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Undue influence?
  • To: org-eval@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Undue influence?
  • From: MB Williams <meteauhock@xxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Wed, 4 Sep 2002 12:39:25 -0700 (PDT)


GNR (Global Names) brought a particularly troubling issue to light in its response 
comments (http://www.icann.org/tlds/org/applicant-comments/gnr-29aug02.htm) regarding 
the on-going business association between Gartner and NeuStar prior to and during the 
application process. GNR was gracious in its assumption that the issue looked worse 
than it actually was:

  We are generally pleased with the report by Gartner, a well-respected organization 
  that brings a level of experience to the process that cannot be replicated. Its 
  evaluation was supported by detailed illustrations of the underlying objectives and 
  methodology. Nonetheless, there are certain procedural and substantive issues that 
  may have led to inconsistent results and flawed scoring, including Gartner's previous 
  knowledge of the systems of at least one of the bidders, and inconsistent application 
  of several criteria and their components. 

The central question stems from a report Gartner published in May, 2002, on NeuStar 
("NeuStar: One of the Best Kept-Secrets in Telecom", by David Fraley, principal 
analyst, and available at www.gartner.com for a mere $795 USD.) While GNR once again 
declines to suggest malfeasance on behalf of Gartner, it does question the integrity 
and fairness of the process:

  It is now clear that Gartner had significant knowledge with respect to NeuStar's 
  systems before evaluating its bid. This raises two issues: 

     There should have been disclosure prior to Gartner's evaluation of any bid, and 
      acknowledgment in the Preliminary Report that Gartner had already conducted an 
      in-depth analysis on NeuStar. This is particularly important in light of the 
      fact that Gartner awarded NeuStar the highest score of any bidder, including 
      Global Name Registry and ISOC/Afilias.

     There is no way to determine whether Gartner's pre-existing knowledge of 
      NeuStar's technical systems, rather than the contents of its .org bid, benefited 
      NeuStar's application or adversely affected other bidders. However, Gartner's 
      previous knowledge of NeuStar's systems may have given NeuStar an unfair advantage 
      over its competitors because Gartner would have been able to fill in any gaps in 
      NeuStar's application. 

  We reiterate our belief that Gartner likely entered this process with the intent to 
  conduct a thoroughly impartial and objective evaluation. However, it is entirely 
  possible that Gartner's pre-existing knowledge of the NeuStar systems swayed its 
  analysis of the NeuStar bid. In light of this uncertainty, it cannot be said 
  unequivocally that this part of the evaluation process was altogether fair.

I, however, am not as charitable as GNR. A little further research only increased the 
questions I had about how much did both parties interact, and act, to their mutual 
benefit. First off, what was the extent of the relationship between Gartner and NeuStar? 
Was David Fraley's glowing research report a brief indication of two ships passing in the 
night, or was the relationship more substantive? One would suspect the latter, in light 
of NeuStar's CTO, Mark Foster's participation in Gartner's recent Sector 5 conference 
(http://sector5.biz/sector4/index.shtml). The moderator of the session in which Foster 
spoke was, not surprisingly, David Fraley.

One question was raised by many of the respondents  just who were the analysts Gartner 
used on the .org reassignment, and what was the expertise they brought to the process? 
One would think that an in-depth knowledge of gTLDs and the Internet would be a 
prerequisite. Instead, Gartner chose as project manager to use Mark Gilbert, well 
educated at Yale and Cornell, but whose expertise (according to Gartner) was "content 
management, document imaging, workflow and records management technologies." In other 
words, Gilbert writes his code in PHP/MySQL. Gartner's second analyst on the .org 
reassignment was Jamshid Lal. Other than his high school picture, Lal is a  mystery, so 
it is difficult to ascertain his expertise, or lack thereof, in issues dear to ICANN's 
heart. However, out of the 32 Gartner satellite locations in the US, Jamshid Lal is 
located in the same Silicon Valley office as David Fraley.

David Fraley is not a mystery. An adjunct professor of courses in Internet technology at 
GGU, he also appears to be a talking head of choice for commentary on telecommunications 
and IP technology ( http://www.nwfusworkflownews/2001/0430enum.html, 
http://www.infoworld.com/articles/fe/xml/01/05/28/010528fetrend.xml, 
http://www.teledotcom.com/article/TEL20010523S0022). 

Is it mere happenstance that Gartner's Woodland Hills (LA) office outsourced critique 
on the .org reassignment proposals to a little known worker bee in the same office as 
one of its client's principal analysts? Occum's Razor would cut against that probability. 
A comment under NeuStar's thread on the infamous F'ed Company's website further underscores 
that question. An obvious insider posted in early May that for NeuStar, "by some fluke 
of evolution, .Org is in the bag". That was the same month Fraley's glowing report of 
NeuStar hit the presses.
 
Was NeuStar's relationship with Fraley, and hence Gartner, seen as an ace in the hole by 
them? And was that hubris on their part, or were they given some assurance by their 
consultants that led to such impudence? As GNR notes, NeuStar was rated highest by 
Gartner. 

NeuStar obviously didn't count on Afilias having an even bigger ace in the hole (ISOC.) 
But the reek of impropriety generated by the NeuStar/Gartner association in the midst of 
the .org reassignment should give ICANN reason to re-evaluate the process, whether or not 
it votes to award the gTLD to ISOC/Afilias. If it does not, it may find the legal 
departments of the applicants who placed 3rd on down humming, as $27,000 (and six figures 
of bid preparation) is a lot to leave at a fixed table.

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