NAIS Bids Fond Adieu, In Context
Date: Tuesday April 02 2002, @06:44PM
Topic: Membership Issues

NAIS, the NGO and Academic ICANN Study, has published something that sounds a lot like a farewell note. Their work, they say, "is largely complete," and they "leave a set of resources for general use, available at our website ... that we hope will continue to inform the community as debate continues about the role and structure of ICANN, and about technical coordination more generally."

The NAIS note is, well...nice. A bit too nice for my taste, and perhaps for more than that as well. Certainly, some NAIS contributors were among the among the "wide-eyed utopians" and "bitter rock-throwers" former ICANN chief Mike Roberts so memorably denounced -- and current chief Stuart Lynn's policy course makes Roberts's look positively mild by comparison. It's hard to believe that an admonition as mild as NAIS's would convince this rogues' gallery -- caught in the act of selling the public down the river -- to do the right thing. But the public face of public policy tends to be quite polite, so one must needs read between the lines to detect what can only have been, for some NAIS contributors, a sense of bitterness when they wrote:

We were disappointed to witness, in Accra, the ICANN Board of Directors' abandonment of its own study process, which had recommended moving forward with public representation on the ICANN board through direct elections. We emphatically urge the Board to remember that the final credibility of ICANN as a global manager of critical parts of the Internet's infrastructure depends on the Board's ability to ensure that the public's interests are represented in ICANN's activities. If the Board rejects elections as the best way to serve this goal, then it must implement a better alternative, not abandon the goal.
For the rest, NAIS's formulations range from affirmations that public participation is "important" to lamentably ambiguous assertions that "efforts to restate the scope and nature of ICANN's mission are equally critical." Lynn's "deform" proposal was just that, of course, an effort to "restate the scope and nature of ICANN's mission" -- a spectacularly, radically wrong-headed effort. It's a shame that even after witnessing the rout at Accra, NAIS would fall back on such milquetoast language.

"Milquetoast"? Yes. Compare the remarks of the Carter Center's Chuck Costello at Accra:

In addition to Esther Dyson, who will make a brief comment, at the outset, I would like to recognize two other members of the At-Large Study Committee who are present with us here in Accra: Ching Li Yu and Pierre Dandjinou.

I do feel I need to say that the too much process argument we've heard is phony with respect to the pending question of At-Large membership, the proposed At-Large organization, At-Large board seats, and even At-Large elections, because the ALSC, at the specific request of the board, completed its process on schedule and has recommended a practical, implementable action plan.

The ALSC does not negate the need for other structural reforms, but it is disingenuous and misleading to claim that an overall reform and the need for funding from governments somehow, then, logically needs to or should virtually eliminate the At-Large membership, its board seats, and an election process.

It is a breach of faith with the founding principles and basic structure of ICANN as well as the fiduciary duty of this board, should it act on any proposal that so fundamentally changes the governance structure of the organization and permanently disenfranchises an At-Large membership that was to have clear and direct representation on the board within the narrowly defined role of ICANN.

Given the new proposals that government should have a direct role in governing ICANN and representing the public interest, perhaps it would be advisable to have the U.S. Government and other governments, which, in cooperation with the private sector and the internet community gave birth to ICANN, give a new governing mandate to ICANN rather than have the current board assert that power for itself.

The management proposal is not merely a reform proposal, nor is it evolutionary. Rather, it is a declared intent of a palace coup d'etat from within ICANN. The board should at this time, instead, pass the resolution to give the At-Large membership the opportunity to demonstrate its capacity to organize an At-Large supporting organization for informed participation and board representation. (Applause.)

In the past, I've been harshly critical of Mr. Costello's and the Carter Center's endorsement of the At-Large elections, but his biting remarks more than compensate for his actions in that problematic context, and so I retract them -- with apologies, to boot. More to the point, his public statement makes clear that a stronger statement from NAIS was well within the realm of possibility.

So why did NAIS take such a meek tone? It may have to do with the fact that one NAIS participant turned -- on very short notice, evidently -- against At Large representation on ICANN's board. Who? I posed this question a few weeks ago to nine NAIS members, but none would say; in fact, only one even bothered to respond. Consensus is one thing, and a very complex one thing it is; but it doesn't seem all that much to ask someone who takes such a position to come clean. Unfortunately, that person -- and at least eight other NAIS members -- seem to feel otherwise.

All of this may seem to be quite critical of NAIS, and in a way it is. But it must be said that these people devoted a stunning amount of time and energy to the cause of democratizing ICANN, and for that, whatever the outcome, we owe them a debt of thanks.

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