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    Membership Issues Heterarchies meet Hierarchy in the At Large
    posted by michael on Monday February 24 2003, @03:09PM

    Joanna Lane writes "ICANN has no future without an At Large to which significant numbers of existing At Large Activists can be delivered. Without that, it cannot support any claim to be fulfilling its core mission and ultimately will collapse."



    "If the Regional At-Large Organizations (RALO's) are intended to be decentralized heterarchies, they would be made up of previously isolated groups that can connect to one another and coordinate, without any central leader. That's not happening here, because it would put the At Large in the driving seat and exclude ICANN until such time as policies had been developed on issues that were user orientated.

    Alternatively, the RALOs would be part of one big hierarchy, namely ICANN, with top-down structures dictated by very visible leaders. Then we could expect ICANN Staff to keep a tight grip on RALO's internal processes, to ensure consistency in how they are run, right down to debating and voting procedures, which, in a public interest organization, would be based upon a democratic process, not a dictatorial Board. But that's not the plan either. Apparently, RALO's are to be decentralized structures that set their own rules, which may vary from region to region, organization to organization, some of which may not be democratically run at all. [Editor's note: you can see ICANN's latest ideas about RALOs in Article XI of the proposed ERC "clarifications" to ICANN's by-laws. These will be adopted unanimously at the next meeting of the Polit^h^h^h^h^h ICANN Board-mf]

    No, the proposed plan is not either of these, it is to be a hybrid of hierarchy meets heterarchy, with democratic values nowhere in sight. It amounts to a shortlist of selected (by ICANN Staff) organizations that will be permitted to exist as part of the ICANN structure, but only by prior agreement made with ICANN Staff in the form of an MoU to which neither party is bound. ICANN has no intention to be the central authority to hold these RALO's accountable should they not be truly democratic, or their processes not represent their members adequately, or the treasurer runs off with the cash, or whatever reason that one may fail. No, it's proposed structure relies entirely on voluntary cooperation from those invited to the table, hence the power broking for seats that Esther is overseeing. Business as usual. This does not inspire confidence that the public interest is being safeguarded. On the contrary, it points to catastrophic failure of the At Large, which can be expected to grant block votes to an exclusive club of hand picked organizations, leaving individuals overshadowed on the sidelines once again.

    To truly defend the public interest, we must understand what drives the public's interest in the internet, which is the social possibilities of it all, not the technical stability of the DNS on which it relies. We must also understand the benefits to be gained from participation and the losses that may occur should participation be excluded. You may list many of them, but I will pick just one example to illustrate how deeply the internet affects people's individual behavior and social stability in general, which as has been pointed out, is inextricably linked to technical stability, a view even supported by ICANN Staff. I would point to the DNS as a factor in co-coordinating the rapidly expanding anti-war campaign that has presented itself worldwide in recent days and weeks. This has not taken months and years to evolve as happened in the Vietnam war era, it happened virtually overnight and is growing daily. Google alone currently has 92,200 results for a Google search on anti-war campaign. Many of these websites popped up in the time it took to say Axis of Evil. Those responsible for their creation have a vested interest in the technical stability of their online petitions, protest march schedules, discussion lists, fund-raising websites and so on, each of which empower significant change in social behavior that may be subject to political pressure and at risk of being shut down.

    There's an interesting article on this issue in the NY Times, about how anti-Iraq war protesters are employing the technology. To oversimplify, the internet allows the anti-war lobby to stay a step ahead of the US administration in their planning, which is absolutely strategically central in their ability to be effective in what they are doing. That represents a demonstrable public interest that needs to be guarded from undue political pressure, yet these activists are not centralized organizations with a leader who can turn up, fully formed as an At Large RALO, ready and willing to sign an MoU. Some groups may range in size from a single individual to hundreds of thousand of members. They cannot be categorized by region, their commonality is their interest in the one issue, stopping the war. Equally this could be a pro-war organization, the point being, how can issue based organizations such as these protect their interests? Does any pressure exist to bring the DNS into line with mainstream media as a government propaganda machine in times of war? Exactly what opportunities exist within the proposed At Large Structure to voice these concerns?

    Instead of fostering real public participation by throwing the door open to all groups and individuals, which is the way the At large was originally intended to be, instead, the ALAC is proposing to draw key players from a community already dominated by hand picked representatives. The usual suspects can be expected to cast block votes, in vast numbers, in haste, and without consulting their membership, if any membership actually exists at all. Some of these organizations being bandied about are shams.

