[At-Large] Say Whut!

Olivier MJ Crépin-Leblond ocl at gih.com
Sat Dec 15 14:24:23 UTC 2018

Dear Evan,

thank you for your kind answer to my comments. Please be so kind to find
my comments inline:

On 11/12/2018 04:06, Evan Leibovitch wrote:
> Hi Olivier,
> Before I answer your question, I want to remind others in this thread
> that I do not consider ALSs a joke. I consider the structure of ALAC
> that depends on ALSs to be wasteful, needlessly cumbersome, and a
> practical obstacle to ALAC's ability to credibly fulfill its bylaw
> mandate.
>     You make several allegations. Please clarify:
> One person's observations are another's allegations :-)
> To be honest, I am pleasantly surprised at the level of engagement in
> this thread and the interest in the subject matter. The exercise of
> exposing my views such that may be suitably evaluated -- even if
> ultimately rejected -- is a source of hope.

Everyone is free to expose their views - in fact I would say, encouraged
to expose their view. I do not think that anyone has been stopped doing

> I did not expect the thread to go long enough to require me to provide
> a detailed rationale or plan based on my high-level comments. I will
> offer brief answers below which I expect will not satisfy. Should
> interest exist, I would be happy to produce a paper -- a manifesto, if
> you would -- providing further detail. I would be even happier if
> others of like mind would like to collaborate.
> The opportunity to raise my issues and those of others at the Montreal
> mini-Summit sounds intriguing. However, I find it quite ironic -- and
> supporting my position -- that ICANN will not fund every ALS to
> attend, and that At-Large volunteers are expected sit in judgment of
> which fraction of At-Large is worthy to attend. I also would not want
> to wait until then to start this engagement. I would propose a series
> of webinars at which various views can be aired and discussed in open
> chat or email.

I do not think that any of us actually like the fact that we won't be
able to invite all interested participants to Montréal, but that's what
is currently on the table. In the current cost-cutting climate of ICANN,
given the stagnation in income and growing operations costs, it was
either this restricted summit or nothing. I know that some have argued
that we should go back to ICANN and ask for more, so be able to bring
more people to ATLAS III - yet I can assure you that there are parts of
ICANN that have significant influence and that would oppose this - if
only because the ICANN budget now has to be ratified by the community (a
"great" idea that came from the community at CCWG IANA), which means
that whilst the Board could have exercised its executive powers in the
past to support At-Large, it now has its hands and feet tied, risking a
budget veto. So the summit is "this or nothing".
On the preparation towards ATLAS III, there are plans that a programme
of e-learning plus some Webinars and conference calls, designed by the
community, will pave the way to the Summit, starting from January 2019.

>     - overtly politicized
> As a democratic process, it has been my observation that a notable
> proportion of ALAC members achieve their position because they are
> good campaigners or are well-liked, not because they are best suited
> to serve ALAC's obligation to ICANN. I will not give specifics beyond
> that in a public forum and others are welcome to disagree. I will
> simply state at this point that when I first came into ALAC I detested
> the idea that the NomComm would choose one-third of ALAC; I have fully
> changed my mind on that, though I would make some changes to that process.

Welcome to democracy. You either run a (s)election process within the
community for it to appoints its representatives, or you get an outside
body to do this for you. Doing things internally might indeed end up as
a beauty contest. The risk of the outside body is that their
appointments are a hit and miss: we've had some excellent appointments
made through NomCom, just like we've also had some where the candidate's
expectations were completely different than the reality of their tasks
on the ALAC - which has led to disappointment on all sides.

>     - appears to superficial airs of importance
> Anyone who has read my writings or heard me speak, knows that I feel
> ALAC is far far too wrapped up in its processes and structures. How
> many iterations and rebirths and renames and wasted person-hours have
> been attributed to (re-)forming ALAC's policy working group. (I
> believe the most recent edition is the "CPWG".)

People come and go and processes remain. In my opinion, it is the
processes that we have developed over years of trial and error, that
make-up the fabric of the multistakeholder model both within At-Large
but also within ICANN. Improving these processes unfortunately takes time.

> It is IMO an embarrassment that ALAC even has a separate policy
> committee, ALAC should *be* the policy committee and anyone who is not
> interested in policy activity shouldn't be on ALAC.

The fact is that not all volunteers participating in At-Large are
interested in, or good at, or have the knowledge to participate
effectively in Policy. The ALAC's two roles are policy & outreach and
some people both have the skills, the interest and the energy to
exclusively do outreach - and I do not see this as being a problem at
all. In fact, I find it derogatory that the only "ROI" that is applied
towards ALAC often is "how much policy work have you done? How have you
been influential in At-Large?" Many of the people doing outreach on
behalf of At-Large have done an amazing job at demonstrating to their
community that ICANN is a viable multi-stakeholder system that can
assume its missions and should not be replaced by a UN-led initiative.
So we all have our place. I just wish that other parts of ICANN stopped
their condescending view that At-Large should only be judged on policy
only. This opens the door to failure on all counts, as ICANN's work is
shared between its technical mandate, policy definition mandate and
diplomatic efforts to keep the Internet ecosystem being run in a
multistakeholder way.

