Are the ICANN Senate hearings just a waste of time?

You do tend to view things like hearings at the most powerful bodies in your society as somehow important, but having reviewed what happened at the hearing at Senate Committee on Commerce, yesterday, you have to wonder what the point was.

Let’s hope the second one, starting now, is a little better.

The title of the first hearing was “Internet Governance: The Future of ICANN“, but there was no talk of Internet Governance and precious little of ICANN or its future. Instead, the hopelessly unfocussed meeting comprised of different people’s bugbears: the FTC complaining about Whois; GoDaddy complaining about the dotcom contract; and VeriSign complaining that it was even being questioned.

The only thing that was interesting was Commerce Secretary Kneuer’s vague response that the US government would continue the MoU with ICANN after it ends on 30 September, and that it would stress better accountability.

Ignorance

The Senators themselves were embarrassing in their ignorance of the issues, and appeared to do everything they could to reinforce the picture of powerful men revelling in their own foolish power. The whole hearing caused a few headlines but there was nothing useful, nothing of substance, in it. The opportunity to ask some big questions and then push for the answers was not so much lost as on holiday in Florida.

There is another hearing – this time at the House of Representatives and its Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet – starting now. This time the heading is: “ICANN Internet Governance: Is It Working?

I very strongly suspect that we again will not witness any discussion of Internet governance, and will steer well clear of asking whether it is working. But what is most worrying are the people that have been invited onto the panel. They’re not there to discuss Internet Governance, they’re there to make sure that the argument for Whois is made (again) and that no criticism of VeriSign goes unpunished (again).

First up we have Secretary Kneuer and ICANN head Twomey. These two have been stuck in a room for weeks and have thrashed out the MoU – which they will announce formally in just over a week – so there are going to have a script which they won’t budge from and they will be mutually supportive.

Stooges

Then we have the VeriSign stooges. Steve DelBianco from the Association for Competitive Technology. ACT is famous for pushing Microsoft’s position during the anti-trust hearings and now it is again protecting a monopolistic company that can afford the best lobbying available in Washington. A brief search of ACT’s website reveals that it also lives in VeriSign la-la land.

And in a self-parody of a lobbying organisation, it has consistently used “small business polls” to push its big business client’s interests. It’s a joke but, incredibly, it works, and as a main contributor to ACT, VeriSign gets its money’s worth.

Another

But what’s this? Thomas M. Lenard of The Progress & Freedom Foundation – another VeriSign-sponsored lobby group. Well, actually it’s a Republican business lobby group but VeriSign has got at them through its political connections and given them some money, so effectively in this area, it’s a VeriSign body. It has certainly never taken anything more than an occasional interest in ICANN, and only when the heat was on. The PFF rabidly supported VeriSign through the SiteFinder debacle – one of the few times when the entire Internet community was in agreement. And it was dead-set against .xxx.

And then we have Mark Bohannon of the Software & Information Industry Association, who shouldn’t even be in the room. The reason he is is because of the Whois issue again. In fact the SIIA has never had anything to do with ICANN except over Whois. And I bet he has absolutely nothing to add beyond that topic.

Help us, Mr Feld

And finally, Harold Feld of the Media Access Project. I owe Mr Feld an apology – I criticised him for talking out of his hat when he posted that the Internet Governance Forum was no more than a UN plot to get control of the Net. Mr Feld had in fact just posted the announcement notice which had come from “Americans for a Secure Internet” – another VeriSign front. Mr Feld knows a thing or two about ICANN.

Or perhaps more accurately, he *used* to know a thing or two about ICANN and wrote some very good and insightful pieces about the organisation *in 2001*. I don’t what the reason was but Mr Feld and MAP have had nothing to do with ICANN since early 2003. It’s strange that he’s suddenly popped up again.

He’s even been good enough to release an early version of what he will say [pdf] though, and I agree with nearly everything he has to say, apart from the fact it comes from a US perspective and there is an intrinsic sense of “we must keep this” pride that I don’t have.

So, we shall see, the hearing is due to start any second.

