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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Ten organizations that were overlooked in an evaluation to decide the next manager of the $15m-a-year .org internet domain on Friday criticized the selection process, calling it inconsistent, opaque and unfair,

Kevin Murphy writes

. One bidder even hinted at a legal challenge the process, which was orchestrated by the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Over a week ago, ICANN general counsel Louis Touton published a preliminary report on the bid evaluations, recommending an application by the Internet Society. The recommendation was based on separate technical evaluations from Gartner Inc and an informal committee of academic CIOs, and a policy-oriented evaluation from ICANN's non-commercial domain name holders' constituency (NCDNHC).

All three ISOC, which is backed by Ireland-incorporated registry infrastructure provider Afilias Ltd, was selected as Touton's recommendation because it was the only proposal selected as above average in all three evaluations. Two other bids, from NeuStar Inc and Global Name Registry Ltd, were picked as runners-up, and both came out strongly against the ISOC recommendation.

"The Preliminary Staff Report brings into question the transparency and accountability of this process as implemented," NeuStar said in a document seen by ComputerWire. "At a minimum, it is based on flawed evaluation reports, applies inconsistent weighting to the evaluation reports [and] inappropriately and prematurely selects ISOC."

"We have found issues with each of the evaluations," GNR's Karen Elizaga said. She said the NCDNHC report in particular, in which ISOC but not GNR was deemed above average, was flawed. It contains mathematical errors, creates criteria not in ICANN's request for proposals, and ignores parts of some proposal but not others, she said.

"I think it is predictable that 10 of the 11 that applied to run .org that were not selected for the preliminary run would be critical of the one selected," ICANN spokesperson Mary Hewitt said. "We will look at their comments and take them into consideration." The final decision will be made by the ICANN board of directors before the end of the month, following a second analysis document from Touton.

NeuStar's comments even go so far as to contain what appears to be a thinly veiled threat to ICANN, which is currently undergoing a crucial reform that, should it fail, would call its ongoing existence into question. NeuStar did not return requests for comment on the contents of its document.

"ICANN is at a critical point in its existence. The organization is under attack at all levels from both national and international sources," NeuStar said. "A challenge of the final decision of ICANN in the .org selection process will bring undue scrutiny on ICANN. The preliminary recommendations of the Staff Report will not withstand such scrutiny and will bring into question the organization's reform efforts as a whole."

Quite apart from taking swipes at ISOC and ICANN's processes, the spurned applicants have also started arguing amongst themselves. GNR's Elizaga pointed out that Gartner compiled an analysis report on NeuStar (ranked higher than GNR in the Gartner report) around the same time as the evaluation was taking place.

"I've no doubt Gartner intended to be objective," she told ComputerWire, "but their extra knowledge of NeuStar's systems could have swayed their analysis." Other applicants pointed out that Register.com Inc and VeriSign Inc, behind two other bids, also have had business dealings with Gartner.

The financial stability of the various bidders has also been called into question. NeuStar and GNR both question the wisdom of awarding .org to ISOC, which has faced severe cash flow problems recently. But ISOC said it intends to create a new entity, PIR, which will be financially independent of ISOC.

Rumors and reports also question GNR and NeuStar's financial condition. NeuStar has reportedly been laying off many staff over the last year and is making a loss, while GNR has been rumored to be for sale itself, possibly to VeriSign, for some time.

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