:
* Myung Koo Kang (Korean Internet Forum) (Interim Chair)
* Wolfgang Kleinwaechter (ICANN Studienkreis, Germany)
* Kimberly Heitman (Electronic Frontiers Australia)
* Karen Higgs (nominated) (Association for Progressive Communications, Ecuador)
* Pierre Ouedraogo (Institut francophone des nouvelles technologies de l'information et de la formation/INTIF, Burkina Faso)
* Hans Klein (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, USA)
(Institutional affiliations given for identification purposes only.)

The web site for the Civil Society Internet Forum is:  (temporary)

The Civil Society Internet Forum will serve as a global vehicle for user participation in ICANN elections.  Although its listserv is not yet implemented, interested individuals can stay informed by subscribing to the Cyber-Federalist (instructions below).

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The author's participation in ICANN Board meeting was made possible by support from the Markle Foundation's Salzburg Seminar Fund and from the Open Society Institute.


CYBER-FEDERALIST is a regularly-published series of analyses and commentaries on
Internet governance and ICANN elections. It is produced by CPSR as part of the
Internet Democracy Project. See:

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