the roving_reporter



[The roving_reporter trudges diligently into winter, mostly -- but not entirely -- tracking ICANN's political footsteps through the wilderness of "technical" nonsense. Cheers, T]

Past issues: UDRP? JDRP (1999-11-16); Viral Regulation (1999-11-24); ICANN Journal 1 (2000-09-10); ICANN Journal 2: Kicking ICANN Around (2000-10-15); ICANN Journal 3: Whoiswho? (2000-11-10); ICANN Journal 4: MDR2K, d00d! (2000-12-03)

The current issue is here.

> roving_reporter t byfield [email]

Tue Jan 16 01:12:22 EST 2001

From Kosova to ICANN?

The roving_reporter has been hearing the name Carl Bildt -- UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for the Balkans, a former Swedish prime minister, former EU Special Representative to the Former Yugoslavia, former chairman of Sweden's Moderate Party, author of various books, and general all-around "new economy"/IT-booster -- mentioned in connection with a job opening at ICANN (conceivably this one).

Bildt's CV is impressive, but its relevance to a modest "technical coordination" body is unclear. Luckily, ICANN isn't such an organization -- so his extensive consensus-building experience (for example, with other candidates for ICANN's top spots) could prove very useful.

In late 1999, Bildt was nominated for a DNSO seat, as summarized for the CENTR General Assembly Warsaw meeting (27-28 September 1999):

Eva Froelich suggested Carl Bildt, the ex-Prime Minister of Sweden who had distinguished himself in negotiating for dispute settlements in former Yugoslavia and had taken part in Swedish IT issues. She reported that his only political work now was some consultancy for the European Commission and she offered to approach him to see if he would be willing to stand. She pointed out that with Carl Bildt, you would get someone who would have an overview and not an agenda. We will have votes so we have to consider what advise the CENTR/constituency will give to the NC members on how to vote.

However, according to the New York Times, his status as a peace negotiator in Kosova ran afoul of ICANN's bylaws (V.5), which "prohibit anyone with an active role in government or with a governmental body like the United Nations from serving on the board."

In November 2000, Bildt gave the keynote speech at the invitation-only Global Internet Project (GIP -- but see Gordon Cook's remarks here) workshop "Security, Privacy, and Reliability of the Next Generation Internet." The attendees were a who's who of ICANN supporters: Raimund Trierscheid of ICANN-funder Deutsche Telekom, GIP Chairman and ICANN-funding IBM Internet Veep John Patrick, taciturn ICANNWatcher Dave Farber, Vint Cerf of ICANN's board and MCI/WorldCom (another ICANN-funder), former ICANN MAL candidate Harris Miller of Information Technology Association of America, and former ICANN chair Esther Dyson, among others. At the workshop, the GIP released a statement on ICANN that is both predictably and absurdly valedictory.

The possibility that Bildt might end up at ICANN casts a rather ominous light on UNESCO's December decision to grant ISOC NGO status.

Mon Jan 15 14:56:35 EST 2001

Correction: ICANN: MMF

One of the roving_reporter's trustiest sources (to whom we are abidingly grateful) has pointed out, in detail, that ICANN CEO Roberts's explanation of the windfall generated by ICANN's high application fee -- that "the new TLD application fees are expected to cover all the costs of introducing the new TLDs, a process which is only partially complete" -- marks a sharp change in ICANN's rhetoric.

Specifically, ICANN's 30 August "New TLD Application Process Overview" stated:

2. The Application Fee

The application fee for each new TLD application is US$ 50,000. This fee must be paid before ICANN will consider the application. It is intended to cover ICANNs costs of receiving and evaluating the application, including performing technical, financial, business, and legal analyses, as well as ICANNs investigation of all circumstances surrounding the applications and follow-up items. The application fee is non-refundable and ICANN's only obligation upon accepting the application and fee is to consider the application.

The specificity with which aspects of the review process are listed hardly suggests that, oh, btw, "follow-up items" includes the longer-term costs of actually introducing the TLDs. But lest there be any doubt, ICANN's "TLD Application Process FAQs" (last amended 10 October) expands on the logic:

FAQ #15: Why is the application fee so high? Aren't you going to prevent non-profit TLD registry proposals by requiring such a steep application fee?

As a small non-profit organization, ICANN must conduct its activities so they are essentially self-funding, on the principle of cost-recovery. For example, the accreditation process for .com, .net, and .org registrars is funded through application and accreditation fees paid by those registrars. Likewise, the new-TLD-application process must be self-funding. This process will include very intensive review and analysis of applications on many levels (including technical, financial, legal, etc.). The application fee was set at a level intended to cover all of ICANN's costs related to the process. It would not be justifiable to require existing registries and registrars to subsidize the process.

