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The At-Large: An Insider's View

Bruce Young

February 2002 was a seminal month in the evolution of the ICANN At-Large movement. We began hearing reports from our European members that ICANN's chief lawyer, Joe Sims, was in Brussels, Belgium, holding closed-door meetings with European Commission members to gauge their reaction to plans that completely restructure the ICANN board, replacing the At-Large with a body of government representatives! The rumors were confirmed days later when ICANN President M. Stuart Lynn posted his "ICANN - The Case for Reform”.

For some of our members, this was the last straw, and they left to pursue other interests. But many of us - outraged over the At-Large Study Committee (ALSC) Final Report, which had recommended elimination of elections, replacing users with domain name holders, and reducing our board presence from nine members to six - remained committed to gaining a countervailing user voice on the ICANN board. The Lynn Proposal, which called for eliminating direct At-Large involvement entirely, turned our anger and outrage to a steely resolve. For it was now clear that, in their March 2002 meeting in Accra, Ghana, ICANN intended to implement the Lynn Proposal and formally dispense with the At-Large.

Before long, armed with (1) an idea and US$1,000 in seed money from Pindar Wong, Hong Kong, China, (2) a domain name donated by Jefsey Morfin, Versailles, France, (3) web development skills provided by Joop Teernstra, Auckland, New Zealand, (4) a $10,000 pledge from former ICANN board chairman Esther Dyson, New York City, USA, and (5) support and pledges from most of the At-Large members around the world participating in the ALSC email forum conversations, ICANNATLARGE.COM was born. Our goal was - and is! - to use this website as a foundation on which to build an international organization to represent and defend the interests of Internet users worldwide, based on concepts ICANN espoused but never embraced: open, transparent, bottom-up developed processes; and policies driven by consensus. If the At-Large movement has a center, ICANNATLARGE.COM and the organization growing around it have become that center.

People have asked why Pindar Wong and Esther Dyson, who were on the ALSC and remain closely tied to ICANN, would have supported an effort to externally organize the At-Large movement after the ICANN Board had worked so hard to extinguish it. I can only suggest that they were initially motivated by the frustration of seeing the ALSC Final Report - which they had worked hard to engineer to ICANN's specifications& - be rejected by the Board. In evidence of this, I refer readers to an ALSC forum message posted by Esther on February 22, 2002, from which the following quote is taken:

"Accordingly, Pindar and I are overstepping our mandate as ALSC members but acting legally and I think appropriately as private individuals to galvanize the inchoate would-be At-Large members into some coherence and purpose and common mission, the better to present the Board with evidence rather than argument that such a thing is possible. We are trying to make the ALM look *safer and easier,* as part of whatever restructuring they decide on.

Our belief: If we at large can create the beginnings of such a group, then all the Board has to do is to give it some ICANN-official standing. It can then evolve, and because it will have some status, it will become more attractive to the heretofore marginalized and disengaged would-be members. meanwhile, those members will (I believe) self-organize more effectively and take care to engage constructively. Being taken seriously, they will *act* seriously."

Whatever their true motivation, Esther and Pindar were instrumental in kick-starting our self-organization and getting us to "act seriously," and for that we owe them a debt of gratitude.

It should be noted that while both are still on our membership roles, Pindar has been silent for months. As for Esther, she moved on to help form ICANN's At-Large Organizing Committee (ALOC) after it was clear she would have little influence over our organization's development. The direction of the organization quickly outgrew the narrow confines of its initial form, with numerous separate committees engaged in the "grunt work" that goes into building up an international nonprofit organization from scratch. And we are justifiably proud of the diversity of our membership, both nationally and politically.

In a previous article on this forum, Danny Younger called our effort "egalitarian," and there are certainly people of that bent amongst our membership. However, there are also many who desire continuing an intimate relationship with ICANN.

It is inevitable that a user-centric organization would have a very diverse range of opinions, and our membership most assuredly does! But we all share one goal: a desire to see a continuing voice for users in ICANN affairs, and a willingness to accept and support the consensus of our membership.

As for the ALOC, most of us in the At-Large view it as just another "AL*C" exercise, formed by ICANN primarily in response to our self-organization, and intended to dilute our message and divert our attention. It didn't work. Although we had people participate in the ALOC process, and remain committed to work with ICANN to the extent it allows, we also remain fully committed to completing our self-organization and beginning our outreach efforts.

To that end we recently elected an Executive Panel, and just completed a vote to select a permanent name for our organization, for which I was proud to serve as one of the watchdogs. By the time you read this, we should have a permanent name, and outreach will have begun.

For those interested in joining the At-Large movement, or just want to see what it's about, visit ICANNATLARGE.COM.

By Bruce Young, Senior Desktop Support Analyst
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