Related topics
  • ,
  • ,
  • ,

ICANN is the USSR of the internet - Karl Auerbach speaks out

Rococo meets West Virginia trailer park

I suspect it, too. Registerfly was a major topic of discussion there as well. What about Registerfly - have you followed the Registerfly mess at all? What kind of role does ICANN have to play in situations in which domain names are being lost through fraud or negligence, as in the Registerfly case?

I only saw the complaints and poked a few board members about Registerfly to elicit action. I think ICANN is doing the right thing here. However, it does raise the question why ICANN so steadfastly resists giving domain name registrants the right as third party beneficiaries to enforce the provisions of ICANN's Registrar and Registry contracts. ICANN has given (in an amicus brief) an excuse that says that things would be more consistent if ICANN were to enforce its contracts. But given that Registerfly indicates that ICANN does not enforce its contracts, it seems rational to give the power of enforcement to the people who ultimately get burned by ICANN's derelictions.

The recent price increases by Verisign have definitely raised some eyebrows. How much does domain registration and maintenance really cost a registry like Verisign?

Don't you think that ICANN should be asking that question before it gives Verisign [the right] to charge the internet community an extra $30,000,000 a year in domain name fees? By my estimates it costs Verisign about $0.03 per year to perform the registration of a domain name in .com, to perform the normal load of updates each year to that registration (i.e. changes in the NS records associated with the name), to maintain that name in the .com zone file, and to operate the .com name servers.

You might think that that is about $18m a year, but we ought to remember that Verisign is also operating .net using the same infrastructure and servers, so we need to add the revenues for .net to those received for .com. By way of confirmation, we have recently seen several other TLDs drop their prices down into the sub $0.25 per year range.

Moreover, Verisign has had 12 years of running .com. What this means is that Verisign is not facing a spike in high first-year costs but, rather, is running a mature stable operation. And we ought not to forget that Verisign has been able to do this in a period in which the costs for processors and communications has fallen to tiny fractions of what it was when the $6/year fee was first put into place. It is amazing that in the area of domain names, prices are rising while on every other part of the internet they are falling. It's pretty clear that ICANN and NTIA jump to the service of Verisign like a marionette jumps to the commands of its puppet master.

It's also pretty clear that ICANN has been derelict in its responsibilities; and that dereliction is costing the community of internet users roughly $380,000,000 every year, year-in, year-out. And that does not count the tax that ICANN imposes onto the internet community, a tax that cumulates to tens and tens of millions of dollars every year.

ICANN likes to say that it is not a governmental body. But with performance like ICANN's, and with its system of taxation, not to mention its closed doors and user-exclusionary processes, ICANN certainly looks and smells like a governmental body. Have you ever read book 1, chapter 10 of Dickens' Little Dorrit? It is a wonderful chapter, entitled "Containing the whole Science of Government". I find it to be an excellent description of the NTIA/ICANN system of oversight. (You can fetch the whole book here.)

One last one - where does ICANN go from here? There seems to be some discussion of ICANN becoming an "international" organization along the lines of the IOC?

It will go nowhere. ICANN is an arm of the US government in everything except an entry in the US Government Manual. And after watching the .xxx mess, it's pretty clear that neither the US Dept of Commerce nor the Dept of State will let ICANN be unsupervised. Moreover, the path to become such a body is a path that requires many years of doing good things very well. To usurp and paraphrase: I've seen the Red Cross, and ICANN is no Red Cross.

We can measure the effect of ICANN on the stable operation of the internet by conceiving what would happen were ICANN to vanish into a puff of money colored smoke. At first we would be deafened by the wailing of the trademark industry. But then we would notice that the net had not even stuttered; not one packet would fail to reach its intended destination and DNS registration and renewal would continue as if nothing had happened.

ICANN is almost irrelevant - except for the fact that it is collecting monopoly rents and controlling a marketplace for the massive benefit of the trademark and DNS registry industries and the mirror-image massive detriment of the community of internet users. Apart from the financial costs and the damage that ICANN is causing to internet innovation, the great potential damage that ICANN can cause is to be a model for future institutions of internet governance. ICANN is best conceived of as a sign that says "do not take this road". I have written quite a bit about how bodies of internet governance should be designed.

The primary design principle is to know what we want to be done. From that we can create an institution that has exactly the authority it needs in order to accomplish that job and no more. For many of the jobs that we need done on the internet, the jobs are mainly clerical and non-discretionary - they could be hired out to a consulting firm. There are only a very few jobs of internet governance that deal with discretionary choices over matters in dispute.

Some people think that new TLDs is one of those matters. But why should TLD choice be any more discretionary than the decision whether to approve the sale of a new line of automobile tires - if they pass the technical safety requirements and publish the necessary traction and longevity information, then they can be put up for sale. Otherwise they can't be sold.

Same for TLDs - if the applicant is willing to abide by broadly accepted and used written internet technical standards then the applicant ought to get the TLD, otherwise not. There is no need for massively expensive and massively subjective beauty contests.

ICANN is smothering the internet in a way not far different from the way that J D Rockefeller smothered the oil industry. Where is our Ida Tarbell? ®

Sponsored: 10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity