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Prague Aftermath – A Cloudy but (Perhaps) Hopeful Horizon

Now that ICANN has completed its meetings in Prague, the aftermath paints a cloudy future but perhaps not one as stormy as the past.  Don’t get me wrong.  I still don’t trust ICANN to be transparent and truly responsive to broad stakeholder concerns.  They abandoned such principles years ago and I cannot help but be sceptical that ICANN can return to its roots.  With so much money at stake among those who corrupted ICANN’s foundation, it’s difficult to believe integrity will prevail.  I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong and there are a few slim glimmers of hope.  We’ll see.  And we’ll be watching.

New Leadership

Most of those who were key in orchestrating the oncoming TLD shipwreck are gone.  Gone are Peter Dengate Thrush, the past Board Chairman who pushed through the TLD program and left to join a company that later applied for dozens of new TLDs in the gold rush and Rod Beckstrom, past CEO of ICANN and its public face who essentially ignored one debacle after another as ICANN rolled out the application process.  They will not be missed.  Others have gone as well so the personnel infrastructure of ICANN is a mess.

But there is hope in Fadi Chehade who will become ICANN’s new CEO on October 1, 2012.  As I previously reported, 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.  As I also have said, however, Chehade is taking on what increasingly looks like a ship about to sink with the rats jumping from the decks.  But if he truly reaches out to CRIDO, the FTC, FBI, Interpol, non-profits, IGO’s like the World Bank, WIPO and others who have expressed grave concerns with the actions of his predecessors, he may be able put the ship alee and away from the oncoming storm.  Doing so is critical if he hopes to move forward successfully and avoid costing stakeholders millions with no ROI or, worse, feeding the Russia-China-Iran led initiative to take control with the clear intent of derailing the long overdue freedoms the Internet has given to so many.

New IANA Contract

Chehade is also inheriting a new contract, announced on July 3, 2012, with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) that controls the functions (the authoritative root server) of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), to handle the administration of IANA.  The RFP that preceded the contact award was steeped in controversy.  ICANN’s first response was deemed so inadequate that NTIA cancelled the offer and gave ICANN a limited extension.  After issuing a new RFP, NTIA awarded ICANN the contract through September 30, 2015.  While a copy of the contract has yet to be released, if it is true to the RFP it will contain some standards ICANN must achieve.  It remains to be seen how seriously ICANN takes NTIA oversight or whether the NTIA will vigorously enforce the standards.  But Chehade clearly has an opportunity to show responsible management.  More importantly, NTIA has more power to see that ICANN toes the line.  But will NTIA do so?  If the past is a prelude to the future, one cannot help but wonder whether it will.

Problems Continue

Lest anyone become comfortable with these latest developments, don’t lose sight of yet more ICANN failures and misrepresentations we’ve seen in just the past two weeks.

First, on July 3, 2012, ICANN released a survey that purported to cover satisfaction rates in ICANN’s handling of the domain name system (DNS).  ICANN concluded:

The survey shows that registry accuracy, processing speed and process quality are the most important aspects of our services. While there was over 80% satisfaction (“satisfied” and “very satisfied”) for all our services, the 84.2% satisfaction with timeliness aspect of our service was the lowest level of satisfaction in the five key aspects. This is an area we will focus our work between now and September 2012.  Similarly, fewer than 7% of respondents were unsatisfied with the accuracy of the registries we publish. Between now and September 2012 we will analyse what is the cause of the dissatisfaction.”

Sounds good, right?  Wrong.  Of the nearly 1,000 who received the survey and the 218 who responded, it appears no more than one or two were actual users of the Internet – the consumers ICANN is charged with protecting and providing quality services.  Indeed, those targeted were:

  • ETF Leadership;
  • Authors of Internet technical standards (RFCs) published in the last 12 months;
  • Top Level Domain operators;
  • Regional Internet Registries; and
  • DNS Root Server Operators.

While I acknowledge that the survey was intended to elicit views on how well ICANN administers the IANA functions, for a survey touted by ICANN to to have the “key objective … to determine the current level of satisfaction with the service ICANN delivers,” one would think actual users would be included along with the segments of the ecosystem that make money selling domain names and servicing companies that do so.  It’s not surprising that the respondents, at least those who responded, chose not to bite the hand that feeds them.  Then again, ICANN is such a mystery and opaque organisation to those it most affects, so it’s no wonder they don’t bother with the Internet’s rank and file.

Nor should announcing the survey results on the heals of getting the new, hopefully tougher, IANA contract be lost.  Nothing like moving the focus from accountability to endorsements.  The survey is yet another example of ICANN’s manipulation.  Nice trick we hope Mr. Chehade will not repeat.

Second, it should also not go unnoticed that at the conclusion of the Prague meeting, ICANN announced that it is abandoning its failed Digital Archery program to determine the order applications for a new TLDs would be considered.  No surprise.  The entire idea of using so-called “digital arrows” that applicants shot at a target with those closest to the bullseye getting the first dates was preposterous.  Good riddance.  But in yet another example of failed leadership, ICANN’s announcement was not coupled with any alternative plans.  So those who applied for nearly 2,000 TLDs, and who paid ICANN almost $400 million for the privilege, face continued uncertainty when their applications will be considered.

Then again, for those of us who are opposed to the TLD program, this latest failure is welcome news.  It further delays a program that will irreparably harm consumers and cost companies billions with no discernible ROI – unless you’re a domain name owner or seller reaping riches from ransoming the rights of brands, consumers, NGOs, IGOs and others who purchase second level domains in TLDs that will never be used (“defensive registrations“).

The Still Cloudy Future

No doubt ICANN will trip again, most likely before Mr. Chehade assumes the helm.  In the interim, we’re left with lame duck management and the NTIA, a set of overseers that, so far, have repeatedly dropped the ball.

We Expert Doug Wood

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About the author

We Expert Doug Wood had written 40 articles for Party of We

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