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ICANN: Return of the Jedi Engineers

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That strange beast The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) gathered in Rome last week for one of its regular meetings.

The not-for-profit organisation appears to be torn between market players who pull no punches and interminable government WSIS discussions on the future of the Information Society. Throughout it all, ICANN's board and its President Paul Twomey are struggling to steer the ship on a business-as-usual course.

The wake-up call in Rome came from Bruce Tonkin, chair of the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO). He called for a "return of the Jedi" - the technical elite with strong analytical skills - to save the "ICANN civilisation". "We should think while we're here in about why the Roman empire fell," he warned, and why the Jedi Council was annihilated in the most recent Star Wars movie. This could be happen to ICANN, too.

Tonkin said that lawsuits recently brought against ICANN showed its processes had failed in many aspects. Instead of gathering necessary data to make sound decisions the ICANN community was engaging more in "speaking exercises".

One example is the protracted discussion on privacy issues surrounding the compulsory publication of personal data in Whois databases. Data privacy officials and governments are pressing the issue, but the three working groups are in a stalemate with intellectual property lawyers.

"Are we afraid of providing real data?" asked Tonkin. "Can we not support our argument with useful information?" The lack of analysis and protracted processes ultimately resulted in failures like the law suits, said Tonkin. "We can spend money now to properly resource the analysis and policy development or spend money later in another decision-making process. That is the courts."

ICANN faces three cases on the so called Wait Listing Service (WLS) alone, of which especially VeriSign's anti-trust and breach of agreement complaint filed last month, prompted tense exchanges in Rome between Twomey and VeriSign director Chuck Gomes who defended WLS as a means to prevent the hammering of the company's name servers and as consumer choice.

The WLS was proposed by VeriSign for registering an option on an active domain for $24. Only registars signing up to VeriSign's Namestore would be able to register, said Jeff Field of Bid It Win it Inc, one of the suing US registrars. For other registrars most of the domain names would be out of reach.

VeriSign's track record with the attempt to introduce Sitefinder is not much of an argument for the company, argued Field. "It is the bully in the school yard and ICANN has to punch him on the nose." Before taking the "multi-million dollar decision" the ICANN board should ask itself what Internet founding father Jon Postel would have done, he said.

Eliot Noss from Tucows does not care if ICANN approves WLS. But he wants ICANN to recognize the significant change in the domain market. Inefficiencies in ICANN's system has created a secondary market that is worth 10-20 times more that the primary domain market, he says. Next generation services will include the monetizing of search traffic using clever algorithms to find fancy names.

What ICANN has to decide is how much of the benefit would go up the food chain to the registry. Noss warned that protracted application processes will drive more companies in the secondary market and urged with regard to WLS: "Please put this issue to bed for once."

ICANN seems to have taken note. In Rome, a trial run of Verisign's WLS. This may head off some or all of Verisign's lawsuit against ICANN, which accuses the body of illegally trying to become the de facto regulator of the Internet. Several registrars are sueing ICANN and VeriSign over WLS. You can read all about the legal twists and turns here.

ICANN has more sensible decisions to make on the upcoming application process for specialized Top Level Domains. But even before the application process has started, Ron Andruff, from Tralliance Corporation, warned that 180 days for the selection process will place too much burden on applicants which have to hand in $45,000. Tralliance wants to bid for a .travel domain.

Funding of the whole ICANN process is another crucial issue of the ICANN civilization. Grant Forsyth, member of ICANN's business constituency, demanded that the US Department of Commerce should pay for the lawsuits. "Alternative Funding Sources" was a term that was used much in Rome, but board members were disinclined to discuss to what sources they had in mind.

Lots of work has to be done, says Tonkin. Who for example will care for implementation of policies on the good behavíour of market participants? Civilisation needs compliance and somebody who enforces compliance, says Tonkin, it needs the Jedis. ®

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