Earlier this year while World Wide Web celebrated its 25th birthday, 25 years of unparalleled expansion, economic growth and social good. Sir Tim Berners Lee said “this is for everyone”. It’s up to us to make sure it stays that way.
The freedom of the internet growth in a free thriving manner is a responsibility bestowed to all custodians and stakeholders especially ICANN whose core responsibility is to coordinate, at the overall level, the global Internet’s systems of unique identifiers, and in particular to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems”
In the recent days and especially at the juncture the process of expansion of the internet namespace, ICANN whose uniqueness as an organization that takes input from the community has come into serious scrutiny courstesy of the decisions that have emanated from some constituencies especially the GAC.
The GAC is been seen as an arm of ICANN that makes unpopular decisions especially affecting the new gTLD progression, the unpopularity however does not come from the legitimacy of the ‘consensus’ based decisions that come from adhoc GAC sittings within the ICANN international meetings but from the uninformed and potentially retrogressive advice.
In his 2012 article after the new gTLD programme was rolled out, an expert on Internet governance Milton Mueller warned that
“Governments, with their hierarchical structure, cannot easily participate in flexible, working group-type policy development methods. Most governmental representatives simply don’t know enough about the issues ICANN deals with to contribute, and cannot allocate the time needed to participate in the intensive, email-list-based working groups that hash out ICANN policies.”
The decisions of these understanding of ICANN proceures has been more apparent in the comments made on controversial applications such as the .africa which has been forwarded to the Independent Review Panel for an ruling. The ignorance of policies were apparent when an Africa Union GAC representative admitted his ignorance by asking the GAC meeting
“Is the IRP something reviewing the bylaws of ICANN, or will they be ‐‐ is it something a big brother watching the board, what they are doing? We so far don’t understand….But let me tell you something about people, frustration. When they don’t understand what is going on, that most of the time leads them to do something or to take positions because, simply, they don’t understand what’s going on….The issue of .AFRICA is making Africans so frustrated that at any point of time any decision for the further that would be taken or anything else could be ‐‐ could not get the African support.”
Precisely this problem is what Mueller sustains that
GAC members cannot advocate or agree on policy positions or compromises without consulting with their superiors, and thus they cannot participate usefully in an evolving working group consensus. And yet, ICANN’s bylaws authorize GAC to offer privileged “advice” to the all-powerful ICANN board on the policies developed in those working groups
Konstantinos Komaitis another internet governance expert noted in 2011 that The GAC is proven to be a highly dysfunctional body. Adding that
“The disappointing fact is that the GAC appears neither willing to adapt nor, at the very least, give a try to the multistakeholder model. It continues to adopt an arrogant attitude of superiority over ICANN although so far it has failed to provide good alternatives to the various issues; it continues to stall the various processes and create a negative environment amongst all ICANN stakeholders, who end up feeling de-valued; and, it continues to operate on what seems the position of a handful of governments.”
In an article “Three little ICANN atrocities that make the ITU look good by comparison” the writer talks about the GAC Early warnings which exposed the dysfunctional system within GAC saying
“The first atrocity is the GAC and its “early warnings” against new TLDs. The GAC has always lusted after the kind of arbitrary power that would allow it to veto domain names that certain members don’t like (or that some well-financed lobbyist tells them not to like).” Adding that “They want to be able to veto things free of any law or pre-defined rules, because any attempt to formulate such laws would constrain them and lead to obvious conflicts with well-established human rights law.”
This is precisely the problem that hurts the GAC decision making mechanism and its legitimacy, firstly there is not enough room for the GAC members to properly scrutinize and item or string with an expert view, the consensus is merely and endorsement of a view of one person who may not even represent their governments interests, focusing more in Africa, its obvious from the ,.africa views that governments ad disconnected from the real issues because they have constant representatives who have personal interests.
The GAC could be well banished if its own internal mechanisms for transparency and informed accountability cannot be established, the regularity of its meetings does not simply endorse its own adhoc system rather it ensures that GAC continues to stifle real voices who want to see free internet.
The internet must remain open and not become fragmented and ghettoised, subject to separate rules and processes in different regions set by isolated national services; with state-imposed barriers to trade, commerce and the free flow of information and ideas.”