Domain Name Handbook
DNS NewsDomain DisputesU.S. PolicyICANNMailing ListsArchivesTable of ContentsReviews & CitesViewpointAcknowledgmentGlossarySpecial FeaturesBooklistDomain Handbook Cover

The Devil is in the Details

On September 25, 1999, a message from John Patrick of IBM was posted on several DNS-related mailing lists. It is certainly important for those of us monitoring ICANN's activities to hear the reasons behind IBM's involvement and bridge grant to ICANN. Nonetheless, as one who has closely monitored and archived ICANN's development and the evolution of the administration of the DNS for 3.5 years, I take great exception to several assertions that Mr. Patrick's message contains.

No dispute that it's hard to see what aspect of social, educational, political and commercial life won't be affected by the Internet. So what makes the Internet work and who is responsible to ensure it will continue working in the future as the growth continues? Mr. Patrick says that's the role that ICANN was designed to play.

ICANN, originally the more generic Newco, was a concept to fill the specific role of coordinating technical administration. Every policy, every bylaws amendment, every resolution and meeting should be measured against whether ICANN is fulfilling that very specific role. I claim that the ICANN board has gone far beyond its original mandate, and that is a scary and dangerous concern.

No one denies that the Internet is a global entity and that no one country should be on the hot seat as its ultimate authority. Mr. Patrick asserts that a central, global, non-profit private sector third party should oversee the administration of Internet domain names. Instead of an accountable contractor, IANA, we now have an unaccountable non profit corporation, led by a board handpicked by a handful of insiders through a secret process. That cure is worse than the ill it was established to resolve.

ICANN has made many egregious errors, and the reason it has not yet imploded is because people claim there is no alternative, no structure that would receive global approval. So technical coordination has transmogrified into international political power-mongering. What an improvement!

The U.S. government, or, specifically, the Clinton Administration, presented its fateful Presidential Directive on Electronic Commerce on July 1, 1997, which put this whole redirection of Internet administration into play. Why didn't it look to see what other models might be drawn from the cross border activities of nations and their citizens. For example, the airline industry is privatized, but the Federal Aviation Administration still keeps U.S. standards on track. Its funding comes, indirectly, from U.S. taxpayers, not from international corporations who are major stakeholders in the policies that will ensue from ICANN. I hold the belief that there are no free lunches and that a loan or grant gives the funding party an implied quid pro quo advantage.

ICANN is, indeed, mandated to address a narrow, well-defined list of tasks that define the administration of the Internet: a) coordinating the assignment of the top level of the domain name system;b) overseeing the root name server system; c) coordinating the assignment of parameters for technical standards; and d) overseeing the assignment of IP addresses.

However, ICANN has quickly moved beyond these technical parameters into onerous policy directives for individual domain name registrants. If the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy is accepted as proposed, registrants will have to assert knowledge about third party usage of names that we cannot possibly possess. We will have to sign a contract with accredited registrars that gives them the sole discretion to delete or change our use of a domain name. Further, the policy asserts a process to acknowledge and protect rights, but what rights?. Reduction of piracy, copyright and trademark infringement are not components of technical coordination. A legal system exists and has been developed through generations of precedence. It will survive the complexities of this borderless medium, just as it survived the introduction of other communication-enabling technologies.

The only "achievement" ICANN can point to is the introduction of competition into domain name registrations, although NSI agreed to support that objective long before ICANN was incorporated (see testimony of Gabriel Baptista, CEO of NSI before the Basic Research Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Science Committee, September 25, 1997) So much money, so much discussion to allow 76 companies to be resellers for .COM, NET and ORG domain names for Network Solutions!

The ICANN bootstrapping process will not allow individual users to directly elect their own board representatives. Along the way, the bylaws have been reiterated five times, with another change in the works. The structure that ICANN has developed is so labyrinthian and convoluted that one needs a road map to find the way through the maze, to know who is allowed to propose an initiate or vote on recommendations. The World Internetworking Organization has posted an organizational chart of the complicated organization that "ICANN lite" has built.

Mr. Patrick claims that if ICANN were to fail, the likely result would be governmental agencies "subject, as always, to political influences -taking over the management of the Internet". He suggests that the stability of the Internet depends upon ICANN's success and encourages us to move forward with the transition rapidly rather than arguing about the process. Esther Dyson, ICANN's chair, shares this Machiavellian approach. During a public meeting of the ICANN board on August 25, 1999, she said, "we are less interested in complaints about process" and more interested in "doing real work and moving forward."

In the eyes of John Patrick and Esther Dyson, the end justifies the means, and those means, be absolutely sure, are politically and commercially self-motivated. This does not bode well for the people around the world relying on the Internet for "education, disease management, entertainment, real-time communications and collaboration, and even government services, to name just a few uses.

If the devil is in the details, read carefully ICANN's Registrar Accreditation Guidelines and the new Draft Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy that will be posted in the next day or two. The Statement of Registrar Accreditation Policy, adopted by ICANN on March 4, 1999, invokes this provision upon the domain name registrants:

J.7.i. The SLD holder shall agree that its registration of the SLD name shall be subject to suspension, cancellation, or transfer by any ICANN procedure, or by any registrar or registry administrator procedure approved by ICANN, (1) to correct mistakes by the registrar or the registry administrator in registering the name or (2) for the resolution of disputes concerning the SLD name.

And combine that with the more onerous provisions in the proposed Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy:

3.d. We may also cancel, transfer or otherwise make changes to a domain name registration in accordance with the terms of your Registration Agreement or other legal requirements.

In other words, ICANN's accreditation includes carte-blanche control over the domain name registration of all .COM, .NET and .ORG names. The devil that we don't know, ICANN, is far worse than the one we did (IANA, under NSF oversight), which focused on the zone delegation to assure a workable scheme for domain name resolution.

I don't believe the claim that the Internet will break if ICANN doesn't succeed and assert control over trademark disputes and registrar accreditations. Underneath the Patrick PR pro-ICANN/GIP puffery send-up is the revelation from ICANN: "We may also cancel, transfer, or otherwise make changes to a domain name registration. . . . "

Now there''s a sodden thought, certain to inspire confidence in ICANN's "technical administration" of the Internet.

by Ellen Rony
September 27, 1999

Other articles, editorials and domain-related comments by this author:

At Large Membership: ICANN's Ultimate Tarbaby

Whither .ORG?

The ICANN-VeriSign Agreement: A Sweetheart Deal

The Divine Right of Names: New TLDs Prep for Start-up

The Envelope, Please: New Top Level Domains on the Horizon

Procter & Gamble Bids Adieu to SINUS, THIRST and FLU

Words First!

Sunrise+20: The Numbers Tell the Story

Famous Marks

Clicks or Mortar: Are Domain Names Property?

Res Ipsa Loquitur

RDND: Reverse Domain Name Denigration

IIR: Internet Impact Report

An Alternative to ICANN?

Comments on the WIPO Interim Report RFC-3



Website design and host

Contact | Order | Site | News | Disputes | Policy | ICANN | Lists | Archives
Contents | Reviews | Viewpoint | Acknowledgment | Glossary | Special Features | Booklist
 The Domain Name Handbook: High Stakes and Strategies in Cyberspace
Copyright© 2000-2006 Ellen Rony and Peter Rony. All Rights Reserved.