Toward a DNS-enabled Internet for Cities
Comments by Thomas Lowenhaupt, Connecting.nyc Inc. I sent an Update to Connecting.nyc Inc.'s supporters on August 6 highlighting the ICANN Paris meeting and its adoption of a New TLD Policy. I reported that we were 95% of the way toward the institutionalization of a clear and fair process for issuing city-TLDs. And that the remaining 5% was fine tuning of the RFP. Later that day I received an email from ICANN entitled "Updates to New gTLD Program Implementation" that led me to think that last 5% might be harder to achieve than I'd expected. The ICANN's August 6 Update referenced Economic Case for Auctions in New gTLDs, a paper prepared by ICANN staff and its "auction design consultant" PowerAuctions LLC. The paper purports to discuss the auction, lottery, and comparative evaluation options for selecting TLD developers in situations where there's more than one interested party. The paper was written by an auction company and came to the obvious conclusion. It's as believable as "Coca-Cola Research Labs Final Report: Coke better than Pepsi!" Thinking this preposterous, and curious as to how a paper by an auction company could be presented in a leading role in a decision making process of such import, I posted a Point of Information request to the designated ICANN list requesting clarification and context with regard to the document. (See http://forum.icann.org/lists/auction-consultation/msg00001.html.) But I've not received a response to my Point of Information, nor to my follow up emails and phone calls. And I'm still scratching my head; this can't be "the paper" to start an informed conversation on the question of auction vs. comparative evaluation. However, having not been provided with the requested context, prudence demands that I assume there's more to this Auction paper than seems logical, and so an explanation as to our concerns about an "auction" process follows. My concern is absolutely fundamental. For if the recipient of the .nyc TLD is to be decided by auction, we will loose. And our hope of finally having the opportunity to put the full capabilities of the Internet - and that includes the DNS - to address the cities current needs and future growth opportunities, will be lost. The reasons for this seem obvious and have been covered in many of the other postings responding to this ICANN Update. But perhaps I should retell from a New York City perspective. One of the things New York City needs is a multitude of "connections" to fill cracks in its communications infrastructure. Some of these are recent and still mostly invisible, a scoliosis of sorts, that result from the Internet's lack of DNS resources for cities. (See "Towards City-TLDs in the Public Interest - A White Paper" at http://www.openplans.org/projects/campaign-for.nyc/towards-city-tlds-in-the-public-interest for more on this.) But most of these "cracks" arose because of an industrial era information infrastructure that catered to, and thrived on, a 90-mile radius broadcast "market," where local needs were addressed only when catastrophe identified them. It's just the way the world was. We see the DNS-enabled Internet providing the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource that's central to the city's growth on a variety of fronts for the foreseeable future: to benefit neighbor to neighbor communication, to foster neighborhood stability, the detailing of cultural history and facilitating its evolution, for initiating city-wide education efforts on the ways of the Net, for invigorating civic life, health outreach and delivery, and the multitude of activities that define city life. And to this list one must add such TLD fundamentals as good domain names for our huge small business and creative sectors. The "auction" problem arises because the imagination, creativity, invention, civic reorganization, and application of resources that will enable our applying the DNS-enabled Internet's healing powers to our local needs will only develop slowly. This will be a generational change. We've begun taking steps to reach into every corner of society to see how a city-TLD can bind and build an even greater New York. But these developments will take time to add diversity, scope, and value to the Internet and our city. And it's impossible for a civic-oriented, long range, slow build TLD of this sort to compete with the financial "value" other schema will provide -- "Hey buddy, want to buy Brooklyn-Bridge.nyc?" Our bid for .nyc would pale next to an operation designed around a quick sell-off of the global popularity and panache our city today possesses. And if the ICANN announces that the primary criteria for a successful .nyc bid is financial "value," it will attract a cadre of applicants to which "community" means a clever "community benefits package" that in reality turns out to be payoffs to a select few. What the ICANN needs to do is acknowledge that there are entities called cities. That the DNS's historic neglect of these environmentally efficient locals, where more than ½ the earth's population now live, must end. The ICANN needs to recognize that cities have special needs that can be addressed by TLDs. And the ICANN needs to establish criteria and processes for judging the best application for this important civic resource.