ICANN Cannot, Say Criticsgreenspun.com : LUSENET : Unk's Wild Wild West : One Thread
ICANN Cannot, Say Critics
By Steve Kettmann
Jun 09, 2001 02:00 a.m. PDT
BERLIN -- Last weekend's four-day quarterly meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was such a fiasco, it has strengthened the calls for major structural changes in the board.
Andy Mueller-Maguhn, one of five at-large board members elected late last year, abstained from a vote to approve the minutes of the previous meeting, explaining he had not read any such minutes.
"Fifteen minutes later it was discovered that there were no minutes," Muller-Maguhn said. "But that is the mentality on the ICANN board: Always to say yes. It's a lot like in the old East Germany."
The embarrassing phantom-minutes vote -- and the rubber-stamp image it helps create -- was just one detail that has emerged of a meeting many critics say illustrates the ICANN board's inefficiency and lack of responsiveness to the world's Internet users.
Only five of the 19 board members were elected, leaving a board that many see as skewed in its worldview.
"ICANN's founding premise, as defined by the attorneys who put it together, was that the only people who should have a voice in ICANN were stakeholders, which is essentially a code word that means someone who makes money from the Internet," said Karl Auerbach of California, another elected board member.
"If you're an Internet user, and you end up paying the bills, ICANN's perspective is that you don't count," he said. "It has made the end user the victim."
That has Mueller-Maguhn, Auerbach and others looking at ways to shake things up -- and they might want your help.
"ICANN has serious structural problems," Mueller-Maguhn said. "Hacking ICANN might be the next logical step. The question is how can this unsatisfactory situation be solved."
Auerbach argues that regular people need to get involved to put pressure on ICANN. Right now, ICANN has a study committee looking into possible changes in the board. That might include adding more elected members -- but it could also include reducing the number.
"Andy and I are just two votes out of 19," Auerbach said. "We're going to keep losing.... And ICANN could very well eradicate Andy and myself. Our seats could disappear.
"People have to participate in this at-large study committee and make it quite clear that any reduction in the role of the at-large board members will not be tolerated. Everybody who uses the Internet should realize that whatever voice they have is potentially being taken away."
But Louis Touton, ICANN's vice president, cast the work of the at-large study committee -- headed by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt -- in a much different light. He said that some were concerned by relatively light turnout in last year's elections for the five elected board members. A total of 130 votes were cast in the Africa region, for example, and Nii Quaynor won by receiving just 67 votes.
"ICANN had an online voting process last year in which five of the 19 ICANN directors were selected, and that process is being studied right now," Touton said. "Some people in the community are concerned that it didn't go very well, both in terms of the number of people who voted and also the concern that narrow interests might have influenced it.
"One of the big challenges for ICANN is to figure out how best to represent the different segments of the Internet community, including Internet users generally. It is fair to say that generally in the community, there's a long way to go before you could come to anything like general consensus on how ICANN ought to be structured."
The major action at last weekend's meeting in Stockholm concerned a vote by a working group of country-code top level domains to pull out of the Domain Name Supporting Organization and instead seek direct representation on the board. That could give ICANN another excuse to limit the participation of elected at-large members.
Mueller-Maguhn even questions how truly representative are the views of the five elected at-large board members? "Are all these five really representing Internet users? That's another question," he said.
He said that at last weekend's meeting in Stockholm, he was somewhat late leaving the meeting room -- and was dismayed to see two buses marked "Network Solutions" taking virtually all of the participants in the meeting to a function it was sponsoring.
"I was surprised to see that," he said. "Network Solutions is like an octopus with their tentacles stretching out everywhere."
Corporate control has to be fought, Auerbach said, and that starts with getting more board members to represent Internet users, not fewer.
"The at-large membership should have at a minimum half the board, which would be 10 seats," he said. "I think the entire board should be elected. I do not believe that any commercial interests should be represented.
"Here in the United States, corporations do not vote for President or Congress, but they have no trouble making their voices heard.
I'm not worried about them not making their voices heard with ICANN. Right now they have virtually 100 percent control."
How does that work in practice?
For example, ICANN announced in March that it had negotiated a new contract with VeriSign -- and presented the new contract to the board as an either/or choice between the old contract and the new one. That did not sit too well with Auerbach and others.
"I believe ICANN staff is completely out of control," he said. "The board largely just rubber stamps what the staff does. It's not just ICANN's internal staff. Joe Sims works for a firm we hire. He went out on his own and initiated a complete rewrite of the VeriSign contract that made VeriSign billions of dollars wealthier.
"The board was never asked our opinions. It was presented on a plate to us in Melbourne with a take it or leave it attitude. It's shocking. It's absolutely inappropriate behavior. ICANN's staff pretends it's the emperor and ICANN is a policy organization, but the staff has no accountability, no transparency. The board is the policy-making organ, and yet it has abrogated its responsibility to staff."
That could mean that ICANN plays itself out of a good hand. After all, their power ultimately comes from the cooperation of Internet users.
"If a significant number of Internet users were to simply point their machines to another root server, where would ICANN be?"
Auerbach asked. "The only reason it has authority is because of inertia."
-- Cherri (email@example.com), June 10, 2001
Cherri, would you restate this in simpler and fewer words? Why should internet users get involved and in what?
-- helen?? (firstname.lastname@example.org), June 10, 2001.