Comments on the ALSC options for At Large representation
(Inglese, contributo allo At-Large Study Committee di ICANN, 7 Agosto 2001)
From: Vittorio Bertola
Subject: [ALSC-Forum] sparse thoughts on options and issues
Date: Tue, 7 Aug 2001 03:24:29 -0700
sorry for the (as usual) long post, but I wanted to expose my sparse
thoughts on the whole thing and a few comments on the options. In the next
posts you'll get my proposed options - but I really wanted to explain the
ideas behind them.
= My general ideas
* Why the At Large Membership
The Internet is for everyone. So everyone should get a voice in its
management, independently from his social and economical position,
geographical location, and technical skills.
Moreover, ICANN's legitimation is questioned, and still is questionable.
ICANN's decision can deeply affect market competition, e-business
development, freedom of speech and personal rights all over the world. It is
thus necessary that ICANN gets some kind of authority. The SO's only cover a
tiny fraction of the Internet community, mainly composed by closed academic
and governmental organizations, very technical entities, and private
businesses who have direct economical interests that may conflict with the
public interest. It is very hard to think that an organization controlled by
this kind of stakeholders could advance any reasonable right to rule
significant parts of the Internet.
On the other hand, ICANN's need for worldwide legitimacy can be met by
establishing a system through which all affected entities and individuals of
the world, including those without any technical skill, can have a voice in
the decision-making process. As technical skill is brought to ICANN by the
SOs, the individuals' participation should bring to ICANN accountability to
all different facets of the worldwide Internet community, and should thus
prevent the risk of its manipulation in favor to limited or local economical
and political interests. For this reason, the bigger the number of
individuals that participate in ICANN is, the more ICANN can claim the right
to be the only ruler of the DNS and address space: raising the number and
variety of individuals involved should be a primary objective for ICANN in
the next years.
If ICANN fails in involving a huge number of individuals all over the world
and giving them true power (not just "input" or "consultation" or a couple
of seats in a board of 20, just to say they're there), it will just end up
in being a private group of entities that try to establish a monopoly over
the DNS management; it will be easy for governments to attack ICANN because
it is too US-centric, or for new TLD proponents to attack ICANN because it
limits the market competition without having any public authority to do so.
* How to avoid exploitment
Many pointed out that general At Large elections are dangerous, because in
some continents you had few voters which made the result not so meaningful,
and because lobbies and big corporations could try to subscribe big sets of
"dummy" people just to support their candidates.
This is absolutely true, as it is in any election, but the only way to avoid
it is to make participation higher, not lower. If you have 1000 At Large
members it is very easy for anyone to collect a significantly relevant list
of "dummy members" and subscribe them. If you have a million of them, it is
much more difficult. So ICANN should take a commitment to promote the
membership, not to reduce it.
* Membership fees
For the aforementioned reasons, you *need* to get as many members as
possible, to make the thing work. This is why you really want not to have
membership fees. This is especially true if you want to gain participation
in developing countries, where, no matter how low the fee is by Western
parameters, it will always be huge. But also in developed countries, as the
individuals you have to involve to make ICANN legitimate don't have the DNS
as their first though when they wake up in the morning, you have to lower
the entry barrier as much as possible.
I feel the need for some degree of incompatibility between the At Large and
the SOs. However, it is also true that many people among the At Large
activists are in fact techies and somewhat involved with the SOs, and that
for example, as users representation grows also at the ccTLD level, it could
happen to have ccTLD representatives coming from the users rather than from
the registrars/registries. So I'd just establish incompatibility rules at
the nomination level - you cannot run as a candidate both for a SO
directorate and an At Large directorate at the same time. And then, there
should just be disclosure of interests clauses, that force you to expose
your ties when you ask for a nomination.
* Intermediate levels
How could you think that a few people can represent the whole world? And how
can you avoid to discriminate non-English speaking people? You should
provide a discussion and opinion-making environment in all languages and
cultures of the world.
This is impossible to do from a central level, but has been the power and
the success of the Internet. So it is absolutely clear that ICANN must
support the birth of lower level of aggregations inside the At Large
Membership, but it also must delegate it to the users, since there is not a
single system that can be implemented centrally and will work for all the
The solution to this problem, by me, is to allow members that think they
have something in common - the language, the political ideas, the objectives
- to aggregate and build their own forum and structure, and then to
propagate their voice to the top through a representation system. This is
what was addressed by my proposal of "At Large Communities" (see options K
* Hierarchy: how to avoid multi-point entry for users
One of the issues is how to avoid unnecessary multiplication of the users
representation structure. For example, I've started following the .eu
creation process - and many people there want to build a sort of European At
Large. But then, would I have to be part of ICANN At Large, .eu At Large,
.it At Large, and perhaps .net At Large or .foo At Large?