In establishing the fee, ICANN's Board was concerned that the application fee might discourage some applications for special-purpose restricted TLDs. However, a multi-tiered fee structure would mean that some applicants would subsidize the application-review costs of others. This would be particularly unfair because of difficulties in distinguishing between for-profit and non-profit proposals in the global context. Accordingly, a single, cost-recovery-based application fee has been adopted for this year's new-TLD-application process.

Our source concluded more eloquently than we ever could:

For any costs now incurred by ICANN in the negotiation process, the prelaunch review of the operations of the selected TLD registries, or monitoring of the testbed, the unsuccessful applicants are subsidizing the costs of the successful ones.

But the question remains whether the excess revenues are subsidizing not just the introduction of new TLDs but ICANN's existence in the meantime. As we prophesied in this space on 6 October:

ICANN received 47 applications and, with them, a windfall of over $2.3 million dollars. [Three applications were rejected, leaving a total of 44. -- r_r] Assuming that their own worst-case estimates estimates are valid -- and if they weren't why are they in charge of this stuff? -- reviewing the applications should cost somewhere between that amount and $822,500 (i.e., ($350K/20)*47) -- leaving a potential surplus of up to $1,527,500. Where will the extra money go? The roving_reporter's five bucks says JDRP. It definitely won't go to the underfunded-by-underestimation MAL -- that, ICANN insists, is a "special project." But it could go to paying off... ICANN's "bridge-loan into the future."

And voila! As of this date, $1,734,446.33 remains unaccounted for -- if you count a vote of the Executive Committee rather than of the full board "accounted for." The roving_reporter, whose budgeting skills seem to be better than ICANN's, doesn't.

Fri Jan 12 00:29:51 EST 2001

JDRP: MMF

Bret Fausett's superb ICANN Blog for 11 January notes that ICANN's Executive Committee -- a six-person subset (Cerf, Kraaijenbrink, Kyong, Pisanty, Quaynor, and Maximum Leader Roberts) of the nineteen-member board -- approved payment of $465,553.67 to the law firm Jones, Day, Reavis, and Pogue for legal services rendered during the months of October and November, presumably in connection with the three lawyers (Joe Sims, John Funk, and Paul Goldean) who participated in the gTLD application review process.

If the publicly available minutes of prior ExComm meetings are accurate, this this the first time that the ExComm (created 4 November 1999) instead of the full board has authorized any payment at all, let alone one of that magnitude. By resorting to the ExComm to make this decision, ICANN in effect circumvented the possibility that any MAL-elected boardmembers could challenge, or even comment on, the payment. In his campaign platform, MAL boardmember Karl Auerbach bluntly stated "Jones Day must go":

Over the life of ICANN, Jones, Day has been the the dominant creditor of ICANN.

Even now Jones, Day continues to receive a lion's share of every dollar that flows into ICANN.

And one of Jones, Day's partners, Louis Touton, left the firm to become ICANN's Vice-President, Secretary, and General Counsel.

Initially, ICANN's justified charging a gTLD application fee on a cost-recovery basis:

It is proposed that application fees be established to cover ICANN's costs in receiving, investigating, evaluating, and acting on the applications. Because ICANN has not previously conducted an application process for those proposing to operate or sponsor new top-level domains, it is difficult to determine the likely overall cost with precision. The number of applications to be received is also unknown, with only limited data available based on the (so far relatively few) expressions of interest submitted. ICANN estimates that the direct cost of receiving, investigating, evaluating, and acting on the applications is likely to be in the range of US$150,000 to US$350,000. Assuming that somewhere in the range of 7-20 applications are submitted, to recover ICANN's costs this would lead to a non-refundable application fee in the range of US$7,500 to US$50,000.

ICANN settled on the higher $50,000 figure and received 44 applications, netting $2.2 million in the process; the ExComm's approval of the JDRP payment leaves approximately $1.7 million unaccounted for. Other recipients will presumably include Arther Andersen (three advisers: David Nolte, J. D. Tengberg, Tom MacKinney) and three individuals (Charles Neuhauser, Robert Olson, and Peter Reiher) listed as "outside advisors" in connection with the gTLD review process.

When ICANN first announced the $50,000 application fee, many critics -- the roving_reporter among them -- theorized that ICANN's bass-ackward guesstimation was a transparent attempt to cover the budget shortfall precipitated by the ccTLD registrars' refusal to pay ICANN's unilaterally assessed invoices.

ICANN has not yet responded to questions about the remainder of the application revenues.

[ Clarification: One reader notes that Quaynor, too, is was elected by the MAL. -- r_r]

[Addendum: Mike Roberts responded:

The new TLD application fees are expected to cover all the costs of introducing the new TLDs, a process which is only partially complete. The accounting people are keeping track of revenue and expense for this project and reporting same to Board periodically.

