Keystone Kops, Act II
The saga of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight – ICANN – continues. With every day that passes, this is getting better, or perhaps worse, than any soap opera or sitcom this season.
As has long been known, Rod Beckstrom, the current CEO of ICANN, and one of the key architects of the gTLD house of cards that is about to plague the Internet community, is leaving as of July 1 after a three year stint. It’s unclear where he is going after leaving a job that carried a $900,000+ annual compensation package. Pretty nice for a non-profit. We wish him the best in whatever new endeavor he undertakes. Will it be in the domain name selling space? Time will tell. But that’s old news. In the past two days, it’s gotten really interesting.
On Thursday, June 21, Michael Salazar, the new Program Director of the gTLD fiasco, abruptly resigned. It is unclear why. For the interim, Kurt Pritz, a long time ICANN employee and spokesperson, has been given the job, reporting to current ICANN COO, Akram Atallah, who, as was revealed on Friday, June 22, will be the new interim CEO following Beckstrom’s departure. In announcing the resignation of Mr. Salazar and promotion of Mr. Pritz, Atallah assured the community of stakeholders concerned about the gTLD program that ICANN will be introducing, “several new tools [to] help applicants with any issues or questions about the evaluation process“. Really? One can’t help but wonder why they hadn’t thought of such tools long before they took hundreds of millions – non refundable millions – from applicants. But we’ve heard many promises from ICANN since it announced the program and are best advised not to hold our breath waiting for any of these new “tools”.
Adding further to the drama of Mr. Atallah’s interim appointment, ICANN revealed that effective October 1, Fadi Chehade will be the new CEO. Mr. Chehade, 50, is a computer scientist and engineer. His resume and life’s story are truly inspiring and he may well be the first breath of fresh air ICANN has seen in years. His past employers have included such high tech leaders as Bell Labs, Nett Information Products, RosettaNet, Viacore Inc., IBM Corp., CoreObjects Software Inc., and others. So while stepping into the CEO role at ICANN appears to be something close to his ninth job in the tech biz in 25 or so years, he certainly has lots of experience. And a fun fact: Akram Atallah (ICANN’s current COO and acting CEO) and Chehade were childhood friends, serving in the same boy scout troop in Lebanon. When Chehade was CEO of CoreObjects, Atallah was his number two. Presumably, that’s how Chehade was identified for the ICANN post. As for Chehade/Atallah– it looks like they are putting the band back together again.
Without question, Mr. Chehade is taking on what increasingly looks like a ship about to sink with the rats jumping from the decks. He has been touted as someone who can build consensus. Familiar sounding words in the ICANN world. Let’s hope he can. Perhaps he will take heed of the warnings expressed by CRIDO, the FTC, FBI, Interpol, non-profits, IGO’s like the World Bank, WIPO and others that the gTLD program is, as the Chairman of the FTC put it, a disaster for consumers – perhaps the most important stakeholders.
ICANN gave itself a free pass by eliminating any strings with the ICANN name in the new gTLDs. They also gave the same free pass to the Red Cross and the International Olympics Committee. Yet ICANN, under the leadership of Mr. Beckstrom, refused to seriously consider the Do Not Sell concept – a simple extension of what they already did for themselves and a pair of favored brand owners — for any other trademark or brand owners. Why? After collecting nearly $400 million from would-be domain name sellers, one compelling answer may well be that ICANN does not want to deprive those sellers of the cash from brand owners concerned about protecting property they already own. There’s a name for that kind of business. Regardless, let us hope that Mr. Chehade shows true leadership, adopts the Do Not Sell at both the gTLD and SLD levels, and sends a message to domain name sellers that they’ll have to earn their money not on the backs of intellectual property owners protecting what is already theirs but by the sweat of their own brows.