Definitely, there needs to be a semplification process in this. ICANN's At
Large should be built as "the mother of all users memberships", and ICANN
should provide support for the TLDs that wish to do so to use a geographical
subset of the At Large as their own users representation membership.
Reflecting the DNS structure, ICANN is "the root" from which all TLDs are
born. This should happen also for the membership (though it should not force
anyone to use it if they don't want to).
* The common denominator principle
Any civil community can live because democratical rules exist and can be
enforced. The cancellation of the domain is the virtual equivalent of a ban
from the community, and is the only easy and quick retaliating action the
community has to enforce its rules at a worldwide level. These rules include
dispute resolution policies, but also anti-spam and pro-netiquette rules,
that sooner or later will have to be introduced at a global level; even if
ICANN won't be the body to take care of this, it will still have in its
hands the main key for rule enforcement - a global control over domain
Let's say that, for example, ICANN, on behalf of the Internet community,
decides to establish a .ngo domain for NGOs. Let's say that, for example, a
NGO named "Foo" exists in any part of the world. Let's also say that "Foo"
is a registered trademark in the US by Foo, Inc. How do you avoid that Foo,
Inc. sues the Foo NGO for trademark infringement if they register foo.ngo?
You should have a clause in all your registrations (no matter which TLD)
that says that you should accept TLD charters and don't enforce your
trademark where the community doesn't want you to do it, or you'll lose all
your domains. (This is what happens, for example, in sports self-discipline
tribunals, at least in Europe: if a football player is disqualified for a
month and his team goes to the common tribunals against it, it is breaking
the league contract and could be kicked out of the league.)
As someone else pointed out, I fear that without a protection of this kind,
the introduction of new TLDs will be basically useless, as trademark owners
will simply get sure that no one uses their trademark in any TLD, even if
they're not allowed to register it themselves - or in the worst case,
they'll go for a tribunal to rule their right to register their trademark in
any TLD, even restricted ones. Anyway, it will be very interesting to see
what happens if any museum registers <famous trademark>.museum :-)
But this also applies, for example, for people spamming through a .net
server to advertise a .com domain to .uk users. There must be a way to
enforce a global anti-spam policy.
So - following the same "hierarchy" idea mentioned before - ICANN should act
as the mediation and coordination point of all TLD policies. There certainly
needs to be freedom at the TLD level to define different policies, but
worldwide issues should be debated at the highest level and should be
propagated down to TLDs - and this should be written in the gTLD and ccTLD
contracts with ICANN. (Note that this is not a top-bottom process, as ICANN
Board is created from the bottom, so it represents also those same TLDs that
will have to cope with ICANN's worldwide policies.)
= Sparse comments on the options
* Option A
Option A is not so bad, even if I wouldn't like to be one of those people
moved from the DNSO to a tiny group inside the crowd of the At Large
members. Definitely the better of the three.
* Option B
Not so different from option A (am I missing something?). There is only a
ridiculous statement (see "Ridiculous statements" below) - or is it a poison
* Option C
Unacceptable - de facto, the At Large membership would be meaningless. At
the best, it could engage an endless loop by presenting the SOs only
extremistic candidates so that they'll end up not accepting any of them.
Very dangerous - I think that it would enhance contraposition, not reduce
* Option D (Crawford-Johnson)
It dilutes the At Large too much (2 seats over 19). It misses my first and
basic point about why do we want an At Large after all. Unacceptable.
* Ridiculous statements
"CSO [Customer SO] must be self-structured and self funded, since it would
not provide financial support to ICANN." (Option B)
Apparently it seems that those million dollars entering the pockets of
registrars and registries every year (and that allow them to pay ICANN's
bills) are falling from the sky. Damn, it is evident that currently
customers don't pay a dime for the maintenance of the domain name system.
* Less ridiculous statements, but I don't agree either
"Each open seat on the Board viewed as an opportunity to add additional
skill sets that may be required at the time." (Option C)
A management board for an entity is not meant to have skills. It is meant to
represent all stakeholders of the entity and to balance their weight so that
the entity's decisions reflect the weighed desire of its members. If I run a
company and need a skill, I hire someone that has that skill. Domain name
registration is a wealthy business and certainly money isn't lacking, so
ICANN could hire any technically skilled people it needs to support the
Board in its decisions.
Sure, it is better if people in the Board have skills and understand the
technicalities of the problems. But that's not what they're meant to be
Vittorio Bertola <firstname.lastname@example.org> Ph. +39 011 23381220
Vitaminic [The Music Evolution] - Vice President for Technology