Roberts also notes that the ExComm approved the JDRP payment because its meeting was conveniently timed, and that this "had to do with the size of the check, not the type of disbursement." But see "Correction: ICANN: MMF," above.]

Mon Jan 8 13:05:28 EST 2001

A Guide to the perplexed

Carl Oppedahl, a respected expert on the ins and outs of DNS and founding partner of the law firm Oppedahl & Larson LLP, has written a superb how-to for domain-name holders on ways to try to avoid falling victim to overreaching organizations wielding the double-whammy of ICANN's UDRP and the ACPA.

roving_readers, being the the savvy lot they are, autonomically ask: Which ACPA? Is it the nameless website-building site at www.acpa.com, the American College Personnel Association, the American Crop Protection Association, the American Catholic Philosophical Association, the American Chronic Pain Association, the Association of Certified Public Accountants or perhaps the confusingly similar Affiliated Conference of Practicing Accountants [International], or the even more confoundingly similar Association of Practicing CPAs -- or is it the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants that's confusingly similar?), the Association Cagnoise Pour les Animaux, the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture down under with the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, the Atelier de Chaudronnerie du Pays d'Argentan, the American Concrete Pavement Association (or the similarly confusingly similar American Concrete Pipe Association, to say nothing -- a good policy when one is confused -- of the American Concrete Pumping Association), the Asian Professors' Control Association, the Air Canada Pilots Association (not to be confused with the Association of Canadian Port Authorities), the Arizona Crime Prevention Association, or -- in a totally different vein -- IBM's M-Audio Capture & Playback Adapter/A, or (back north again) the Association of the Chemical Profession of Alberta, then on to the American Cleft Palate-Craniofacial Association, the Association of Chinese Philosophers in America and the Canadian Philosophical Association (which should be confused with l'Association Canadienne de Philosophie but not with l'Association Canadienne des Producteurs d'Acier a/k/a the Candadian Steel Producers Association)... But of course the roving_reporter really meant the US Anti-Cybersquatting Piracy Act, which along with the UDRP provides guidelines and procedures (and, in the case of ACPA, fines ranging up to $100,000) for sorting out which entity is rightfully entitled to the the exclusive use of a domain like, say, acpa.org -- as opposed to the rest of the riffraff, who would therefore be "cybersquatters."

Among the highlights of Oppedahl's how-to are:

Responding to an offer to purchase the domain name. The covetous party, well aware of the ACPA language that offering to sell a domain name owner supposedly proves the domain name owner is breaking the law, will quite often offer to buy the domain name, and then if the domain name owner responds in any way, the response is urged to the Court as proving that the domain name owner is a lawbreaker. Do not respond to an offer to purchase your domain name except upon advice of experienced trademark counsel.
and:
Presenting to the lawyer a list of other parties who use the same mark or similar domain names. This is somewhat like the previous point. What's really going on is that the covetous party wants your domain name, not someone else's domain name. As such, you will probably not get anywhere asking the other side to be reasonable and look at your long list of domain names that also contain the trademark of interest. (In contrast, if competent trademark counsel presents a list of others who hold identical trademark registrations, it may well be one of several factors prompting the covetous party to back down in its demands.)

Sun Jan 7 11:06:42 EST 2001

Former board candidate sighting

WiReD News mentions that former congressman (R-WA, 1995-99) Rick White has a new job: CEO of the Silicon Valley political organization TechNet. In October 1999, he was nominated by CDT's Jerry Berman for an ICANN board seat, to much acclaim from AT&T, Microsoft, and, as AT&T's lead lobbyist in ICANNesque matters Marilyn Cade put it in a campaign letter for White, "other commercial companies." White's earlier work with the CDT involved promoting an early "compromise" version of the Communications Decency Act.

When the Consumer Project on Technology's Jamie Love redistributed Cade's campaign letter for White, he asked,

If ICANN is only going to do boring and unimportant technical work, why does a former US Congressman want to run for its board of directors, and why does AT&T, Microsoft and others lobby so hard to put their people on the board of directors?

TechNet's press release quotes White talking about his new job:

My job is to help high-tech leaders communicate to our elected officials the importance of the technology industry and ways to make it grow. TechNet has already accomplished a great deal including playing an instrumental role in such policy initiatives as PNTR [Permanent Normal Trade Relations -- r_r] for China and much needed H1-B visa reform. Just as the high tech industry is maturing, I want to help lead TechNet as it matures, further fostering its role as a policy organization.

Had White ended up on ICANN's board, he no doubt would have further fostered its role as a technical coordination organization. Heh -- right...

Thu Jan 4 16:41:39 EST 2001

ICANN Blog

Fantastic! Bret Fausett quietly began a "blog" devoted to ICANN in early December.

