Credit where credit’s due, the disclosure of Board materials of the organisation that oversees the domain name system, ICANN, has greatly improved since its first and woeful effort.
The materials for a special Board meeting held in September over the “new gTLD” process are clear, organised and understandable. They also help to publicly demonstrate the large amount of professional work that goes on at ICANN. The issues in front of ICANN are clearly and concisely laid out, complete with arguments and recommendations with rationale. ICANN should be rightly proud of this sort of work.
The September materials also show clear improvement over those for the previous meeting in August – which are not as well structured and suffer from many of the same fault as previous months. That said, and despite a clear improvement for September, several significant procedural problems remain with the publication of Board materials, namely:
In the 1990s, on Channel 4 in the UK, the Pakistani team game Kabbadi was shown Sunday mornings for several hours. The only explanation can be that the broadcasting rights were cheap.
Kabbadi is a silly but oddly fascinating game. A bunch of middle-aged, overweight men stand at opposite ends of what looks like a small beach-volleyball court (without the net). One man steps forward from one team (the attacker); one man from the other team meets him. The first man has to get past the second to the other end of the court; if he does, he gets a point. If he fails; the teams switch, defense to attack and vice-versa.
The twist is that the attacking man has to constantly mutter the word “kabbadi”. The usefulness of this is that it naturally limits the time the attacker can spend trying to find his way past his opponent – because he runs out of breath.
At the ITU Plenipot, they have their own version of Kabbadi called “Chairman”. So long as government delegates say the word “Chairman” or “Mr Chairman” every ten seconds they can keep talking, and talking and talking.
The game is played by the same middle-aged, over-weight men, although they are dressed in suits rather than stripped to the waist. There are always two sides (although the team members vary). And they take it in turns to square up to one another and find a way to sneak past them. Just like Kabbadi it is very silly but oddly fascinating.
The International Telecommunication Union is a walking contradiction.
There are many things wrong with the organisation: its closed nature; its budgeting; its out-of-date and out-of-control procedures – and yet not only is the ITU aware of this, but there are formal proposals here in Guadalajara to make changes to fix many of them.
The ITU is stuck in the past, but at the same time its staff and many of its members are living in the immediate present, sitting at the cutting-edge of technology. So why is there such a huge cultural disparity?
An answer of sorts comes in the form of Syria’s permanent representative to the ITU, Nabil Kisrawi. Mr Kisrawi used to work for the ITU – between 1979 and 1992. Since then – nearly 20 years – he has been a constant feature of the ITU.
Mr Kisrawi has an encyclopedic knowledge of the organisation and its procedures. Younger delegates speak admiringly about how he helped them understand the complexities of the ITU when they joined. He is also admired for his ability to follow events in multiple rooms and turn up at the right moment to speak to the room – which he does with no more than a notepad and a bundle of the latest papers. And he is, I am told, a pleasant and friendly person to converse with.
Unfortunately, on the basis of every intervention I have seen Mr Kisrawi make in the past week – and there have been hundreds of them – he is also the most obstructive, unhelpful, out-of-touch and stubborn government representative I have ever come across. And that is some achievement.
Nearly two months ago, I reviewed the ICANN Board and staff’s efforts at releasing the information that goes into the Board’s decision-making.
I was pretty scathing – and for good reason. It was a poorly managed, poorly handled, largely pointless exercise that saw huge chunks of information blacked-out for no discernible reason, and provided without notice, on a webpage four pages deep into the ICANN website, in two large PDF documents.
For some reason it reminded me of Douglas Adams’ classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where Arthur outlines exactly how he managed to get his hands on the council’s plans to demolish his house [see below].
So, what has been ICANN’s reaction? Well, it appears to have got upset at not being paraded through the streets for providing the bare minimum of information about decisions that it makes on the community behalf, and so has decided not to bother at all anymore.
It is now 8 October and there are no materials at all for the 5 August meeting, or the 24-25 September meeting of the Board. Which contrasts somewhat with the next-day publication of the September meeting resolutions which the Board wanted published.
It’s really more Kafka than Adams.
I’ve sent the following note to ICANN’s Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) on its own mailing list that it pays no attention to.
I’m frustrated that they have become a part of the problem, rather than the solution. And in reviewing their draft recommendations, you can’t help but be struck by the vagueness, lack of focus, and weak wording. Anyway…
Gandhi said: “You must *be the change* you want to see in the world.”
When you put out a call for ATRT members to provide statements of interest in being a member of the team, you received 26 applicants.
Of these, 17 were “endorsed” – although we don’t quite know through what process or why.
Of these 10 were chosen for the team – although we don’t quite know through what process or why.
When Becky Burr was kicked off the team for an apparent conflict of interest that she had declared from day one, the ccNSO replaced her with Chris Disspain – a very able and respected member of the community but not someone who was in the original 26 applicants, or 17 endorsed candidates.
Just this week, Willie Currie has stepped down from his position on the ATRT because he has taken a job with a regulator in his own country. The NCSG part of the GNSO replaced him with Carlos Alfonso – a very able and respected member of the community but not someone who was in the original 26 applicants, or 17 endorsed candidates.
