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ALSC Chair Defends ICANN Report

The chairman of the committee that recently drew up a report with recommended changes for individual representation at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) defended the paper's position Friday.

ICANN, the Internet governing authority on the popular U.S. root domain server, which hosts the .com, .net and .org to name a few, will hold its semi-annual meeting Sept. 7-10 in Uruguay, South America. A week before this international event, the At-Large Study Committee (ALSC) came up with its own ideas for "common folk" representation by Internet domain name owners.

In an interview with Internetnews.com from his business in Geneva, Switzerland, ALSC Chair Carl Bildt responded to charges by critics that the draft report is a step back in equal representation and a violation of ICANN bylaws, and overall is pleased with the initial reaction.

"We're very encouraged by the response so far, not everyone is going to be happy, but we've had more positive response than we expected," Bildt said.

The not-for-profit group, formed by the U.S. Department of Commerce to provide policy guidance on U.S. root domain server in 1998, has drawn considerable ire from Internet advocacy groups for the refusal by some of its directors to step down.

The At-Large Study Committee (ALSC) was formed at the behest of these directors to find a peaceful solution to a problem that's quickly achieving critical mass in terms of bad publicity.

According to the ICANN bylaws established in 1998, there were to be nine sitting at-large board directors, nine directors from ICANNs three supporting organizations and one president/chief executive officer. This 19-member board of directors is responsible for all the policy guidance affecting the U.S. root domain server. As ICANN got its start, nine board of directors were called in for one-year terms to get the organization up and running.

One year later, claiming that continuity was critical for the continued success of ICANN, the original nine directors voted behind closed doors to extend the terms of four of the original members beyond the promised one-year term.

So now you have four "board squatters," as many in the Internet community call them, taking up four of the nine "electable" at-large seats. Those four have remained as directors to this day; for many in the Internet community, that's a travesty of justice, a betrayal of the independent and individual nature of the Internet

Critics point out that many international organizations agreed to abide by ICANN's authority only because these bylaws were instituted. Getting rid of bylaws that seem a bother to the directors, they say, will alienate the very international support ICANN needs to ensure the safety and stability of the Internet, its primary mission.

Bildt defends the report, saying that ICANN directors called on ALSC members to make recommendations that weren't based on current bylaws.

"The bylaws have never been implemented and that's the reason why we were set up," Bildt said. "The mandate we were given by ICANN board was to do a 'clean sheet' study and we have discussed every single alternative in sight. We are in no way bound by the current bylaws, bylaws that can be changed -- they're not the 10 Commandments, they are (just) the structure at the present."

Michael Froomkin, professor of law at the University of Miami, said that the committee's report is a compromise that attempts to mollify both sides of the aisle, but which leads to an unfair outcome. The threat of a lawsuit or action by the Commerce Department is likely the only way to get these board squatters out of their seats, he said.

"When the committee was first appointed, I and others noted how odd it was to have people on (the ALSC) who were against end-user representation, and some real neutrals, but no one who was on record for it," Froomkin said. "ICANN said that it would be wrong to have 'partisans' but of course didn't see that the people on record against the nine directors as at all partisan. This (report) is what you get when you leave one important point of view off the committee."

Another observer likened the committee selection to the state of Florida deciding to form up an electoral reform committee and putting only Republicans on the board, leaving Democrats out of the loop.

Bildt disagreed, saying relative newcomers to the at-large debate were selected to sit on the ALSC, to avoid partisan thinking.

"I don't think that any one point of view wasn't represented, and that was the intention," Bildt said. "We were selected by the ICANN board coming from different places around the world, most of us who had not been part of the previous debate but taking, rather, a fresh look at the debate of how to make an ICANN structure that can work."

Despite vocal disagreements at board meetings and Web sites like ICANNwatch.org, which criticizes the current dearth of at-large members, the report concluded "despite extensive efforts, the ALSC has found it difficult to generate a high degree of interest in these issues."

In the end, the ALSC recommended ICANN develop an At-Large Supporting Organization, similar to the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO), Address Supporting Organization (ASO) and Protocol Supporting Organization.

The committee also recommended that elections for six at-large seats be held next year, and that these directors hold office for a period of three years. The six seats would come from six different regions around the world, although the committee hasn't named the regions, possibly a nod to demands by smaller countries for a supporting organization that represents country code top level domains (ccTLDs).

For many, that's a step back in progress and breaking the bylaws established with help from the Internet community and blessed by the U.S. government.

Bildt maintains the final draft is just that, a draft. The meetings in Uruguay will be a good time, he said, for everyone to hash out the details of the report, before the finalized report is sent to ICANN directors at the beginning of November. In the two months between now and then, he said, changes to the draft can be made.

ICANN officials are expected to approve the report in mid-November.