Mon Dec 25 23:51:48 EST 2000

Ode to ICANN

Permissions granted by the authors (Berryhill-Reid) in a Nick, as it were, of Time:

O little town of cyberspace,
dot org, dot com, dot net;            
Between our short and fitful sleeps,
we rant and rave and fret.                

While in thy packet headers, 
are IP addresses;  
And they'll go where they're meant to go,
despite what ICANN says.

For Strife is born of abject power
And gather'd all for use
By those whose shares of stock impairs
when TLDs are loose.
Yet in dark fiber shineth
a CRC of light:
If damage found, we route around
from some new server site.

How easily, how easily,
the packets find their way.
If One True Root does not you suit
then start your own, today.
No UDRP saving
the WIPO-loving herd.
Here free souls will the name space fill;
with their favorite word.

O holy 'net stability'
whose name control evokes
and leads us to the name space zoo
but all its names are jokes.
We know no core authority;
no target for a suit.
The dot zone starts in many parts
combined to form the root.

Mon Dec 25 14:34:29 EST 2000

From ISOC to ICANN

In the December 2000 "Inside ISOC" newsletter, ISOC President and CEO Don Heath publicly announced what he had told the ISOC board of trustees in September, namely, that he'll retire as of March 2001 -- just in time to replace Mike Roberts as ICANN's president and CEO, some speculate. In this regard, the top agenda item of ISOC's 9-10 September board meeting minutes is worth quoting at length, for it presents a far more candid assessment of ICANN's situation than anything ICANN itself has ever offered (emphasis and links added):

[Correction: The meeting took place in December, not September, and the following excerpt is from a "public policy report," not the meeting's overall minutes; thanks to an anonymous reader for pointing this out. -- r_r]

A. Internet Governance

The most critical public policy issue affecting the Internet remains the same -- namely, its governance. The ISOC Board of Trustees will face a continuing challenge to define the role of ISOC in the developing structure of non-governmental technical coordination of the Internet.

ICANN's legal authority for "technical management of the Internet" (in ICANN's own words) remains in doubt. A connected issue is ICANN's ability to finance its operations.

ICANN's General Counsel recently acknowledged that "ICANN cannot, and has no legal authority to, implement new top level domain names; that authority currently resides in the Department of Commerce." Also, "no foreign government owns its ccTLD or can order ICANN or the Department of Commerce to take any actions with respect to a ccTLD." (Declaration in Economic Solutions, Inc. v. ICANN, U.S. Dist. Ct., E.D. MO)

The question of ICANN's influence over ccTLDs is the subject of  ICANN's "Discussion Draft of Letter to Governments Regarding ccTLD Managers" (12 November, 2000). ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee had asked ICANN to "write to the relevant governments and public authorities to ascertain their views concerning the current delegation for the ccTLDs that correspond to their jurisdictions." The draft letter asks for these views, and goes on to state that ICANN intends to enter into contracts, not with the governments, but rather with the ccTLD managers.

There are two serious problems with this plan. A number of ccTLD managers and governments have indicated that they are (1) unwilling to enter into such contracts and (2) unwilling to pay the assessments voted by ICANN. [See, e.g., CENTR's discussion of the issue -- r_r.]

Assuming that ICANN is able to overcome these objections and enter into private contracts with a significant number of ccTLD managers, it will then be in a position to accept a transfer of responsibility [of the root -- r_r] from the U.S. Department of Commerce. This, however, depends on whether the U.S. Department of Commerce is able to make the transfer.

In July, 2000, the U.S. General Accounting Office made a study of the relationship of the Department and ICANN [175K PDF -- r_r]. The study supported ICANN's activities but questioned whether a transition of administrative control of the Internet would "involve a transfer of government property to a private entity. If so, the transfer would have to be consistent with federal property laws." (p. 26) The study further states that it is "unclear if the Department has the requisite authority to effect such a transfer" and that the Department "has no current plans to transfer policy authority for the authoritative root server to ICANN, nor has it developed a scenario or set of circumstances under which such control would be transferred." (p. 27)

Under these circumstances, the proposed transfer of responsibility is not likely to happen soon. This interferes with the corporation's efforts to find a stable source of income [cf. ICANN's statements to the IRS regarding outstanding loans and our commentary -- r_r]. It is also a problem because it interferes with ICANN's ability to deal with truly technical administrative issues such as internationalized domain names, where economic interests may be in conflict with sound engineering practice.

ICANN has announced its initial selection of new registry operators for additional generic TLDs. This selection must be approved by the Department of Commerce, which has been warned by two members of the U.S. Congress not to take action until hearings are held on the status of competition among registries. In addition, and regardless of the merits of the proposals for new gTLDs, there is a strong possibility that ICANN's selection will result in litigation in U.S. courts which in turn could result in authoritative legal answers to the questions raised above. The answers may or may not be favorable to ICANN.

