Here's the text of Cyberfederalist #15:|
The User Voice in Internet Governance -- ICANNatlarge.org
ICANN has been a bold experiment in many areas, not least of which is giving users a role in Internet policy-making. However, user representation on ICANN's board has been vigorously contested, and ICANN's current board seems likely to eliminate it. Nonetheless, even if users are excluded from ICANN, their collective voice will persist.
Today, the collective voice of the user in ICANN exists in the organization named ICANNatlarge.org. ICANNatlarge.org (http://www.ICANNatlarge.org) is a mass membership organization founded in early 2002 to unite users in Internet governance, most notably in ICANN. With over 1000 members, a web site and mailing lists, and an elected governing panel, ICANNatlarge.org provides a framework for continued user participation in policy making.
The creation of an institutional framework for users is important. ICANNatlarge.org demonstrates that a global user community really exists, and it gives that community a vehicle by which to express its views and its interests. It facilitates the difficult tasks of creating a general forum, aggregating interests for users from around the world, and developing a collective voice. With members from over 72 countries, the organization possesses a legitimacy that a closed, top-down organization cannot. It is global, participatory, and transparent.
At the ICANN meeting in Shanghai, ICANNatlarge.org has organized a users forum. This event will be a focal point for users, civil society groups, At Large Directors (before their positions are eliminated), and other stakeholders to meet and to coordinate their activities around the board meeting.
At this meeting ICANNatlarge.org will not offer any statements on behalf of all users. That seems an unlikely role for such an inclusive organization that hosts such a diversity of views. Rather, ICANNatlarge.org will serve as a forum within which groups can articulate their own views. The organization's role may be more to facilitate than to lead.
Three Voices of Users
Over the past years three types of organizations have emerged to speak for users in ICANN. The first is the individual NGO. NGOs (including university-based researchers) are able to offer strongly-worded analysis and recommendations in ICANN. With a basis in a few experts and without the need to gain approval from a large membership, NGOs can engage in decisive action.
The second type of organization claiming to speak for users is a top-down entity, much like a company union. As ICANN eliminates user representation from its board, it is likely to create a compliant user organization. The board will soon decide whether to create an "At Large Advisory Committee" (ALAC) to replace the nine At Large Directors. Much like a company union, the ALAC will represent those user views that are acceptable to the board.
The third type of organization is ICANNatlarge.org. It is open and inclusive, but unlike the company union model it will not conform to externally-imposed parameters. Although more likely to serve as a forum than as a united voice, it can facilitate the process whereby users work out a collective voice.
Culmination of Effort
ICANNatlarge.org is the latest step in a series of efforts. The first effort to create a united users voice was at ICANN's 2000 meeting in Yokohama, where user representatives launched the Civil Society Internet Forum (www.CSIF.net). The CSIF played an important role in publicizing a collective "Civil Society Platform" for the 2000 elections. Nearly all elected At Large Directors in year 2000 supported that platform. However, the initial enthusiasm of the organizers led them to diffuse their energies to all global issues. As its focus expanded to issues like privacy law in various countries, its attention to ICANN declined.
A second attempt at a users organization was ICANNmembers.org, which was led by the Interim Coordinating Committee (ICC). That organization made its appearance at the ICANN Annual Meeting in Marina del Rey in October 2000. The ICC brought together many of the leading candidates from the At Large elections. However, it lost momentum as many of its members dedicated their energies to the NGO and Academic Internet Study (NAIS).
A third attempt to create a user voice in 2002 was more along the lines of a company union. Some participants of the ICANN-commissioned At Large Study Committee (ALSC, led by Sweden's Karl Bildt) attempted to launch a new user organization called "ICANNatlarge.com." This top-down effort failed to assemble a compliant membership, and eventually the founders left to start a new effort. ICANNatlarge.com evolved into today's ICANNatlarge.org.
ICANNatlarge.org is an authentic bottom-up organization. It is still solidifying its internal organization and finalizing a mission statement and bylaws. It is also improving its ability to make closure on discussions and to reach collective decisions. At Shanghai it is proving its ability to serve a vital purpose: to host a general users forum. It makes the voice of the user a reality.
[Note: the author currently serves as "Acting Chair" of ICANNatlarge.org. However, the views expressed here are solely his own.]
CYBER-FEDERALIST is a series of analyses and commentaries
on Internet governance and ICANN produced by the
Civil Society Democracy Project (CivSoc) of
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR).
The author of the CYBER-FEDERALIST is Hans Klein.
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