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ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice

Wendy Seltzer

ICANN seems to be out to re-prove Hirschman's theories of exit, voice, and loyalty by driving all of its good people to exit rather than giving them meaningful voices. Thomas Roessler, a long-time advocate of individual users' interests on the interim ALAC now suggests it's Time to Reconsider the structure of ICANN's At-Large, as he feels compelled to promise himself not to get involved with ICANN again.

Roessler and Patrick Vande Walle both express their frustration at interference and infighting in the formation of the European Regional At-Large Organization. Here's Roessler:

To this day, I still occasionally dangle my feet into these waters, though I've again and again promised myself not to do it again.

To say I'm disappointed by what I've seen recently would be an understatement: While I'm happy there is a number of people who, presumably, really want to move things, I'm appalled to see how discussions among both European and North American participants take on an increasingly divisive tone. There isn't much to be seen of a common goal to advocate users' interest in ICANN — rather, a lot of fighting for table scraps (when there's more than enough work for anybody who wants to gamble some of their time on ICANN and its at-large activities!). ALAC's ICANN staff support seems most interested in staging pretty signing ceremonies and press events, one per ICANN General Meeting.

The result? Artificial and rushed time lines, premature consensus calls, and a lot of bad blood and mistrust among participants who really ought to be working together (and have been able to talk reasonably to each other before they got into fights around ICANN). Also, the ability for ICANN to pretend that there's real end user participation and representation, when there are really very few ways (if any) for ALAC to make a real difference in policy decisions — even though the committee has some limited power to help shape ICANN's policy agenda.

And Vande Walle, concerned that a push for "diversity" became a stereotyped exclusion of experienced participants:

All this for the sole purpose of pushing on the side those who invested a lot of time over the years into ICANN and ALAC processes. If this is an added value to ICANN and ALAC, I do not know. Frankly, I am skeptic. Time will tell.

From now on, I will watch from the outside. So long, guys.

Hirschman notes that exit and voice are alternative means of expressing dissatisfaction with organizations in decline. The smart organization listens and reverses course, the stupid one just declines further.
ICANN needs these people. They have good ideas about how to respond to the public interest in domain name management. But, controlled by commercial interests who'd rather raise prices on their domain-name monopolies or shield trademarks against potential dilution, ICANN doesn't have the inclination to listen to the individuals who make up the public. It keeps sending us back to play in sandboxes building complex structures upon structures, all to shield the organization from having to hear our voices.

So, as the opportunity costs of attempting to deal with ICANN grow too great, good people exit. ICANN asks for bottom-up development, but when there's no way for the bottom to connect with the top, we get frustrated down here and find better things to do with our time.

To students of political economy, at least, the exodus from At-Large should send a louder message than any public comments or advisory committee efforts ever do.

By Wendy Seltzer, Law professor
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Re: ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice Suresh Ramasubramanian  –  May 22, 2007 11:10 PM PDT

Well, there seems to be a new "structure" emerging to see what it can do - some people have been harping on RALOs as the new feature of the at large model, have to see how it goes.

Re: ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice John Berryhill  –  May 24, 2007 4:45 AM PDT

ICANN needs these people. They have good ideas about how to respond to the public interest in domain name management.

By what mechanism did any relevant public authorize these people to act as their representatives in the ICANN process?

Re: ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice Wendy Seltzer  –  May 24, 2007 4:48 AM PDT

John Berryhill said:

ICANN needs these people. They have good ideas about how to respond to the public interest in domain name management.

By what mechanism did any relevant public authorize these people to act as their representatives in the ICANN process?

By what mechanism has any relevant public authorized any of ICANN's activities since ICANN killed at-large elections?

Re: ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice John Berryhill  –  May 24, 2007 7:18 AM PDT

By what mechanism has any relevant public authorized any of ICANN’s activities since ICANN killed at-large elections?

Indeed, it is the same question.  The take-away here being, I suppose, that there is some collection of guardians of the public good which are better than the current ones.

Perhaps Louis XVI could have more constructively engaged the Third Estate, but I do admit that Napoleon was a better civil administrator for France.

As long as I can remain court jester, the palace politics don't bother me that much.

Re: ICANN's At-Large Process: Exit, Without Voice VBDesign  –  Jul 26, 2007 8:02 PM PDT

I, extremely, object to the characterization of ICANN as some sort of evil cartel driven to world domination. I think it is far too easy for people to point fingers at ICANN and make accusations of corruption, when the matter is clearly one of ineptitude. The paranoid conspiracy theorists insist that ICANN has become little more than its own evil empire, answerable to no-one. I have several reasons for believing that this can not be the case.

There are reasons that have nothing to do with an evil agenda which may allow for ICANN being answerable to no one. It isn't as though they refuse to answer, they have simply made themselves unavailable to the questions. That is a completely different matter.

Their agenda is clearly not global domination, but to aquire the world's supply of frequent flier miles and to see how many different places in the world they can power-lunch while ignoring the peasants.

It may be taken as a given that any sinister plan, requires at least some minimum degree of actual planning.

Everyone knows that evil cartels with aspirations to global domination have an evil overlord, a leader who is both evil and effective.

An evil overlord rules with an iron fist. Muscular hypertrophy of the right hand doesn't count.

An evil overlord would never rely upon Brownian Movement as an organizational model.

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