The challenge to the ISOC Board is to deal with developments as they may arise in the political and judicial arena while supporting the further development of an Internet technical administration system in which decisions on technical issues are made by qualified technical authorities.

This ambiguous conclusion is remarkable, given the general tenor of solidarity ISOC expresses for ICANN (which isn't at all surprising, in Milton Mueller's analysis). Presumably, the unspoken alternative to "qualified technical authorities" is unqualified political authorities, assumed to be governmental authorities. At pivotal points, it's been a mantra among ICANN's supporters than any alternative to ICANN would necessarily involve -- horror of horrors -- the gummint; but, as even ISOC's summation makes clear, ICANN is in essence a proxy for the US Department of Commerce. (And even within that framework its actions have been constrained by governmental pressure, according to former chair Esther Dyson as reported by MAL boardmember Andy Mueller-Maguhn.)

As to technical street cred, ICANN's new chair, Vint Cerf, is virtually unsurpassed; but it's hard to see how his status would or could steer ICANN away from its expansionist political trajectory toward a more minimal role as a technical coordination body. And if Don Heath -- who is widely known to enjoy Cerf's unequivocal support in ISOC -- does in fact become ICANN's new president and CEO, such an outcome seems even less likely.

Sun Dec 24 13:51:32 EST 2000

U.S. Election systems subject to de facto cartel

According to an article by elections expert Eva Waskell published in SafeVote's newsletter The Bell, the only independent testing authority (ITA) accredited by the National Association of State Election Directors (NASED) to evaluate and certify software for elections in thirty-two states has been shut down. As a result, only voting systems accredited prior to the Florida fiasco are eligible for sale or implementation in those states

On 16 November 1999, Nichols Research announced that it had merged with Computer Sciences Corporation; but in November of this year its public sector unit, which performs election software certification, was shut down without public notice because it wasn't turning a profit.

According to Waskell, this dilemma cannot be resolved prior to NASED's 2-4 February 2001 meeting in Washington, D.C. As a result, April 2001 is the earliest any new ITA (if indeed there is a new one) would be able to accept new systems for testing, and July 2001 is the earliest date any newly approved system could go into operation.

However, such an accelerated schedule seems unlikely at best. As Waskell implies, the backlog stemming from Nichols's action all but guarantees that the vendors that now dominate the election systems business will, in effect, be able to shut out innovative systems and alternative vendors from the newly invigorated market.

Sat Dec 23 23:28:27 EST 2000

Home rule

This gem just in from the xmas eve New York Times:

Mr. Clinton this week authorized the placement of the District of Columbia's new plate, with the slogan "Taxation without Representation," on the presidential limousine. The plate was created by the city to protest the fact that residents are not represented by a voting member of Congress.... Jake Siewert, the White House press secretary, insisted that the president was making his own statement, and that the next president was free to put anything on his car that he liked. "We're not tying anyone's hands," Mr. Siewert told reporters. "Screwdrivers are a dime a dozen."

Fri Dec 22 15:17:30 EST 2000

'Tis the season to catch up

MDR2K: Harald Alvestrand has published his notes on ICANN's MDR2K meeting here. Preconsideration: Two reconsideration requests submitted to ICANN, 00-6 and 00-7 (dated 5 and 13 November respectively on ICANN's site), were both posted on 18 December -- a delay in posting them that's longer than period in which the Reconsideration Committee "will endeavor to complete its work and submit its recommendation." UDRP update: According to a short note sent out by Milton Mueller, his statistical analysis of UDRP filings showed that the number continued to drop in November (210, down from 247 in October), but that WIPO's marketshare continued to rise (68.5%, up from 66% in October and 63% in September). ccTLDs in transition: .au: The Australia gummint approved the non-profit auDA to administer the .au ccTLD; in addition to de rigeur boilerplate about being open, transparent, and accountable, it's supposed to "establish domain name dispute resolution mechanisms." Former ICANN boardmember Greg Crew is one of its "independent directors." .hk: The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has established an "advisory body with divergent representation" to form a nonprofit to take over administration of the .hk ccTLD, now run by the Joint University Computer Center. Changes will include permitting entities to register more than one domain, a second-level domain under which individuals can register domains, and procedures "allowing the transfer of domain names on valid grounds." Cap'n Mike prepares to set sail: According to the preliminary report of the 13 December Special Board Meeting, "The Board discussed finalist candidates for ICANN's new CEO" -- to replace Mike Roberts -- "and approved going forward with negotiations with one of the candidates."

