ICANN asks for public input regarding election rules

Having faced widespread criticism in the past for lacking transparency, representatives of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) fielded questions and concerns with reporters Friday on proposals the group made in a recent draft report concerning the election of certain ICANN board members.

"The controversy surrounding (ICANN's membership selection) has made it more difficult to address the issues ICANN needs to address," Carl Bildt, chairman of the organization's At-Large Study Committee (ALSC) said during a conference call Friday.

At stake is how the global Internet community participates in the election of ICANN At-Large Board Directors, who, along with the rest of the board, ultimately make decisions affecting how the Internet is regulated and administered.

The group is releasing the report to gain public input and awareness before it drafts a finalized version due to be presented in early November.

The issue of selecting At-Large Directors came to a head after last October's global online e-mail vote of new At-Large Directors raised concerns about election privacy and fairness. Following that election, ICANN chartered the At-Large Study Committee last March to answer questions related to the structure and processes governing the group's at-large membership.

ICANN is a nonprofit organization created in October of 1998 to take responsibility for IP (Internet Protocol) address space allocation, domain name system management, protocol parameter assignment and other functions previously performed by the U.S. government with the intent of ensuring the Internet's stability and dynamism.

ICANN bylaws stipulate that the organization be governed by a board of directors comprised of a president and chief executive officer (CEO), nine at-large directors, and nine directors selected by ICANN's supporting organizations.

However, the new report proposes that the group have six At-Large Board Directors selected from six different regions of the world, instead of the nine the bylaws call for. These directors would be selected by an at-large membership comprised of "individual domain name holders" and a new "At-Large Supporting Organization" (ALSO).

The domain name holders could chose to vote through an opt-in system, via their domain name registry. Voting rights would also incur a fee toward election administration, the group said.

In explaining why they chose to give domain name holders the option to vote for ICANN directors, ALSC member Pindar Wong said that "domain name holders have a lot of responsibility to make sure that their infrastructure works."

However, much issue was made in the conference over how individuals would be represented given that many domain names are owned by corporations and resellers.

The group defended its choice, saying that individuals within corporations, such as domain administrators, would be responsible for voting, and that resellers would not be willing to pay the fee to gain voting rights.

"We are putting these recommendations out for discussion," ALSC member Esther Dyson said. "It may require a change of course."

Bildt added that ICANN was "not participating in a beauty contest," saying that the group was seeking a plan that would find a consensus and would work over the long term.

The group also recommended that an At-Large Supporting Organization be created to "help represent the public interest and foster informed participation by individuals in ICANN."

In addition, it suggested that geographically-based member elections for the At-Large Supporting Organization be instituted to provide members for six directly-elected Regional At-Large Councils and one global At-Large Council, as well as the six directly-elected At-Large Directors meant to serve on the ICANN board.

The At-Large Councils would help build and manage the At-Large Supporting Organization, the group said, serving as a local and regional framework for collecting different viewpoints and enabling consensus decision-making.

ICANN's public outreach comes after the group came under considerable criticism in the past from opponents who claim that it has made poor policy choices, lacked communication and acted secretively.

The group drew fire earlier this year after selecting the seven new generic top-level domain (TLD) names .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro [See "ICANN domain name process under fire" Feb. 8]. Critics claimed that the TLD choices were not made in a fair manner.

The ALSC will present a finalized version of the report in early November, after which ICANN board members will decide upon it at their Nov. 14 meeting in Los Angeles.

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