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Request for rejection of ".travel" application

  • To: stld-rfp-travel@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Request for rejection of ".travel" application
  • From: "Edward Hasbrouck" <edward@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 30 Apr 2004 01:00:27 -0800
  • Organization: The Practical Nomad
  • Priority: normal
  • Reply-to: edward@xxxxxxxxxxxxx

As a traveller, travel writer, consumer advocate for travellers,
expert on the use of the Internet by travellers and the travel
industry, travel agent, and member of the ".travel" community, I
urge both ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce (to whom any
recommendations from ICANN for the addition of new top-level
domains to the root server will have to be presented) to reject
the application of Tralliance Corp. and the Travel Partnership
Corp. for permission to sponsor and operate a ".travel" TLD.

As discussed below, the Tralliance/TPC application for .travel
fails to meet the criteria in the ICANN request for proposals,
and the requirements of ICANN's bylaws, and ICANN's contractual
commitments to the Department of Commerce with respect to:

(1) appropriateness of the sponsored TLD community;

(2) representativeness of the sponsor with respect to the
sponsored TLD community and the interests of the public at large;

(3) openness and transparency; and

(4) level of support from the community.

The failure of the proposal to satisfy each of these standards is
independently sufficient to require rejection of the application.


        (1) APPROPRIATENESS OF THE SPONSORED TLD COMMUNITY

According to the RFP, "Applicants must demonstrate that their
proposal categorizes a broad and lasting field of human,
institutional, or social endeavor or activity."  Travel is
undoubtedly such a broad field of human activity.

But the proposal falsely conflates the travel *industry* with
travel as a *field of activity*.  That's a typical mistake for
organizations representing industry, and evaluating all human
activity solely from their own point of view, in terms of their
commercial aspects.  But to view travel (or any other activity in
which people engage) purely in commercial terms, or to equate the
interests of industry to those of all economic actors, excludes
significant noneconomic aspects and realms of activity,
perspectives, and economic actors other than industry. And the
applicant's inability to imagine that others might see travel as
other than an industry is indicative of the difficulty they, or
the travel industry, are likely to have in representing travel
interests other than those who see travel in industrial terms.

Travel is an activity engaged in by billions of people around the
world -- far more than the numbers of people involved in the
travel industry.  Travellers such as myself were using the
Internet extensively for travel related purposes, long before the
travel industry was allowed to use the Internet.

Today, by far the most widespread use of the Internet related to
travel, involving the largest number of Internet users, is the
use of the Internet by individual travellers to share their
travel stories, photographs, travelogues, and journals. From my
research on the use of the Internet by travellers, I believe
that there are far more noncommercial personal travel
Web sites than there are travel industry Web sites.

The proposal gives only token acknowledgment or representation to
the interests of travellers, and only in their role as consumers
of travel services -- not in any of the aspects of life
experience, personal growth and education, human interaction, or
the myriad other roles which travel plays in our lives.

Even within the sphere of commercial travel activity, the
proposal entirely excludes the interests and activities of
the workers who provide travel services: the employees of the
world's largest industry, who themselves constitute the world's
single largest category of workers.

In short, the proposal would hijack a domain that properly, by
the criteria in the RFP, should belong to all those with an
interest in the subject and activity, and dedicate it to the
exclusive use (and profit) of a small subset of that community of
interest: those who control the production, distribution, and
sale of commercial services related to that activity.

This is exactly the mistake that was made with ".aero", as became
the subject of my reconsideration request to the ICANN board.  I
urge you not to make the same mistake again with ".travel".


        (2) REPRESENTATIVENESS OF THE SPONSOR

When IATA originally applied to sponsor a ".travel" TLD, that
application was, quite properly, passed over for approval by
ICANN because of IATA's inability, as a trade association of
airlines, to represent the diversity of the travel industry, much
less the diversity of public interests in a ".travel" TLD.

IATA designed and created the TPC for the sole purpose of
satisfying ICANN's objections to IATA's unrepresentativeness.

Unfortunately, IATA as an industry association was blind to
noneconomic actors and interested parties. Even within the sphere
of economic interests in travel, IATA and the applicants have
only considered sellers of travel services, to the exclusion of
the workers who actually provide those services and the travellers
who purchase and use those services.