Update:

  • The Representatives have given some preamble – some of it on the ball, some of it rambling.
  • Kneuer has read a shortened version of the same text as yesterday.
  • Twomey has also done a summary of his testimony yesterday, but with some interesting additions: a stress on the number of public comments that ICANN has received; a stress on how ICANN is evolving and changing its consistuencies; and a stress on the review process. Somewhat laughably though, he pointed to the non-use of the arbitration review as an indication that everyone was happy, when the reality is that ICANN has done everything it is power to make this review impossible to start off. Just ask Edward Hasbrouck.
  • DelBianco – VeriSign stooge – can be summarised as “security and stability”; don’t like ICANN.
  • Lenard was more interesting in that he was less VeriSign-biased, arguing instead that ICANN has to stop restricting the number of TLDs and the registry services.
  • Feld is passionate and asking some good questions. He sees ICANN as a bad FTC “making the same mistakes at Internet speed”. And he has pointed out that the world is complaining about US control for a reason and that had to be faced and dealt with, and done so in public.
  • Bohannon. Yep, nothing but Whois nonsense. Waste of time.

So that’s the end of the testimonies. Now:

Questions

  • The Chairman stressed that they “want to improve with what we’ve got” and then said a few words (again) about how you can’t let the UN take over.

What strikes me as really odd is this consciously blinkered perspective that says it is either ICANN or it is the UN. Europe, Australasia and chunk of Asia are already agreed on the UN not taking charge and have talked about creating a new flexible international model for ICANN to slot into. Even the DoC lawyer that created ICANN, Becky Burr, drew up a model that kept ICANN’s job out of the UN but help reduce the risk of a split root.

Is the US Senate *really* incapable of seeing anything apart from UN or US control? It beggars belief.

  • Anyway, the chairman asked for some exact details of the new MoU, which Kneuer and then Twomey failed to give by waffling on a bit. It appears as though it will be a two-year contract though.
  • Twomey desperately skirted questions about transparency and feedback – which is a little worrying. And he failed to say what ICANN was going to do with the LSE report – which was even more worrying.
  • Then there were a series of questions that covered each witness but didn’t really supply any useful information. And then they had to adjourn for a bit so the Representatives could go vote in the house. They’ve been away for more than 25 minutes…

And they’re back after a loooong time…

  • Some Whois stuff. Twomey treads water.
  • Ha! DelBianco brings out one of his ridiculous small-business polls over the increase in dotcom domains under the new VeriSign contract. You see, 81 per cent of small businesses don’t care about a $1.86 increase in prices, so nor should we. This is the worst sort of teenage stats logic. Why can’t VeriSign charge $25 for each dotcom name then? Why doesn’t it go back to the original $50 in 1994? $1.86 times 30 million is a good sum of extra money.
  • Some mad and ignorant discussion about the A-root. Should it be kept in the United States? Oh yes, we have to keep it in the States. We can’t move it – it would make Internet unstable. What mad ignorant nonsense. Thank god for Paul Twomey – at least someone in the room knows about Anycast. This is the whole point – the A-root is not a big machine with the sign “A” on it. It not only can be spread over diferent machines right across the world but it *has* to be spread across machines a great distance apart to provide the stability that everyone is eternally going on about.
  • My god – even after Twomey tried to explain Anycast, they are still going on about retaining control of the A-root in the United States. Protecting interests and so on.
  • Some good discussion about the appeals process. Twomey tries to paint a picture of Ombudsman, Independent Review, but it forced to admit there has never been an appeal. And then to mention Karl Auerbach winning in the courts to get information *while a Board member*. Feld points out that the system is not quite how Twomey paints it. I may MP3 this.

Here we go – an MP3 of the most interesting part of the whole hearing about the ICANN Appeals process.

  • And just as an interesting finish, the Chairman tells Twomey: “Well, you have got some marching orders there. Or heard some anyway.” I think that sentence can be used to pretty much sum up the two days of hearings.

2 Responses to “Are the ICANN Senate hearings just a waste of time?”


  • You can find my personal comments (as well as links to my testimony, etc.) on my blog.

    As for the “A” Root thing, it is more symbol than anything else. But symbols are important; sometimes more important than realities.

  • Thanks Harold,

    A good, honest and insightful review (http://www.wetmachine.com/totsf/item/600). And good job in the hearings btw.

    I’m not sure I agree with you about nothing having changed though. Lots of things have changed with ICANN – it’s just the Washington discussion of ICANN that is stuck in the past.

    If you’re tempted to pick up the ICANN mantle again, do please drop me a line, I’ll buy you a drink at Sao Paulo or wherever.

    Kieren

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