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ICANN's I Can't Attitude Alienating Internet Community
by Jim Wagner
Advocates and adversaries are cranking up the rhetoric as they get
ready for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers meetings starting
Friday in Stockholm.
ICANN officials have a raft of topics up for debate in a series
of meetings that last until Monday, including the ratification of its 2001-2002 budget,
finalizing approval of the .name domain and increasing the application fee for new
registrars to $2,500. Also up for discussion is the establishment of new regional
The agenda is sure to fuel the flames of many ICANN critics
who feel the self-styled Internet governing body is overreaching its authority and
alienating the worldwide community.
So out come the press releases, designed
to whet the appetites for all interested parties. On one side, you have the pro-ICANN
contingent (made up largely of U.S. government officials, VeriSign and ICANN officials)
and on the other, those against ICANN's recent actions (made up of the rest of the
Earlier this week, Stuart Lynn, ICANN president, posted a document
on his site calling for the establishment of a unique, authoritative root server
for all domain name server (DNS) activity. Not surprisingly, ICANN would be that
unique root server, a policy that would stand in direct opposition to the many alternate
domain root servers already located throughout the world, many of which have been
around for years and operating their own domain name extension registries.
his call to war, Lynn's document states that alternate roots impede ICANN's mandate
by the U.S. Department of Commerce to bring stability and harmony to the Internet
names and numbering system. As such, "ICANN's stability-preservation mandate requires
that it avoid acting in a manner that encourages their proliferation" and "give no
preference to those who choose to work outside of these processes and outside of
the policies engendered by this public trust."
Nowhere is this policy more visible
than ICANNs decision this year to include seven global top-level domains (gTLDs)
to the existing crop that includes .com, .net, and .org. One of the approved domains,
.biz, has been in use by alternate root server Atlantic Root Network, Inc., for years.
It's a decision that seemingly runs counter to ICANNs supposed goal of bringing
stability to the Internet, critics say, because no action could bring more instability
than allowing another company to sell already-existing domain names.
president of ABC Namebank and author of "Domain Wars" said the decision by ICANN
to run with its own version of .biz is proof-positive of ICANN's missed opportunity
to foster inclusion in the Internet community.
"This is proof that time and
time again ICANN has been very inconsistent in their policies and at times show a
logic that is not in accordance to the long-term safety and long-term procedures
of this whole system," Javed said.
Javed said ICANN had a chance years ago to
sew up the Internet community under one root server, a move he saw as a positive
step for the Internet community. But because of the missed opportunity, its possible
ICANN will have to rely on a standard's-based platform working with other root servers.
Two papers written for the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) Wednesday by
Jason Higgs of Higgs Communications lay the groundwork for a proposed virtual inclusive
This "super root" would be considered the "sum of the consensus between
all root zones on the public Internet," Higgs said, a patchwork quilt of root servers
managed by someone above both the alternate root servers and ICANN's root server.
Another proposal is that ICANN endorse the other root servers, coordinating domain
name selections to avoid name collisions. It's unlikely to happen, unless the organization
is ready to recant its earlier .biz selection, based on the Internet credo of first-come,
first-served. That's unlikely since NeuLevel has been a long-time contributor to
So, until that time it's likely the number of name collisions
will increase as NeuLevel, the .biz registry, starts signing up domains. Because
its never happened before, its unclear what will happen when an Internet user types
in the URL for a .biz domain name that's been "double-dipped," but what's clear is
ICANNs apparent disregard for the consequences.
One possible outcome of this domain
name double dipping, Lynn said in his document, was the likelihood of "cache poisoning."
Because the DNS assumes there is only one root in the world, he said, it could lead
to misdirected Web pages and confusion for the server, opening the door to malicious
Thrown into the mix is the recent idealabs! venture at New.net,
which introduces its own domain name extensions. The company has gained popularity
in recent weeks for its catchy domain name extensions for sale, including .xxx, .shop,
.inc., .family and .tech.
While an alternate root server like the others around
the world, it has gotten traction by signing the top Internet service providers (ISPs)
in the U.S. and around the world to its program. Juno Online Services last week joined
ISPs EarthLink, Inc., Excite@Home and NetZero (an idealabs! Company) in providing
its subscribers access to the alternate Web extensions.
New.net proposes ICANN
continue in its role as a technical body but no longer issue new TLDs. Instead, let
"innovators" develop their own TLDs and, if successful, get included in the ICANN
root server as a matter of course.
"We believe that the decisions about which
TLDs to release and who should administer them would benefit tremendously from...market
forces rather than central control by one organization," said David Hernand, New.net
chief executive officer. "By using the market to create a climate for innovation
in the DNS, all Internet users will benefit."
New.net's proposal is not surprising,
considering its aggregate base of 42 million Web users already viewing its root server,
a distinct advantage over other alternate roots.
An interim report released
by the NGO (non-governmental organizations) and Academic ICANN Study (NAIS) Thursday
weighs in with its own conclusions of the ICANN infrastructure.
has been trying to figure out what ICANN's role in the Internet entails, and how
the organization is fulfilling its mandate by the Commerce Department to include
bottom-up participation by the world community.
When formed, ICANN was expected
to be a fairly even mix of policy wonks and techies busily plotting the best course
for worldwide Internet domain names, ruled by a board of directors.
Nine of the
19 directors would be selected from within ICANN from the domain name supporting
organization (DNSO), address supporting organization (ASO) and protocol supporting
organization (PSO). Nine at-large directors would be determined by worldwide elections,
to ensure the will of individual people would be served. The 19th director would
be the ICANN president and chief executive officer in a tie-breaker/mediator role.
This mix of at-large and appointed directors is what sold the international community
on the ICANN at its foundation, and lent the agency instant legitimacy.
for some reason, that never happened. The nine directors from the DNSO, ASO and PSO
were selected, but only five at-large directors were elected, in a process that left
many advocates skeptical. What's more, ICANN officials filled in the remaining four
at-large directors slots with its own appointees, who have yet to be replaced.
Because of this, many now consider the group the effective equivalent of a top-down
government agency trying to enforce its own rules on the worldwide community.
NAIS report states that "while governments play a role in ICANN through the government
advisory committee, there are many reasons why that role is a limited one" and that
"governments are viewed with skepticism as insufficient or a poor fit for Internet
management where rapid change, technical expertise and responsiveness to new social
developments are needed."
Making matters worse, the elected directors of the at-large
membership are due for re-election next year, and a report detailing improvements
to the current voting process will not be completed by next month's deadline. In
November 2001, the final voting mechanism is supposed to be in place.
the June deadline is impossible to meet, NAIS officials say meeting the November
deadline is "essential."
"Every day that passes without resolving this issue
decreases the legitimacy of decisions that ICANN is making," the report concludes.