NGO and Academic ICANN Study

NGO and Academic ICANN Study
Summary of Meetings
March 10-13, 2001
Melbourne, Australia

Members of the NAIS project team met three times during the ICANN meetings in Melbourne. NAIS members present at the meetings were:

The meetings took the form of brainstorming sessions to discuss the team's strategy and options as it moves towards a final report. In the interest of transparency, the following summary of these meetings has been made public.

The first meeting began with a discussion of how to characterize the need for public representation in ICANN. While ICANN's founding documents and other communications seem to indicate an institutional commitment by ICANN to "At-Large" or other public representation on the Board, we generally felt that the NAIS report should not rely only on past statements to justify the public voice. The report needs a strong argument defending the public interest, rooted in the impact that ICANN's activities have on the Internet community.

A baseline definition of the "public interest" in ICANN proved difficult to establish. In different parts of the world, the term "public" can mean different things; for its purposes, the group began to define the term by looking at aspects of the user experience affected by ICANN. A few of these were: (a) freedom of expression; (b) access to the network; (c) privacy; (d) competition; and (e) consumer rights. But it may not be possible to qualitatively identify every area of impact�particularly since issues which could be of broad concern to the Internet community two, five, or ten years from now may or may not seem relevant today. Still, in light of these the group agreed that user and/or consumer input into ICANN's policy activities is necessary.

The group also discussed the degree to which public input into ICANN could affect the scope of ICANN's activities. A tension seems to exist between the need to establish broad public input into ICANN and the danger that such input's legitimating effects could provide a basis for expanding ICANN into over-broad areas of policy-making. In other words, while ICANN needs a structure of public input and accountability similar to that seen in many governments, it must not use that structure to achieve broad, pseudo-governmental authority over the Internet. In this light, the group discussed the possibility of hard limits on ICANN's mission and activities (possibly written into ICANN's Articles of Incorporation).

The group agreed that some kind of "At-Large" representation at the Board level (and possibly elsewhere) was an obvious necessity. Intense discussion followed on the precise purposes such representation would serve. Ideas that were proposed:

The group's first session ended with the question of whether one institution could adequately serve all of the above functions.

In the second meeting, the group discussed possible organizational structures that could serve one, some, or all of the functions discussed above. The group attempted to list any/all organizational structures that could end up before the ICANN community over the next several months. Discussion of these options was purely creative, and the group did not discuss the relative merits or demerits of individual possibilities. None of these options were endorsed by the NAIS team; none were removed from consideration. The list of organizational structures included:

The team also discussed the possibility of models based on a one country, one vote scheme. Such a scheme would reduce concerns about nationalistic capture of At-Large elections, but may be impractical due to a shortage of voters (or candidates) in certain countries, as well as a concern about underrepresenting the interests of large nations. The nation-oriented structure also could create a collision with the GAC or the ccTLDs. The point was also raised that many of the issues ICANN addresses transcend national boundaries.

As the group discussed all the above options, there was discussion about NAIS's appropriate responsibilities in this report. There was agreement that the NAIS team is fully committed to a strong public voice in ICANN, but that a broad study could still be valuable since (a) a "clean sheet" study is called for in the bylaws, and will be the focus of ICANN's official At-Large Study Committee, (b) it provides an opportunity to look at other aspects of the ICANN structure besides the At-Large Membership - namely, the Supporting Organizations - and (c) the community will not be able to effectively evaluat the election without a good understanding of the underlying purpose of the election and the At-Large Membership. A proposal was made that if NAIS chooses to examine options that involve a radical restructuring of the At-Large Membership, it should be equally willing to explore deep-reaching changes to the SOs.

Before closing the meeting, all agreed that discussion of these options should not compromise the fundamental principles of representation and openness under which the NAIS project was originally begun.

The third NAIS meeting in Melbourne addressed largely procedural questions of the NAIS project. Members discussed the five regionally-oriented studies of the At-Large that will be undertaken this spring.

The NAIS team's current goal is to produce an interim report on the public voice in ICANN by the Stockholm meeting in early June. NAIS members will also explore the possibility of hosting another outreach event at that meeting.

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