> Then there's ALAC's traditional utter terror of being assertive with
> an opinion contrary to the rest of the ICANN momentum:
> If we rock the boat, will they cut travel funding?
> If we rock the boat, will they enable an At-Large-elected Board member?
> If we rock the boat, will they refuse to fund ATLAS ?
> If we rock the boat, will they refuse to fund ATLAS2?
> If we rock the boat, will they refuse to fund ATLAS3?
> I cannot think of one point of time since I joined At-Large 11 years
> ago where there was not one form or another of this fear, and its
> associated chilling effect on ALAC's ability to truly assert the
> public interest.y path.

To assert that we never rocked the boat is incorrect - but there are
ways to rock the boat. If it means blocking things by obstructing
processes in a non diplomatic way, the only thing that will happen is
that we'll be completely ignored altogether. Nothing in the ICANN bylaws
says that anyone has to listen to us. In the second accountability and
transparency review (ATRT2) we fought to at least receive an
acknowledgement from the Board for our advice - something which we
seldom had in the past and which is now in the ICANN bylaws. If you are
unhappy with the level of influence the ALAC has in ICANN then complain
about the ICANN structure, where the GNSO makes policy and the ALAC
produces non-binding advice. In the past, ICANN went from ICANN 1.0 to
ICANN 2.0 when the open election process showed its limits. That was
triggered by very strong external forces across and outside ICANN,
including a number of senior people and organisations. Perhaps is it
time to look at ICANN again and turn the tables around again,
recognising the limited of the current SOAC structure and designing
something new where the end user, the community, is again at the centre
of ICANN and the decisions are not made by parties that are deeply
conflicted in that they have a direct financial benefit from some of the
policies they are developing themselves.
But that sort of exercise would require the support of more than just
our ALAC or a sprinkling of Board members. The shift from ICANN 1.0 to
ICANN 2.0 was triggered by a feeling that ICANN was unstable and needed
some stability - and had the support of the then CEO, some Board
members, and some significant governments and organisations that had
significant influence. Today the situation is different: most of the
influential parties would say that they are satisfied with the current
structure and that it is stable - never mind the lack of public
interest, which some allege is actually just a perception since there is
no such thing as the public interest in their eyes - it's just a set of
tick-box scenarios. So if you want to do this, then may I suggest that
you go out there campaigning with the right people, the right
governments, the right contracted parties, the right private sector, the
right technical community and the right civil society that will
accompany you in this cause. I am not saying it is impossible - all I am
saying is that this road is challenging to follow and requires a lot of
work and a lot of allies.

> Would I sacrifice ATLAS3 if ALAC could honestly and vocally change
> ICANN to follow the public interest? In a heartbeat. But I suspect
> that is a very unpopular PoV; boy do we we love our U-shaped tables
> and "for the transcript record" assertions and the Board actually
> sharing a room with us for an hour of uselessness at each ICANN meeting.
> (As if anyone gives a damn about the transcripts, wherever they are...)

C'mon Evan - some meetings of the ALAC with the Board have indeed been
terrible, and I have probably led several of these back in the day,
whereas I might have to take some blame about the failures. But since
then, the relationship with the Board has improved a lot. However, there
is this systemic hurdle which I allude to in the above paragraphs, which
means that since Board members cannot push for things now, for fear of
having a budget rejected, or worse still, being kicked out of the Board
by the community. Wonderful community powers.

>     I would disagree with the first two of your allegations and when
>     it comes to the third point, I would say that you are missing the
>     actual target: it is not the ALAC that is impotent in regard to
>     service its bylaw mandate, it is the ICANN structure that puts the
>     ALAC in a weak position as an advisory role that the ICANN Board
>     can completely disregard and with no power whatsoever over policy
>     processes, except taking part in discussions as individuals and
>     coordinating the sending out of comments.
> I am specifically addressing what I call the "who the hell are you"
> phenomenon that occurs any time that ALAC expresses an opinion that
> goes against the corporate inertia. "You don't speak for anyone but
> yourselves, why should we listen to you?". This objection successfully
> stymies what little activist ALAC commentary actually gets produced.
> This is by design of ICANN with the acquiescence of ALAC. We *could*
> should we choose actually ask the whole world what it thinks is
> important about the DNS; instead we play futile diversity games that
> gloss over the fact that the 25 At-Largers in the room at ICANN meets
> (well, the ones that engage in policy) are only doing their collective
> best guess at the public interest.

If you want to kill your dog, declare that it has rabies. The "who the
hell are you" argument is a cheap way, used to weaken our arguments and
is a blow below the belt. Who the hell are they to point the finger?

