March 25, 2006

First Thoughts On ICANN's Wellington, NZ, Meeting

ICANN has begun a meeting in Wellington, New Zealand.

Nice place New Zealand.  But remote.  Has anyone noticed how many years it has been since ICANN has had a meeting in the place where it has its legal home, California?  Perhaps ICANN is afraid.  And perhaps ICANN should be afraid, very afraid - I've spoken to people in the California government and they are aware of ICANN and its ill and exclusionary behavior towards citizens.

As a prelude to the meeting both Ross Rader and Susan Crawford wrote interesting notes on their blogs.  I'll take a moment and respond those those.

Ross suggested that ICANN's GNSO is not conflicted because it represents all stakeholders.  I don't agree.  ICANN's GNSO, and ICANN generally, exclude the largest group of internet stakeholders - the community of internet users.  The interest of that group, measured in terms of the cumulative financial impact and in the number of people affected, the "stake" of this community far outweighs that of the members of the GNSO by several orders of magnitude.

But it is a well accepted principle of nearly every legal system on the planet that collections of incumbent business interests ought not to have the life-and-death power over the attempts of others to enter the marketplace.  The idea that incumbents can limit the entry of new players went out with the Guild system.  Yet is that not what ICANN has become, a Guild, a place in which incumbent businesses (and a few other selected industrial bystanders, such as the intellectual property industry) have been given the power to be gatekeepers who permit or deny new entrepreneurs, new ideas, and new products?

And is that not also "regulation" in its worst and most heavy-handed sense?

Ross suggests that ICANN is not a regulator.  But if we examine the aspects of domain name life upon which ICANN imposes mandatory conditions we see that ICANN has established a deeply intrusive and deeply controlling system of regulation.  Among the things that ICANN imposes are minimal registry prices, astronomically high hurdles for new registry proposals to overcome, terms and conditions in registry and registrar contracts and users who acquire domain names, a dispute policy amounting to supra-national law of trademark-over-domain-name, a WHOIS policy that requires registrars and registries to publish their customer lists and that also is the largest and worst privacy abuse on the internet.

If that's not regulation then I don't know what regulation is.

Susan suggested that from the feedback she has received that there is pent-up demand for perhaps a dozen or less new Top-Level-Domains.  I, and others, tend to feel that that number understates the actual demand by at least several thousand-fold.

An easy test would be for ICANN to put up on its website, in a place that people can actually find on its website, a request for statements of interest in obtaining a TLD.  That web page should make it clear that ICANN is asking for those who would be interested under the following conditions:

  • Minimal application fee ($25 US) and no yearly tithes to ICANN
  • The only review will be to ask whether the applicant will abide by published internet technical standards.
  • No requirement to adhere to existing ICANN contractual structures, publish customer lists (WHOIS), mandate a UDRP, or use a registry-registrar business model.

Yup, that's it - those three conditions.  The first condition should cover ICANN's costs of checking the second condition and of mechanically adding the TLD to the root zone file.  (ICANN could charge a reasonable yearly maintenance fee - perhaps $100 - for updates to the name server records.)  The second condition is really the only one necessary to protect the technical stability of the internet - see the new ICANN/Verisign contract for one definition of what "stability" means.  And the third condition is there to indicate that the abusive behaviors of ICANN in the past should be discounted when making these statements of interest.

Under those conditions I'd put up my hand for my .ewe registry.

Now, back to the ICANN meeting itself.

Paul Twomey opened a hornet's nest of accumulated anger when he suggested that his discussion be off the record.

Paul: ICANN's began its life in secrecy with secret agreements made by ICANN's founder, Joe Sims.  The fact of those agreements is well known - Sims once told me of their existence during a phone call when he told me that changes in the yet-to-be-formed ICANN were impossible because such changes would contravene those agreements.  Then very soon after ICANN formed certain ICANN board members and officers adopted a stance right out of Orwell's Animal Farm - that in order to be "open" ICANN's board had to meet in secret.

Then ICANN went on through the years in that mode, secrecy piled on top of secrecy, closed meetings on top of closed meetings.

And then I was elected to ICANN's Board of Directors.  ICANN felt that it should operate in secret even against its own Board of Directors!  I tried to exercise my "absolute right" under the Law to take a look at ICANN's financials.  ICANN had the audacity to try to deny me that right. I had to sue.  I won, ICANN lost.  You would think after the disastrous advice that ICANN's law firm gave it on that occassion, that ICANN might reconsider its choice of law firms.  When I left the board I recommended (see Section 4.12 of Appendix B of that ICANN make a deep review and potentially significantly reform its relationship with Jones-Day.)

Yet, apparently ICANN still does not easily open its books or its affairs to directors.  And most of the directors have been wimps, not asking question much less requiring answers, not demanding that staff do what staff ought to do.  ICANN directors generally treat their jobs on the ICANN Board of Directors as some sort of distant honorific in which the directors merely make polite nudging noises rather than actually using their plenary power and obligatory authority to actually direct the affairs of ICANN by making informed and independent decisions.

In addition, apparently, ICANN has not published any financial statements on its web pages for several years - I wonder whether ICANN has made its mandatory filings of its IRS form 990, a document that tax-exempt entities such as ICANN are required to make visible to the public else be subject to a daily accumulating fine.

Stepping over to another topic - apparently TLD registries are trying to make a land-grab by claiming that they have the exclusive rights to the internationalized versions of their strings.  What an absurd idea.  How greedy can these TLD registries get?  Haven't they ever read the Grimms' tale of  The Fisherman and His Wife?

Tell me this: What does "com" mean?  It is not a word in English.  It has been used as shorthand for "communications" (as in 3COM) or "commercial".  What is the internationalized version of a non-word or acronym?

By-the-way, I own the domain name "" which, if viewed in French could be construed to mean the same as "".

Posted by karl at March 25, 2006 4:37 PM