As discussed below, the Tralliance/TPC application for .travel fails to meet the criteria in the ICANN request for proposals, and the requirements of ICANN's bylaws, and ICANN's contractual commitments to the Department of Commerce with respect to:
- appropriateness of the sponsored TLD community;
- representativeness of the sponsor with respect to the sponsored TLD community and the interests of the public at large;
- openness and transparency; and
- level of support from the community.
The failure of the proposal to satisfy each of these standards is independently sufficient to require rejection of the application.
(1) APPROPRIATENESS OF THE SPONSORED TLD COMMUNITY
According to the RFP, "Applicants must demonstrate that their proposal categorizes a broad and lasting field of human, institutional, or social endeavor or activity." Travel is undoubtedly such a broad field of human activity.
But the proposal falsely conflates the travel industry with travel as a field of activity. That's a typical mistake for organizations representing industry, and evaluating all human activity solely from their own point of view, in terms of their commercial aspects. But to view travel (or any other activity in which people engage) purely in commercial terms, or to equate the interests of industry to those of all economic actors, excludes significant noneconomic aspects and realms of activity, perspectives, and economic actors other than industry. And the applicant's inability to imagine that others might see travel as other than an industry is indicative of the difficulty they, or the travel industry, are likely to have in representing travel interests other than those who see travel in industrial terms.
Travel is an activity engaged in by billions of people around the world -- far more than the numbers of people involved in the travel industry. Travellers such as myself were using the Internet extensively for travel related purposes, long before the travel industry was allowed to use the Internet.
Today, by far the most widespread use of the Internet related to travel, involving the largest number of Internet users, is the use of the Internet by individual travellers to share their travel stories, photographs, travelogues, and journals. From my research on the use of the Internet by travellers, I believe that there are far more noncommercial personal travel Web sites than there are travel industry Web sites.
The proposal gives only token acknowledgment or representation to the interests of travellers, and only in their role as consumers of travel services -- not in any of the aspects of life experience, personal growth and education, human interaction, or the myriad other roles which travel plays in our lives.
Even within the sphere of commercial travel activity, the proposal entirely excludes the interests and activities of the workers who provide travel services: the employees of the world's largest industry, who themselves constitute the world's single largest category of workers.
In short, the proposal would hijack a domain that properly, by the criteria in the RFP, should belong to all those with an interest in the subject and activity, and dedicate it to the exclusive use (and profit) of a small subset of that community of interest: those who control the production, distribution, and sale of commercial services related to that activity.
This is exactly the mistake that was made with ".aero", as became the subject of my reconsideration request to the ICANN board. I urge you not to make the same mistake again with ".travel".
(2) REPRESENTATIVENESS OF THE SPONSOR
When IATA originally applied to sponsor a ".travel" TLD, that application was, quite properly, passed over for approval by ICANN because of IATA's inability, as a trade association of airlines, to represent the diversity of the travel industry, much less the diversity of public interests in a ".travel" TLD.
IATA designed and created the TPC for the sole purpose of satisfying ICANN's objections to IATA's unrepresentativeness.
Unfortunately, IATA as an industry association was blind to noneconomic actors and interested parties. Even within the sphere of economic interests in travel, IATA and the applicants have only considered sellers of travel services, to the exclusion of the workers who actually provide those services and the travellers who purchase and use those services.
All of the current TPC board members, as listed in the application, represent providers and marketers of travel services. The application makes explicit that only members of the travel "industry" will be eligible for membership in the TPC or participation in ".travel" decision-making.
The application claims that eventually one of 25 members of the TPC Board of Directors might be elected by "Travel-Consumer Research Organizations", but there is no commitment to this -- the bylaws of the TPC could be changed by the current board before any consumer representative is ever elected. Any such representation is clearly tokenism, unlikely to have any meaningful impact on the outcome of TPC decision-making.
In any event, the TPC and its decision-making process, as described in the application, would totally exclude consumer advocacy organizations, travel trade and industrial unions and other organizations of and for travel workers, non-governmental organizations with interests in travel (such as those concerned with airport noise and pollution, social and environmental impacts of travel and tourism, etc.), and individual travellers or organizations representing travellers in any roles other than those of consumers of travel services.
Regardless of the definition of the sponsored TLD "community", the RFP requires that there be "defined mechanisms to ensure that approved policies are primarily in the interests of the Sponsored TLD Community and the public interest." There are absolutely no provisions whatsoever in the ".travel" proposal to ensure that ".travel" policies would be in the public interest, or any interests other than those of the travel industry.
The proposal makes an entirely unsupported suggestion that the travel industry will, through their control of ".travel", "relieve the frustration of consumers struggling in their quest to locate the greatest value". But if the goal were to enable consumers to identify those travel industry entities that best serve consumers, that credentialling should be done by an entity assured of complete independence from industry control, not one completely controlled by the industry it is supposed to police.
As a consumer advocate for travellers, and an expert on the difficulties facing travel consumers on the Internet, I believe the suggestion that the travel industry will advance the interests of travel consumers, even when consumers' interests are opposite to those of industry, should be dismissed out of hand.