All of the current TPC board members, as listed in the
application, represent providers and marketers of travel
services.  The application makes explicit that only members of
the travel "industry" will be eligible for membership in the TPC
or participation in ".travel" decision-making.

The application claims that eventually one of 25 members of the
TPC Board of Directors might be elected by "Travel-Consumer
Research Organizations", but there is no commitment to this --
the bylaws of the TPC could be changed by the current board
before any consumer representative is ever elected. Any such
representation is clearly tokenism, unlikely to have any
meaningful impact on the outcome of TPC decision-making.

In any event, the TPC and its decision-making process, as
described in the application, would totally exclude consumer
*advocacy* organizations, travel trade and industrial unions and
other organizations of and for travel workers, non-governmental
organizations with interests in travel (such as those concerned
with airport noise and pollution, social and environmental
impacts of travel and tourism, etc.), and individual travellers
or organizations representing travellers in any roles other than
those of consumers of travel services.

Regardless of the definition of the sponsored TLD "community",
the RFP requires that there be "defined mechanisms to ensure that
approved policies are primarily in the interests of the Sponsored
TLD Community and the public interest."  There are absolutely no
provisions whatsoever in the ".travel" proposal to ensure that
".travel" policies would be in the public interest, or any
interests other than those of the travel industry.

The proposal makes an entirely unsupported suggestion that the
travel industry will, through their control of ".travel",
"relieve the frustration of consumers struggling in their quest
to locate the greatest value".  But if the goal were to enable
consumers to identify those travel industry entities that best
serve consumers, that credentialling should be done by an entity
assured of complete independence from industry control, not one
completely controlled by the industry it is supposed to police.

As a consumer advocate for travellers, and an expert on the
difficulties facing travel consumers on the Internet, I believe
the suggestion that the travel industry will advance the
interests of travel consumers, even when consumers' interests are
opposite to those of industry, should be dismissed out of hand.


        (3) OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY

Article III, Section 1, of ICANN's bylaws requires that, "ICANN
and its constituent bodies shall operate to the *maximum extent
feasible* in an open and transparent manner and consistent with
procedures designed to ensure fairness." [emphasis added]

ICANN's authority to delegate decision-making power, like that of
any decision-making body, is limited by the limits on its own
authority: ICANN cannot "delegate" decision-making power that
ICANN itself does not, in the first place, possess.

This means that ICANN's power of delegation is limited, under
ICANN's bylaws, to the delegation of authority to entities that,
in exercising delegated authority, "operate to the *maximum
extent
feasible* in an open and transparent manner and consistent with
procedures designed to ensure fairness."

While there are some provisions in the proposal suggesting that
the TPC might make some provisions for  a limited degree of
openness and transparency, (A) the TPC's decision-making to date
has been entirely closed and secret even to people such as
myself, who are participants in the travel industry and have
requested (but have not been given) notice of TPC meetings -- the
TPC has never held a public meeting, calling into question the
genuineness of its commitment to future openness, and (B) the
proposal lacks any mention, much less commitment, to the "maximum
extent feasible" clause of the ICANN openness and transparency
requirement.

By delegating decision-making authority to the sponsor of an a
TLD (or anyone else), ICANN explicitly creates an agency
relationship in which the decision-maker acts as agent for ICANN
(as principal) in the exercise of the delegated authority.

Under Article XIV of its ICANN bylaws, ICANN must "indemnify each
of its agents", including "any other agent", for liability for
their actions as an agent of ICANN.  In other words, ICANN is
required by its bylaws to assume complete liability for the
actions of sTLD sponsors in their role as agents of ICANN
exercising delegated decision-making authority, including
liability for decisions made according to procedures which fail
to satisfy the requirements of ICANN's bylaws for the "maximum
extent possible" of openness, transparency, and fairness.

