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Power Politics and the New Internet Order
Copyright (c) 1999 Jay Fenello -- All Rights Reserved

Yesterday, a Wall Street based Investment Research Company issued a strong sell/short sell recommendation on Network Solutions stock.  It also suggested that NSI had mislead investors and potentially committed securities fraud. NSI's stock plunged in response.

I believe that this is nothing more than Power Politics. NSI is being targeted financially, and its officers are being threatened with potential criminal actions.  These tactics are being used to break NSI's resolve to fight for a competitive name space, and to force NSI to be subservient to ICANN.

It reflects the huge power struggle that is occurring behind the scenes, over the very future of the Internet. This latest salvo is just the latest shot over the bow.

A Historical Perspective

The U.S. Government, through various defense contractors, started the Internet.  Over time, it moved into the research community, finally ending up in the commercial realm.  It also moved from a U.S. based collection of networks, to a global collection of networks.  As these changes occurred, it out grew the informal methods of managing Internet resources that had existed before.

Problems first appeared when the name space started to get crowded, and companies like Iperdome formed with the goal of bringing new domain names to market.  Although Jon Postel had put forward several proposals to do this, a controversial proposal known as the gTLD-MoU was presented as the solution.

The gTLD-MoU was controversial because it would have confiscated all generic Top Level Domains, not only from startups like IO Design (who had been running the .web registry for approximately one year), but also from Network Solutions.  It would have established an authority control model of governance, and it claimed ownership over the entire name space.

After many complaints from the Internet community, the U.S. Government, through Ira Magaziner, intervened with both the Green and White Paper processes.  The result of these processes was the White Paper, a document that was surprisingly supported by virtually the entire Internet community.

The ICANN Controversy

The controversy begins with the selection of the ICANN Board through some secret process, and the policies that they are attempting to implement.  This can most easily be seen in their proposed guidelines for prospective registrars.

With these guidelines, ICANN has, in effect, claimed ownership over the entire gTLD name space.  They have also written their contracts so that their registrars are completely subject to their whim.  Most ironically, these registrars will still be subject to contracting with Network Solutions.

How will all this work?  No one knows!  In fact, ICANN has just extended the deadline for prospective registrar applications.  They said that the registrars have too many questions that have yet to be answered, little things like the wholesale price of a registration, and the terms of their contract with Network Solutions.

Solving the Wrong Problem

IMHO, the problems we are seeing are directly caused by an overly aggressive ICANN trying to break the only true threat to their total control over the gTLD name space -- namely, Network Solutions.

What the spin doctors are conjuring up is a choice between a big, bad monopoly, and a benevolent body that will keep the name space fair and controlled for everyone (with *controlled* being the key word).

Framing the issues in this way ignores the only true solution to this dilemma -- true competition in the gTLD name space.

My own Assessment

Having been involved in this debate for over two years, as the president of Iperdome [a prospective registry for the .per(sm) TLD], as one of the leaders of Open-RSC, as a member of the IFWP Steering Committee, and as an occasional consultant to NSI, I believe the following

NSI has consistently acted in a professional manner, looking out for its interests in the context of what's best for the Internet.  They have also been supportive of minority positions, free markets, and bottom up governance as reflected in the Paris Draft and their court released letter to NSF suggesting competition in the name space.

While some of their recent actions appear to be extreme, I suspect that they were precipitated by the circumstances surrounding their relationship to ICANN and the U.S. Government.

Until I know for sure, I will reserve judgement.

On the other hand, the "Investment Research Company's" Report sure looks like it was written by ICANN's PR firm. Not only does it describe the world as if ICANN already controls everything (and it doesn't), it presumes that NSI has hidden this fact from its investors (and it hasn't).

What it does highlight is how different the world may look, depending on how ICANN is structured.  If it follows the White Paper, uses a bottom-up consensus process, and adopts a light weight standards setting approach, the world will be a great place.

If it follows the description as outlined in the analysts report, then we are all in for are very rocky road.

Better fasten your seat belts . . .


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