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ICANN: The bickering begins

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ICANN meeting Here is part three of our exclusive diary from Andy Duff - director of policy and marketing at New.net - and his insider's view of the ICANN conference currently taking place in Montevideo, Uruguay. In this instalment, Andy gives us an interesting insight into the way in-built inertia helps big business to decide which way the Internet goes

What kind of Internet do you really want? And I mean you?

Let's face it, individual's rights on the Internet are an irritant to big companies. They get in the way. Since the Internet is such a great tool for selling, shouldn't big companies be the only ones making the decisions at ICANN? Not according to many here...

I spent 20 minutes with Danny Younger (chair of the ICANN DNSO GA) and Joop Tenestra (long term advocate of an "Individual Domain name holders constituency" at ICANN). Both are passionate about the rights of the individual on the Internet. But they're worried, and rightly so.

ICANN's structure has never met its original aim of allowing individuals an adequate voice - there are still only five representatives on a 19-member board. And now in behind-doors sessions all over this meeting, fundamental changes to the structure of ICANN that could weight it even further in favour of big business are being decided. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Alternatively, get involved. And be grateful that people like Joop and Danny are here fighting for your rights. (Joop has spent in the region of $25,000 attending these meetings. Now that's commitment.)

  • In its formal explanation of how it works, ICANN describes its decision-making approach as an "open, transparent, bottom-up process". Here's why this is not true:

    25 July New.net makes an application to join the Business Constituency (BC), well in advance of this meeting. Despite frequent follow-up requests, we have yet to hear anything of substance.

    12 August idealab! - one of New.net's investors - makes an application to join the BC, well in advance of this meeting. Nothing heard. Despite frequent follow-up requests that this application be processed prior to this meeting in Montevideo.

    29 August Marilyn Cade of the BC publishes a draft paper on "alternate roots", outlining that businesses like New.net (although not us by name) are a *bad thing* for all businesses - even the ones crying out for new domains, it seems. We know that at least one member of the constituency never received this draft paper. We only saw the paper because a friend within ICANN brought it to our attention.

    4 September We send a response to the paper, on behalf of the small businesses using New.net names, outlining its flaws. The BC refuses to circulate it to members on the basis that we're not a member (see above). Then the BC declares the draft paper will become an accepted paper by 12 September if there are no objections. Hmmm.

  • Continuing this theme, at the Business Constituency meeting today, we made a request that since our membership of the Constituency is pending and since we are clearly demonstrating a commitment to the Constituency with our (expensive) presence, we should be allowed to stay for the hallowed "closed doors" session of the Constituency.

    Nope, says Phil Shephard of the BC. Asked why our application is taking so long to be processed, Phil explains that the whole Membership Committee has been on holiday. For six weeks. Well of course.

    BTW, who's Marilyn Cade I hear you ask? None other than the esteemed lobbyist for AT&T. She's none too keen on expanding the number of top level domains. Wonder why.

  • Finally caught up with Willie Black (Chairman of CENTR) this morning after three months of unreturned emails and phone calls. Willie's been blunt about his dislike for our business in the press. Our conversation was short and to the point; we live in hope that Willie will accept that we're not "breaking the Internet" and that what we are really doing is responding to consumer demand for relevant domain names and expanding the choice available for Internet Users. As I say, we live in hope.
  • Willie is heavily involved behind the scenes with one of the .EU proposals and there are a few others with hopes for that TLD here too. A question that might be of interest to some of our politicians: Is .EU a country code or a generic top-level domain? Plus where does the European Commission and Parliament fit into management of this tld? Can't see them kowtowing to ICANN.
  • Attended ccTLD constituency first off; they're going for their own organisation in a big way, though it's still not clear what the relationship will be with ICANN. Why are they doing this? They say it's for greater representation on the ICANN Board (they want between two and six seats) and clear contracts for all ccTLDs with ICANN. There's some within the constituency who will be making a play for the "excess" At-Large seats, though it is highly contentious whether this would achieve adequate representation of individual users within ICANN . As for the contracts with ICANN? Good luck, mes braves.
  • Went to the Non-commercial constituency. Impressed as always by the quality and freedom of discussion here. The Non-commercial constituency has been one of the few routes open for the developing world to express their viewpoints and they continue to do that pretty eloquently on issues such as whois, IDNs and .org. Their positions are rationally drafted, debated and stated. It's a pity they're not listened to more.
  • New.net managed to get a place as a sponsor of the ICANN conference here, which amazed (and pleased) us; so we hosted a lunch which was well attended. ICANN is increasingly open to constructive discussions with us, even to understanding our belief in expanded choice for small businesses and individuals. We'll continue to pursue that commitment.
  • ISP constituency this afternoon. Another constituency that is trying hard to build things from the bottom up. It's a pity that so few ISPs get involved with ICANN.

Andy

Previous diaries

Mexican stand-off in Montevideo
The insider's guide to the ICANN meeting

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