ICANN At-Large – Time to Reconsider?

In a prior life, I’ve been a member of ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee from 2003 through 2004. I was one of the folks who, back then, were seeing ALAC as an advocacy platform, and focused on the policy side of its work, pushing for what, in our judgment, were Individual Internet Users’ best interests. Honestly, I can’t claim a whole lot of tangible success for that, despite hard work by a number of people.To this day, I still occasionally dangle my feet into these waters, though I’ve again and again promised myself not to do it again.To say I’m disappointed by what I’ve seen recently would be an understatement: While I’m happy there is a number of people who, presumably, really want to move things, I’m appalled to see how discussions among both European and North American participants take on an increasingly divisive tone. There isn’t much to be seen of a common goal to advocate users’ interest in ICANN — rather, a lot of fighting for table scraps (when there’s more than enough work for anybody who wants to gamble some of their time on ICANN and its at-large activities!). ALAC’s ICANN staff support seems most interested in staging pretty signing ceremonies and press events, one per ICANN General Meeting.The result? Artificial and rushed time lines, premature consensus calls, and a lot of bad blood and mistrust among participants who really ought to be working together (and have been able to talk reasonably to each other before they got into fights around ICANN). Also, the ability for ICANN to pretend that there’s real end user participation and representation, when there are really very few ways (if any) for ALAC to make a real difference in policy decisions — even though the committee has some limited power to help shape ICANN’s policy agenda.Here’s a Gedankenexperiment for you: Imagine ALAC was simply shut down. Would things change for the better? Or for the worse? Would we maybe see more thinking about what accountability in ICANN’s processes might really mean? (And no, the sometimes surreal ombudsman doesn’t provide that.) Would we see the organization really be any less sensitive to users’ needs?2007-05-21 edited to add: Relevant comment threads are in Wendy’s and Patrick’s blogs.