Victory for civil society representation in ICANN

The small working group created at the Paris meeting has come to an agreement about the voting distribution in ICANN’s policy making Council for domain names (the GNSO Council). It remains to the ICANN Board and staff to accept and implement this proposal, but the Board is expected to follow the consensus of the working group. (If it does not, you will hear about it here!)

The proposed solution is a victory for civil society representation. The new structure is bicameral and involves two distinct voting “houses,” one for the domain name industry that holds ICANN contracts (registries and registrars) and one for users or non-contracting parties (commercial and noncommercial users). In the user house there is an even number of votes for commercial and noncommercial stakeholders. IGP’s Milton Mueller participated in the working group as the representative of the Noncommercial Users Constituency (NCUC).

This new structure eliminates an old injustice in the ICANN. Back in 1999, ICANN’s domain name supporting organization (now known as the GNSO) created 3 business user constituencies with a total of 9 votes and only one noncommercial user constituency with three votes. All three of the commercial user constituencies were essentially trademark and intellectual property advocacy groups, and voted together as a bloc. As a result, public interest/noncommercial voices were constantly marginalized and the IPR/trademark interests became a dominant force in domain name policy. Later, registries and registrars were given weighted voting, which balanced the trademark groups but gave industry suppliers too much control and left noncommercial users still marginalized. The new structure is a huge victory for a more fair and balanced domain name policy making apparatus. It represents all stakeholder groups evenly and requires balanced support across both user and supplier houses before any proposal can go through.

The GNSO reform process had its roots in a review of the GNSO by the London School of Economics in 2006. TheLSE report proposed to create a Council based on three stakeholder groups, civil society, business and the domain name supply industry. ICANN’s Board Governance Committee then took these recommendations and developed their own proposal. Concerned about the dominance of domain name policy by supplier interests, the NCUC, ICANN’s At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and the three business constituencies entered into an alliance to push for stronger user representation. Faced with this dissent, the Board created a “Consensus Working Group” after the Paris meeting in June 2008 to find an agreement on a voting structure.

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