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Users come last in ICANN elections scramble

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Defending the English monarchy in the 19th Century, the social historian Walter Bagehot argued that for the general good, its mechanics should be kept incomprehensible and largely invisible.

"I can conceive of nothing more corrupting or worse for a set of poor ignorant people than that two combinations of well-taught and rich men should constantly offer to defer to their decision, and compete for the office of executing it. Vox populi will be vox diaboli if it is worked in that manner," he wrote.

This week ICANN - the secretive quango charged with maintaining the Internet's domain names and numbers - managed to argue that its oversubscribed board elections were both a sign of healthy democracy... and a terrible case of vox diaboli.

ICANN bargained for 10,000 voters for its 'at large' board - and found it had received over 150,000 votes. Quoted in a credulous report on ZDNet, spin doctor Pamela Brewster (and other ICANN members) claimed that the large turn out could have been "just a basic misunderstanding of the dry technical nature of what ICANN actually does". In other words, 'go away, folks, there's nothing to see here'.

That comment went unquestioned, as did a more remarkable contender for quote of the week - and maybe the most optimistic piece of spin doctoring since Neville Chamberlain. Brewster trilled that "in Europe they think that ICANN is the UN of the Internet".

Well it's true that in many parts of the world UN is obliged to do its work under a hail of missiles, but we fail to see many other similarities.

On the other hand, ICANN could just be spinning blindly and hoping for the best. It's simultaneously arguing that it's a scientific technical forum which needs no user input, because it's making scientific and not social decisions. At the same time it's demanding the popular respect of users as an arbitrer with a popular mandate. And hoping no one spots the contradiction...

But as law professor and ICANNWatch editor David Post points out, ICANN controls a choke point on the Internet - "and there's no constraint on their ability to charge a fee". Speaking to The Register last month, one of ICANN's core registrars Dr Jonathan Robinson made a case for raising the mooted, and highly controversial non-returnable fee of $50,000 for registering a domain... and coincidentally voting himself a pay increase for life.

But not all representatives of the Fourth Estate leave their brains parked in neutral when reporting ICANN.

Yesterday the CPSR (Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility) and the Internet Democracy Project published its assessment of the candidates, and concluded that the new board will look very much like the old board.

"It seems that most of ICANN's proposed candidates reinforce the perspectives already present on the Board. Most come from the Internet supply industry, the intellectual property community, and the R&D community." And that leaves users where they were before. The study also notes that Europe has no nominees representing users.

And industry appears to have been crowding the field with business-friendly candidates, notes the report.

Six of the nominees have ties to the supply industry, notes the report, including representatives affiliated with Verizon, France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Fujitsu, the US Information Technology Industry Association and the International Chamber of Commerce

"In total, then, eleven of ICANN's eighteen nominees reinforce perspectives already present on the Board," it notes. "Depending on how you look at it, 'the glass is one-third full or two-thirds empty.'"

Related Stories

ICANN not up to the job?
ICANN adds domains names, stores up troubles

Related Links

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR)
Internet Democracy Project

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