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NEW YORK, NY—The Markle Foundation today announced that it will commit $432,000 toward an independent, international effort to study ICANN's "At-Large" elections and governance structure. ICANN is the private corporation charged with the international oversight of the Internet domain name system. The Markle Foundation previously contributed support to ICANN's costs for last October's elections, and to outside organizations to advise ICANN on the election process.
This election study will be conducted by an international team of academics and non-governmental organizations in response to ICANN's decision to undertake its own study, and its call for a comprehensive examination of the concept, structure and processes relating to "At Large" elections of the ICANN Board of Directors. The study Markle is supporting will be completed prior to ICANN's June Board meeting. "This independent, international initiative to study ICANN's elections, said Zoë Baird, President of the Markle Foundation, "is an important part of a process we hope will lead to greater transparency, and stronger representation of the public interest at ICANN and for Internet governance generally. This study is meant to examine what public interests are affected by ICANN's authority, how the public interest was served by the initial experiment with elections, and indeed whether, in the future, elections or some other form of representative process would best serve those interests. We expect that ICANN will take the study they committed to conduct very seriously, and that they will consider conclusions that emerge from this study and others in order to shape a better process in the future."
Baird continued, "Management of the Internet by a private entity will not be stable or legitimate if that entity does not adequately include the public voice. So it is essential that ICANN—which is establishing rules that impact individuals and organizations alike - be accountable to all Internet users everywhere. The elections were far from perfect, but represented an experiment in building a way for ICANN to reflect the interest of all users so it becomes an authority they can trust; this experiment now has to be evaluated to determine whether it or another method should be used to fill the remaining At-Large seats on ICANN's Board of Directors."
"We view this study as a critical second step in our ongoing effort to enhance the public voice in ICANN's decision-making as manager of the domain name space," said Jerry Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "We must persuade ICANN's Study Committee and its Board of Directors that a greater diversity of voices on the Board is both necessary and workable."
The team that will conduct the study is comprised of experienced researchers from nine organizations worldwide with substantial expertise in ICANN. Members of the study team (see below) are drawn from each of ICANN's five geographic regions.
The independent study will review ICANN's At-Large election process by outlining a research methodology and conducting a quantitative review of data retrieved from ICANN's election and registration servers. The study will also include substantial outreach to the Internet community worldwide in order to identify and catalogue users' experiences during last year's elections as well as to solicit their views about the future of ICANN's membership and Board.
"Our goal all along in ICANN-related projects," said Baird, "has been to make the process of governing the Internet more broadly representative, participatory and transparent. It is now imperative that the data be thoroughly analyzed and available for public scrutiny so that the dialogue can continue and the system can be improved."
Late last year, ICANN conducted the first global, online direct election of At-Large members of its board. ICANN sought Markle funding to hold the elections, which enabled Internet users from around the world to elect five at-Large members to the board. All other seats on the Board are allocated to representatives of technical and commercial interests.
In order to ensure that ICANN had access to input from leading experts on transparent and fair public processes and public interest organizations, Markle brought in former President Jimmy Carter's Carter Center to monitor and review the election process, and worked with the Center for Democracy and Technology and Common Cause, who advised on the election process and identified means by which the public voice can be strengthened in ICANN.
There are potentially nine At-Large seats on the ICANN Board that could be filled by cyber-elections. However only five were filled in last October's balloting because ICANN had determined that the nine seats should be filled in two separate election contests with a space of time between them during which a thorough examination the first election process could be undertaken and improved if necessary before the second election.
In November in Los Angeles, the ICANN Board determined that a study of the election process and the role of its At-Large Directors should be coordinated by a Study Committee of ICANN but with broad participation by other groups. The Board encouraged these groups to undertake their own analyses for use in the consensus development process. This Markle-supported initiative aims to offer an independent and in-depth review of the "At-Large" membership to enable such a consensus. The initiative was created from the assumption that an At-Large Study should be international, comparative, and mindful of the public's interest in ICANN, in order to be inclusive of all regional experiences and viewpoints.
The independent study group, which includes members from ICANN's five geographic regions, is comprised of:
The Markle Foundation has committed $3.5 million under its Internet Governance Project, which is designed to improve Internet governance and includes several major initiatives designed to make ICANN, the Internet's first international oversight body, more accountable to all users of the Internet.
Markle's first initiative—a $200,000 grant directly to ICANN to initiate this process-enabled the organization to hire staff, conduct outreach, create technical mechanisms for global voting, translate key documents into several major languages for the benefit of all potential ICANN members worldwide, and initiate the voting process.
Markle also enlisted the support of and provided funding to the Carter Center, Common Cause, the Center for Democracy and Technology and other organizations from around the world to help establish the election process. In addition, Markle joined with the Ford Foundation in creating a fund at the Salzburg Seminar to allow non-profit groups to participate in Internet Govenance by providing funds to enable them to travel to ICANN meetings, to educate Internet users, and to monitor the elections.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit, international corporation formed in September 1998 to oversee a select set of Internet management functions previously managed by the U.S. Government, or by its contractors and volunteers. Specifically, ICANN is assuming responsibility for coordinating the management of the domain name system (DNS), and other important features of the Internet.