Some responses to questions about ICANN

Kieren asked some questions, related to ICANN. Here are my answers.

Kieren McCarthey is a British journalist, and is running for the ICANN Board in the 2006 elections. See the exchange we have had on issues relevant to ICANN

Veni: Initially I was thinking of responding Kieren at his blog, but then it turned out a bigger answer, so I want to have it here. I’ve made them sound like a conversation, so that it makes more sense.

ICANN’s processes are not open. You may believe they are because you have ready access to the information and the people with the information. Things are changing but ICANN cannot claim to be open as yet. For instance:
Agenda of Board meetings. For a long time no one had a clue when they were of what was going to be discussed. That is partially solved now, with the agenda and dates going up on the website, but there are still sudden meetings and things are still added to or removed from the agenda at the will of the chairman, sometimes without explanation.

– The Agenda is published now in a timely manner. I don’t want to live in history, and go back years ago, and argue how it was long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

Board meeting minutes. We are constantly told that free-ranging and intelligent debate is held during Board meetings. But people don’t buy it when the final decision appears to go against what everyone has been saying. Everyone is simply not willing to accept the word of people within the meeting with the most to gain – and nor should they be. The little that we have seen of Board meetings, appears to demontrate that half the Board gets involved in debate and the other say nothing or contribute nothing – and then vote in the way the chairman wishes them to. That’s how it looks from the outside. If it’s wrong, ICANN needs to prove so.

– To say that we vote the way the chairman wants, is simply not right. Take as an example any vote, where there is no full majority. The fact that not all directors speak is correct – and you’ve seen it also during the public Board meetings. But that’s quite normal. Do you think that if all board directors were speaking, that would have made ICANN look better? Are we there to make the organization look better, or to actually make it work better?

If there is a bottom-up consensus, why doesn’t ICANN publish the papers produced by ICANN staff summarising issues? Surely this is just a case of boiling down what people have said if there is a bottom-up process? The problem is, and we all know it, that the ICANN staff frequently provide a one-sided brief to the Board which pushes ICANN staff’s best interests. And the Board has been very weak in bringing this distortion of the decision-making process to account.

– You say that the papers are produced “in the interest of the staff”? I don’t agree with that. The staff is appointed by the CEO, who is elected by the Board. If the Board thinks that staff uses the papers for their own interest, and not in the interest of the organization, don’t you think the Board would have reacted by now? Or do you believe that the Board directors are people, who are “isolated” and don’t have clear view on the organization? I hope you are not that extreme in your thinking.

It is nigh on impossible to find relevant information. ICANN now recognises that simply posting something to the website (where it can’t be found even if you knew it had gone up) does not justify the constant refrain that “it has been up for public comment”. But that is a very recent development. The black hole of the ICANN website has been carefully used for years to push through changes that ICANN staff know people won’t like.

– The web site is already suggested for change. You should send your proposals for improvements, not just complain “it’s difficult to find this file”. Besides, let’s not forget that people tend to use Google for finding anything. That’s not approval of the way the web site looks; it’s just a note to say that the way the web site looked was probably not among the top priorities of the CEO – and it’s perfectly reasonable.

The process that decides who gets what role within ICANN and ICANN constituencies is opaque at best and downright corrupt in some places. The same people have been in the same job – and here I mean mostly committees and constituencies that the process is stale and self-contained. There is an in-crowd to the extent that everyone goes along with bad decisions because they don’t want to incur displeasure. That is a poor way to reaching consensus.

– I don’t think that decisions on the Board level are made on the asumption, as you point it, “don’t want to incur displeasure”. Your statement is not based on facts, but on thinking that “it may be that way, so it is that way”.

ICANN pays no attention to public comments made on the website and as a result no one bothers to post any, which is then used as an indication that everything must be fine. Everyone *knows* that is what happens and yet everyone also pretends they don’t.

– The public comments are always taken into consideration. That does not mean that the decision should be taken always in accordance with every comment, right? The fact that people don’t post comments only shows what’s their interest in ICANN. It’s not to contribute through the mechanisms that exist, but rather to ride the wave of criticizing ICANN. It’s always easy to criticize, but it’s very difficutl to contribute adequately.

The first instinct within ICANN at the moment is not to give information. It is then referred to an over-burdened legal department in a permanent state of anxiety, slowing the process down even further and causing a culture to be created of just not bothering to provide information.

