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Why I’m Standing for the ICANN Board and Why I’ve made My Statement Public

The number of applications this year for the seven positions within ICANN has been so low that the NomCom has gone to the trouble of printing up pamphlets, holding a public meeting at Marrakech and extending the deadline by a fortnight.

At the two public Board sessions in Marrakech the grand hall that was provided was virtually empty, sparking some debate as to why. Susan Crawford ventured that it was because ICANN was failing to connect with people; Vint Cerf suggested that ICANN was so successful at doing its job that people didn’t feel the need to attend. Mouhamet Diop pointed out that we were in a French-speaking Arabic country and no one was going to sit through four hours of discussion if they didn’t understand a word of it.

Everyone right across the board have been complaining that the lack of communication and often the lack of transparency in ICANN’s processes has reached an intolerable level.

And that is why I sent my application today to the Nominating Committee putting myself forward for a Board position in December. It strikes me that with a Board made up of lawyers, businessmen, ex-government officials and engineers there is a vital element missing: someone that doesn’t think that closed doors are the best way to sort out difficult problems. I’ve been a journalist most of my adult life and I would venture that ICANN needs someone like me for a change.

That is also the reason why I have stuck my entire application up online. You can read it on my blog here.

Mentality of secrecy

The logic of making the NomCom process completely confidential and its deliberations and methods secret is clearly expressed and quickly understood by many in the ICANN/Internet community. It saves people unnecessary embarrassment if they don’t get chosen. There are people who may not want people to know they are standing, and so on.

I would argue that this seam of logic is the same one that runs through a huge number of ICANN processes—best to keep it between people that can be trusted to make the right decision. It is the reason why so much of ICANN remains so opaque. And it is why so few people have applied to become part of ICANN this year and why so few people turn up any more to open Board sessions.

People should be proud of applying to become an ICANN Board member. It is a hell of a lot of work, it is a difficult, often thankless task and it comes with no financial reward. Anyone that is willing to sign themselves up to that should be glad to have their name in public. It should be a case of “it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part”.

Until that mentality, rather than the one that is currently, and unhappily, fostered within ICANN is allowed to take hold, then we are not going to see any open and transparent, bottom-up decision-making processes.

That’s why I am standing for the ICANN Board and that is why I’ve made my statement public. I can only seek to encourage others to do the same.

Here is my statement incidentally:

* * *

Statement of Interest ICANN Nominating Committee 2006

Kieren McCarthy

I believe that ICANN is best placed, best equipped, best prepared and best suited to ensuring that the Internet’s enormous potential is fulfilled in the best interests of all its users.

However, I am concerned that without an important degree of change—which can most effectively be brought about through the Board of Directors—that the organisation’s ability to moderate between competing interests to find an equitable solution for all will be severely curtailed.

For that reason, I am putting myself forward as a candidate to the Board because I believe I possess a set of skills that would prove extremely valuable to ICANN over the next few years.

ICANN has been forced to adapt to circumstance numerous times since its inception, each time following pressure from constituencies who have had little choice but to keep pace with the medium itself. It is quite clear that we are again at that crossroads, and this time it is the issue of transparency that is foremost in people’s minds.

There have been a number of highly contentious issues of late—the dotnet and dotcom contracts, the .xxx domain, the budget—and at the centre of each has been a general failure of communication in both directions between ICANN (staff and Board) and those loosely defined as the Internet community. It is telling, for example, that even just a few months away from the MoU and the IANA contracts, from which ICANN derives all of its authority, that discussion has been limited to private groups, where open public discussion would clearly be preferable.

This generalised failure to communicate is especially ironic given the fact that the Internet has enabled wider, freer and simpler communication than at any other point in history. It is also understandable: ICANN does have limited resources and in the past few years they have been directed at the wider political arena. That ICANN has made it intact through the WGIG and WSIS process is testament to that focus. However, I believe it is now essential for ICANN to eschew the secrecy that governments prefer and return to its roots, where agreement is reached by open consensus. RFCs helped create the Internet and they can help it evolve too.

I think the main stumbling block to returning to an open and inclusive model of governance is not that people are unwilling or unable to do so, but more that they are uncertain of how to do it effectively. This is where I believe I can be of assistance. Not only do I earn my living from making information publicly available, but I have significant experience in media training, advising company executives on how to provide information and, just as importantly, how to explain difficult and complex realities openly, so avoiding accusations of secrecy or wrong-doing without damaging their own interests.

