Large Membership: ICANN's Ultimate Tar Baby
By Ellen Rony -
Prepared comments delivered as a panelist at the ICANN
Large Study Committee
Meeting on August 13, 2001
goal is to replace each and every one of the current
Initial Board members as soon as possible, consistent
with creating a process that minimizes the risk of
capture or election fraud, and that will lead to a
truly representative Board.
Esther Dyson, testimony
to the United States House of Representatives'
Committee on Energy and Commerce (July 22,
is ICANN's tar baby. For those unfamiliar with
the Uncle Remus Brer Rabbit stories, a tar baby
is a situation from which it is impossible to
extract yourself. Consider the image.
might not be here today if ICANN
trusted the Internet community. Nine initial,
interim, unelected ICANN board members told us
that we could not elect the full complement of
At Large board members to replace them, even
though we are ICANN's raison d'etre.
We are the
domain name registrants, system administrators,
administrative contacts, content and infrastructure
providers, ISPs, registrars, scientists, researchers, TLD
operators, network engineers, financiers, captains of
industry, entrepreneurs, teachers and students who use
Internet protocol addresses and the domain name system,
and we give ICANN a reason to exist.
Large model initially
ICANN's founders, the Department of Commerce and members
of the Internet community who contributed to the
organizational process has never been tried. Before the
ICANN structure was even given a chance, the fundamental
At Large membership became an endangered species.
held last October was a compromise interim solution
adopted by ICANN's Board. The election showed that the
Internet community can, indeed, rise to the task, despite
significant technical and procedural flaws in the voting
process, despite the board's attempts to establish
constraints on participation and despite a gross
underestimation of public interest in the At Large
disputes the legitimacy of the five elected At Large
board members. But many question the legitimacy of the
four initial members of the board who sit at the table by
virtue private appointment. ICANN will never achieve
legitimacy while they remain.
needs the legitimacy the only popular assent of those
whose Internet activities are affected and shaped by its
policies. can provide it. ICANN will never achieve
fundamental legitimacy without an At Large
no particular magic in the number nine for At Large
membership, except that it represents balance to the
number of elected representatives from the
The SOs are organized as topical forums of specialized
interest and organizational participation &emdash; they
do not cover the broader interests of the general public
in ICANN s issues and policies.
that there is no need for At Large representation because
ICANN is engaged in the narrow responsibility of
coordinating technical parameters for the Internet and
overseeing the root server system. They prefer to
restrict decision making to technical resource managers.
Clearly ICANN needs such technical expertise.
ICANN's discretionary policy making has broad impact
beyond the technical sphere. The Uniform
declared by fiat to be a "consensus policy" was not a
technical decision but established entitlement for the
benefit a particular segment of the Internet community.
creates dramatic change in the long familiar structure of
gTLD administration. It was driven by economic politics
not technical concerns. In
ICANN will decide whether it will employ mechanisms to
displace any of the 2.8 million occupants of .ORG.
with the allocation of Internet resources. ICANN has
developed policies that affect domain industry
competition, pricing, privacy, use, and intellectual
property. Why should we presume that only members of the
techno power elite are qualified to grapple with these
structure needs review and overhaul. The infrastructure
providers--registries, registrars and root server
operators, deserve a seat at the table, their own
infrastructure SO. However, such an overhaul takes time,
and meanwhile there are four board members who still have
voting power without being elected.
At Large Study Committee
has determined after so many discussions and meetings
that yes, there is a public interest vested in ICANN. It
is a "public benefit corporation" and yes, individuals
need a voice.
representation on the board is an obvious necessity--for
legitimacy, to effectively represent public opinion and
interest, to advise on policy, and provide a form of
checks and balances on our reigning
there is no community consensus about ICANN's framework
of operations, so my advice to the ALSC is to
concentrate on immediate remedies.
four specific recommendations.
insist that ICANN make no major policy decisions until
the representation system is functional.
replacing the four original interim board members with
elected representatives. You don't need a new election to
do this. It won't cost anything. The board can appoint
replacements by using the At Large election results to
choose those candidates who received the greatest
percentage of votes for their region.
because of the procedural flaws, it's an imperfect
solution, but I posit that there are fewer alligators in
that swamp than any lame justification for continuing the
terms of the four unelected board members. Direct
elections provide a tangible form of accountability.
Remember, those four have made significant decisions
affecting the Internet but they have not been required to
meet a voting threshold or establish a threshold of
support from any region. They have not received a single
vote. To whom are they accountable?
Public interest in ICANN's activities must be reflected
in its board composition and policy-making structure.
The Internet community feels shortchanged. Public
participation is the antidote for the lack of
A commitment to an At Large membership and strong public
voice in the structure of ICANNs decision making must be
written into the Articles of Incorporation, which are
more difficult to revise than the Bylaws. The bylaws have
gone through nine revisions in less than two years and
provide weak protection for the endangered At Large
ICANN must avoid creating a thicket of new complications
for public participation. ICANN's cachet is the trust
it establishes with the Internet community. That trust
has been undermined by encumbering with At Large
membership with constraints, employing opaque processes
and engaging in semantic gymnastics, e.g., selection of
At Large directors rather than election; the corporation
shall not have members notwithstanding the use of the
term "members" in its bylaws. Vintage ICANN.
I urge the
ALSC to make a clear and unequivocal statement that
ICANN's only priority is to complete its obligation to
establish a fully formed and fully empowered At Large
membership and representative board. ICANN ignores its
errors at its peril. It cannot throw its tarbaby out with
my humble opinion.
© August 13, 2001