Discussion Draft
Proposed ICANN
General Membership Structure
Mark Heckendorn

 

 

I. Introduction

A. Membership Rationale: Why have a General Membership?

There are two basic reasons why it is necessary for ICANN to adopt some type of broad based membership structure:

1. First, adopting a serious role for a general membership is the best, sustainable, mechanism to provide a foundation of legitimacy for the actions of ICANN.

Today, it may be important to some to argue whether a appointed group of ten people can represent the interests of all Internet users as well as the appointed leaders of a group of 1,000. But the simple truth is that neither group is statistically significant when compare to the many millions of people already using the Internet. Almost by definition, most people now interested in Internet governance represent some special point of view.

Any successful ICANN membership structure must be designed to represent not just todayís users, but also to provide for acceptable representation of the much broader population of users who come to the Internet in the future.

All parties to this debate over the design of the membership structure should be humble enough to admit that we are all just a thin wedge of the people who have a stake in the future of the Internet. A way must be found so that the General Membership can be as meaningful to those who do not yet have access to the Net, as it is to the activists who are todayís cyber pioneers.

2. Second, a general membership creates a structure for an ongoing dialogue between ICANN and Internet users at large.

While the tasks now facing ICANN may appear primarily technical in nature, the centrality of the issues of Internet addressing will assure that ICANN will find itself in the middle of many important decisions that influence the future development of the Internet. To reject establishing a general membership structure that can also fill the role of encompassing as many users as possible would mean missing a historic opportunity.
 

B. Membership Objectives: What do we want to accomplish?

1. Before raising any of the very real practical problems of implementing a broad based general membership, letís consider what the ideal objectives of such a membership should be:

(1) The membership should be open to all Internet users at little or no cost. If you use the Internet and have an e-mail address you can be a member. A willingness to participate should be the primary cost of membership.

(2) The structure should encourage and allow the highest level of self organization as possible.

(3) The structure should provide roles for institutional stakeholder such as national governments, educational systems, businesses and international organizations, without allowing them to limit or obstruct the participation of the General Membership in any way. (We shouldnít assume that all of the parties that must accept the legitimacy of ICANN decisions can already be identified.)

(4) The structure should allow members to organize themselves into sub groups representing any point of view they choose.

(5) The General Membership should have meaningful powers:

(a) The ability to elect the At Large board members from a pool of candidates of their choosing.

(b) The ability to require the Board of Directors to consider issues the General Membership deems important, including proposed changes of the ICANN bylaws.

(6) The membership structure should provide a transparent and open process for interaction between the Board and the General Membership.

(7) The membership structure should be designed so that it encourages the creation of cohesion and cooperation within the Board of Directors. Nothing in the structure should attempt to create or allow any type factualism between the board members selected from the Supporting Organizations and those elected by the General Membership.

(8) The membership structure should be low cost and have the very minimum of bureaucratic overhead possible.

 

C. Traditional Barriers: Is this type of membership structure really possible?

Some people would say that a membership structure that meets these objectives is be impossible to create or, if created, would result in chaos.

We should recognize that this argument is essentially philosophical and not practical. The conflict between direct democracy and representative democracy is ancient and based primarily on mistrust. Usually, those who currently hold positions of social or governmental power raise the spector of disruptive rule by an "irrational mob". At the other extreme are those who advocate totally unstructured democracy because they really fear all forms of self government and desire the imaginary freedom of total anarchy.

The record of human experience is more temperate. Most successful forms of democracy are hybrids -- they contain aspects of both direct and representative democracy. The United States has a representative legislature but direct election of the most important executive officers. The Swiss Confederation has an even more complex blend of direct and representative modes.

If the following proposed structure appears to greatly favor the direct model, this should be seen in context. The SOs by their nature are primarily representative organizations. With a direct membership structure, that contains the checks and balance needed to protect the integrity of the process, ICANN can become another successful example of hybrid democracy in action.

 

II. Proposed Membership Structure

The key concept in the proposed structure is the creation of a direct general membership electorate, moderated by input from intermediary organizations. There are four functional units to the proposed structure:

A. The General Membership (Members)

B. The Membership Promotion Groups (MPGs)

C. The ICANN Special Interest Groups (ISIGs)

D. The ICANN Membership Secretary (MS)

Before discussing how these groups would interact both during the election process and between elections we should examine their roles. At this stage the roles will simply be described. In a later section the specific suggestions for implementing these roles will be presented.
 

