[discuss] The public interest and ICANN

Edmon Chung edmon at registry.asia
Wed Sep 3 14:20:14 UTC 2014

I tend to characterize the difficulty we have for many of the Internet governance issues (an in particular ICANN as corresponding to the subject of this thread) as trying to identify:

A public interest for a disinterested public.


In what we are discussing, we simply do not have enough sustained participation from the “public” to consider what the “public interest” is (unlike perhaps in a national or local politics sense).


That being said, just because we do not have a good definitive way to define the public interest in many cases, that should not remove us from the responsibility to consider it as a guiding principle of what we as a community do.  The same can be said for ethics and morality.


Most importantly, the greater danger in my mind (within the context of the subject line) is if and when ICANN (the corporation and the board) hold the thinking that “because we do not have enough of the public participating” and “we need to balance the actively participating community’s interest against the public interest” therefore, “we are going to make a decision on our own that may not have come from the actively participating community for the greater good.”


So I side I think with Jordan’s “framework” concept where by the working concept of what the public interest is for a particular issue should be derived from the participating communities even though we may have to accept it may not necessarily represent the universal public interest.  In particular where Jordan mentioned “ICANN serves the public interest by being the common platform where this coordination happens.”








From: discuss-bounces at 1net.org [mailto:discuss-bounces at 1net.org] On Behalf Of Peter Dengate Thrush
Sent: Wednesday, September 3, 2014 9:56 PM
To: Jordan Carter
Cc: discuss at 1net.org; ianaxfer at elists.isoc.org
Subject: Re: [discuss] The public interest and ICANN



I agree that "public interest " is a dangerous term.


There is no such thing in many cases. 


Or rather, there can be a different public interest position on every issue.


In the DNS industry, where ICANN is the regulator, there are (perfectly valid) registry interests in increasing revenues from sales to known customers and returning profits to  shareholders that are orthogonal to 
Registrants (perfectly valid) interests in low cost domain names and anonymity to protect women and children.


The task there is to balance those competing interests.


In its role as coordinator of DNS resources- a distinctly different role, ICANN has to balance other issues.


Remember that he who defines the debate usually wins it, so beware of anyone bringing the gift of a definition of the public interest.


What's in the public interest on the same issue also changes with time- there was a time patents were not available for contraceptives because they were immoral. 


So the balancing exercise is a constant re-balancing one, to deal with change.


For quite some time there were those who would have said ICANN itself was not in the public interest.


If you have go go down that path, the best you should do is try for very high level statements such as

" single interoperable internet"... but read what I said above about people bringing you definitions.




Peter Dengate Thrush

On 3/09/2014, at 3:37 pm, Jordan Carter <jordan at internetnz.net.nz> wrote:

Hi all


Here's something to mull on. 


In a couple of situations recently - the panel that Vint chaired a few months ago and in the ICANN Town Hall meeting on Friday - there's been some use made of the concept of the public interest as a guiding principle for ICANN (including its stewardship of the DNS, and operation of the IANA functions).


I think we need to be careful about this idea, and here's why.


The public interest is secured by an open single Internet, and the technical coordination of the DNS and the other IANA functions contribute to that. All of those functions are done in the service of a wide array of other organisations - communities, if you will. 


ICANN serves the public interest by being the common platform where this coordination happens. It serves the public interest by serving its communities and its customers faithfully.


If there was a perceived gap in ICANN's mind between what the "public interest" is, and what the interests of ICANN's communities are, then there is a mistake being made somewhere.


To put it another way, I think we should be very firm that it is not ICANN's job to determine what the public interest IS in relation to its work. It is the job of the communities that work together in ICANN's multistakeholder framework to do that. ICANN provides the framework, not the answers.


There is no abstract public interest for ICANN to guard. It guards the public interest by faithfully serving the Internet Community.






Jordan Carter

Chief Executive 

04 495 2118 (office) | +64 21 442 649 (mob)
jordan at internetnz.net.nz 
Skype: jordancarter

To promote the Internet's benefits and uses, and protect its potential.

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