Wired News URL: http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,51109,00.html ICANN Surveys Its Crossroads By Steve Kettmann 2:00 a.m. March 18, 2002 PST The battle for future control of the Internet could shift to Europe in the weeks ahead, as advocates of democratic representation for the Internet's governing body press their case. Meeting last week in Ghana, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers appeared to reject future elections for board members, such as the online voting that culminated in the October 2000 election of five at-large members of the ICANN board. But Andy Mueller-Maguhn, Europe's at-large representative, said by e-mail from Ghana that contrary to press accounts, last Thursday's vote did not "kill" at-large voting. "It simply delegated the question to be worked out at the restructuring committee," he wrote. What that means, practically speaking, is that general Internet users have the opportunity to make their views on ICANN heard, as the increasingly contentious debate over its future plays out. At stake is not just whether at-large representation has a future, but also the extent to which the U.S. government exercises have control over ICANN, a California-based company charged with setting policy that affects Internet users worldwide. Mueller-Maguhn and others have expressed concerns that the war on terrorism made it less likely that the U.S. Commerce Department -- which has overseen ICANN since it was established in 1998 -- will gradually cede control as planned. Last Thursday, members of the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to the Bush administration saying that ICANN "was bereft of reasonable procedures, sound judgment, and had been meddling in areas it should not have trespassed." "Commerce does plan to conduct oversight hearings on ICANN later this year," said Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Republican members of the House Commerce Committee, adding that he and others are worried about ICANN becoming less democratic and open. Esther Dyson, ICANN's former chairwoman, hopes to give new life to democratic representation by pledging $10,000 -- which she hopes others will match -- for ICANN to hire someone to work on the topic of "at-large outreach" for the next year. She has in mind Alexander Svensson -- a PhD student from Hamburg, Germany, who is now doing research on ICANN. But who does the job is not nearly as important as someone doing it, she added in an e-mail from Ghana. Dyson said at-large representation remains very much alive, despite comments by M. Stuart Lynn, ICANN's chief executive, who last month called online voting for ICANN board members "noble, but deeply unrealistic" and "fatally flawed." Lynn also published a 17,000-word proposal calling for elections to be abolished and to more closely involve national governments. "They did not steal our food supply," Dyson said from Ghana. "In essence, they have said, 'Prove yourselves!' And that is what we have to do. Or to use another metaphor, we now get to play another round of the game." Mueller-Maguhn, a leader of Berlin's famed Chaos Computer Club, is especially concerned about the prospect of the United States asserting more control over the Internet. He said he expects general Internet users to be concerned about this possibility and thinks the issue could prove galvanizing. "I don't think governments can replace user participation within ICANN and/or the ICANN board because governments have their own interests, and there is a great range of issues showing that governments have other ideas than the citizens they claim to represent," he said. Dyson, an entrepreneur with wide experience in Eastern Europe, said she was concerned about the move toward more established U.S. control of ICANN, and that in her experience, foreign governments were also concerned about this -- not just general Internet users. "As governments go, the United States is benign," she wrote from Ghana. "After all, it called for the creation of ICANN in the first place, which was a great concept, though flawed in the execution. But the U.S. government would be setting a terrible example, and not all governments are as benign -- something that is quite evident here in Africa. "The real problem with governments is their power. The moment you put government or governments in charge of ICANN, you give it too much power (if only because governments can claim it). Better to limit ICANN's powers to what it can win from its constituents through contract negotiations, however painful those may be. That's the basic concept underlying its private status." 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