A. The General Membership -- The ICANN General Members are individuals who use the internet, have an email address and desire to participate as general members. Individuals can not hold multiple memberships or delegate their right to vote to another party. The total international distribution of members must be, to the greatest extent possible, proportional to the actual world distribution of internet users.

B. Membership Promotion Groups -- The MPGs are groups organized on a national basis, one per country, who assume the task of promoting the participation of their citizens in the General Membership. They can not impose any national membership requirements or limit the ability of their citizens to directly join ICANN. The MPGs would also have the role of establishing a national nominating process for initial candidates for vacancies on the ICANN Board of Directors.

C. The ICANN SIGs -- The ISIGs would be self organized special interest groups created by their members around any topic or issue related to the Internet. The only requirements for a SIGs to become and ISIG would be that they have a minimum of 100 members, that they register their existence with ICANN and that they send a brief summary of their key issues and concerns to ICANN each month. Existing SIGs Internet advocacy organizations could register as ISIGs. The ISIGs would host their own activity. All active ISIGs, registered for at least 90 days before any election would have the right to help select the final candidates for open Board seats through a process of endorsements.

D. The Membership Secretary -- The Membership Secretary would be a full time employee and officer of ICANN with an employment status equivalent to that of the Chief Technology Officer. The MS would be selected by the board for a fixed term and responsible for the ongoing functioning of the entire membership process. The MS would chair two advisory committees, one on voting security and processes and the other on ISIG activity. The MS would maintain the register of accredited ISIGs, edit a monthly summary of ISIG issues and recommend to the Board the rules and requirements for the membership process. The MS would also act as a secretariat for routine correspondence with the MPGs.

 
 

III. Proposed Election Process

The following discussion will illustrate how it is proposed that these groups will interact during the election process to fill a vacancy on the Board of Directors.

A. The interaction between the Membership Promotion Groups and the General Membership is key to the first step of the election process. It is envisioned that the MPGs will each establish a process to involve their citizens who are General Members. This process would include establishing a mechanism for the General Members in their country to propose two (2) candidates for election to the Board. This process would result in a maximum pool of 350 to 400 proposed candidates for any election depending on the number of MPG organizations that need to be involved in any particular election. (For example, after the full Board is established, not all Directorís seats will be vacant at any one time. Therefore to meet the objectives of geographic representation, the seats open at any election might be restricted only to proposed candidates from certain geographic areas, resulting in a smaller total pool of candidates.)

B. The next stage of the election process involves the role of the ISIGs.

Information about each candidate would be posted on the Internet and the candidates would campaign for endorsements from the ISIGs. Each registered ISIG would be limited to endorsing one candidate for each open seat. This "online" political campaign would have a fixed time period that was long enough for a real dialogue to develop between the ISIGs and the candidates. This stage is where everyone could discuss with the candidates, in wide open online forums, all of the issues that are deemed important at the time.

At the end of this "campaign" period the ISIGs would announce their endorsements and a limited number of candidates (perhaps 5X the number of open seats) would advance to the next stage based on which candidates had received the most ISIG endorsements.

C. At this stage, from the smaller pool of candidates with the most endorsements, the ISIGs would endorse a specific slate of candidates for the open seats and the existing Board would also be allowed to propose their own slate of candidates from among the same pool of candidates.

This two-tier process of endorsements from a large pool of proposed candidates should result is final group of geographically diverse candidates who have become well known to the General Membership through their interaction with the ISIGs and it would also be clear if there was any commonality or major difference between the proposed slates endorsed by the ISIGs and the slate endorsed by the Board.

D. The final step would be online balloting by all General Members to select the winning candidates. Each General Member could vote for one candidate for each open seat. There would not be any cumulative voting.

 

IV. What are the Benefits of the Process?

A. The first time you step through this proposed election process it is easy to become distracted by the natural question about how such a structure would be implemented and miss the rationale behind the proposal.

This process is primarily designed to avoid the major weakness of almost all alternative methods. The problems of any election are simple. Where do you get the pool of candidates? How do you select among the candidates?

If we were to propose that the candidates be nominated by any particular group of interest organizations -- for example, the Internet Society, EU or any other public or private group we would have the intractable problem of trying to determine which groups could legitimately nominate candidates.

No matter which groups were included, new groups would form and demand their rightful role in the process. This would be a political impossibility to manage. On what basis could one honestly say that an international organization of French speaking university students had any less right to nominate candidates than does the Internet Society, for example.

