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Melbourne - Keith Davidson

ICANN Report by Keith Davidson - 20 March 2001


I was grateful for the opportunity to attend the ICANN meetings in Melbourne. It was an eye-opener in many regards. I have been an "at large" (although I didn't think I had that much extra weight!) ICANN member from the beginning, and have regularly followed the progress of the meetings via the video-casts and ISOCNZ updates, but certainly did not appreciate the magnitude and diversity of relevant debates and viewpoints. I expected the traditional "pony-tails" vs "suits" debates, but was unprepared for the extent of politics and irrationality that contribute to the overall inertia, confusion and crapola that surrounds ICANN. To save reader boredom, I have started with a summary of my thoughts, and if the summary has any interest, the detail can be located further down.


The ICANN structure is deeply flawed, is not truly representative of a" P occur.< to this wish not would who players many are there but Internet, the of good common for purposefully and efficiently work could that structures better be must There chaos. total from way long a is democracy, up? bottom>

There are many "battles" that need to be fought, and I admire the fortitude and tenacity of those who are prepared to fight the good fight. I just don't have the personal bandwidth available to contribute to the ongoing battle by personal attendance, so it is likely Melbourne will be my first and last ICANN .

.nz represents a voice of moderation and sensibility in an otherwise chaotic structure. I had previously thought that ISOCNZ/Domainz was overly represented at ICANN, but have changed my view and now believe that we should be sending as many soldiers to battle as we can.

There are many very sound people representing commonsense (yet often divergent) Internet viewpoints, but they can be voices in the wilderness when weighed against the views of the equivalent numbers of fringe lunatics. On top of the divergent viewpoints, there are also lobbyists and activists whose representations and philosophies are probably only known to themselves.


The concept of attempting to identify individual interest areas into" P of a < are: divisions major 5 The level. board ICANN at representation degree with each constituencies?,>

  1. Address Supporting Organisations (APNIC, ARIN, RIPE)
  2. Protocol Supporting Organisations (ETSI, IETF, ITU, WWW Consortium)
  3. Domain Name Supporting Organisations (gTLD's, ccTLD's, ISPs, Registrars, business, non-commercial and WIPO consstituencies)
  4. Large membership (anyone- i.e. any fringe lunatic - with an Internet interest can belong)
  5. ICANN staff (huge influence over the board, and hard to understand which interest groups they represent (if any)

The Address, Protocol and Names Council each appoint 3 seats on the ICANN board, and the "at large" group has 5 seats. The total number of the board is set at 19. Other legitimate voices at ICANN include the GAC (Government advisory committee), RSS (Root Server System) advisory committee, US Dept of Commerce (apparently in a hand-over role), and others. There also appears to be the "Friends of Jon" group who were (or imagine they were) closely associated with Jon Postel, and they seem to believe they have some inherent authority and control within the ICANN process. Then many other individuals tag along, from industry lobbyists to the spooks from Washington. Within the constituencies, there can be further breakdown groups, for example, within the ccTLD's, the regional groups like the Asia Pacific region (APTLD) function.

While I do agree that criticism of the degrees of openness and transparency by ISOCNZ / Domainz have sometimes been justified, I suggest those critics pay some close attention to the decision making processes that occur at ICANN level. Progress is mind-numbingly slow, and progresses at an increasingly slow pace as items ascend the ICANN pyramid. There are some valid reasons for the slowness, language and culture and debating style contributing to this, but some contributions appear almost deliberately Also, many of the debates transgress the boundaries of several constituencies, and they expend considerable energy on either passing the hot potatoes between constituencies, or trying to deal with some matters that are clearly outside their constituency interests.

I would suggest that the formula is totally wrong, and a far better model for ICANN to work from would be to have 3 major constituencies. The first would be the technical constituency, comprising IANA etc,where the pure technical aspects of the root servers and associated smoke and mirrors could be addressed. The other groups would comprise of the "givers" and the "takers". The "takers" would comprise any gainers of revenue from Internet functions (ISP's, TLD's, telco's, Intellectual Property lawyers etc). The "givers" would comprise anyone who merely pays for Internet use, i.e. the actual end users, and interested non-profit takers like GAC. Each of these groups should have equal representation at ICANN board level, although funding for ICANN activities would need to be drawn from the "takers"constituency. Each of the constituencies could be further broken into geographical regions, with greater emphasis on regional meetings. The board would need to ensure that staff are the servants of the board, rather than the present situation where the tail does appear to be wagging the dog. I feel such a structure would far better represent the broad interests of the Internet, with far less confusion of delegated lines of responsibility and far less subversion from politics and side-tracks. Furthermore, ICANN needs to keep in mind its raison d'etre is to run the root server. It is moving rapidly from a "thin" model for this purpose, into an all encompassing, all powerful, authoritative governing, very thick model of international governance of any aspect of Internet usage.


Some examples of the battles being fought at Melbourne are already well known, such as the Verisign/NSI desire to continue to control both registry and registrar functions for .com until 2007. ICANN had previously required that Verisign either quit the registry or registrar before May 2001. Verisign argued that the NSI/ICANN agreement did not require this to happen (but it clearly did), then changed tack and argued that since the new gTLD's were permitted to run joint registry/registrar functions that .com should be able to do the same. The overwhelming majority of those present in Melbourne were very much against Verisign retaining both functions, with Verisign and the ICANN lawyer perhaps being the only advocates of continuance of both functions. The ICANN board appeared in general to be against the continuance, but may well have been paying lip service to be seen to support the majority. The ICANN board decision was reserved, and is likely to be announced before 2 April. My personal feeling is that the board will resolve to support Verisign in retaining both functions, but for a time period somewhat shorter than the year 2007 asked for by Verisign. I hope I am pleasantly surprised and that the ICANN board will show fortitude in their advocated bottom-up process, and will agree with the majority who support the registry or registrar sell-off by May 2001.