    No doubt, the ability to outvote bothersome individuals is one reason why ICANN favors organizational membership in the At Large, ones that it pre-approves, top down. Yet, if I understand this correctly, ICANN will not be overseeing the internal procedures of any of these external organizations directly. That means no oversight for ensuring proper democratic procedures take place within the RALOs, and no enforcement. How easy will it be to block issues that do not fit with special interest agendas? History has taught us that issues are blocked repeatedly in the constituency structure, (Whois Task Force on Privacy) and that it is virtually impossible for an individual to get a topic onto the agenda without support from a more powerful special interest group.

    In the current vision, ICANN neatly removes itself from any direct responsibility for an At Large voting process of any kind. Even if any voting is to take place at all in the RALOs, all procedures would be handled by external organizations, over which ICANN would have no power. And for individual members, there is no sign of any financial assistance to set up formal voting procedures at all. Even this mailing list is a closed list, so how then will individuals be able to join the At Large directly, raise issues for worldwide discussion and vote?

    If ICANN is not willing to assist with funding the At Large, is not willing to take any central role in holding online elections, neither in monitoring the integrity of RALO processes, nor in welcoming all users through the door, and is not even empowered to enforce any MoU it enters into with an RALO, then the true value of involving ICANN in At Large formation is...well... zero.

    While the At Large is still generally perceived as crucial, banishing it altogether is not an option for ICANN. Consequently, the At Large does not have to agree to such a one-sided agreement and even now, users have the choice to stand their ground and insist on ICANN support for a more meaningful At Large Structure."

     
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      Related Links  
  • CORE
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  • More on Membership Issues
  • Also by michael
  •  
    This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.
    Heterarchies meet Hierarchy in the At Large | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 5 comments | Search Discussion
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    My reply from the GA list
    by vbertola on Monday February 24 2003, @11:28PM (#11236)
    User #3435 Info | http://bertola.eu.org/
    >First, let's not forget that ICANN has no future without an At Large to
    >which significant numbers of existing At Large Activists can be delivered.
    >Without that, it cannot support any claim to be fulfilling its core mission
    >and ultimately will collapse.

    ...and likely be replaced by the ITU, an intergovernmental
    organization that knowingly gives the public voting powers and broad
    ways to participate. Would that be an achievement for us?

    So I agree with most of your views, but not with the strategy you seem
    to devise to get them realized.

    And by the way:

    >Instead of fostering real public participation by throwing the door open to
    >all groups and individuals, which is the way the At large was originally
    >intended to be, instead, the ALAC is proposing to draw key players from a
    >community already dominated by hand picked representatives.

    Please document this statement. What did the ALAC propose and where?

    >Yet, if I understand this correctly, ICANN will not
    >be overseeing the internal procedures of any of these external organizations
    >directly. That means no oversight for ensuring proper democratic procedures
    >take place within the RALOs, and no enforcement.

    So, if ICANN manages the At Large directly, it is trying to take
    control of it, and if it does not, it is not controlling it enough.
    What are you proposing then?

    >In the current vision, ICANN neatly removes itself from any direct
    >responsibility for an At Large voting process of any kind.

    Yes.

    But this has the great advantage that ICANN (whose current Board is
    openly against online elections) also removes itself from having any
    word about how that voting process may happen. And it was the only way
    we could let the current Board accept *any* At Large voting process or
    direct representation.

    But this also means that now you have to actually get your hands dirty
    and do something more than writing articles, as many of us have been
    doing on their time and at their expense for months now.

    >While the At Large is still generally perceived as crucial, banishing it
    >altogether is not an option for ICANN. Consequently, the At Large does not
    >have to agree to such a one-sided agreement and even now, users have the
    >choice to stand their ground and insist on ICANN support for a more
    >meaningful At Large Structure.

    Oh well, insist. Stand up, stop breathing and start crying until your
    mom will come and protect you from the baddies. But I fear that the
    last years prove that there's no "mom" that will come to save you.
    Certainly not the US DoC. Certainly not the ITU or the UN. It's year
    2003, the world is ruled by governments and corporations, and you have
    to use your elbows, your smile, your creativity and your tenacity to
    get some space for the common citizens.
    --vb. (Vittorio Bertola)
    [ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Pretend representation
    by phoffman@proper.com on Tuesday February 25 2003, @09:47AM (#11241)
    User #2063 Info
    In order to have a democracy, you have to be able to count the people being represented. You have to prevent ballot-stuffing and its equivalent, population-stuffing. If you don't do that (or don't do it well), you have a system that will be open to as much criticism for being fake as ICANN gets for being closed.


    Somebody has to define who is, and who is not, in the constituency. So far, that's been done with hand-waving.


    So, if ICANN cannot survive without an At Large constituency, but that constituency is susceptible to nearly-trivial problems of representation, then ICANN wil die as soon as people see the problem.


    Well, maybe not. ICANN hasn't died even though it is vey clear that there are huge problems with transparency. Having no real democracy from the AL folks might turn out to have as little effect.

    [ Reply to This | Parent ]


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