June 26, 2008

Direct From ICANN Paris Meeting: Surprise! The Money is What Matters!

Greetings. Since my posting yesterday expressing strong distaste for ICANN's plans to vastly expand the global top-level domain (gTLD) naming system, I've received some interesting analysis and reports from the current Paris ICANN meeting itself. They boil down to one inescapable and extremely unfortunate fact.

ICANN has seemingly become dangerously beholden to moneyed interests, and pretty much everyone else now gets short shrift -- to the detriment of the Internet and its users at large. I don't even really blame ICANN's people and participants for this per se -- structural problems with ICANN, some reaching back to its essentially ad hoc creation in the first place (and arguably to the death of Internet pioneer Jon Postel) have essentially guaranteed this state of affairs.

While there do appear to be attendees at the Paris meeting who are concerned broadly about DNS stability under the new ICANN plan, the vast bulk of attendees see the upcoming gTLD gold rush as yet another way to line their pockets with greenbacks and euros -- the vast majority of attendees are apparently registrars and registries (and their minions) -- they know which side their bread is buttered on.

Priorities at the meeting were reportedly set in the ICANN version of the Twilight Zone. While long-winded (and palpably boring) monologues restating existing positions on squeezing money out of new gTLDs took most of an afternoon, truly important issues like IPv6 reportedly got barely five minutes.

One correspondent expressed to me his belief that the complicated (and still incomplete in key respects) ICANN procedures would likely keep us from being flooded with millions of new gTLDs overnight -- but implied (and I agree with this part completely) that voluminous and expensive litigation by particularly aggressive and militant applicants could result in literally any outcomes, however bizarre and disruptive to the Internet and its users -- and the world at large -- those outcomes may be. I would add that this particular correspondent took a much more upbeat stance in a public posting on a major mailing list today -- leaving out most of the strong misgivings and concerns that they expressed to me in private e-mail. I don't care to speculate on the reasons for this discrepancy.

I was also blamed indirectly for the problems. Participants in Paris who bemoaned the current state of affairs regarding ICANN apparently expressed some exasperation that interested parties (such as myself) -- who are concerned about genuinely important Internet issues -- haven't actively participated in the ICANN process, attended the meetings, and otherwise tried to alter the existing ICANN trajectory into a sensible course.

Outside of the fact that many persons -- including me -- don't have the resources to fly around the world to frequently exotic ICANN meeting locales (at this stage, paying for gas just to get around L.A. is a concern), there is another key factor at work.

With truly the greatest of respect for ICANN's hard-working people, I still would suggest that many observers of ICANN feel that its structural processes are broken in ways that cannot be significantly influenced by persons with contrarian views vs. ICANN's existing modus operandi.

Many of us believe that a dramatic change in "Internet governance" is long overdue, and that this cannot be accomplished within the existing structure of ICANN, despite ICANN's best efforts. Such a belief does not engender an obvious enthusiasm for spinning wheels and fighting battles whose outcomes are usually predetermined.

However, I do have a few ideas for useful new gTLDs. How about:

dot -- oh, you get the idea.

When the most accurate way to predict the outcome of controversial Internet technical issues is to employ the maxim "Follow the Money!" -- well, to call it a sad state of affairs is a supreme understatement.


Posted by Lauren at June 26, 2008 09:23 AM | Permalink
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