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ALAC Independent Review: First set of comments

  • To: alac-final-2008@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: ALAC Independent Review: First set of comments
  • From: Danny Younger <dannyyounger@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 24 Aug 2008 14:53:41 -0700 (PDT)

There are some independent reviews (such as the LSE Review of the GNSO)that are 
known for their scholarship, thoroughness, objectivity and substantive 
recommendations -- the independent review of the ALAC as presented by Westlake 
Consulting does not fall into this category.  

Comments such as, "we note that an increasing amount of the ALAC’s policy work 
is being conducted through formal Working Groups", leave no doubt that Westlake 
Consulting has not properly engaged in the research for which it was paid and 
has instead offered up nothing more than a shoddy and cursory report.  Anyone 
at all who bothers to investigate the current state of ALAC working groups 
could only conclude that they are a totally nonproductive wasteland devoid of 
substantive commentary or meaningful participation.  ALAC working groups are as 
close to the antithesis of the working group concept as one could possibly 
imagine (with no one chairing these bodies, with no terms of reference, with no 
set schedule, with no active participation, with no policy development 
underway, and with no recommendations reached or tendered).

Sadly, this report fails to offer up an honest assessment of the deplorable 
state of the ALAC.  The reviewers tend to speak in euphemisms, such as "if the 
ALAC fails to engage in the decision-making process", rather than stating the 
glaringly obvious:  many members of the ALAC are completely unwilling to 
actively engage in productive on-line discussions but are certainly eager to 
travel to ICANN sessions as long as it's on ICANN's dime.  

Reading the report, one quickly comes to conclude that while Westlake can 
indeed cite facts such as the ALAC Internal Rules for Procedure regarding 
participation, Westlake couldn't actually be bothered to investigate whether 
ALAC members were in fact abiding by the participatory rules that they 
themselves had promulgated.  The recent Staff report "Performance overview ALAC 
and Liaisons final.pdf" makes it quite clear that the ALAC chair will soon have 
to call for the resignations of a large number of ALAC members owing to their 
failure to comply with even minimum participatory obligations.

Adding to the problem, even when Westlake arrives at a correct observation, 
such as, "A significant proportion of certified ALSs appear to be inactive", 
Westlake still fails to document the absolutely horrid scope of the problem -- 
more than two-thirds of all ALSs have never once posted a single comment to the 
At-Large discuss list.  Neither does Westlake point out that procedures to 
decertify these non-contributing At-Large Structures (as cited in ICANN's 
bylaws) have never once been invoked.

Instead of recognizing that much of this dead wood arrived at ICANN's doorstep 
through ICANN's WSIS-related recruiting process (that brought in those who 
would rather debate lofty "governance issues" than actually get their hands 
dirty by tackling operational policy matters), Westlake takes the position that 
the lack of participation is attributable to "little incentive for active 
involvement".  It would have been more forthright to state that just as you 
don't recruit lawyers to do the work of engineers, you shouldn't have been 
exclusively recruiting Civil Society types when instead you really needed to 
recruit those that regularly interact on domain name and consumer forums (those 
that are the true At-Large that have a very real interest in the management of 
the DNS).

The ALAC as currently composed is not a unit that represents the user 
community.  If it did, one would have expected to see the entirety of the ALAC 
passionately involved in attending to the revisions to the Registrar 
Accreditation Agreement so as to better protect the registrant community -- 
real users that the ALAC is chartered to serve -- instead, ALAC participation 
in the process was almost non-existent.  

Rather than stating, "The ALAC also lays itself open to criticism from the 
At-Large community if it is perceived not to have ensured that the interests of 
individual Internet users have been adequately represented", Westlake should 
have clearly stated that the record undeniably shows that the ALAC has not 
lived up to its obligations; we don't need an independant reviewer 
pussy-footing around with bland statements while we are confronted with a gross 
failure of monumental proportions.
Further, Westlake fails to note that many non-participatory groups were quite 
possibly brought into the fold through clearly bogus inducements -- see the 
statement, for example, on the AFRALO website that fraudulently indicates that 
there are "Opportunities for grant funding to support some of your group's 
activities (ALAC is applying for grant funding)".  

The solution to such non-participation is not shenanigans such as non-existent 
grants, additional "outreach tools", or recruiting even more ALSs that will 
never participate, instead a decidely more pragmatic approach is called for.  

If you look, for example, at the EURALO discussion list and conclude that no 
one there has been discussing any ICANN policy matters since day one, and, in 
fact, almost no discussion happens on any topic whatsoever, then the solution 
is self-evident:  dissolve the EURALO group and the list and throw the bums out 
as the "structure" has no continuing purpose.  We don't need to encourage and 
subsidize these non-contributing laggards just for the sake of political 

As far as I'm concerned, ALAC has forfeited the right to wear the mantle of the 
At-Large, and as a body the ALAC no longer has a continuing purpose.  The ALAC 
has proven that it is generally incapable of dealing with at-large issues and 
is so inefficient that it will only submit a Statement on a topic long after 
the deadline for public comment has passed.  As an organization, the ALAC has 
become the posterboy for the word "Useless".  