>     Have you read the At-Large review? I see from your point above
>     that you have not. I am sorry but you are just repeating the very
>     words of the At-Large review. And these were rejected by the
>     community, an alternative wording was proposed and this was
>     accepted by the Board and now going into implementation.
> I don't see the current ALAC acknowledging the weakness of the ALS
> infrastructure, the lack of emphasis on public education, or any
> attempt to take ALAC beyond continuing to guess at the public interest.
> As others have said, the outside reviewers were ham-handed and
> ignorant of what ALAC really is or needs to be. That doesn't mean they
> couldn't accidentally be right on occasion. I don't know the rationale
> behind what they proposed but am happy to make mine.

The At-Large Review implementation document has recognised that the
reviewers were right and solutions have been proposed for implementation
- and approved by the ICANN Board.

>     Second, I am utterly flabbergasted to read the point you make
>     about reducing travel and investing more into virtual meeting
>     technologies. You are the first person to know how terrible and
>     expensive Internet connectivity is in many developing countries
>     and your point is basically to promote the voice of developed
>     countries at the expense of the rest of the world.
> Hardly. Tech has advanced by leaps and bounds, yet ICANN continues to
> saddle us with generations-old crap like Adobe Connect and Adigo. Let
> ALAC have more control over its choice of tools; give the TTF a budget
> to pick the best tools and have ICANN implement them based on the
> criteria we need.
> (In my own org, new generations of tools such as WebRTC and Zoom are
> particularly good with nodes of poor connectivity. Don't knock it till
> you've tried it... I have. We have other proofs of concept such as the
> ISOC InterConnect teleconference that seem pretty inclusive to me. And
> I note that at least one RALO has abandoned Skype in favour of
> WhatsApp for its internal chats.)

Judith has responded to this and she is 100% right. We now have
operational experience that the current tools used are better suited for
our purpose than alternative tools.

>>     I would also concentrate ALAC activity in ONLY three areas:
>     Again, exact wordings given in the At-Large review, basically
>     transforming the ALAC into a free, volunteer marketing agency for
>     ICANN.
> Doing public education on the dangers of DNS abuse, or the differences
> between gTLDs and ccTLDs, whether to buy defensive domains, or the
> ways to address phishing or report abuse to law enforcement ...
> constitutes marketing for ICANN?
> The main issue that ALAC needs total independence in the content of
> the education campaigns (so long as it's in scope), the crafting of
> questions on the surveys and R&D, and the analysis of the results of
> said research.
> Without such total independence you are right, it's a propaganda
> machine. But properly used it can alert the public to dangers and
> problems that ICANN might want hidden.

OK - thanks for the explanation. How do you propose this is funded?
ICANN has slashed the Global Stakeholder Engagement (GSE) budgets. Our
own additional budget request envelope has been slashed. CROP has been
slashed. Where do you propose we find the money to do this properly?

>     Evan, have your expectations of the multistakeholder system in
>     ICANN fallen so low that you are giving up bringing the input of
>     end users into the ICANN processes? This is the primary role of
>     At-Large!
> Domain names subtract value from the Internet, speculation and abuse
> and shakedowns are rampant, the Board has claimed unilateral rights to
> the auction proceeds (the issue that started this tread), gaming of
> every process is rampant, ICANN refuses to play regulator, and we're
> headed inevitably for a new round before we know if the last one
> served the public interest.
> So actually, yeah my expectations are that low. To me these days,
> ICANN's approach to multi-stakeholderism is best described as "there's
> no such thing as conflict of interest so long as you declare". The
> inmates are running the asylum and only money talks. ALAC is usually
> too timid to assert real change, and when we do we get shut down for
> not being able to prove we speak for the public.
> My proposals offer an alternative path to fulfilling ICANN's bylaw
> mandate, with which I am quite familiar.

See above - I am glad to see we are starting to agree that what we need
to focus on is ICANN, not At-Large or ALAC.

>     Now if you are looking at having a group that is there to correct
>     fake news about ICANN, end users and the multistakeholder model,
>     then why not join the At-Large Social Media working group?
>     https://community.icann.org/display/atlarge/At-Large+Social+Media+Working+Group
>     I see you are listed, but have not confirmed your membership.
> That's because someone may have volunteered me for the job but
> obviously I haven't taken it. And as I have indicated about, I would
> not participate in any communications activity that could not
> truthfully and independently protect the public against the
> consequences of ICANN policies. This WELL beyond countering fake news.

Welcome back, Evan! I hope you and others who are lurking on the
At-Large mailing list, including influential old timers that used to be
very active and now feel jaded... and who post every now and then, will
fully take part in the social media working group and the consolidate
policy working group - where some real work takes place to improve our
influence and defend the interests of end users. As for ICANN 3.0 - it's
only by speaking about it that we can gain the buy-in from all parties.

It's a constant struggle to make something out of mud at the grassroots.

Kindest regards,

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