What's going down at ICANN this week

ICANN is meeting in Wellington this week and it looks to be an interesting one.

I'm not going to be there sadly, as I need to get on with my Sex.com book and attending would mean a week away from it. So I am going to follow things online, plus I have asked everyone on the ground to keep me up-to-date with anything interesting, so with luck I'll get a feel for what's happening.

However this plan may be stymied somewhat by the fact that ICANN's website is down and has been all day (UK time). However the GAC's sub-domain is working at http://gac.icann.org, so christ alone knows what ICANN staff have managed to do. It's not exactly comforting to think that the organisation that is supposed to be overseeing the Internet can't even get its own website up.

Aside from emails from individuals, here's the sites that I will follow most closely and which should act as a useful resource for anyone interested in learning more:

  • Brett Fausett's ICANN blog at  is probably the best site on the Net now for news on ICANN.
  • It used to be ICANNWatch, but Michael Froomkin et al have been taking it alot easier of late. It's still worth reviewing though.
  • The ICANNWiki site is getting there. This time they've very helpfully stuck up a calendar of meetings and are encouraging people to add their meeting notes to it. Wonderful stuff. If ICANN had become what it was supposed to have become, it would have already done this two years ago.

If you want to know what VeriSign thinks, go to “Stephen Forrest's” Free2Innovate website. Is it time to tell people who Mr Forrest really is? I've been waiting for a moment when he isn't misrepresenting or abusing my stories so I don't look petty, but I don't think that day will ever come so it may be time to point out how compromised his views really are.

The complete flipside to that is Karl Auerbach's CaveBear blog. And then there is Ross Rader giving his registrar's perspective.

I wish that ICANN Board members Joi Ito (http://joi.ito.com/), Susan Crawford (http://scrawford.blogware.com/blog) and Veni Markovski (http://blog.veni.com/) would use their blogs to write more about ICANN issues. They do occasionally, and Veni is promising to do so more in future, but nowhere near enough. There's an odd kind of self-censorship. What ICANN really needs is a dose of openness, of people publicly stating what they think.

In fact, I see Brett is having this same thought process, haranguing ICANN CEO Paul Twomey for asking to go off-the-record at a meeting. Off-the-record is a funny thing. Sometimes it is very useful but more often than not it is abused to give people the sense that they are learning something secret when in fact they are allowing themselves to be compromised by put themselves under an unnecessary obligation not to talk about something that they should be discussing openly and loudly.

Anyway, what's going on at ICANN Wellington?

Well, the ongoing battle for .xxx will most likely by the big one. You have to feel sorry for Stuart Lawley, the man behing the domain. He has spent literally millions of pounds trying to .xxx approved and he has played fair, followed the rules, and has been consistently screwed over. He even hired Becky Burr, who in her former role as a DoC lawyer basically built ICANN, to try to get the domain through.

And the politics are continuing. It would appear that it is John Kneuer, Michael Gallagher's deputy at the DoC that is doing most of the running this time. Kneuer wrote to GAC chairman [pdf] Sharil Tarmizi providing effectively a list of reason why the US government is seeking to delay the .xxx domain decision yet again. Stuart Lawley read it, hit the roof, and fired off a letter to Tarmizi [pdf] explaining why everything that Kneuer has said was bollocks.

This is how political stalling works. You write a letter outlining concerns. The concerns don't even have to be real, but they have the effect are stirring up debate and delaying progress toward a decision. In fact, I am reviewing this precise mechanism for my Sex.com book – the lawyers of the man that stole the domain basically delayed and delayed and delayed and delayed with increasingly ridiculous motions. It came within a whisker of breaking the whole case because of the cost involved.

Presumably the DoC is hoping to break Lawley in the same way – by costing him a fortune in delays and with no prospect that it will ever get decided. What is particularly interesting about this though is that it shows up the US government's sham claim that it never gets involved in or influences Internet policy and ICANN.

That is a complete fallacy and I have been building a catalogue of occasions when the US government has done exactly that. Just a few examples: Libya redelegation; Iraq redelegation; Afghanistan redelegation; Dotnet contract negotiations; .xxx domain.

Anyway, with ICANN's site down the links to those letters are worthless so I will download them as soon as I can and host them here [now done (3 hours later)]. In the meantime I have Lawley's letter here and will attach it below.

The dreaded dotcom contract

What else? The dotcom contract of course. My god are people annoyed about that. Canada's . ca registry owner CIRA went so far as to pull all links with ICANN, refuse to give it any money, or sponsor any ICANN events and pull out of its sub-committee chairmanship. Twomey has written to CIRA [pdf] saying he and Vint are happy to discuss the issues with CIRA, but basically Twomey and Cerf still think they've pulled it off and that CIRA is nothing. The real test is: will any other countries follow suit? I've not heard anything as yet.

What will registrars actually do? Have they devised a way of forcing ICANN to comply? What will CFIT have for us in its ongoing lawsuit with ICANN? I particularly enjoyed CFIT's “I am one of Stratton's 200” campaign – a response to the VeriSign head dismissing complaints against the dotcom contract as saying it was just coming from “the same 200”.

New global top-level domains is going to be a big topic. I hope the .berlin people make a re-appearance. I love the idea of “.berlin” – that, to my mind, is a really interesting way to push the Internet into the future.

As ever, everyone is hoping that internationalised domain names will be a big thing. And Twomey has tried to pre-empt it by outlining yet another initiative in which ICANN is going to try to get this working etc etc. The issue of providing the Internet in different languages really provides the spotlight on everything that is wrong with the way the Internet is run at the moment.

The simple fact is that the majority of people capable of allocating the right resources to making different languages available on the Net couldn't care less because English is their first language (in many cases, their only language). It is so astronomically short-sighted, binkered even, to not give this topic top priority. But every time it is given lip service, and I very much suspect that same thing will happen all over again, the meeting will end and we'll still be nowhere nearer to getting IDNs up and running properly.

Domain issues

Another important issue is how ICANN deals with changes in how the Internet works (what?! you mean, do its actual intended job?!). Ed Viltz, the chief of PIR, which runs all .org domains, has written to Steve Crocker who heads the security side of ICANN asking him to come up with a way of preventing people abusing the domain name system.

Abuse it how? By registering expiring domains irrespective of what was on them previously purely for their pay-per-click value. Companies are watching expiring domains, figuring out the traffic that links to those sites and then registering it and filling it with pay-per-click ads. The value of ads cover the registration and provide a profit, but it's not how you really want the Net working.

Ed gives a strong example in his letter [doc]: the Rape Crisis Center in Syracuse didn't renew its domain, and instead it was grabbed by a company that provided links to porn sites. Because of the numerous links that had been formed right across the Net to the crisis center, people trying to find out information about rape and dealing with it are instead confronted with porn. Not exactly ideal.

Ed tells me that, quite simply, “we have a morale responsibility to advocate in the public interest” and he's pushing the issue. Unsurprisingly, quite a few people agree with him. So there may be the start of a new system for domain registrations in there. I've attached the letter Viltz sent below.

I can't believe the ICANN site is down. [Update: It finally appeared around 9.40am New Zealand time.]

Anyway, more as it happens…
 

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