How does Westlake deal with the issue of ALAC inefficiency?  Westlake has 
proposed a more streamlined ALAC [less members] that "might encourage full
attendance for the majority of meetings".  As I see it, a few less members is 
still too many.  If a reasonably well performing institution such as the former 
Protocol Supporting Organization could be structurally eliminated by ICANN, 
then how could anyone claim that there exists a continuing purpose for this 
non-performing and totally dysfunctional structure?  A few cosmetic changes 
won't change the fact that the ALAC holds no promise of ever becoming a 
value-added proposition.

In fact, the very last thing that we would want to do is to set the ALAC on a 
path of further navel-gazing as Westlake has suggested.  The notion that the 
ALAC should spend its time on the development of an annual Statement of Intent, 
Strategic Plan and Operating Plan is laughable.  If they can't get a simple 
working group to function properly, or for that matter, to even use discussion 
lists to actually discuss ICANN policies, how then can we expect them to tackle 
much more grandiose matters?  Unless, of course, the objective is to keep them 
out of the policy arena and busy in their own little playpen where they can 
safely be ignored...

ICANN spends a lot of money on the ALAC.  What kind of a return are we getting 
from this investment?  A review of the ALAC Paris Statement demonstrates that 
the only thing that they have recently accomplished is attendance at numerous 
meetings.  As a group they cannot point to any current policy work on auctions, 
on the RAA, on new gTLDs, on WHOIS, on registry failure, on registrar 
transition, and the list goes on and on.  

What matters are they investigating?  What findings have they obtained?  What 
recommendations have emerged that are based on those investigations and 
findings?  The answer to all the above is "none".  Yes, an Advisory Committee 
to the Board is supposed to be doing all these things... yet the ALAC does not 
feel compelled to honor its obligations under the bylaws.  They can't be 
bothered to do their job as it might involve some actual work.

Westlake has noted that they were "somewhat surprised at the limited number of 
responses received from certain sectors and that we received only one 
submission in a language other than English".  I would note that I am not 
surprised.  Even during the much ballyhooed Summit process a questionnaire was 
developed by Staff that had to be submitted three times to the ALSs before it 
received a single comment.  This ALAC/RALO/ALS structural body might as well be 
in the morgue.  It's a rare day when one can find a pulse.

This is an organization that holds its Monthly Meetings (after waiting 20 
minutes just to achieve a quorum), that doesn't ever manage to discuss actual 
policy matters during these meetings, that promises to itself to take up the 
policy topics through on-list dialogue, and who then consistently manages to 
never discuss the policy issues online thereafter.  This is an organization 
just going through the motions, just playing the game, just waiting for the 
next check from ICANN's travel department.  

Westlake has made the argument that "Our observation is that email lists are an 
ineffective mechanism for communication for stakeholders who are peripherally, 
rather than deeply involved."  Accordingly, Westlake has recommended that "the 
ALAC should replace email lists with wikis for policy discussions".  The 
problem, of course, is not email lists... rather it is Westlake's failure to 
grasp the notion that ICANN has stupidly built a house of cards based on 
participation by those with only peripheral interest.  

Would anyone in their right mind populate a Security and Stability Committee 
almost exclusively with members that only had a peripheral interest?  Of course 
not... yet this is precisely what has been done with the ALAC.  

When we look at the SSAC we see a strong management with a strong supporting 
cast.  This is not by accident.  If a committee member fails to step up to the 
plate and perform as expected, that committee member is removed and replaced 
with another candidate (whose membership is subsequently ratified by the ICANN 
Board).  This process works well for the SSAC that in the last eight months has 
released eleven truly substantive documents.  Contrast that performance to the 
ALAC's almost total lack of performance.

In the final analysis, it's all about performance, about bringing value to the 
ICANN process (especially if ICANN is footing the bill) and truth-be-told, the 
ALAC performance has been worse than lacklustre; it has been downright pathetic.

So the real question is this:  Can the ALAC be salvaged?  

Do we have any reason to believe that the ALAC will undergo a radical change 
that will lead to substantially enhanced performance?  I have seen no 
indication of such.  Yes, there are one or two members that perform like 
champions, that participate in GNSO or ccTLD Working Groups, that follow all 
the discussions, that make a serious attempt to represent the user interest.  
Anomalies are to be expected, but without a management with the gumption to 
cast out the chaff no progress can truly be made and we will continue to be 
stuck with a Committee mostly populated by those that rarely have anything to 
say on any topic, that have little more than a peripheral interest in the 
management of the DNS as it pertains to the user community, and that won't 
contribute to any policy dialogue.

As I see it, the cancer has already spread too deep and this patient is 


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