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RealTime IT News

ICANN Stifling Public's Voice?

Despite what critics call overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the committee formed to determine how the Internet should be run finds that less, not more, individual representation is needed at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Furthermore, at-large study committee (ALSC) members finds that only domain name owners should represent the interests of the largest Internet governing body in the world, not individual users -- a decision affecting million of Internet users worldwide.

A final draft proposal, obtained by internetnews.com, will make its way to ICANN directors next week, the end result of a proposal originally put forward in August. The committee has spent the past several months looking for support from the Internet community, hoping its open forum would find some traction among the Internet community.

The committee didn't find it, but ultimately decided to stay with its original proposal.

The committee's decision to reduce the number of elected ICANN directors from nine to six is a direct violation of ICANN's promise to the Department of Commerce and the worldwide Internet community, critics say.

Dr. Hans Klein, board chair of the Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and long-time ICANN member, said in an email to ALSC forum members that the board restructuring is bad for the Internet and violates the organization's original promise.

"It is a bad idea and should be dropped," Klein said. "It creates a new class of stakeholders whose representation will confer benefits on the old Internet insider community (IANA, ISOC, IHAC, etc.). It violates the principle of balance in the Newco privatization agreement of 1998 that led to ICANN. That agreement structured the board as 9-1-9. Whether we like that structure or not, it is the basic condition for Internet privatization."

He went on to say that although board members themselves have done a lot of good work putting the report together, committee members did little to interact with its forum members and didn't reach consensus.

In the days leading up to the draft proposal, when it looked like the ALSC was going to vote for the adoption of six at-large members anyway, individual members of the ALSC forum, to reach a consensus and build up documentation, conducted a straw poll. Every one called for the ALSC to retain the nine at-large seats as set forth in the ICANN bylaws.

Jeff Williams, a spokesperson for the Information Network Engineering Group, has an issue with the proposed draft, which ALSC officials maintain is "based on an extensive outreach, discussion, research, and consensus-building campaign," and looks to drop the number of at-large members from nine to six.

Williams said that quite vocal disagreement with the ALSC committee over at-large membership has been widespread, and the decision reached was no consensus at all.

"They were supposed to take comments from the forum and base their opinion on those people who participated and maybe some other outside opinions," Williams said. "They're supposed to be an independent council, but I haven't seen anything that shows they're reflecting individual people."

Williams said the results of the straw poll were sent to the Commerce Department Tuesday. There has been no response, he said.

When applying for governance of the fledgling domain name system (which includes the .com, .net and .org domains) in 1997, ICANN promised to form a 19-member board of directors with one president. Nine were to be duly elected representatives from around the world to represent the common Internet user (called at-large members), the other nine were to be selected from the three ICANN supporting organizations.

Four of ICANN's original board members, which were selected to serve a one-year term, decided to stay after the DoC approved the contract with the non-profit Marina Del Ray, Calif.-based organization in 1998. At the time, they cited a need to keep some continuity in the organization. Four at-large seats were given to the newly dubbed "board squatters," who have remained on the board since.

It's sparked worldwide criticism from advocates and Internet users alike, who view the four board members as usurpers to duly elected representation on the world's largest Internet governing body. Critics say that ICANN, given a worldwide mandate to make the Internet secure, has handed the operation over to big business.

To stem the tide of growing outrage, ICANN directors formed the ALSC to look into at-large membership and ways to improve the current system.

The committee's decision is to use the three seats taken from the at-large membership and create another ICANN supporting agency similar to the domain name supporting organization (DNSO), address supporting organization (ASO) and protocol supporting organization (PSO).

The newly created at-large supporting organization (ALSO) would only be open to domain name holders, a stricture many find unacceptable. Domain name holders, they say, don't make up the majority of the Internet: users do. Not allowing users to have a voice stymies the thoughts and ideas of a large block of people, the critics say.

The ALSC decision also ties into what ICANN considers a legitimate domain name. Despite common belief, ICANN only makes up one part of the Internet, albeit a major part. Around the world, alternate root servers have been in business long before ICANN was even an idea.

These alternate (or inclusive, as they like to say) roots have been selling domain extensions like .biz for years. But ICANN doesn't recognize them and won't consider domain owners from these other sources as legitimate Internet users, a fact that has many infuriated.

This policy has the Internet community, mainly those outside the U.S., infuriated. The U.S., the first to really cash in on the .com and .net craze, left out much of the international community, and many outside the U.S. use alternate roots to conduct their own online businesses because the prime .com and .net addresses were taken.

New.net, an alternate root that's caused a stir in the Internet community with its increasingly popular group of domain extensions (seen by more than 70 million users worldwide), has been trying gain representation in ICANN's Business Constituency group, so far with no luck.

Andy Duff, New.net director of policy and marketing, said that ICANN's policy-making decisions to date haven't reflected its charter.

"Exclusionary policies can only add to ICANN's current list of woes," Duff said. "In many ways, it's the fact that they haven't fulfilled their own stated objective 'to operate as an open, transparent, and consensus-based body that is broadly representative of the diverse stakeholder communities of the global Internet' -- that has led to the current situation where they come in for so much criticism, and are faced with a number of perceived challenges to their authority. ICANN's authority comes from the consensus that it creates, and unfortunately there are not many people who would argue that they have created that consensus yet."

Esther Dyson, an ALSC committee member and former ICANN board of director, said that the goal of the ALSC is to look for consensus among interested parties, "we're not supposed to be making decisions," she said

ALSC officials said they don't expect ICANN directors to make a decision on the proposal until sometime next year.