2014-05-30

The Real Problem With ICANN Multistakeholderism

"[NetMundial was] an indication of what present-form multistakeholderism in internet governance is likely to produce. Despite the very extensive contributions to the NETmundial process -- 188 detailed submissions; 1,370 comments on the pre-meeting draft; 1,480 'stakeholder' participants; and the innovations of various civil society groups to bring quantitative analysis to the discussion -- ultimately, the drafting was in the hands of, and manipulated by, a few." (source: Wired UK infra)

Although ICANN in reality is a closed, top-down organization, it has been claiming that it follows a bottom-up, multistakeholder model of governance. So what is the problem with multistakeholderism?

Big business was the winner at NETmundial (Wired UK): "Welcome to the Realpolitik of the net. The big lesson of NETmundial is that diplomacy by multistakeholderism (i.e. a room full of voices -- governments, corporations, individuals) has all the disadvantages of multilateralism (i.e. a room full of government voices): it is incremental, modest, guided by a few well-resourced players, and only mildly effective. But in addition, multistakeholderism has one major kicker: instead of big business exerting disproportionate influence from the shadows, in multistakeholder discourse, corporate giants are welcomed with open arms and given a massive stake. We can see this very clearly in the 11-page outcome statement of NETmundial...."

This is a very well known flaw in multistakeholderism -- corporate lobbyists and other special interest groups become the legislators, and the public interest is disregarded even more than in multilateral models:

Multistakeholder governance model - Wikipedia: "...Criticism of multistakeholderism comes from Paul R. Lehto, J.D., who fears that in multistakeholderism, those who would be lobbyists become legislators, and nobody else has a vote. Lehto states that "In a democracy, it is a scandal when lobbyists have so much influence that they write the drafts of laws. But in multistakeholder situations they take that scandal to a whole new level: those who would be lobbyists in a democracy (corporations, experts, civil society) become the legislators themselves, and dispense with all public elections and not only write the laws but pass them, enforce them, and in some cases even set up courts of arbitration that are usually conditioned on waiving the right to go to the court system set up by democracies. A vote is just a minimum requirement of justice. Without a vote, law is just force inflicted by the wealthy and powerful. Multistakeholderism is a coup d’etat against democracy by those who would merely be lobbyists in a democratic system."..."

This is why the Domain Name Association was formed to represent corporations with vested interests in the domain name industry and ICANN governance, and has as its Executive Director the former Chief Strategy Officer of ICANN, architect of ICANN's new gTLDs program (who resigned from ICANN as a result of his own personal conflict of interest). 

Domain name registrants (as well as internet users) have almost no representation within ICANN, even though it is their registration fees that keep ICANN operating. That doesn't look to change in the future.

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