(3) OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY
Article III, Section 1, of ICANN's bylaws requires that, "ICANN and its constituent bodies shall operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner and consistent with procedures designed to ensure fairness." [emphasis added]
ICANN's authority to delegate decision-making power, like that of any decision-making body, is limited by the limits on its own authority: ICANN cannot "delegate" decision-making power that ICANN itself does not, in the first place, possess.
This means that ICANN's power of delegation is limited, under ICANN's bylaws, to the delegation of authority to entities that, in exercising delegated authority, "operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner and consistent with procedures designed to ensure fairness."
While there are some provisions in the proposal suggesting that the TPC might make some provisions for a limited degree of openness and transparency, (A) the TPC's decision-making to date has been entirely closed and secret even to people such as myself, who are participants in the travel industry and have requested (but have not been given) notice of TPC meetings -- the TPC has never held a public meeting, calling into question the genuineness of its commitment to future openness, and (B) the proposal lacks any mention, much less commitment, to the "maximum extent feasible" clause of the ICANN openness and transparency requirement.
By delegating decision-making authority to the sponsor of an a TLD (or anyone else), ICANN explicitly creates an agency relationship in which the decision-maker acts as agent for ICANN (as principal) in the exercise of the delegated authority.
Under Article XIV of its ICANN bylaws, ICANN must "indemnify each of its agents", including "any other agent", for liability for their actions as an agent of ICANN. In other words, ICANN is required by its bylaws to assume complete liability for the actions of sTLD sponsors in their role as agents of ICANN exercising delegated decision-making authority, including liability for decisions made according to procedures which fail to satisfy the requirements of ICANN's bylaws for the "maximum extent possible" of openness, transparency, and fairness.
Given ICANN's liability for its exercise, the delegation of decision-making authority carries the highest degree of fiduciary responsibility for ICANN, and should only be done on the basis of explicit binding commitments to observe all the procedural requirements of ICANN's bylaws. Those commitments are utterly lacking from the Tralliance/TPC proposal. To approve the ".travel" application without a commitment to the "maximum extent feasible" clause of ICANN's transparency, openness, and fairness would be a violation of ICANN's bylaws as well its fiduciary responsibility.
The delegation of power to review the TLD sponsorship applications to an "independent" evaluation body is itself subject to the same restrictions on ICANN's power of delegation.
Accordingly, in the exercise of my rights under Article III, Section 1 of ICANN's bylaws, I request that, to the maximum extent feasible, I and other interested parties be permitted to observe the proceedings of the sTLD evaluators, specifically all discussions related to this ".travel" sponsorship application, and that we be given notice of the places and times of its meetings as soon as they are scheduled. Any purported decision made by ICANN on the basis of a secret evaluation will be legally void as not having been made in accordance with ICANN's bylaws, and any recommendation by ICANN based on such a process should properly be disregarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
(4) LEVEL OF SUPPORT FROM THE COMMUNITY
All these substantive and procedural defects in the Tralliance/TPC proposal would be unfortunate were there genuine community support for the proposal. ICANN's task, and its obligation to reject the proposal for each of the grounds listed above, is made considerably easier by the fact that there is negligible support for this proposal from anyone. Even within the Internet travel industry, which I have been covering extremely closely for years, virtually no one but the sponsors of this proposals themselves, and IATA as the real instigator of the proposal, really cares whether it is approved. And even IATA's own members appear to have minimal, if any, interest in or intent to make serious use of the ".travel" sTLD, if it is approved.
The RFP provides that, "A key requirement of a sTLD proposal is that it demonstrates broad-based support from the community it is intended to represent.... Applicants must demonstrate that there is: Evidence of broad-based support from the Sponsored TLD Community for the sTLD, for the Sponsoring Organization, and for the proposed policy-formulation process."
All these aspects of support for this proposal are lacking, as I discussed at http://hasbrouck.org/blog/archives/000082.html> .
To the extent that ICANN takes seriously its own claim that this is still part of a "proof-of-concept", it should try to learn from its experience with previous sTLD's.
The most comparable TLD to ".travel" was, of course, ".aero". "aero" is the only TLD limited to a specific industry, and it was proposed with the claim that it had the support of a major industry standards body and a wide variety of entities in the air transport industry, most if not all of whom would also be eligible to register ".travel" domains if the Tralliance/TPC proposal is approved.
Yet the claims made to ICANN about industry support for ".aero" have proven to be false. So far as I have been able to determine, no airline or entity other than SITA itself -- the sponsor of ".aero" -- uses or advertises a ".aero" domain as its primary Internet identity. In every case I have investigated, a ".aero" domain is used solely as a secondary alias that resolves to a ".com" or other gTLD or ccTLD name. "aero" has completely failed to achieve industry acceptance or provide value to anyone (aside from SITA's modest profits from ".aero" name sales).
So if the claims made to ICANN about demand for ".aero" by airlines and the air travel industry proved to be false, why should we, or ICANN, now believe the claims made on behalf of a group led by those same airlines when -- having made essentially no use of ".aero" in the two years since it was created -- they now say they need, and are eager to use, yet another TLD reserved exclusively for a heavily-overlapping industry category?
For all of these reasons, I urge your rejection of the Tralliance/TPC application for a ".travel" sTLD, and I look forward to receiving notice from you as soon as you have scheduled any meetings to evaluate this application.
author, "The Practical Nomad"
staff travel guru, Airtreks.com
background material and previous related submissions to ICANN: