The Montevideo DNSO Board Election: A Glimpse Inside the Sausage Factory
Date: Monday September 10 2001, @06:15PM
Topic: ICANN Meetings

The recent re-election of Amadeu Abril i Abril to the ICANN Board provides considerable insight into the internal politics of the DNSO. Abril won - just - the required majority (11 votes) in the first round. He defeated Paul Kane, a British entrepreneur involved in registry and registrar software and a member of the Names Council.

People who observe DNSO Board elections from the outside may believe that outsiders like Joanna Lane or Jefsey Morfin have a chance, that people will read their ideas and make up their minds based on whether they agree or not. Sorry, it's not that way. To win a Board seat via the DNSO, you must be a known quantity among the small group (21) of Names Councillors who constitute the electorate. In the critical final days before the election, you must be physically present to cajole, meet, bargain, threaten and conspire with the NC members and their constituencies.

What was this election about? Both candidates had their origins in the same constituency (registrars) and both hailed from the same geographic region (Europe). There were few major differences between the candidates on substantive policy issues. (There were, however, major differences of personality and method.) As a participant in the election I would identify three main points of fissure:

1. Registry - registrar regulation.

This election pitted the business users of domain names against the suppliers. Kane was backed solidly by the B&C and ISP constituencies; Amadeu was supported solidly by the gTLD and ccTLD registries. The other constituencies split their votes.

In particular, Kane was backed by Marilyn Cade of AT&T, who believes that all registries should be non-profit and carefully regulated. Verisign greatly dislikes Paul Kane. Kane is familiar with the business and technology of the domain name registration industry and might have provided a counterweight to Verisign's/Afilias/CORE's superior position of knowledge regarding those matters.

Amadeu is no friend of Verisign. He was the only ICANN Board member to join Karl Auerbach in rejecting the revised agreements that gave the company permanent control of .com and nullified the divestiture of its registrar. And as one of the original gTLD-MoU members, Abril probably also believes that all registries should be non-profit and regulated. But while Amadeu was perceived as independent and principled he was not seen as very effective. Kane, as a more outgoing, active, political type, was seen by this group as someone who could shake up the Board a bit. Kane made the theme of his campaign the idea that the Board should really reflect "bottom-up consensus" rather than doing what the Board and staff want and calling it consensus afterwards.

The registry constituency, which is led and dominated by Verisign's Roger Cochetti, put heavy pressure on its members to vote against Kane. For Cary Karp (.museum) voting for Amadeu was easy because he is an old CORE/gTLD-MoU buddy. But Cochetti and Tindel also voted for Abril i Abril. Why would Cochetti support someone who voted against the revised Verisign agreements? Not only vote for him, but put heavy pressure on Tindel, who initally favored Kane, to also vote for Amadeu? It makes you think.

2. Culture.

The split between Anglo and Latin culture proved to be decisive in this election. Spanish-speaking nationals and continental Europe voted for Abril i Abril, and against Kane. The battle for the Board seat began in August, during the Names Council teleconference, when Kane supporters attempted to hold the vote for the Board seat prior to the Montevideo meeting. Although some of us did not realize it at the time, the decision to hold the election during the Montevideo meeting, which passed by a narrow margin, may have won the election for Abril. The ccTLD constituency decided that all its NC members had to vote for one candidate, and held a majority-rules election to decide which one. Amadeu won narrowly, and the heightened attendance of Latin American ccTLD managers at the meeting provided the margin of victory. An odd result, when one considers that Kane supported the concept of a ccSO and Abril i Abril did not. Culture also accounts for Amadeu's 1 vote from the non-commercial constituency, cast by Panamanian Vany Martinez.

3. Crony networks

Another important factor was old alliances, specifically CORE. Ken Stubbs, Werner Staub, Siegfried Langenbach are all, like Abril i Abril, original CORE members. CORE has never amounted to much as a business in the marketplace, but it does have a knack for cohesive politics, at least in the small-scale, insulated, unrepresentative politics of ICANN. CORE supporters play a significant role in the Registrar constituency. This made it difficult for Kane to get the votes he needed from his own constituency. You see, according to Names Council rules a member cannot vote for himself in the Board election. That would be a conflict of interest (the horror!), something the DNSO just cannot permit! And thanks to pressure from Ken Stubbs and other CORE folks, the registrars selected a proxy that voted for Amadeu instead of Kane in the first round. Stubbs himself voted for Amadeu, of course, so the registrars went 2-1 against Kane. Only Erica Roberts (an Anglo from Australia) voted for Kane.

Lessons: To get anywhere near the ICANN Board via the DNSO, one must be a longtime insider. So far, both of the original DNSO Board members elected in 1999 have been returned to office. As long as the original 7 DNSO constituencies remain the same, the particular stew of interests that make up the DNSO will equilibrate on very similar positions and people. Also, nationalism and "geographic diversity" remain the bane of substantive policy, as people vote for languages and culture at the expense of people and ideas who might actually change things.

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