Yesterday the Board announced its appointments to represent Noncommercial Stakeholders on the GNSO Council. These positions should have been elected directly by noncommercial stakeholders organized in the Noncommercial Users Constituency (NCUC). The only reason they weren't is that the NCUC is being punished for not being sufficiently pliable to Board and staff wishes.* So the Board decided to appoint three of their six representatives for them. How good of a job did they do?
One of the appointments is Rafik Dammak, a Tunisian student who is currently a member of the NCUC. No problem there, and our congratulations to Mr. Dammak. The second appointment was given to Rosemary Sinclair, the Chair of an international organization advocating for business telecommunications users, the INTUG. Her bio says that she is “experienced…in representing the interests of corporate users of information and communications technology.” The Board's third appointment was Debra Hughes, a trademark lawyer who recently left WalMart for the American Red Cross. She lists as her current affiliations the International Trademark Association and the Global Intellectual Property and Business Lawyers association. The American Red Cross is a member of NCUC and its perspective is welcome within it, but it is doubtful that the majority of noncommercial users would have chosen a trademark lawyer to represent their views on domain name policy, because there are already two trademark constituencies in the GNSO (the IPCC and BC). In sum, the Board selection process shows a rather marked commercial slant.
What's wrong with this picture? Not the appointees, all of whom have excellent qualities and experience. What's wrong is that the Board put itself in the position of appointing NCSG representatives in the first place. This creates a rather awkward situation, not the least for the two appointees themselves. They will be obligated to caucus and consult closely with the NCUC and to speak for an interest group with which they have rather weak connections. To her credit, Ms. Sinclair, who is Australian, made an effort to learn about the Noncommercial constituency at the Sydney meeting; when the chair of the meeting encouraged her to join, she is reported to have protested that she wasn't a good fit for a noncommercial constituency. That is a good and healthy attitude for her to have. It is also true that INTUG, as a business consumer organization, will have a significant amount of overlap with the economic and consumer protection concerns of noncommercial users.
If the Noncommercial Stakeholders Group is to be effective in these delicate formative stages, all of its representatives will have to work together. This should be possible as long as the Board appointees recognize the limits of their mandate and that they have a primary obligation to first understand, then represent and respond to, broader noncommercial communities rather than the commercial stakeholders to which they have more extenstive and longstanding ties.
* Sound conspiratorial? I've now had three Board members confirm it.