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Hilyard Has a Historic Chance to Activate ICANN At-Large

Jacob Malthouse

The .ORG sale has placed Maureen Hilyard — ICANN's At-large Chair — squarely between the largest outpouring of individual user sentiment that the Internet community has ever seen, and the people who can do something about it. For At-large, the stakes are high.

ICANN has spent years building up a user organization to balance corporate and government interests. At-large could be a key bulwark against the capture of Internet resources by those with capital and political power. It is meant to be the Internet's "user power."

Before acting, Hilyard and her leadership team must answer three questions: First, are these views relevant? Second, are they substantial? And third, are there other views?

1. Are Nonprofit User Views Relevant

Some may argue that it is not in the At-large remit to represent non-profits. This is preposterous. At-large cannot be in the business of cherry-picking Internet user views based on their organizational status. To do so would set a dangerous and discriminatory precedent.

Imagine if the next concern voiced by Internet users happened to be a petition from 20,000 Jewish people and 500 Jewish synagogues requesting that ICANN prevent the .NAZI domain from being created?

At-large would be rightly castigated if it decided to ignore the views of the Jewish community purely because they were Jewish. That is not only dangerous, it is not how At-large works. At-large needs to represent Internet users, period.

2. Are Their Views Substantial?

There can be no clearer expression of Internet user's views on the .ORG sale than the nearly 20,000 signatures and over 500 non-profits that support the SaveDotOrg campaign. The petition alone dwarfs any other show of Internet user engagement at ICANN in the entire history of the Community.

This doesn't even consider the actions of the UN Special Rapporteur, 4 US Senators, and the Address Supporting Organization, all of which are highly relevant expressions of groups that also work to represent Internet users and the public.

3. Are there other views?

There has been no substantial or significant opposition of any kind to the views expressed by the users who are behind SaveDotOrg campaign.

There may be anecdotal differences of opinion within ICANN networks or even within At-large. There may be lobbying opposition from Ethos/PIR. But these are red herrings.

While these views may appear significant in the context of At-large member one-on-one discussion, they must be set beside the known and expressed views of Internet users on the issue and considered accordingly. Ethos is a single, tiny American company with two employees. Vint Cerf is a single Internet user, and ISOC is a single non-profit.

Advocating the views of those who support the sale or think it irrelevant is tantamount to electing someone to office based on their getting 1% of the vote. That's not bottom-up. It's top-down. The voice of Internet users on this matter is clear. It is the voice of the SaveDotOrg campaign.

Time to Act.

At-large is a kind of consumer rights organization at ICANN. The .ORG sale — with all of the red flags surrounding it — is a historic inflection point.

Thus far, Hilyard and her team have been silent on .ORG. This is already a lost opportunity. There is still an opportunity to show leadership.

Hilyard can lead the charge for ALAC to rally behind the ASO Empowered Community letter to ICANN regarding .ORG. The Empowered Community is the most innovative mechanism that the Internet Community has come up with in years. It is the solution to the age-old question of "who will police the police." Internet Governance desperately needs tools like this to work. Used well, they can help ensure a global internet that is not ruled by any one stakeholder group.

Hilyard can also reach out to the SaveDotOrg campaign to understand how — not whether — to best represent their views within At-large. At-large must know that to represent Internet users; its first job should be to look externally and not internally. The Internet community doesn't end at ICANN's borders.

At-large must now choose. It can either demonstrate its effectiveness as a mechanism for the world's Internet users to engage in the Internet Community and defend Internet Governance. Or it can ignore them and, like the Internet Society, make a decision that ignores the clear majority view of those it is meant to represent.

I support At-large, and I hope they choose to act.

By Jacob Malthouse, Fmr UNEP Staffer, Ex ICANN VP, Co-founder dot-eco domain registry.
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Share your comments

At-large is a poisoned well. There are Kevin Ohashi  –  Jan 07, 2020 2:47 AM PDT

At-large is a poisoned well. There are people repping the registry interests actively making sure no progress on the issue will be made. Anything said that pushes towards supporting the SaveDotOrg campaign will be met with anything to distract or prevent any forward movement towards support. They know they just have to delay and it will get pushed through. ALAC being paralyzed by a few bad actors is their goal and they are winning.

They institutionally will attack people for pointing out the conflicts of interests. Because those people hold a lot of influence. You must play by our rules they say, because those rules are designed to keep them empowered and the regular folks screwed. Because any rational person who understands what's going over there would be infuriated and frustrated. The ICANN governance model has failed and continues to fail.

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