– When you say ICANN’s first instinct is to not give information, what do you mean?

There is no appeals process. It is a phantom. And everybody *knows* it, except everybody pretends not to. That is ridiculous and has caused – and it always has done and always will do – an element of corruption because people ultimately know they can do what they want anyway. It breeds contempt for people that argue whereas in fact what ICANN should be doing is encouraging debate, not stifling it.

– Appeal process for what? The Board can always vote again on their decisions, so in a way, one can appeal to the Board. Or to the Ombudsman, in certain cases. If you want to suggest that ICANN needs an appeal body, that requires changes in the by-laws, and some budget, and it will be done, if necessary. But again, the way to suggest this is with proposal, not with criticism.
I am sure that there are more problems, but there is also work behind the scenes, which is being done by ICANN staffers, who are humble, workoholic people. The least we can give them is pay some respect for the work they do. If you want to change thing, you can join the Board – and you want that, or join the staff, and in either ways – help ICANN become better. After all, when ICANN is better, that means the way the Internet is being run, is also better.
People often forget (some don’t know it, some prefer to forget it), that the issue about ICANN is not who is the chair, who is the CEO, but what the organization does. When there are redelegaitons that last long, people complain from IANA. When redelegations take place in weeks, people don’t even mention it. The checks and balances are not working well in the community. One can criticize, but one should also be fair. I am not so sure it works.

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2 Responses to Some responses to questions about ICANN

  1. Kieren says:

    Hey Veni. I wonder whether it’s just us having this discussion – I hope not. Anyway, some broad points in response to your responses.

    * You are too defensive and protective of ICANN, and I think that’s indicative of the general culture surrounding ICANN which is doing it no favours. ICANN is now solid and needs to get over its insecurity. And that means rather than saying “but, but, but” it has to say “I’ll see what I can do”.

    * I have a lot of respect for ICANN staffers. I know how hard they work and I know how hard it must be for them. But – and it is an important but – I only know this because I have gradually got to know one or two of them because of constant questions and requests for interviews etc etc. The Internet community as a rule doesn’t meet ICANN staffers (although this is definitely changing for the better with the new influx) and so they get only the front page: which is usually guarded and not particularly helpful.

    * I would say that the website for ICANN – the organisation that oversees the Internet – should be an absolute priority coming just below vital administrative functions. I’ve made a load of suggestions for changing the website btw on the wiki that has been set up.

    * Your comment about the appeals process is very worrying. The Reconsideration Committee is viewed almost exclusively outside ICANN as a joke, and Frank Fowlie was purposefully given a restricted remit and powers to give the impression of review when it is clear he acts more as a lubricant for problems than an actual independent review force.

    But, you know, ICANN is getting there and the main reason behind my ICANN Board bid was so that I could explain to people inside the organisation how to change and why change was in their own interests without being in the confrontational role of a reporter.


  2. I hope it’s not only us – but the others should not be so shy to join 🙂

    I agree I am defensive. You may find it on your own. When I spend half of my time working pro bono for an organization, I become defensive, if someone blames the staff. I don’t think it has to do with insecurity. It’s called fairness.
    The front page you are talking about – it’s changing. Let’s not forget that in the beginning there are always glitches; we – you, me, the Board, the staff, other normal people around ICANN, are trying to a) fix them, and b) make sure they don’t repeat.

    The web site – yes, it needs a lot of change, but I’ve been in that business for 10 years now; I believe the first presidential campaign I did online was in 1996. It IS a difficult task. ICANN is quite a complex organization; I’d rather have a simple website, than a screwed one. And the staff is working on fixing it.

    The Reconsideration Committee consists of Board directors; if there’s a valid request, they review it. I don’t doubt they do their job at the highest possible standards. Frank’s office is actually quite independant from ICANN; the Board is very supportive. If he needs something to do his job better, he’s always coming back. I have no doubts that he’s not only capable, but actually doing a great job.
    You see – that’s the point here: why criticize both him and the RC? Because some people view this as a joke?

    I think that you can actually explain a lot to people inside ICANN how to change – including by involving in communications with directors and staffers. There’s no way to change ICANN by talking to people who claim the same problems for years. The only way to solve a problem is by providing a solution. I’d be happy to see you as part of the solution, not part of the problem, or – God forbid – part of the landscape, in this tri-option question.

    Enjoy your weekend!

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