icann(26 July 2009)  The Internet Governance Project published an article,  “Are You Listening ICANN?”, a summary of just a few of the public comments that have been submitted this week in ICANN’s comment period on the charters that have been proposed for the various stakeholder groups in the reorganized Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO).   (For more background, here’s my article and all comments submitted in April to ICANN on the subject.)

According to the Internet Governance Project:

“A wonderful thing is happening on the ICANN public comment board. Public interest groups from all over the world have mobilized to express support for the NCUC charter proposal. What seemed to be an obscure procedural issue months ago has attracted worldwide attention. Civil society groups are objecting strongly to the ICANN management’s attempt to manipulate and control its allegedly “bottom up” policy making structures.”

You should really read all of the comments to get a picture for the breadth of the statements made from groups like Public Knowledge, Yale Law SchoolKPFA Nonprofit Radio Disability Program, Electronic Frontiers Australia, RITS, Internet Governance ProjectCTS-FGV,  Association for Progressive Communications, the Latin American Networking School (EsLaRed), ISOC- Mauritius, IP JusticeElectronic Frontiers Finland, and Open Institute Cambodia.

Here are just a couple comment highlights noted on the IGP blog:

A dissident Chinese blogger, Isaac Mao, wrote in to compare ICANN’s staff to China’s “50 cent army,” the name for bloggers paid by the Chinese state since 2005 to post comments favorable to government policies to skew the public opinion on Internet message boards. Dr. Laura DeNardis, of the Yale Information Society Project, sternly told ICANN that “whether or not this was ICANN’s intention, allowing a public comment period on the ICANN staff-developed charter is being construed as an attempt to paint a veneer of legitimacy and grassroots participation on a fundamentally non-democratic document.” An Indian Professor marvels, “It is rather paradoxical that in administering the internet which wired the whole world together seamlessly, ICANN should be …creating divisions!”

From South Africa, Andrew Rens, Director of Freedom to Innovate, a major NGO there, warns ICANN that their action “undermines efforts by a number of organisations in the developing world which have advocated engagement with ICANN in the face of considerable scepticism. Appropriate participation of civil society in ICANN is an absolute minimum requirement for civil society organisations advocating engagement with ICANN, rather than the construction of alternative organisations by developing world governments suggested by some critics.”

The Association for Progressive Communications, a global NGO and a leader of civil society in WSIS and IGF, concluded its comments on a hopeful note: “We are of the view that if ICANN were to adopt the NCUC’s NCSG Charter, this would signal to civil society that ICANN takes civil society participation seriously and is turning over a new leaf with civil society groups. This is an opportunity for ICANN as an institution to take forward the GNSO reforms on a positive basis.”

It was not possible to get every one of the more than 80 groups and individuals who commented in April to weigh-in again on the same issue to ICANN in July (to repeat what they said in April).  Many who commented in April and whose views were discarded are discouraged from further participation in ICANN and see it as a waste of time and energy.  Some have even said that they that if they comment they lend legitimacy to an illegitimate process.  The July comment period was 1 week shorter than the April comment period, and it is difficult to get action in July, when so many people are on holiday or family vacations.  Yet, despite these obstacles, the public comments submitted in July were overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating the consensus charter submitted by NCUC and asking ICANN to respect bottom-up process.

Now we will see if ICANN is listening yet.