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ICANN not up to the job?

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A man with insider knowledge of the workings of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has criticised the body's approach to creating new domain names for the Internet, adding to a line of unhappy punters, ranging from governments to corporates to the press.

We spoke to Dr Jonathan Robinson, a man who sits on both the commercial and decision-making sides of the situation. Dr Robinson is the CEO of NetNames, a domain registration company, and deputy chair of the Internet Council of Registrars (CORE). As such he not only has a commercial interest in the Internet's progression but has an inside track on the domain issue - CORE was one of five ICANN accredited registrars to be selected to test how competition would work between in its industry.

We asked him why the urgent issue of more Top Level Domains (TLDs) had been so late coming. "There has been a lot of stalling, a lot of delays and all it's managed to do is maintain the status quo," he told us. "ICANN is very Internet - very consensus based. It's scared of upsetting anyone and so it's scared of making decisions."

But, as opposed to us, he is just pleased something is finally being done. "I am incredibly enthusiastic. I mean, now we have a timetable. Five to ten [TLDs] has to be good, it has been so bloody long coming."

He also thinks the non-returnable $50,000 for companies that wish ICANN to consider a future domain name for them isn't high enough (!?). "I think personally it should be greater - companies should put their money where their mouth is - maybe a hurdle even higher, like a quarter of a million. But I do think it should be refunded in event of non-success."

We complain. With high sums, it just another step down the road to big business owning what is potentially a revolutionary medium. "Well, it has got to be big business now. Just look at how much Web companies are worth. You can't avoid the fact." But what about ICANN's tenet that it will "achieve broad representation of the global Internet community"? "There is the contradiction that smaller players have also got to have the chance to be recognised," he comments. (Incidentally, the $50,000-for-keeps idea has nothing to do with ICANN's shortage of money since governments refused to cough up their share of the budget. What do you mean you don't believe us?)

As to the suggestion that ICANN should be pulled to pieces and put back with people of a like mind - people that will actually get something done. Jonathon certainly doesn't disagree: "True, it's better to have something 80 per cent right than 100 per cent of nothing."

He also agrees that the idea of a bunch of academics running the most explosive medium mankind has yet created is a little, um, insane. Rather than dilly-dally over whether ".banc" is more important than ".movie", why not throw a huge list of domains to the market and let it decide the course?

"We do need some kind of open process. I'm a great believer in opening it up a lot more but we do have movement at last," he said.

So what is the future? Well, ICANN has done itself no favours by appearing as though it's not up to the task. With something as massive and high-profile as the Internet, ICANN could very easily be swept aside. And when even those close to it are very aware of its failings, this doesn't look so unlikely. ®

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