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    Highlights of the ICANNWatch Archive
    (June 1999 - March 2001)

    gTLDs hoping to enter the legacy root Same Old Shell Game All Over Again
    posted by michael on Tuesday March 25 2003, @08:01PM

    You know it's important -- and more likely than not a done deal too -- when ICANN publishes something at the last minute and tries to hide it. And so it is with the new gTLDs paper released March 25 for discussion in Rio March 26 by people who may well not have access to the report between now and then. From an initial read of this paper, ICANN has ignored everything everyone (other than trademark lawyers) said to it, and is carrying on with pretty much exactly what CEO Lynn said he wanted and his cronies duly announced was an action plan, and was rubber-stamped by the Board in Amsterdam: no more new open gTLDs for now (or ever), no serious attempt to actually study how the existing ones are doing, just little sponsored TLDs, preferably those that won't have much take-up, to help us say that no one wants them.

    As for all the first-round open gTLD applicants who paid $50,000, didn't get a TLD, and then were told that they were not rejected, just waiting. Surprise! (not) They lose again! Back to the end of the line, guys!

    ICANN usually puts the newest documents at the top of its homepage; this one -- dated March 25 -- is buried in the middle in the hopes you won't see it, right between items dated March 15 and March 4.

    The ICANN plan sets out an extensive point scoring system that will be systematically manipulated by highly paid consultants and incompetent staffers, and lead to ghastly results.

    The following quote from the report is one of the most unintentionally hilarious things I've ever seen ICANN write, and could only have been written by someone who either thinks readers are completely ignorant of ICANN's history of irrational decisions, of expensive outside experts who write error-filled reports, and of misleading staff summaries to the Board. Either that, or it was written by someone who doesn't care about what readers think because the author knows that they are powerless to affect the outcome, in which case the objective is the creation of a fictional record:

    It is proposed that two or three (depending on what the budget allows) independent external evaluation teams will be selected. By external is meant teams that are not involved in ICANN activities and are not subject to ICANN political nuances and pressures, teams that can be seen to act objectively. However, to compensate for possible lack of knowledge, a cross-constituency panel of "experts", including technical experts, would be assembled to provide advice to the evaluation teams as needed.

    Evaluation teams would first reject any proposal that does not meet the minimum criteria as described in the previous section. Remaining proposals would be grouped by each evaluation team into two or three (according to the number of remaining viable proposals) "tiers" according to their evaluation scores. Proposals would be selected that were in the top tier of both evaluation teams (in the event there are two teams); or in the top tier of two out of the three evaluation teams, but not in the lowest tier of the third team (in the case of three evaluation teams).

    This evaluation methodology would provide for independent assessment. Except to opine on legal questions and to provide administrative support, ICANN staff would not enter the evaluation process, although staff would synthesize the outcomes for presentation to the Board. Similarly, the Board would not intrude in the evaluation process itself; its options would be to accept or to reject the results of the evaluation.

    Poor Lawrence Solum, blogging from Rio, is horrified that ICANN hasn't paid any attention to the extensive legal literature showing that this approach is doomed:
    Almost everyone in legal academia and economics knows that story of Ronald Coase's famous 1959 article, The Federal Communications Commission. At the time, the FCC used the "beauty contest" approach to allocate broadcast spectrum licenses. Applicants came before the FCC to argue that they would serve "the public interest;" rivals argued they would not. The result was 75 years of disaster. A public resource was given away. The market in spectrum was inefficient. Many tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars of resources lay fallow. It took almost forty years for Coase's proposal, spectrum auctions, to prevail.


    Another question that is frequently raised about gTLD auctions is: "Will the gTLDs that win the auctions have value?" Or will such gTLDs "add value?" Huh? Of course, it is possible that firms will bid for value-less gTLDs, but the whole point of a market is to insure that resources are put to their most valuable use. The gTLDs that are established as a result of an auction are exactly the gTLDs that the market tells us are most likely to add value. The "value added" question seems, at bottom, to be based on the assumption that someone (the questioner, ICANN's board) can do a better job of estimating value than the market. Sometimes this is the ending point of the conversation, but some interlocutors seem to have another idea in mind. They seem to believe in some concept of intrinsic value, i.e. value that cannot be measured by prices. Well maybe. But here is the problem. No one agrees on what constitutes intrinsic value. I suspect that in the context of new gTLDs, the idea of intrinsic value sometimes boils down to "value from the point of view of a network engineer." If so, then: (1) the market can account for this kind of value, because it affects costs and benefits, and (2) the Internet is for end users, not for network engineers.

    Exactly. And there's lots more where that came from. Go read it. [Update: 03/26 13:45 GMT by M: and this too, plus a new Manheim and Solum paper, sTLD Beauty Contests: An Analysis And Critique Of The Proposed Criteria To Be Used In The Selection Of New Sponsored Tlds.]

    Of course, that ICANN would repeat its mistakes is unsurprising so long as ICANN remains firmly in the grip of the Bourbons of the old board, and the old management. (Even Joe Sims, who keeps saying he's getting out of ICANN, has been spotted in Rio; and Andrew McLaughlin, who told me when I saw him last week that he's no longer deeply involved in ICANN is listed in Appendix 1 of the new bloated budget as serving for half time (that's .2 + .3 = .5), yes plus ca change...) So if form is any guide, expect one minor substantive change to this plan and a couple of cosmetic ones to show 'responsiveness'.

    The paper doesn't actually say when a decision will be made. The usually well-informed ICANN Blog says, "The discussion starts tomorrow at the public forum and should extend for a few weeks after." Which presumably means the final decision will be taken at an open and transparent private meeting of the Board by telephone.

    If Dr. Paul Twomey wants to make meaningful changes at ICANN, he could do a lot worse than stop the sort of behavior that leads to these sorts of railroad jobs. And if he doesn't the new Board should make him. You listening, Mr. Michael Palage?

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