B. In the proposed structure, a fixed number of candidates are put forward at the national level, making sure that every part of the world has a role in establishing the candidate pool. The process of this initial selection would be left to the national MPGs. Each country could use as democratic or arbitrary a process as they might choose. But the result would be a large pool of candidates.

C. At the next stage, the two-tier process of endorsements, any ISIG can participate. This allows many varieties of interest groups to participate in the process without ICANN needing to determine anything other than very general requirements for ISIG registration. Thus the International Chamber of Commerce and a regional Association of High School Students would both be able to question the fitness of any candidate and make their choices known through the endorsement process. ISIGs could form coalitions around candidates based on issues or regional affiliations. No group or faction could say that the process was not open to their participation.

V. Implementation Issues

A. Now, let us assume that this proposed membership structure makes some sense, is it achieveable? The three primary barriers to implementation are easy to identify:

(1) How can the MPGs be established and maintained?

(2) Can a worldwide, secure voting system be established? A system that assures that only one vote is allowed per member? Can the creation of "phantom" members be avoided so that the ballot system can not be abused?

 
(3) How can the costs of such a membership structure be covered?

Letís consider each of these problems. (The establishment of the ISIGs is not seen as a major implementation issue since the Internet has already shown its ability to facilitate the creation of similar interest groups.)

A. The Member Promotion Groups -- The best way to solve the problem of establishing the MPGs is to make use of an existing organization in each country.

One very appropriate choice would be to involve the existing UNESCO structure. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has a system of National Commissions in 180 of their 185 Member States. These Commissions are composed of members representing the educational, scientific and cultural organizations in each country and organize their own activities to promote the various programs of UNESCO.

The UNESCO Secretariat has a Bureau for External Relations that acts as a link between UNESCO and the National Commissions. This group could be approached to see if the Commissions would consider promoting the involvement of the internet users in their countries in the work of ICANN.

UNESCO is an appropriate organization not only because its National Commissions already exist, but also because encouraging universal access to the Internet is a stated goal of the organization. By involving UNESCO, as a partner in establishing the membership structure, ICANN would be able meet the objective of creating a structure that is inclusive and worldwide.

Those countries that do not participate in UNESCO or do not have an established National Commission would be asked to recommend an organization to fulfill the role of an MPG. (This very short list includes the United States)

If the National Commissions will take on the task of promoting membership in ICANN and overseeing the national nominating process, then the incremental cost of this additional function might be relatively modest.

B. Voting Security and Processes -- This is the type of technical challenge that the engineers and activists who helped build the Internet welcome. Creating a worldwide Internet plebiscite is a task that should attract the most creative minds now working on the Internet.

The Membership Secretary would chair a voluntary Advisory Committee dedicated to this issue. Help could also be enlisted from companies that are trying to create software to perform similar web based voting functions at the national level.
 

C. Financial Aspects of the Proposed Membership Structure -- This proposed structure has been designed to minimize centralized costs. Requiring membership dues would be a barrier to membership and create unacceptable overhead costs for ICANN. It is assumed that each layer of this structure would be self funded.

(1) ICANN would cover the direct cost of the salary of the Membership Secretary and a small support staff.

(2) The ISIGs would be self funded. Many of them would be existing interest groups who already have a means of communicating with their members. New groups formed specifically to be ISIGs would also cover their own costs of participation.

(3) At the MPG level, each MPG would determine the best way to cover their costs. In some countries this might include the collection of dues to support the nomination process. (If a General Member did not wish to pay dues, then they might be excluded from the national nomination process but they could not be excluded from actually voting in the ICANN ballots.)

In this manner each country could select the funding method most appropriate for their situation. Foundations and International Organizations might provide supplemental funding to those MPGs who lack internal resources.

(4) The major cost unknown would be the cost of supporting the servers and bandwidth needed for the ballot and membership verification process. It is suggested that ICANN assume the role of guaranteeing these costs during the development phase and seek to establish an equitable method to defray any ongoing costs. ICANN should have the flexibility to create an endowment funded by voluntary donations to cover this expense, if it becomes impractical to cover the expense out of ICANNs normal operations.

VI. Conclusion

This discussion draft has been written as an attempt to demonstrate that the creation of a broadly based general membership structure is possible. Implementation issues and costs can be greatly reduced by using existing organizations and making each level of the process self funding. If we are brave enough to imagine making a place for all current and future Internet users in the processes of ICANN, then ICANN will have helped demonstrate the unique role that the Internet can have in promoting nongovernmental forms of international decision making.