Given ICANN's liability for its exercise, the delegation of
decision-making authority carries the highest degree of fiduciary
responsibility for ICANN, and should only be done on the basis of
explicit binding commitments to observe all the procedural
requirements of ICANN's bylaws.  Those commitments are utterly
lacking from the Tralliance/TPC proposal.  To approve the
".travel" application without a commitment to the "maximum extent
feasible" clause of ICANN's transparency, openness, and fairness
would be a violation of ICANN's bylaws as well its fiduciary
responsibility.

The delegation of power to review the TLD sponsorship
applications to an "independent" evaluation body is itself
subject to the same restrictions on ICANN's power of delegation.

Accordingly, in the exercise of my rights under Article III,
Section 1 of ICANN's bylaws, I request that, to the maximum
extent feasible, I and other interested parties be permitted to
observe the proceedings of the sTLD evaluators, specifically all
discussions related to this ".travel" sponsorship application,
and that we be given notice of the places and times of its
meetings as soon as they are scheduled. Any purported decision
made by ICANN on the basis of a secret evaluation will be legally
void as not having been made in accordance with ICANN's bylaws,
and any recommendation by ICANN based on such a process should
properly be disregarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce.


        (4) LEVEL OF SUPPORT FROM THE COMMUNITY

All these substantive and procedural defects in the
Tralliance/TPC proposal would be unfortunate were there genuine
community support for the proposal.  ICANN's task, and its
obligation to reject the proposal for each of the grounds listed
above, is made considerably easier by the fact that there is
negligible support for this proposal from anyone.  Even within
the Internet travel industry, which I have been covering
extremely closely for years, virtually no one but the sponsors of
this proposals themselves, and IATA as the real instigator of the
proposal, really cares whether it is approved.  And even IATA's
own members appear to have minimal, if any, interest in or intent
to make serious use of the ".travel" sTLD, if it is approved.

The RFP provides that, "A key requirement of a sTLD proposal is
that it demonstrates broad-based support from the community it is
intended to represent....  Applicants must demonstrate that there
is: Evidence of broad-based support from the Sponsored TLD
Community for the sTLD, for the Sponsoring Organization, and for
the proposed policy-formulation process."

All these aspects of support for this proposal are lacking, as I
discussed at <http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/000082.html>.

To the extent that ICANN takes seriously its own claim that this
is still part of a "proof-of-concept", it should try to learn
from its experience with previous sTLD's.

The most comparable TLD to ".travel" was, of course, ".aero".
"aero" is the only TLD limited to a specific industry, and it was
proposed with the claim that it had the support of a major
industry standards body and a wide variety of entities in the air
transport industry, most if not all of whom would also be
eligible to register ".travel" domains if the Tralliance/TPC
proposal is approved.

Yet the claims made to ICANN about industry support for ".aero"
have proven to be false.  So far as I have been able to
determine, *no* airline or entity other than SITA itself -- the
sponsor of ".aero" -- uses or advertises a ".aero" domain as its
primary Internet identity.  In every case I have investigated, a
".aero" domain is used solely as a secondary alias that resolves
to a ".com" or other gTLD or ccTLD name.  "aero" has completely
failed to achieve industry acceptance or provide value to anyone
(aside from SITA's modest profits from ".aero" name sales).

So if the claims made to ICANN about demand for ".aero" by
airlines and the air travel industry  proved to be false, why
should we, or ICANN, now believe the claims made on behalf of a
group led by those same airlines when -- having made essentially
no use of ".aero" in the two years since it was created -- they
now say they need, and are eager to use, yet another TLD reserved
exclusively for a heavily-overlapping industry category?

For all of these reasons, I urge your rejection of the
Tralliance/TPC application for a ".travel" sTLD, and I look
forward to receiving notice from you as soon as you have
scheduled any meetings to evaluate this application.


Sincerely,

Edward Hasbrouck
author, "The Practical Nomad"
staff travel guru, Airtreks.com


background material and previous related submissions to ICANN:

http://www.hasbrouck.org/icann/

http://www.hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/cat_internet_domain_names.
html

----------------
Edward Hasbrouck
<edward@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
<http://hasbrouck.org>
+1-415-824-0214

"The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World"
(3rd edition, February 2004, now in bookstores)
"The Practical Nomad Guide to the Online Travel Marketplace"
<http://www.practicalnomad.com>




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