Dave on Internet Society Next CEO

ISOC has a $30M annual subsidy and should be the most effective advocate for Internet users. Kathy Brown has just resigned and I wrote the note here to ISOC. Folks

Kathy has long been one of the most skilled advocates in D.C., at the FCC, Verizon, and the Internet Society. She is also a decent and generous person. She always worked hard and well. There will soon be many eloquent words about her abilities and personality. They are well-deserved.

I’m putting out a call for other members to speak up on this list to “frame the question.”

These are my ideas but I want to hear yours.

Finding a new CEO gives us an opportunity to work on the most important problems of ISOC:

That we believe in a multi-stakeholder process but don’t implement it ourselves. For the last five years, all decisions have been top down from a hierarchical staff. During that period, about half our chapters effectively disappeared. This has long been confirmed by postings on this list and the experience of the members. So the first requirement for a new leader must be demonstrated experience with a strong bottoms-up organization.

That we need to strengthen the chapters and give them enough authority and funding to grow. In the long run, the strength of ISOC must come from active members and chapters. The $30M from .org registrations has allowed us to hire a large and expensive staff. We can’t count on that and need strong members. There is no accurate count, but many, probably most, chapters have not substantially added active members in the last five years despite our spending $millions every year. When the board rejected the chapters proposal, worked on carefully for over a year, in a secret session, many of our best members were discouraged. The new leader must be someone who has demonstrated the courage and wisdom to share the work of an organization with all members.

That our leadership reflect both sides of the international split between the U.S., Europe + allies and what I will carefully call “the group of 77.” As U.S. Ambassador Phil Verveer said at the WCIT, “We must build bridges.”

Two-thirds of the world supported proposals at the ITU that were refused by the U.S., who “walked out” of the WCIT. The BRICs and allies are now a solid majority of world Internet users and the gap is growing rapidly. All five of our top policy people are from the U.S. and Europe and overwhelmingly support the policy of the traditionally powerful nations.

Can anyone name major issues in the last 5 years where ISOC took a stand that was strongly opposed by the U.S. government?

The U.S. is right about some issues but wrong about others, especially international issues that could bring down the cost of access. A few giant companies have enormous power and profits from the net. We have opposed, for example, plans to require the multinationals (not all American) to pay taxes where they do business and to charge reasonable royalties.

This is not a call to choose a leader by country or birth. The divide is often called North/South or rich/poor but there are many in the rich countries of the North who understand the issues of the poor in the South. This is a call to choose someone who is not firmly committed to either point of view. We need leadership that does not automatically align with U.S. policy.

That while we aspire to be global and speak for Internet users worldwide, ~half the world is effectively unrepresented at ISOC. In particular, one-third of the Internet is Chinese. We have no chapters in China and none of our ~20 board members are Chinese. We do not exclude many other countries with governments we don’t like. Groups like 3GPP and GSMA understand that ignoring China is a mistake. The result, as Constance noted here, is that the BRICs are building their own institutions. It just won’t work to exclude half the world from ISOC. At minimum, we should take the word “global” out of our promotion until we actually are global. We need someone with the courage of a “Nixon goes to China” moment to break from the exclusions of the past.

That we do so much inefficiently we do not have the resources for more effective action. We spend something like 5X overseeing the funds administered by the chapters. We pay our top executives 2-4 times what public interest advocates expect. Our CEO makes twice as much as the U.S. President. She comes from a world of D.C. advocates with salaries going up to $16M (David Cohen.) We need someone with experience working with organizations where most people do not make more than 2X the average wage.


This means that the search committee have 1/4th or more people chosen by the membership. That at least the short list of candidates be public and discuss their positions and goals widely. (This is not unusual at U.S. universities, where prospects for President often have extensive campus visits.) That the selection committee reflect both sides of the international divide on Internet policy. Although I’m actually on a U.S. State Department committee, my feelings on the North/South issues are so strong I shouldn’t join.

Requiring policy experience makes sense, because we do so much advocacy. But we shouldn’t expect that to be “Internet Governance” policy because the traditional institutions are mostly folks who see things the old way.

Requiring administrative experience also makes sense. I would be unqualified because I’ve never run an organization larger than about 15 employees. That experience must be in an organization where the members/chapters/lower paid people have a role in organization decisions.


Unfortunately, we have no qualified candidates in house. Sally Wentworth has never managed an organization like this. Todd Tolbert doesn’t have policy experience.

Raúl Echeberría apparently wants the job but would be a disaster because he’s alienated most of the chapters with his attitude. You can see that from the 95 mostly angry responses on this list to his attempt to take more control over chapters. He rejected a request from North American chapters to have a role in the choice of the Regional Director and refused to give a reason why we couldn’t. He decided not to take action when the U.S. government blocked our funding of an Iranian Fellow to IGF, although we almost certainly could have solved that. (Sally has sat at the right hand of the U.S. Ambassador and given him very strong support. They almost certainly would have expedited the request if she asked.)

Most importantly, Raúl accepted the closed meeting that rejected the unanimous proposal from the Chapters Committee. I’ve never heard a sensible explanation. Letting Chapters allocate 3% of our budget still hasn’t happened. Letting chapters decide whether to use travel funds for the IGF or an Internet event of the African Union is not radical or unreasonable. He doesn’t work in accord with the goals of ISOC.

We should look hard for a different candidate from Latin America.


Judging by who gets hired, we’ve never done a good job of candidate outreach. (5 out of 5 of our top policy people are from the U.S. and Europe and generally agree with one point of view.)

So we need a competent outreach committee, funded to do things like translate the call into many languages. I’m over-volunteered, but will serve and not expect payment. We need volunteers from China, India, Latin America, and Africa.


These are my ideas, informed by decades of working with non-profits. Let’s hear yours.

In particular, I hope the independent board members speak now about what they think is important.

Dave Burstein

Edited 11/30 to remove an adjective about Raul as subjective. Better to demonstrate my opinion with facts.

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