Fri Dec 22 12:27:20 EST 2000

Working group F

Four days before Christmas, a day that inaugurates a few weeks legendary for bringing progress to a screeching halt, ICANN made the following announcement:

ICANN's Names Council Renews Call for Wide Consultation on Consensus Building

To get additional input into a review of its own consensus-building procedures, the Names Council of ICANN's Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO) at its December 19 meeting established a Review Working Group charged with actively seeking input from the widest possible set of Internet stakeholders.

The rest of the announcement reads more like a lexicon for Buzzword Bingo ICANN-style than a clear statement of what exactly this working group is supposed to be doing -- maybe because it isn't really supposed to do anything. To begin with, it's mandate is to

provide additional answers to an extensive questionnaire developed by a task force of Names Council members with a mandate to improve the decision-making process of the Names Council by more effective outreach.

Translation: ICANN's Names Council (chaired by Our Hero Ken Stubbs) has assembled a set of questions about how to reform the DNSO, i.e., the body from which the Names Council is drawn (or over which the NC functions as a "governing body, according to boardmember Jonathon Cohen).

The task force has already made two calls for input to its questionnaire from DNSO constituencies and its general assembly. This final call is intended to improve the quality and quantity of input as a function of the interactive nature of a DNSO working group.

Translation: The DNSO itself has already reviewed itself; this "working group," with no freedom and less time, is window-dressing.

And the kicker: the working group's report is due on 15 January.

ICANNWatch has debunked this charade, in a short essay called "When is a Working Group Not a Working Group?"

Thu Dec 21 15:11:50 EST 2000

Desperately seeking penpals

In a testament to its foggy notion of transparency, ICANN's "correspondence" page lists a paltry ten documents sent and received in the year 2000, out of a measly thirty-two in the twenty-six months since the organization was founded. True, there are a number of other unlinked documents tucked away in the directory (e.g., the 27 October 1999 SBA letter, an MSWord document) -- ICANN's way of "posting" inconvenient documents beyond the reach of mortals and spiders.

Thu Dec 21 15:09:50 EST 2000

.bzzzzzzt

In a document purporting to be a sworn declaration filed in the ESI suit against ICANN, Veep-plus Louis Touton strongly suggested that ICANN hadn't been able to verify ESI's claim to have a contract with the government of Belize to operate ".bz". However, an October 1999 press briefing on the Belize government's site states:

Marketing the .BZ Domain

Cabinet agreed to a proposal from Economic Solutions Inc. located in Florida to accelerate the use of and increase the revenue received from the Government of Belize "BZ". Domain via aggressive international marketing. This would involve registering internet users under the BZ. Domain that is being administered by the U.C.B.'s registrant. Under the proposal the company would promote Belize in each transaction with final BZ users, UCB would continue in its role as the resident administrative contact for the BZ domain and its records would be updated regularly by Economic Solution's primary server in the USA. G.O.B. would be paid a royalty on each user.

This notice predates the filing of the lawsuit by over a year.

Tue Dec 19 01:33:33 EST 2000

whois whois-committee.com

The ubiquitous Y. J. Park, whose energetic contributions to a properly global and egalitarian ICANN have gone amazingly unremarked outside their immediate contexts, has written up a vigorous summary of what's known about ICANN's Whois Committee.

Addendum: Well, well, what do you know? roving_regular and Names Council chair Ken Stubbs is shocked, shocked at Ms. Park's prodigious efforts. In a quick snub, Stubbs objected to her writeup on the Names Council list: "i do not like the implication that, as a names council member, i am being led down some sort a pre-determined path." Especially when that path leads directly to his own outhouse -- for it was his slip of the tongue during the 19 October Names Council teleconference that revealed the existence of the Whois Committee to begin with:

I'm on the Whois Committee for the DNSO, and I take notice of the fact that there's still a significant amount of concern that's being expressed from various quarters about this issue, and I am going to be pushing that the Whois Committee report be accelerated so that we can try to come up with something substantive....

When his slip was spotted, he handed off to ICANN Veep-plus -- in other words, ICANN staffer -- Louis Touton, who said:

--actually, the Whois Committee is just a group of people that...of various interest...who the ICANN staff asked to get together and try to formulate some proposals or ideas that might then be passed as appropriate to either the Names Council or the ICANN staff, depending on whether it's a policy matter or an implementation matter. So I think what Ken is speaking of is that it's anticipated that some of that committee's work might go to the DNSO for the Names Council to manage in whatever way it deems appropriate.

Still rattled, Stubbs went on to deny that the committee is a committee:

If they change the name from the Whois Committee to the Whois Group... [laughs] I apologize -- I get committees, uh, I guess committee's beginning to connote something that may not necessarily be what is intended here.

Tsk tsk...and now, as Names Council chair, he wants to block any further examination of it. And he's got help -- from Philip Sheppard and Theresa Swinehart -- i.e., two of the three NC members elected by the Business Constituency (the third is...Asia-Pacific MAL boardmember Masanobu Katoh). Spake Swinehart: "I do not think the NC should spend much time on a report or statement that is seeking to lead down some pre-determined path."