I shudder to think of the person-hours wasted in discussing the multinational aspects of the Internet. Already less than 50% of Internet users have English as their first language, and statistics indicate that other language users will increase at exponential rates compared to English users. It is pretty obvious there is a clear need for the ICANN website to be reproduced in at least 7 languages (which would cover around 75% of Internet users first languages). Yet there were many opponents to this suggestion, with some dinosaurs insisting that the Internet should be in English only and any attempt by ICANN to appease other language speakers should be resisted at all costs. Further debate raged over the potential use of multilingual domain names - argggghh the sheer snobbery of the English speaking world. Imagine if the Internet had been created in Japanese or Arabic, and English users were unable to enjoy the little dots on our" P to would players the and that be ICANN community?< Internet NZ within dinosaurs such any find we doubt I suffice. will set character ASCII theory subscribing others characters, only English on based can everything argue audacity have game in some yet miffed, pretty We ?j?s?? i?s?>

On the other hand, the small ISP constituency meeting was possibly the strangest and most depressing meeting I have ever attended in my life. I struggled to find the room where this committee was meeting, for unlike all other meeting rooms, this particular room was not labeled or marked as holding the ISP constituency meeting, and was behind closed doors. I arrived around 10 minutes late as a result, and immediately made the observation that it would be useful to put a sign outside the room - with this suggestion receiving immediate inattention. The chair and committee were incredibly negative throughout the meeting. If it had not been for Marylin Cade (AT&T Director) piping up regularly with" P to this not would many are there the of common and could that be There from a The ICANN at with Internet any find we I on can have in some Peter).< (sorry again! people those see ever than Mott Peter rounds 18 go rather extent - ideologies wall? ?off totally ICANN, said same life. facts rational sense, they as agree, mainly which factors underlying NZ, matters debate robust divergent certainly While arena. fought battles valid extremely number forehead! my percussion repeating by demolish wall brick eager was it, end By wrists. slit well might out..?, point like just meeting observer an am>

There is little doubt that Peter Dengate Thrush and Sue Leader are widely respected as voices of moderation, consensus, common sense and frugality within ICANN, although not unexpectedly there are also a few voices of dissent. Some have suggested that ISOCNZ/Domainz should reduce its involvement in ICANN, and certainly in the past I have been critical of the costs and numbers of people we have funded, with no apparent payback. However, having seen the process in real time, I have revised my opinion, and I do believe that we should be increasing our representation at ICANN level, and should be pushing to have more NZ'ers occupying more influential positions within that organisation. Please don't take this suggestion as an indication of any personal desire to participate, as I do not have sufficient time or tenacity available to apply to the ICANN cause. I certainly have a greater admiration for those who do, however. I guess we could also do as some have suggested, and withdraw entirely from the process, and just await decisions being made for us. If we do choose this option, we should not be at all surprised that a good number of decisions made by ICANN will be probably be less logical and cost .nz considerable money. We are in an ideal position as a voice of sensibility and reasonableness to contribute greatly, and to miss the opportunity to participate to a better Internet world. Some would argue that ICANN is a bold experiment in international governance, which it surely is, and that the US government could pull the plug on the whole process at any stage. I guess this could be true, but if control of the root remains within the US Dept of Commerce, we should not be surprised with any resolutions regarding international governance. ICANN is totally imperfect, but with some strong will and hard work from sound sensible people, could be made into something quite good. If the sound sensible people give up the cause, we would essentially be handing the core of the Internet to a very strange and scary group.

I would like to think that perhaps ISOCNZ/Domainz could also play a part in representing or sponsoring our Pacific Island neighbours into the ICANN arena. There are many ccTLD's dotted in the Pacific Ocean, who are not represented at ICANN level. I believe around 100 ccTLD's attend ICANN, yet there are 240 ccTLD's in existence. I would suggest that ISOCNZ should look to have a minimum of 4 representatives at all ICANN meetings, plus one sponsored guest per meeting (whether that be a local Pacific Island representative, or a NZ Internet stalwart or similar). Obviously Sue Leader as our permanent staff member should be the first representative, and Peter as chair of ISOCNZ (as well as his active roles within ICANN) should be the second. I think lobbying Government to ensure NZ GAC is represented would provide a 3rd representative (at least as long as Frank March remains GAC and ISOCNZ affiliated). The 4th representative should probably be a "scribe" to act as PA for the group, and disseminate information from the other NZ delegates back to the NZ Internet community, and wherever possible, seek opinions back from NZ to present to our delegates. I have often felt that when our delegates are at ICANN, we receive little information back until well after the meetings. However, with meetings running from 8.30am through until 6pm or later each day then reams of paper being handed out for digestion for the next days meetings, its pretty hard to see where sufficient time can arise for the delegates to report back, let alone seek viewpoints from NZ. As I have said, many of the issues are more than important, they are critical, and unless we play our part in the process, we will only have ourselves to blame if ICANN does disagreeable things.

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