The public comment period on the Cross-Community Working Group on Accountability is about to close. Reading through the proposal, we discovered aspects of the proposal that would definitely improve ICANN’s accountability. But we also got a disturbing sense that some of the “chartering organizations” who make up the CCWG are using this transition not to improve ICANN’s accountability but to make themselves more powerful in ICANN. This problem is most evident in the membership proposal, which would make all of the Supporting Organizations (SOs) and Advisory Committees (ACs) into the “members” of ICANN.

Those of you who thought that “membership” meant that ordinary people, individuals, would be empowered by this process, think again. The idea of individual membership, Internet democracy, is so…..fifteen years ago.

No, the CCWG membership proposal makes ICANN’s own bylaw-created supporting organizations and advisory committees its members. And it contains a potentially radical rebalancing of voting power within ICANN. It assigns an equal number of votes (5) to GNSO (the domain name policy making organ), ccNSO (the country code registry supporting organization), ASO (the numbers or IP address supporting organization), ALAC (the 15-person Advisory Committee for the “at large”) and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). It also gives 2 votes to two other Advisory Committees, the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) and the Root Server System Advisory Committee (RSSAC).

This proposed allocation of voting power is unfair and in some ways actually works against aligning accountability with the stakeholders. The proposed allocation of voting power does not seem to have been designed to optimize or maximize accountability of ICANN to Internet users and suppliers. It was designed to share control among the specialized little groups who make up the CCWG. Like the winners of World War 1 carving up the remains of various empires, the CCWG seems to be carving up control of ICANN among its chartering organizations.

When it comes to membership, it seems incongruous to this veteran of ICANN’s policy making process to consider Advisory Committees members of the same status as Supporting Organizations. With the separation of IANA and ICANN proposed by the CWG-Stewardship, ICANN is now more focused, as it should be, on policy development for domain names. This means that the two names-oriented Supporting Organizations, the ccNSO and the GNSO, are the key arenas for policy development in the new ICANN environment. Thus, they are the stakeholders with the greatest interest in ensuring that the ICANN board is held accountable for the policies it passes and implements.

ICANN’s role as the ratifier of global policies for numbers also justifies a membership status for the ASO, as the ASO represents an extensive global community for policy development organized around Regional Internet Registries. A membership proposal that assigns an equal number of votes to ccNSO, GNSO and ASO makes sense.

It is the ACs that don’t really make sense in this scheme. Providing two votes to a highly technical advisory committee (SSAC), which does not make policy and whose members are already well-represented in GNSO and ccNSO, is bad enough. But the more serious problem is that SSAC membership is appointed by the ICANN board! Does it make sense to expect a board-appointed committee to keep the board accountable? This seems obviously wrong.The same, it seems, is true of the RSSAC. Let’s get back to the original idea behind SSAC and RSSAC: they are sources of expert advice for the board and the policy development entities. They are not policy development entities that compete with the GNSO. It makes no sense to treat them as “members” to whom the board is accountable.

GAC and ALAC are also outliers in this proposal, though for different reasons. One could make some case for considering ALAC a member, because it does select board members under the current regime. But to weight ALAC the same as the entire GNSO or ccNSO seems ridiculous. The ALAC consists of 15 people. Although they are elected by somewhat larger regional organizations, in terms of membership and participation the entire At Large is about the size of a single Stakeholder Group in the GNSO. For example, both the Noncommercial Stakeholders Group and the Commercial Stakeholders Group have more, or, to be charitable, comparable number of members to all the Regional At Large organizations combined. In fact, there is significant overlap in membership between ALAC’s At Large Structures, their individual members, and NCSG and CSG. Giving it the same weight as the GNSO, which consists of 4 distinct stakeholder groupings and 7 constituencies, or ccNSO, which represents over 100 national and territorial registries, seems woefully unbalanced. If it is to be considered a member at all it should be only two votes as proposed for the RSSAC.

It seems especially incongruous to have the Governmental Advisory Committee become a member entity equivalent to a Supporting Organization. The GAC does not select board members and is barred from doing so by the current bylaws. The GAC is not supposed to be a policy development entity, but a provider of advice to the board on the policies developed by the bottom up process. The legal status of a collection of national governments and intergovernmental organizations forming an unincorporated association under the umbrella of ICANN seems extremely odd, and will probably prove to be unacceptable to the GAC itself.

In short, the proposed membership allocation does not make sense and needs to be rethought.

To casual observers this may all seem like inside baseball. And in fact, that is exactly what it is. This is how insiders take control, by doing obscure work in an obscure corner, silently taking care of their own.  The general public needs to re-examine the work of the CCWG on membership with this question in mind: does this proposal make ICANN more accountable to the broad community that ICANN  is supposed to serve, or does it make it more controlled by the small group of people who are drafting the proposal?


2 thoughts on “Power Shift: The CCWG’s ICANN Membership Proposal

  1. I agree with Milton’s comments above. In my own comments on the proposal, I stated that the members of ICANN should be the members of the SO/AC, not the SO/AC themselves, see:

    Separately, the comments regarding the proposal differ sharply on the issue of jurisdiction. US-based business is adamant that ICANN must remain a US entity, whether others take the view that this should not be cast in stone, or even that it is important that ICANN not be subject to US jurisdiction.

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