Tue Dec 19 01:21:15 EST 2000

So much to reconsider, so little time

ICANN's "Committee of the Board on Reconsideration," known for its consistent refusal to buck the board, has been inundated with requests for reconsideration: there are ten pending (all related to rejected TLD applications), seven of them filed in the last four days.

Mon Dec 18 01:16:09 EST 2000

Dyson on ICANN -- sort of

Former ICANN Chairman Esther Dyson launched her new career as the organization's "best critic" on 5 December with a short essay in the South China Morning Post (free registration required), headlined "Dotsucks mantle for free-speech forums denied domain status."

In it, she makes a rather wan case for a ".sucks" TLD, which was proposed to ICANN (lethally, along with 117 others TLDs) by Name.space. Her argument, to the extent that one can be discerned, is pragmatic: "the proposal...appealed to me precisely because it was a mix of commerce and principle." Common sense, too, features:

why not create a separate TLD, .sucks, specifically for criticism? By itself, it would not guarantee freedom of speech, but it would presumably be a place where trademark laws would have been applied differently -- even though nothing would or could eliminate a company's right to sue for libel or commercial damages.

One answer, as Dyson knows full well, is that setting aside a ghetto specifically for critical sites would very likely end up rebounding disastrously, as trademark holders invoked the option of the TLD to suppress critical sites in any other TLDs.

Given the constraints of an op-ed, Dyson's downplaying of the counterargument is understandable, if less than ideal. But rather than discuss the subject seriously, her essay wanders off surreally into morals drawn from (and blurbs dispensed for) the waggish English-language Russian broadsheet eXile and platitudes about the French government's suit against Yahoo over Naziana.

These "big picture" detours, taken in conjunction with her self-serving depiction of herself as a supporter of free speech -- and her failure to clearly state that she presided for two years over the ICANN board's subordination of free-speech to private contract processes dominated by intellectual property claimants -- sadly reveals that "ICANN's best critic" may be a genteel circumlocution for "revisionist opportunist."

Fri Dec 15 16:29:16 EST 2000

.schmuseum

Jon Ippolito, a curator for the Guggenheim (New York), has written a politely scathing letter to Cary Karp, the Basil Valentinesque Chief Operating Muckety-muck of the Museum Domain Management Association, which successfully applied to ICANN for the .museum TLD. In it, he obliquely notes the fear and loathing with which museums have regarded the net:

I believe that many in the online community will view the International Council of Museums' support for .museum as a smokescreen to cover the embarrassing fact that artist collectives and online art sites, from ada'web to Nicholas Pioche's WebLouvre, established important online presences well before their brick-and-mortar equivalents.

And, really, why would museums -- which are still recovering from the trauma of mechanical reproduction -- respond in any other way to the realm of drag-and-drop digital distribution? Kultur, as Ippolito points out when he cites Gnutella's Gene Kan, doesn't sit easily with the authoritative centralization and devotion to uniqueness that make up the very essence of a MVSEVM.

Ippolito goes on to allude -- too politely, in the roving_reporter's opinion -- to the implications of ICANN's ill-conceived decision:

it's important to keep in mind that our mandate as museums is not to compete with the cultural production going on outside our walls, but to reflect and preserve it.

Good point. But when ICANN sprinkles its magic artificial-scarcity pixie dust on an organization, transforming it from a somnolent bureaucratic backwater into an international arbiter of virtual "legitimacy," one likely consequence is to encourage adversarialism. Put simply, if ICANN accredits an org to accredit other orgs, it implicitly vests that organization with the power to discredit them as well.

Tue Dec 12 07:23:54 EST 2000

From our notes: ICANN to world -- MYOB

At the MDR2K meeting, an ICANN staffer -- either CEO Mike Roberts or Veep-plus Louis Touton (we admit it: our notes are thin) -- stated that ICANN would not disclose data about the how much various ccTLDs had loaned or donated to ICANN. The reason? Something to the effect of: there's all kinds of data mixed up there -- bank account numbers, dates of payment etc. -- and it would be improper to reveal all that info.

Setting aside the fact that ICANN is less than scrupulous in adhering to such principles (scroll to the bottom of this page), the argument is disingenuous in the extreme -- and its flimsy misuse of privacy rhetoric casts further doubt on ICANN's refusal to release contact info for the Membership At Large. In the Berkman Center's "Pressing Issue II" panel on the MAL, Chief Policy Poobah Andrew McLaughlin maintained that ICANN's staff couldn't act on the data (which is "locked up in an encrypted file") without a directive from the board. In saying so, he either overlooked -- or hoped that rather motivated audience would overlook -- the staff's propensity for initiating action items. ICANN doesn't want anyone else to gain access to the MAL data, lest the MAL "hijack" itself into a functional organization; and ICANN doesn't want anyone to know how much the ccTLDs are -- or, more to the point, aren't -- donating or loaning to the "international" organization.