This begs two big questions:
I have avoided the meetings of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) into ICANN for a few months because it was so incredibly frustrating to listen to 60 minutes of people organising hotel rooms in different parts of the world while the ICANN Board and staff ran rings around them.
But the meeting popped up while I was in front of my computer this afternoon so I decided to listen in. The 90-minute scheduled meeting lasted just over 30, and nothing was discussed except for organising its next trip – to Boston this time – and what sort of meeting the ATRT would have with the Board when the review team is on the final leg of its international tour of pointlessness in Cartagena in December.
While this was going on I noted a new document had appeared called CA-Corp-Law. It’s a PDF so I downloaded it and read it and it comes from ICANN Board/General Counsel. You can download it here [pdf]. And it states that ICANN is *legally* obliged to never allow a process that forces the Board to act. I then spent the next 15 minutes trying, and failing, to get the review team to discuss the fact that its entire work product had no weight whatsoever in ICANN’s eyes.
I thought the ATRT was dead in the water before this point. But now that the team won’t even discuss the fact that it is wasting its time, I think it’s pretty certain that the fearless wolf of review has been beaten, neutered and house-trained and that being forced to recognise that it is also toothless was too much for it to bear.
The ATRT is a dud. ICANN’s accountability problems will remain. Next time this issue explodes, it may take ICANN down with it.
Here’s a copy of the chatroom for the meeting. You may be able to sense my frustration:
Two very interesting things are happening today that may have an enormous impact on the Internet for many years to come.
First, the ICANN Board is meeting at a special two-day retreat in Trondheim, Norway, in an effort to finalise the rules for new Internet extensions. This process have been going on for more than five years – two years longer than was planned – and it appears that everyone is now tired of the back-and-forth and wants results. The hope is that the “Applicant Guidebook” will be formally approved at the ICANN meeting in Cartagena in December.
The second interesting thing is a letter [pdf] from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN to the Board giving very precise and useful comments about what it feels about some of the outstanding issues in the new rules. These letters are usually carefully timed and this is no exception – it appears the day before the Board retreat. It is also a fair assumption that the ICANN chairman and CEO and senior management already know much of what was in the letter and may have helped in its production.
So, here’s the big question: will the Board be able to make the decisions necessary for a fifth and final version of the Applicant Guidebook to be produced in time for the Cartagena meeting?
I’m an optimist, so I’m going to say Yes; I think they will be able to do it. Well, almost all of it, with the rest thrashed out in Cartagena. Here’s why and where I think the axe will come down.
Having spent the past three days grumbling and moaning about the Internet Governance Forum 2010, I pre-decided it was time to highlight the good stuff, the reason why people from 107 different countries bothered to attend.
If you asked pretty much anyone at the event if the numbers were up or down this year, everyone would have said down. There just didn’t seem to be that many people about. But according to the (initial) official figures, 1,900 souls turned up, making it the biggest IGF so far.
This figure will drop, but last year an initial figure of 1,800 was given on a final figure of 1,480, so unless there was a huge drop-out rate, Vilnius was a success in numbers. It compares to 1,280 in Hyderbad (2008); 1,291 in Rio De Janeiro (2007); and 1,350 in Athens (2006)).
Why the sense of fewer people then? So far I have four theories:
If you were to list Internet conferences in terms of boredom, the IGF would come mid to top-table.
It doesn’t have the razzmatazz or micro-celebrities of Web2.0 conferences but then it also doesn’t suffer the long, drawn-out pondering of intergovernmental talk-fests.
That’s why it’s so important that the Critical Internet Resources main session at the IGF is a hotbed of intrigue and barely disguised fury. Without this session getting the blood going, attendees may not make it through the remaining three days.
But, sadly, this time it was not to be. On a quick straw poll, the session – which is even codenamed so that the word “ICANN” doesn’t appear on big screens and send people into a frenzy – was mostly described as “slightly dull”. How can this be?
The sad answer is: high-level politics. Usually what happens is some government delegate, typically from China or Saudi Arabia will get up and start denouncing the current systems as unaccountable, or tightly controlled by the US government, or some variation of this theme. Often they’ll helpfully misrepresent reality, which then fires up someone else – usually American – to get up and start crowing back. And then, as they say in the States, it’s game on.
But the touchpaper was never lit yesterday. Why? Because there’s a bigger game on the horizon: the whole future of the IGF is up for discussion between now and the end of the year at the United Nations, plus the ITU Plenipot next month in Mexico requires all governments to keep their powder dry so they can make deals.
So they said nothing at all. I’m not sure they even turned up to see what others said. Once firestarter who was there, ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom, didn’t move from his chair. Moderators Chris Disspain and Jeanette Hoffmann were so surprised at the lack of fight that neither of them even noticed giant insects had settled on their faces.
I was the remote moderator for two workshops at the IGF today: Digital inclusion: reaching the most socially excluded people in society (workshop 114); and Protecting the Consumer in an on-line world (workshop 112).
I’m not going to give rundown here but I am going to stick videos of both below – highlighting the excellent live video and video archive facility in place at http://webcast.intgovforum.org.