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Dotcom contract 'undermines' ICANN's integrity

Board member lashes out at decision

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The new dotcom contract undermines ICANN's integrity and "poses unacceptable risks to the values that underly ICANN's mission", one of the internet watchdog's own board members said.

In statements released today over the controversial contract passed earlier this week, new member Susan Crawford pulled no punches in her dissection of the deal. She also has the support of other board members, including some that voted in favour of the deal.

The contract, which awards control of all dotcom domains to VeriSign until at least 2012, was ratified on Tuesday by nine votes for, five against, and one abstention.

Board dissension over the deal was widely known, and two special meetings were held to push the deal through before ICANN's public meeting later this month.

Todays statements reveal the degree of disagreement at the top of the organisation, and reflect the internet community's dislike for the new contract.

Crawford said the agreement damages ICANN's reputation, undermines its mission as a forum for policy development, and disrupts its effectiveness. She said: "We will need to evaluate how ICANN should be structured and should operate for the future, so that crises of confidence like that created by this proposed agreement can be avoided."

Other board members rallied to her cry. Raimundo Beca raised points about the secrecy of the deal and the long and short-term impacts of ratification. Njeri Rionge said the main reason behind her decision to vote against the deal was that "the community with whom we are representing are clearly not in favour of this agreement".

But among the camp that favoured that deal, Veni Markovski marked it as "a positive step forwards, as it puts an end to a long-lasting tension which was driving ICANN away from its main job". Instead, he laid the blame on the ICANN community that he said was only interested in finding problems, rather than solutions. But, he says: "I agree with Susan that we need to start to talk about ICANN and its role in a changing environment. We'll see soon whether this was a 'good day for the internet', or a 'death sentence' for ICANN."

Collectively, the board members that approved the deal released a statement which said the decision to approve the contract was made based on four main factors.

It claimed the "presumptive right of renewal" granted to VeriSign - effectively permanent control of the dotcom registry - was in the previous contract with VeriSign and as such was not a "substantive change".

Secondly, it said the agreement was the best it could expect given the lawsuits VeriSign holds against it.

The third factor is an attempt to explain why the agreement was reached behind closed doors. Private negotiations were "an essential element of ICANN’s ability to obtain an agreement", the statement says. It also claims that the public comment process was sufficient for objections to be raised.

And finally, the issue of VeriSign's ability to raise dotcom prices by seven per cent a year was ICANN's attempt to "loosen the artificial constraints that have existed on the pricing of .com and other registries".

The statements are a radical departure from the organisation's usual approach of complete silence on board discussion and feeling, and as such will be warmly greeted by those that argue ICANN's opaqueness is a major contributing factor to its problems. However, the fact that such strong disagreement is present on the ICANN board is only likely to encourage critics of the deal, of which there are many. ®

Related links

Individual statements by board members
Board joint statement

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