[governance] Can Icann really be necessary?

Ivar A. M. Hartmann ivarhartmann at gmail.com
Fri Jun 24 18:57:08 EDT 2011

Some people don't really understand what it means to "be accountable to
everyone and no one" =)
I don't agree with all of the arguments stated, but I find it is good that
there's social pressure for the app fee to be lower. This way, when it can
be lowered (if ever), it's guaranteed we'll have some forces (including in
CS) pushing for that.
Best, Ivar

(via Berkman Buzz)
Can Icann really be necessary?

It's a question worth asking as the body that oversees internet domain names
will now permit any suffix you want – at a price

      - Share12<http://www.facebook.com/sharer.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.guardian.co.uk%2Fcommentisfree%2Fcifamerica%2F2011%2Fjun%2F23%2Ficann-internet-domain-names&t=Can%20Icann%20really%20be%20necessary%3F%20%7C%20Dan%20Gillmor%20%7C%20Comment%20is%20free%20%7C%20guardian.co.uk&src=sp>
   - Comments (27)<http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/jun/23/icann-internet-domain-names#start-of-comments>

   -  [image: Dan Gillmor] <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/dangillmor>
      -  Dan Gillmor <http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/dangillmor>
      - guardian.co.uk <http://www.guardian.co.uk/>, Thursday 23 June 2011
      18.00 BST
      - Article

 [image: icann vote]
Icann board members vote in a plan to expand the number of possible domain
endings, currently limited to just 22. Photograph: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty

Are you ready for .xxx, .coke and .insertyournamehere? You'd better get
ready, because an organisation with significant authority and scant
accountability says you

That organisation is Icann: the
Internet<http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/internet>Corporation for
Assigned Names and Numbers. It supervises the naming system
for internet domains. With a budget north of $60m, Icann's board members and
staff – who strike me as well-meaning, if too often unwise, in their actions
– have embedded their work into the DNA of modern cyberspace. One would
expect no less from an enterprise that can essentially tax the internet and
is simultaneously accountable to everyone and no one.

Like Icann's operations, its rules are complex. The organisation's key role,
boiled down to the basics, is to oversee the domain name system (DNS) – a
role that gives Icann the authority to decide what new domain-name suffixes
may exist, and who can sell and administer them. The best known "top level"
domain suffixes, at least in the US, are .com, .org and .edu; they are among
22 generic suffixes<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Internet_top-level_domains>,
along with about 250 country-level domains such as .uk, (United Kingdom),
.de (Germany) .and cn (China).

Two recent Icann initiatives highlight its reach. The first was the approval
earlier this year<http://www.pcworld.com/article/222793/icann_approves_xxx_domain_for_adult_entertainment_industry.html>of
the .xxx domain, intended to be a red-light zone for cyberspace. The
other, announced just this
is a plan to let people and enterprises create domain names of any kind –
for example, .Apple or .CocaCola or .treehugger – reflecting their
trademarks or specific interests.

Contrary to Icann's rationalisations
.xxx is a terrible idea. Should it succeed, it will enrich its promoters.
But it will also likely lead, should the domain actually be adopted widely,
to widespread censorship and manipulation. Governments are keen to restrict
access to what they consider to be pornography or block it altogether; look
for laws requiring adult sites to use the .xxx domain, so they can be more
easily fenced in – or out. India has already
will block .xxx entirely.

I hope this wretched move fails for practical reasons. Adult content
providers possessing common sense will hesitate to move their operations
into a censor-friendly zone of this kind. Indeed, the Free Speech Coalition,
an adult entertainment trade group, is
members to boycott .xxx and stick with the tried and true .com suffix
that most of them already use.

The success of .com helps explain why the latest Icann move, expanding the
domain system in potentially infinite ways, is at best problematic. It's not
entirely misguided, however. In principle, the idea is inoffensive; why not
have internet addresses that fully match reality and might (repeat: might)
be more secure under certain circumstances? And why would a company with a
valuable trademark *not* want to reserve a domain suffix reflecting its

Because, as noted, the current system isn't all that broken. Trademark
disputes already get resolved in the .com world with laws and rules of
various kinds. So, who wins by inviting every enterprise with a trademark or
valuable name to register with multiple domain suffixes? The registrars win,
of course, and so does the organisation that decides who can be a registrar;
that would be Icann, which, in effect, taxes the registrars based on how
many people they sign up for domains.

Speaking of fees, if you want one of the new domain suffixes and are not a
wealthy individual or company, get ready to put a major dent in your bank
balance. The Icann application alone will be $185,000, with an annual fee of
$25,000. Who sets this fee? Why, Icann, of course. Is it reasonable? Icann
says it is. Why is it reasonable? Because Icann says, based on evidence that
is less than persuasive, that it needs the money for things like legal
costs. So much for small business registrations, much less domains for
individuals with relatively common last names – how about
.JohnSmithWhoWasBornInDallasOnMay51983? – which want to be as unique in
their domain name as they are in the real world.

Esther Dyson, former board chair at Icann (and a friend), told NPR she
considered the new domains "a useless
She is right, but I'd go further: Icann itself is unneeded, or should be
made to be so. Clearly, it would be unworkable to simply pull the plug on
Icann, because it has become a key link in the digital chain. But the
internet community should be working on a bypass, not controlled in any way
by governments, that is both secure and robust.

A partial bypass already exists for end users. It's called Google – though
this also applies to Bing and other search engines. Internet users are
learning that it's easier, almost always with better results, to type the
name of the enterprise they're searching for into the browser's search bar
than to guess at a domain name and type that guess into the address bar.
Google isn't the DNS, but its method suggests new approaches. To that end,
some technologists have suggested creating a DNS overlay, operated in a
peer-to-peer way that incorporates modern search techniques and other tools.
Making this workable and secure would be far from trivial, but it's worth
the effort.

A few years ago, I was a candidate for a post on the Icann board. During an
interview, I was asked to describe what I hoped to achieve, should I be
asked to serve. A major goal, I replied, was to find ways to make Icann less
necessary. My service was not required.
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