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    ICANN Staff and Structure Touton upholds NCUC election
    posted by Mueller on Tuesday April 08 2003, @01:47PM

    The ICANN General Counsel has issued a statement turning back a challenge to the Noncommercial Constituency's election of officers.

    While the statement upholds virtually all of the NCUC's arguments, it also contains a warning that "significant changes in the constituency's composition and charter will be necessary" if the NCUC is to meet the requirements of rechartering under ICANN 2's new bylaws.

    Underlying the warning is some not-so-indirect criticism of the NCUC. Is that criticism fair?



    Consider this argument put forth in the statement: "Procedural problems were common and chronic with the NCDNHC, starting with its failure to obtain Board approval of a revised, final Charter by February 2000 as it was required to do in the Board's October 1999 recognition of the constituency." What this statement overlooks is the fact that the lack of approval was a product of ICANN's management and Board, not the NCUC. The NCDNHC completed a new charter in February 2000 as required; the Board simply chose not to rule on it. ICANN management was queried repeatedly on the status of its charter and there was simply no reply.

    Consider the other major criticism: the NCUC consists of a "small and narrowly focused membership" and suffers from "a notable lack of interest by prominent non-commercial organizations involved in the Internet."

    Well sure. But wait a minute. Small and narrow membership? The NCUC, currently at its membership nadir, has 54 organizational members. Before it charged dues and went into its current funk it had nearly 200 organizational members, and a level of participation second only the registrars. It was the only constituency with significant representation and participation from developing countries. Now compare: The most powerful GNSO constituency, the Business and Commercial, lists 46 organizations as members. The Registrars constituency, which has a direct and major economic stake in ICANN, has 49 organizational members (which means that nearly two thirds of all accredited registrars do not join). The Intellectual Property constituency does not even post its membership list, so who knows how many they have and how representative they are of the 2 million+ trademark holders in the world? There are tens of thousands of ISPs in the world, and the Internet Service Providers constituency has 38 members.

    This writer is more than willing to admit that NCUC needs work on the membership front; but that problem is endemic to ALL ICANN constituencies. Why is only NCUC repeatedly singled out for criticism on these grounds?

    Who are these "prominent non-commercial organizations" who fail to show interest in NCUC? The ones that leap to mind are the Internet Society and Educause. To be sure, both should be in NCUC and would be welcomed. But the fact of the matter is that both of these organizations are so well-connected within ICANN (as demonstrated by their winning TLD registries) that they don't need representation from NCUC to get what they want out of ICANN's process. Why pay hundreds of dollars to support a GNSO constituency when you have a direct pipeline to the ICANN Board and CEO?

    In sum, the outcome in this case is fair, but the attitude going forward still contains a strong dose of the discriminatory attitude toward the participation of rights-oriented NGOs that characterized ICANN's early days.

    The NCUC has always been under fire by ICANN management. The root cause of this is historical. The NCUC (a.k.a. NCDHNC) was born in conflict. In Berlin in 1999, when the constituency was formed, two major groups of noncommercial organizations, one led by the Internet Society and the other by the Association for Computing Machinery, fought over the definition of the constituency's charter and management.

    This is not the place to retell that tale; suffice it to say that the outcome was that the ACM-faction succeeded in preventing ISOC from controlling the constituency but earned the suspicion and sometimes enmity of key Board and staff members in the process. You see, in those early days, ICANN consistently refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the struggles of dissenting groups to gain voice and votes in ICANN's processes. If there was conflict, it could not possibly be caused by real and important disagreements over policy (indeed, back then they were still pretending that ICANN didn't do policy). No, conflicts over control had to be dismissed as the product of malevolent "crazies," or to drones manipulated by the black hand of Network Solutions Inc.

    At any rate, NCDNHC eventually became the only foothold within ICANN's structure for organizations and individuals willing to criticize basic principles and policies favored by the dominant coalition composing ICANN. In the 2000 - 2001 time span NCDNHC developed the largest and most active membership of all ICANN constituencies. Rather than embracing the constituency as a healthy outlet for dissent and debate, various interests within ICANN have always attempted to de-legitimize it.

    The key failing of NCDNHC was not representation, but a lack of homogeneity that characterizes the other constituencies, and money. The NCUC combines civil liberties and policy advocacy groups with education research networks, development agencies, front organizations for ccTLDs, cultural groups and so on. Forging consensus among that kind of a stew is far different from mediating a bunch of IP trade organizations. Worse, the old DNSO required constituencies to pay annual dues of $15,000. Faced with raising that kind of money each and every year, the loose, volunteer, and heterogeneous organization simply began to crumble. Now that ICANN has chosen to support its own policy making apparatus, things should change. But there is still a lot of old political baggage to shed.

     
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