Two people in ALAC are pushing to create a Consumer constituency within the new Noncommercial Stakeholders Group. While superficially this may seem like a good idea, nothing in ICANN is simple or straightforward. The Board should not recognize a Consumer Constituency now. There are four reasons why the Board must wait until next year before even considering it.
1. The proposed consumer constituency is empty. It has no demonstrable support or official participation from any major consumer organization. When a petition to form it was filed in February, the proposer, Beau Brendler, claimed the support of Consumers Union, Consumers International, Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, and the Australian Consumers Consumer Action Network. But none of these groups filed comments in favor of the petition. And none of them are members now. In fact no consumer organizations filed supporting comments! The only public comment that supported the petition was a business group, the trademark lobbyist association AIM. The proposal for a Consumer Constituency is basically a two person show. Its only backers are Beau Brendler and Cheryl Langdon-Orr, both of whom were appointed (not elected) to ALAC and would like to extend ALAC's remit into the GNSO. Mr. Brendler was employed by the Consumers Union in the U.S. for a while, but the CU was so uninterested in his involvement in ICANN that it laid him off this summer. Mr. Brendler currently does not speak for any consumer organization. Langdon-Orr claims to speak for an ACCAN – but the ACCAN has nothing about this on its web site and did not file comments in favor of the petition. The simple fact is that this constituency has nothing in it.
2. The move divides and fragments consumer advocacy within ICANN. At this time, there are more active consumer protection advocates in the existing Noncommercial Users Constituency than there are in this proposed new constituency. Consumer advocacy groups like Public Citizen, Free Press and EPIC are currently members of NCUC; moreover, these groups are members of Consumers International and Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue and further linked to them via the OECD civil society advisory council. All of them would be happy to work with new consumer organizations in the flexible, integrated Stakeholder Group structure proposed by the NCUC. But a new constituency under the current charter would create a separate organization, run by Brendler, and so fragment the consumer organizations involved in ICANN. (Fragmentation and division is really the object of this proposal, as explained below.) The charter imposed on the Noncommercial stakeholders by ICANN means that creating a new constituency in the GNSO is a zero-sum game: it takes representation away from one group to and gives it to another. So if this “consumer constituency” is created it means that all existing consumer organizations involved in NCUC get less influence.
3. The most serious problem with this proposal is that it makes it impossible to come to a consensual agreement on the future Noncommercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG) charter. If a new constituency is created, it will be created under the terms and conditions of an interim, temporary charter. That charter was imposed on noncommercial stakeholders and is based on a model of fragmenting civil society into separate constituencies which must always fight with each other over how votes are apportioned. That model was decisively rejected by civil society and constitutes a totally unacceptable way to achieve the goals of the GNSO reforms. Several Board members have questioned it and insisted that it be reviewed after a year. The disagreement over the charter has been recognized by the Board and needs to be negotiated and resolved consensually. But if a new constituency is created now, it would have the effect of making the illegitimate charter a fait accompli, by locking it into place. That is why Brendler and Langdon-Orr are trying to push the Board into recognizing this fake constituency now, before the issue of the charter is settled. That way they won’t have to negotiate in good faith regarding the If their actions have to obtain support and consensus from the broader noncommercial community, they know they will be dead in the water.
4. It makes no sense to rigidly separate “consumer” issues from other noncommercial concerns. Consumer advocacy in communications policy often revolves around economic issues, such as prices, fraud, unfair contracts and business practices – but those concerns are often closely linked to concerns about privacy and freedom of expression. The constituency model forces noncommercial groups into rigidly separate boxes where they discuss issues in isolation from the other perspectives. It is a model that has only one aim: to divide and conquer. That explains why the trademark groups, who are resentful over the redistribution of votes on the GNSO Council, are supporting this Consumer constituency and none of the noncommercial groups are.
As we speak, ICANN staff and Langdon-Orr are orchestrating a vote by the ALAC to support the creation of a consumer constituency. She is not telling the At Large members that she is a very interested party in this decision. She is hoping that they will fall prey to the simplistic appeal of being pro-consumer.
It is ironic, but very revealing of ICANN politics, that members of ICANN’s policy staff are supporting the creation of a Consumer Constituency, a proposal which did not receive one supportive comment from any consumer organization in the world, but are fighting tooth and nail to implement a NCSG charter that nearly 100 noncommercial organizations opposed. Let’s hope that the Board and new CEO can see through this ploy and respect the request of the noncommercial constituency to wait until the charter issue is resolved before forming any new entities.