Tue Dec 12 07:08:49 EST 2000

Oh, that Whois Committee...

roving_readers may remember the mysterious Whois Committee that, according to ICANN Veep-plus Louis Touton and Conflict of Interest Spokesman Ken Stubbs, is not a "committee" but, rather, is "just a group of people that...of various interest...who the ICANN staff asked to get together and try to formulate some proposals or ideas." Well, guess what? It's a committee. Ooh, and look at who's on it: CORE, Domain Bank, Melbourne IT NSI Registrar, VeriSign Global Registry Services, Motion Picture Association of America, Recording Industry Association of America, and Verizon.

It's great to see the fine folks at the MPAA and the RIAA giving back to the net by helping, as Touton put it, to

try to formulate some proposals or ideas that might then be passed as appropriate to either the Names Council or the ICANN staff, depending on whether it's a policy matter or an implementation matter.

Like, for example, ways to convert whois data into a tool for enforcing their, umm, sinecures.

Fri Dec 8 17:14:59 EST 2000

On "owning" ccTLDs

Mike Brett, an ardent disliker of ICANN, was circulating an email pointing at his site that damns ICANN for toying with the ccTLDs. The main item of interest on the site is the sworn declaration of ICANN Veep-plus Louis Touton in the failed ESI lawsuit, which is worth a read. The blurb that seems to have gotten his knickers in a twist is this:

19. ICANN's recommendations regarding the possible replacement of the managers of a ccTLD are based on a number of factors that are designed to ensure the sound operation of the Internet. Although one of those factors is the wishes of the government of the country involved, no foreign government "owns" its ccTLD or can order ICANN or the Department of Commerce to take any actions with respect to a ccTLD. Indeed, under current policy ccTLDs are not "owned" in any sense; they are made available to the benefit the entire Internet community. [emphasis added]

At issue is the vexed issue of "ownership" of a TLD, which invites a torrent of troubling questions: what exactly is owned, by whom, how ownership is defined and in which jurisdiction, how the exclusivity of ownership might conflict with a utility that relies on global accessibility, and so on. No one -- least of all the US government, which retains "ultimate policy authority" over the root -- is especially eager to press for answers to these questions.

Surprisingly, Dave Farber forwarded Brett's email to his "Interesting People" list, prompting a quick response from ICANN's CEO-plus, Mike Roberts. Though informative in its clarity, the response is noteworthy for its cynical genuflection to Saint Postel:

With respect to the situation of the country code Top Level Domain Registries, the original Postel position remains ICANN policy today. As Jon put it, "The IANA takes the desires of the government of the country very seriously, and will take them as a major consideration in any transition discussion." This was good advice when Jon said it, and it remains good advice today.

One wonders what Roberts thinks of Postel's advice in the June '96 Internet Draft "New Registries and the Delegation of International Top Level Domains"," in which Postel bluntly stated that "Domain names are intended to be an addressing mechanism and are not intended to reflect trademarks, copyrights or any other intellectual property rights." And one wonders as well what Postel, whose was famous for sidestepping conflict, would think of ICANN's alpha-male interpretation of the "GAC Principles," which ICANN claims justifies tinkering with ccTLD delegations (see the draft "Letter to Governments Regarding ccTLD Managers").

Roberts continues:

Subsequent to the formation of ICANN, its Governmental Advisory Committee undertook to develop a framework with some proposed policy guidance and some practical advice about how to bring the original "gentlemen's agreement" relationships of the Postel era forward into the much more complex environment we have today. There has been, and continues to be, considerable debate about how best to forge the trilateral relationships among governments, their ccTLD organizations, and ICANN into a suitable set of documents. For a recent example of the working out of an arrangement to meet the needs of a specific country, Canada, see http://www.iana.org/cctld/reports/ca-report-01dec00.htm.

This notion of "trilateral relationships" is viewed with no small suspicion by many ccTLDs, as noted -- in only the simplest terms -- in this space. With good reason: when presented with the potential unpredictability of a three-body problem, ICANN seems more interested in undertaking unilateral (a/k/a "shotgun") action to stabilize itself than in the stability of the net. But, as Roberts informed the crowd at the obliviated IANA - ccTLD meeting in MDR2K, "ICANN is the community."



The above material is Copyright © 2000 by t. byfield.

The r_r began as a semi-collaborative nym on the <nettime> list, where it worked well; but the pseudonym precluded comments, and there was more to report than was good for the list, so now it -- or a mutation of it -- has resurfaced on TBTF. [ top]


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