I should make it clear at this point that I recognise that if I was accepted as an ICANN Board member, it would have a significant impact on my journalism in relation to ICANN and to related Internet matters. If I was accepted, ICANN’s interests would be placed above journalistic concerns. In practice, this would mean writing comment-free stories only from information publicly available, or comment-only pieces written as an ICANN Board member, the like of which are frequently written by existing Board members.

I believe that with ICANN now widely accepted as the technical authority for the Internet, it should provide a clear voice to the world from that technical perspective—there is certainly no shortage of topics that could do with it: IDNs, URIs, domain names, IPv6, and of course the next-generation networks that will again turn everything on its head. ICANN has too often been used as a political football but its real strength comes from the people that continue to work tirelessly and for little financial reward in order to maintain the culture that made the Internet possible in the first place.

I also believe very strongly in maintaining a single, universal root and so retaining the core characteristic that has made the Internet such an extraordinary force in the past decade. I remain confident that despite all the pressures and enticements for people to move away from this model that the logic of retaining a single root can prove strong enough to act as a catalyst for solving all the problems, past, present and future that the Internet creates.

I have been following ICANN and the Internet in general very closely for more than six years, and while I cannot claim the technical competence or even the management experience that would be ideal in a Board member, I see those weaknesses as strengths when it comes to relaying information to as many people as possible. I have discussed and reviewed the technical aspects of the Internet with Steve Crocker, Paul Mockapetris and Bob Kahn, much as I have discussed and reviewed its political components with Nitin Desai, David Gross and Masood Khan. My privileged role as a neutral observer with a press badge has seen me follow ICANN and related Internet issues across the globe, and given me access to the decision-makers in each case. As a result, I believe I have a valuable understanding of not only how ICANN works but also how it fits into the bigger picture.

In that sense, I was pleased to see so many people affiliated with ICANN sitting on the Advisory Board of the Internet Governance Forum, but at the same time it may be useful to reflect on the fact that many wider Internet users saw such participation in a negative light.

I would like to play a part in steering the future course of ICANN, and I would do so not in order to push any group or party’s aims or ambitions but solely as an Internet user in support of the medium itself.

By Kieren McCarthy, Freelance journalist; Executive Director at IFFOR

Filed Under


John Berryhill  –  Jul 11, 2006 7:20 PM

I’m surprised at the surprise of the empty public Board sessions.

What would be the point of attending them, for anyone?  The Board does not hold meaningful public discussions.  It is one thing for Board members to publish their reasons for voting one way or the other after the fact, but it would be quite another thing for the Board to hold discussions prior to a vote, during which their views might be understood, and the community would have appropriate time to engage board members in dialogue prior to a vote.

For example, the Board in Marrakech decided to note “with gratitude and affection the commitment and enthusiasm” of Michael Palage.  There was no public discussion of this weighty issue, nor was there a recommendation of the GNSO.  Consequently, it is not clear whether Michael’s commitment was noted with gratitude and his enthusiasm was noted with affection, or whether the gratitude and affection was intended to apply to both his commitment and enthusiasm.  Some more discussion leading up to this motion might have brought out quite a range of emotions relating to various aspects of Michael Palage, that might have reflected a deeper consensus of how the community may have, for example, noted various aspects of him with such feelings as “mirth”, “bemusement”, or “shock and awe”.  The GNSO might have even recommended an abstention of the entire Board in Michael’s honor.

But, alas, Mr. Palage is left with an ambiguous recitation of two emotional responses to a limited number of his considerable personal attributes.

Kieren McCarthy  –  Jul 12, 2006 2:21 PM

I agree with you John. The problem is not that decisions are made in comparative secrecy, or that people in the Internet community are lacking in ideas or views, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be a clear connection between someone saying something and ICANN reacting in any noticeable manner.

These changes do happen - because I follow them as closely as I can - but the route followed from an idea or suggestion to possible alteration in how ICANN works is so meandering and opaque that often the two don’t appear to be connected at all.

As for Mr Palage’s farewell, the two subjects I would have picked to discuss were why Michael wasn’t there and why it was Hagen Hultzch reading out part of the thanks.


Kieren McCarthy  –  Jul 14, 2006 2:42 PM

I have created a page on ICANNWiki for anyone else that is happy to state publicly that they have applied to the NomCom for one of the positions.

I note that Patrick Vande Walle has announced on his blog that he is standing. Hopefully this will encourage more people…


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