Afilias' .info launch hurt by backstage shenanigans
Cock-up cover up
The arrival of the first Web sites using new top-level domains has been greeted with joy by Internet enthusiasts this week. However, the success of finally enlarging the Net despite years of arguments has been undermined by the bad-tempered behaviour of the board of the company behind the .info TLD, Afilias.
It has been reported - but not as widely as it might have been - that the so-called sunrise period in which trademark holders can put first claim to domains fell apart at Afilias, leading to thousands of pirates gaining possession of domains they shouldn't have.
In a desperate bid to avoid publicity, Afilias withheld the names of domains already registered from registrars and members of the Afilias consortium. Eventually, one its most important members and a member of the Board, Robert F Connelly of PSI-Japan, quit over the matter.
Following publicity of Mr Connelly leaving, Afilias then made the list of domains that it had refused to hand over immediately available to all member registrars.
According to Mr Connelly, shortly after resigning he received an offer to buy him out of the Afilias consortium from Afilias, presumably in a bid to keep the situation under the control of the Board.
Eager to discover where the sunrise period had gone wrong, Mr Connelly has since made a request for a copy of all minutes of meetings held by the directors - something he is legally entitled to do as a board member. That request was made three weeks ago, but he has yet to hear anything. Under Irish law, there is no defined time limit in which the minutes have to be handed over.
Afilias management has since gone out of its way to rubbish Mr Connelly, claiming that he abused his position on the board to try to obtain "privileged information" i.e the list of domains registered. It first claimed that this was in line with ICANN rules but soon changed its approach, saying instead there have been an agreement by all board members that no information would be shared.
Mr Connelly outrightly denies any such agreement existed and points out that his request was for Afilias to release the information to the public and admit the mistakes it had made, rather than sit on the problem. More companies each day are surprised to find their domains are already owned by someone with no right to the domain.
So what went wrong and why is Afilias so keen not to let anyone know? Well, one of two things have to have happened. One, Afilias failed to check trademarks; or two, sunrise and non-sunrise requests were mixed up by mistake.
In either case, Afilias is open to lawsuits since it offered a service which it failed to deliver. It will also prove a huge embarrassment to the company and affect its trusted status. On top of that, if there is too much pressure, it may be forced to run the entire system all over again.
Considering how long these new TLDs have been in the making - not to mention claims of favouritism towards Afilias from the notoriously secretive ICANN Board - such a cock-up would cause many to ask who on earth we have left in charge of the Internet's infrastructure. ®