[registrars] (The Register) Congressmen turn on ICANN
I am forwarding this in full because it is unquestionably an interesting
perspective from a commentator outside the US.
20 June 2003
Updated: 22:12 GMT
Congressmen turn on ICANN
By Kieren McCarthy <email@example.com>
Posted: 20/06/2003 at 21:49 GMT
Incredibly, after nearly five years of well-documented and widespread
abuse by the organisation charged with running the Internet, ICANN, US
Congress has decided it doesn't like what's going on and two
Congressmen have introduced legislation "to ensure healthy competition
in the Internet naming market".
The Fair Transparent and Competitive Internet Naming Act has been
introduced by Brian Baird and Jay Inslee, both Congressmen from
Washington state, and was sparked by ICANN's attempt to hand another
monopoly to its main benefactor VeriSign - this time giving it
exclusive rights to all domains that expire.
However, what is interesting is that Baird and Inslee has written into
the legislation that the US government's General Accounting Office
(GAO) "study the operating procedures" of ICANN. The words "can" and
"worms" are simply not big enough to explain the size of this were it
Both Congressmen appear to only be interested in the WLS issue - the
handing over of all expired domains to VeriSign. And the only reason
this interests them is because two of the companies most set to suffer
from the WLS plan - Dotster and eNom - just happen to be based in
Washington. In fact, the official press release says: "Brian Baird and
Jay Inslee introduced legislation today to ensure healthy competition
in the internet naming market and protect tech jobs in the Northwest",
so it's quite clear where they're coming from. In this sense they
appear to have hit a mine while digging for a dime.
You see, the approval of the WLS does indeed need review. VeriSign
proposed to ICANN that if would be a nice idea if it was given
complete control of every single expiring .com and .net domain. This,
apparently, would clear up the terrible mess of competing registrars
fighting over expired domains and bring clarity to the end users. For
this service it would charge "no more than" $24.
It took about 30 seconds for everyone in the Internet industry to
start shouting. First the issue of a $24 fee. How on earth could this
figure be right when VeriSign already runs the .com and .net
registries and when it charges just $6 for domain renewals (something
it makes a tidy profit from anyway)? Where in God's name did this
extra $18 per domain come from? There was no explanation given and
ICANN seemed happy with it.
Then, there was the not unreasonable observation that by giving
VeriSign control of expiring domains it was effectively shutting down
any new business to any other registrars. VeriSign believes it has a
god-given right to own, run and be paid for every .com domain - which
in the early days of the Internet it did. This is the company that was
sued, and lost, for sending out completely false and misleading emails
to domain owners conning them into re-registering their domain with
VeriSign - and here was VeriSign writing out its own cheques.
So, the WLS scheme was not popular. ICANN put it out for discussion.
It came back completely against the proposal. ICANN put it out again
to a different group. Same thing happened. It put it out again to
another group. Still no one would do anything but condemn the idea.
And then, the ICANN Board of Directors completely over-ruled everyone
and everything and approved the scheme anyway.
It is this process that the legislation introduced hopes to get to the
bottom off and until it does, it insists that the WLS plans be halted.
Except, as anyone that has followed ICANN will tell you, this process
of divide-and-conquer by asking the same question again and again
until someone gives the right answer has been going on for years.
Although only recently has the Board become so complacent that it goes
ahead with what it wants without any backing at all.
This corrupting process has seen ICANN rewrite its own rules at will,
keeping people on the Board for years after they were supposed to have
left. This process has written out the Internet users' right to vote
for members of the board - just this week we heard that the people
that will be running ICANN for the next three are almost to a man from
its tightly defined elite. This process has alienated most other
countries in the world to the extent that they are refusing to
contribute funds to the organisation. This process has turned what was
supposed to be a standards body interested only in the technical side
of the Internet into a political animal whose budget and staff has
expanded out of all proportion to the job it needs to do.
And it is this process that a US government auditing body would rip to
shreds within a week given half a chance. Effectively, if ICANN's
decision-making process was allowed to be held up and criticised and
as a result the WLS decision reversed, ICANN would implode as the
weight of every other unjustifiable decision pressed on it.
It is likely that the GAO would be allowed to do what the legislation
suggests? No. But it is possible. The Congressmen's concerns are jobs
going in their district. Patch that up and ICANN's off the hook. ICANN
may tried to ring-fence the damage to just the WLS by offering another
debate or by tying VeriSign into a more competitive set-up - anything
but let its decision-making process be examined.
However, whether the whole thing comes to nothing or if it ends up
destroying ICANN, there is only one real loser and that is the
Internet. The Internet is supposed to live above geographical
boundaries, it is supposed to be a medium that empowers everyone,
provides everyone with freedom and allows everyone access to everyone
But in a sad reflection of current global politics, despite everything
that is said and all the calming words that come from the US, the
Internet is run by America and it will not let it go.
When, despite hundreds of critical voices from all over the world over
several years, the only change that can be made to an organisation
that is running the World Wide Web is one that is run through the
United States legal system because of the fear of loss of jobs in
Washington DC, well, then we have a situation that is never going to
This legislation is just the writing on the toe-tag for ICANN's
corpse. This dream of an autonomous, independent Internet body is
already dead. What happens once everyone realises that will be a
defining point of this century.