TR: After you flew 20 hours to attend the World Summit on the Information Society, guards ejected you from the opening meeting. What happened?
Twomey: What happened was the [delegates] said they were going to have open meetings, which meant that groups like ICANN could observe, [but] we couldn’t say anything. But at the last minute the chair decided to make the whole thing closed. It wasn’t just myself, but others who were not members, who were all escorted out. The bottom line is that’s the way they hold their meetings: in private. They’re secret. That’s the way the governmental organizations work. We are an open, transparent organization. Anything that has to be discussed has to be put up on the Web site. Anybody can join the discussion forums. Our meetings are open; they’re video streamed; anybody can speak at any time. You can ask questions online as well as at the physical meetings. Journalists can attend. It’s a very different culture.
A top-down entity, only consisting of governments as the decision-makers, would represent a dramatic disruption to the successful partnership of the technical and engineering communities, business, academia, and governments which has been critical for the success of the Internet. It could well fracture, weaken, and politicize the technical-coordination functions. It would represent a very severe disturbance not only to ICANN but also the other bottom-up consensus bodies which play a key role in the diverse development and functioning of the Internet.
TR: Yet the international community is still demanding a greater say in the way ICANN operates. Was the creation of several “at-large community user groups” in December a response to those requests?
Twomey: Yes and no. First of all, ICANN from its beginning has had its focus on being international. I’m Australian, and the staff are based on three continents. Our board members are required to come from five regions around the world. Similarly, the supporting organizations are all required to have their members come from different parts of the world. So it is a very international organization in its structure.
The “at large” issue is really putting in this final leg of representation of the consumers’ interests. We’re trying to put in place a mosaic of international groups that actually represent all consumers. The committee has been working off a list of something like 350 different types of consumer organizations-people who’ve got an interest in the Internet-who they are approaching to be a part of this structure. We actually want to build in a structure that is very bottom-up representative of the consumers on the Internet.
TR: What is the biggest challenge for the Internet from ICANN’s perspective?
Twomey: The Internet is becoming very local while at the same time being global. People want to communicate in their own languages-in Japanese, Chinese, Bahasa. What that means is that the Internet won’t be as transparent to all users; people who are used to using [English] characters might have trouble trying to find a particular company that’s got its domain name in Chinese characters. So we have to ensure that we maintain a single interoperable Internet, and we don’t end up with a series of Internets. From an ICANN perspective, this is our most important challenge. We can do quite a lot of stuff around internationalized domain names, allowing people to have top-level domains [like .com or .net] in their own character sets. That’s [ICANN’s] core business. What other people are going to have to do is [design] how search engines are going to work, how people are going to find other players, how you are going to have translation systems across the Internet.
To take a western-European historical perspective, it’s a little bit like going from Christendom to the nation-states in Europe. You had this Christendom, and everyone spoke either Greek or Latin. There was a common language, and it all worked. All of a sudden there were these nation-states where everybody spoke their own language. How do you speak together? It’s the same sort of process. English has been the Latin of the Internet, but it’s not going to be anymore.