Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/12/07/icanb_bc_cift/

So who is funding the CFIT and why?

Meet Rob Hall, Canada's Mr Internet

By Kieren McCarthy

Posted in Media, 7th December 2005 12:19 GMT

Every delegate at the last week's ICANN conference in Vancouver was handed a free bag with an enormous sponsorship logo for an organisation called CFIT.

CFIT also featured in ICANN delegates' lives every morning when they picked up the free newspaper left outside their hotel room. It came wrapped in a CFIT plastic bag. Inside was a press release from CFIT telling them what happened yesterday. Well, from CFIT's perspective. The organisation also had a big stand next to the main conference room at the Westin Hotel, where it handed out a variety of free CFIT-branded goodies.

But what was strange was that no-one had ever heard of CFIT before. Hardly surprising since it didn't exist until a fortnight ago.

Nonetheless in that very short time, it has managed to make quite an impact. Not least because it is suing the very organisation it has named itself after. CFIT stands for Coalition for ICANN Transparency.

Fit to fight

And it is ICANN - the internet's overseeing organisation - that recently had to fight a temporary injunction order against it by CFIT in a Californian court. ICANN beat the injunction, but the legal fight is only delayed. CFIT has been creating trouble elsewhere for ICANN. It has formally complained to the European Commission, causing it to open an investigation file on ICANN.

And it has also filed a request under the US Freedom of Information Act, asking for all correspondence sent between the US Department of Justice, Department of Commerce, ICANN and top internet company VeriSign over the retendering of the contracts for the dotcom and dotnet registries.

So who is behind this extremely effective - and expensive - lobbying campaign and why are they doing it?

The answer is not immediately obvious. CFIT may stand for Coalition for ICANN Transparency, but when it comes to transparency, CFIT is itself somewhat lacking - sparking one ICANN Board member to register www.cfitt.info - the Coalition for ICANN Transparency Transparency.

CFIT is trying to represent itself as a wide lobbying body with the average Net user's interests at heart, but in reality it is the creation of multi-millionaire Rob Hall - Canada's most prolific and significant internet user.

Hall started one of Canada's first ISPs, founded the Canadian Internet Regulatory Authority (CIRA) and now heads a company that boasts over a quarter of a million Canadian customers and millions of pounds of turnover every year.

CFIT accepts PayPal donations on its site and lists several companies as its main sponsors, but the PayPal trickles, if there are any, are irrelevant. All the companies supporting the "coalition" are owned by the same parent company - Momentous.ca.

CFIT's board of directors are made up of Momentous' employees or close associates. Its head is Momentous' lawyer, others are heads of its various companies.

We estimate that its lobbying effort so far has cost around $200,000, so why is it worth so much to Momentous to put ICANN under pressure - and why does it want to appear to be pushing an industry consensus, rather than the interests of just one company?

The answer lies in the new dotcom contract, announced last month between ICANN and VeriSign. The contract has been the subject of intense scrutiny and criticism, not least because it gives VeriSign control of all dotcoms domain names forever, plus allows the company to raise prices by seven per cent a year.

But what Momentous really doesn't like is the fact that VeriSign will be given control of expiring domain names i.e. those domains registered once but which, for whatever reason, the original registrants have decided not to pay to re-register once they expire.

dot com redux

With tens of millions of domains registered there are very few usable dotcoms left, making the market in renewed domains the internet's exploding market. And Momentous has invested millions in grabbing as much of it as possible.

Currently there is a mad scramble for domains whenever they expire. Dozens of companies make literally thousands of requests every second on VeriSign's computers the moment that a domain is released. It's an electronic free-for-all where firepower wins. The more requests you send, the greater your chances of success.

This has resulted in some companies spending huge sums to sway the process in their favour. One of Momentous' tactics has been to register dozens of domain name registrars (the only companies allowed to buy domains direct from VeriSign), in order to boost their chances.

But if the current contract goes ahead, VeriSign will have automatic ownership of all expiring domains and companies will have to work within VeriSign's own framework to get hold of domains.

To a certain degree, Momentous is using the irritation from other internet consitutencies within ICANN over the contract to push home its point. But that fact is unlikely to bother those who agree with the wider contract criticisms.

Who it will bother is ICANN, Verisign and - if the freedom of information request turns up any evidence of unfair interference - the US government itself. ®