The first and only real day of ICANN's MDR2.001K meeting had one highlight: At Large Study Committee chief Carl Bildt's presentation of the ALSC report and the responses (text here, RealFnord here). ExecSumm: Bildt's a half-decent dancer. Half.
Bildt's presentation itself consisted of little more than embroidering what, at root, is a pretty lame report. The main points of criticism that have arisen at this meeting are:
The report is predictable: with a few exceptions (e.g., constituting the At Large as a supporting organization), its contents were predictable.
It relies on argument by assertion: the "report" isn't really a report at all, because it's based on very little evidence and even less method. For example, the criteria used to justify repeated claims that e-mail just isn't practical are nowhere evident in the reports discussion of snail mail.
It's arbitrary: the ALSC report's proposal to divide the board along trinitarian lines (developers, providers, users: 6-6-6) derives from the ALSC's need for superficial elegance; as such, it neither derives from nor matches any real-world circumstances.
It's dishonest: everyone knows that the "6" develop seats and the "6" provider seats really means 12 industry seats -- and 6 user seats. That's right: 12 seats to represent very focused industry-specific concerns, versus 6 to represent everything else.
It's naive: the ALSC assumes that the optimal structure for the At Large is an SO -- which implies that it's optimal role is to formulate policy. Contrast the NAIS study's sense of the At Large's optimal role, which posits an At Large with directors in more of an advisory/influence role.
It's vague: it proposes a membership fee, but doesn't provide the slightest hint of how much that fee might be, then nevertheless proceeds to babble about the effects the fee might have -- on things like "nationalistic competition" as opposed to, say, "digital divide"-type concerns.
It's exclusionary: imposing domain-name registration as a requirement for membership assumes that .com-style registration is the norm, thereby limiting participation in areas where it isn't the norm, including restrictive ccTLDs in "more developed" countries (such as Finland) as well as well as "less developed" regions. While it be trivial for motivated Finns to register in an open gTLD, the same cannot be said for areas -- for example, most of Africa -- where access to international payment methods (e.g., credit cards) is negligible; and, in any case, registration isn't the point -- on the contrary, it's a barrier to entry.
As suggested, in presenting the report Bildt danced around quite a bit: the ALSC didn't take up this subject, that subject, or the other subject because they were beyond the scope of the group and its inquiry. However, as Barbara Simons noted in the public comment period, this principle was applied very inconsistently: in the ALSC's view, proposing a substantial restructuring (6-6-6) of ICANN's board lies within its scope, but merest mention of delicate subjects that are intimately related, if only by circumstance -- say, malingering boardsquatters who get to vote on At Large-related issues -- does not. To be sure, the hodgepodge that is ICANN definitely resists neat distinctions at any level; but it would have been refreshing to hear the Bildt and the ALSC say so, rather than pursue a predictably fig-leafy program then justify it with all manner of "contextualizing" cant.
The public comments were, for the most part quite good. Harold Feld's and Clement Dzidonu's comments were particularly notable; Toshimaru Ogura's, though harder to follow, were fairly damning. European Community rep Chris Wilkinson echoed the warnings he (and GAC honcho Paul Twomey) made at ICANN's July 2000 Yokohama meeting, that if ICANN minimizes user input it risks dramatically increased government involvement. The responses were telling: one the one hand, after Wilkinson left the podium, Carl Bildt rushed him and an angry exchange ensued; on the other, much later in the discussion, boardmember Jonathan Cohen grumpily dimissed "veiled threats" about increased government involvement.
These and other exchanges changed the atmosphere in the room quite dramatically, as long as you weren't on the board. With a handful exceptions (mainly Karl Auerbach, who actively questioned the speakers) the board might as well have been a wax museum tableau -- of a hostile group thoroughly bored by a pro forma "discussion" of a proposal destined to become the default.
Just as the discussion seemed to be waning, Andy Mueller-Maguhn burst out with an odd screed in which he noted: (a), on a slightly cosmic level, that the commercial bias of the UDRP would tend, if domain registration were a prerequisite for At Large membership, to produce a commercially oriented At Large; and (b), on a no-nonsense level, that ICANN continually gets bogged down in "procedural bullshit" and misses the point. Bildt happily riffed on this theme -- the frisson of repeating "procedural bullshit" was clear enough -- but, basically, the song remained the same.
If there was any surprise at all, it was how broad and firm support for the At Large is (or at least is said to be). In many cases, the motives may well be heavily cynical, in which cases the broad, firm support is for a narrow, weak At Large -- say, like what the ALSC proposed. Still, it'll be hard for ICANN to claim that the At Large withered away due to lack of support. The question is whether ICANN can cook up the procedural bullshit needed to elect a new round of At Large boardmembers before the current terms expire; or, alternatively, whether a new push will get bogged down and drowned out in the by-product that ICANN does best: procedural bullshit.
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