sTLDs hoping to enter legacy root ICANN reveals ".travel" sponsor is a front
posted by michael on Monday April 04 2005, @06:50AM

ehasbrouck writes "As I've been reporting for several years , key staff of the Internet's governing body, ICANN, cut a secret deal at least as early as 2001 with the international airline cartel IATA to create and hand over to IATA's control a new Internet top level domain (TLD), ".travel".

The process of delivering on that back-room commitment has been prolonged and complicated, in part because ICANN itself was so obviously incapable of representing the interests of the diversity of people and organizations who use the Internet for travel-related purposes.

After ICANN was successfully pressured (mainly by travel agencies rather than consumer advocates or travellers) to pass over IATA's application in the first round of new TLD's, ICANN rewrote the specifications for the next round of applications to favor an application submitted by a series of front entities nominally independent of IATA, but in fact created to serve its interests, and run by some of the same people as had overseen IATA's own unsuccessful application.

When ICANN opened a public forum for comment on the new ".travel" application, I submitted my objections . I also included in my comments an explicit request, as an interested stakeholder and as the journalist who has been most closely covering the issue, for notice of any meetings held by ICANN or by "independent evaluators" chosen by ICANN to evaluate the ".travel" applications.

ICANN's bylaws require that "ICANN and its constituent bodies shall operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner." Obviously, the first essential step toward compliance with that mandate would be to provide notice, on request, of meetings, so that interested parties could determine what means might be available (such as Webcasting, auditing of telephone conference calls, or personal attendance at face-to-face meetings) to provide the "maximum extent feasible" of openness for those meetings.

But despite my explicit request I have never received any notice of any meetings by any ICANN body to consider the ".travel" applications, and no such notice has ever been posted, so far as i can tell, on the ICANN Web site.

On 3 March 2005, minutes of an ICANN Board of Directors "meeting" on 18 October 2004 were posted on the ICANN Web site.

This was not actually a valid meeting within the meaning of ICANN's bylaws, since it was conducted secretly by telephone, and it clearly would have been possible to permit observers to monitor the conference call at their own expense -- such a service costs no more than US$0.10 per minute -- or to Webcast it, but neither of these feasible mechanisms for a greater extent of openness and transparency was provided.

The minutes reveal that -- without notice even to myself or others who had specifically requested such notice, and who were thus prevented from making any attempt to determine what mechanisms for openness might have been feasible -- ICANN had actually (secretly) selected and appointed "independent evaluators" (identities still secret). These evaluators held (secret) meetings and prepared a (secret) report to ICANN. ICANN's Board of Directors and the applicants (it's not clear if this means Tralliance, the Travel Partnership Corporation, and/or IATA) received this report, but the public and interested stakeholders did not. The applicants submitted a (secret) response to the report, which was also provided to ICANN's Board but not to other stakeholders or the public."

"During the 18 October 2004 (closed) ICANN Board of Directors conference call, the Board "approved" a resolution (not posted for public comment 21 days in advance, and without notice in the agenda 7 days in advance that it would be considered, both of which are required by ICANN's bylaws) authorizing negotiation of an agreement with the ".travel" sponsorship applicant(s).

All this was only revealed with the posting of the minutes on 3 March 2005. By that timer the (secret) negotiations were probably already well under way, if not complete, since on 24 March 2005 a notice was posted on ICANN's web site that "ICANN has completed negotiations with the applicants for the .JOBS and .TRAVEL sponsored top-level domains. The .JOBS and .TRAVEL sponsored TLD registry agreements have been posted on the ICANN website and submitted to the ICANN Board for approval."

Only portions of the "proposed (by whom it was or is being proposed is not clear) agreement were actually posted: one of the posted portions incorporates by reference as its "Appendix A" an "agreement":: travel/proposed-travel-app-a-2apr05.pdf dated 24 February 2004 between the applicant to ICANN (Tralliance Corp.) and the Travel Partnership Corporation (TTPC), which describes itself as the "sponsor" of ".travel".

There are particular questions about who is really behind the application, and who will really control ".travel", because of the revelation on 17 November 2004, just after the initial (secret) October 2004 ICANN Board vote to authorize (secret) negotiations with Tralliance, that on 25 February 2003 Tralliance Corp. had (secretly) concluded an agreement for its sale to, contingent on ICANN approval of its application for ".travel".

In addition to the lateness of its disclosure, the TTPC-Tralliance agreement raises many more question than it answers.

In particular, it describes the TTPC as "successor to the International Air Transportation ("IATA") to submit an application to the Internet Corporatiuon for Assigned Names and Numbers ("ICANN") to sponsor ".travel" as a new Internet sTLD." Even more significantly, it says that:

IATA as per the memorandum entered into with Tralliance on October 22, 2002, has agreed to relinquish the prosecution of its pending application before ICANN for ".travel" to Tralliance, and thereby transferred to Tralliance the sole responsibility, among others, for (i) overseeing sponsorship of the TLD.

That 22 October 2002 "memorandum" between Tralliance and IATA still has not been made public by ICANN, TTPC, or any of the parties to the agreement. So far as had been known until now, IATA's application remained pending (not having been approved by ICANN, but neither having been rejected nor withdrawn) in parallel with the Tralliance/TPPC application.

Most importantly of all, what exactly was "transferred" by IATA to Tralliance pursuant to this (still secret) memorandum of understanding? ICANN had never officially or publicly granted IATA any rights or responsibility with respect to ".travel". The only responsibility IATA could possibly have transferred to Tralliance would have been the responsibility to act as IATA's proxy for continued pursuit of ICANN approval of ".travel". The only reason I can imagine for this is as a not-very-subtle signal to ICANN that IATA would consider approval by ICANN of the Tralliance/TPPC ".travel" sponsorship application as fulfilling ICANN's secret back-room promise to IATA.

If I have to guess about what is going on, and what has happened in these various meetings and negotiations between ICANN and the ".travel' applicants, that is solely ICANN's fault for having failed to give notice of these meetings or open them to observers to "the maximum extent feasible".

ICANN began its latest meeting yesterday -in Mar del Plata, Argentina -- the same day the Tralliance-TTPC agreement was released, revealing the existence of the still-secret IATA-Tralliance memorandum of understanding. The Board of Directors is scheduled to meet on Friday, 8 April 2005. None of the proposed ".travel' agreement was posted on the ICANN Web site until 24 March 2005, less than 21 days before the Board meeting. And no agenda at all has been posted for the board meeting as of today, less than seven days before it is scheduled.

By defining the current new sTLD application and approval process as part of an ongoing "proof of concept", ICANN has defined it explicitly as part of the process of developing a permanent TLD policy, and has thus made clear that it is subject to the requirement of ICANN's laws that proposed policy decisions be posted for 21 days of public comment before Board actions. And notice of all proposed Board actions must be given in a Board meeting agenda at least seven days in advance, unless ICANN can show that it was not yet known that the topic would be considered, or that it would not have been "practicable" to post the agenda that far in advance.

I still strongly suspect that ICANN nonetheless intends to give its putative "approval" on Friday in Mar del Plata to the Tralliance/TTPC/ application for ".travel", as the fulfillment of a years-old secret promise to IATA, and as the culmination of a years-long secret process of systematic, flagrant, and complete disregard, at every step of the way, for "the maximum extent feasible of openness and transparency" required by its own bylaws and by its contractual commitments to the USA Department of Commerce to formulate policy through a bottom-up consensus development process.

Any such "approval" would be legally null and void, subject to potential legal challenge (if any of those aggrieved, mainly the travelling public, could afford to mount such a challenge) and invalidation, and should properly be disregarded by the Dept. of Commerce (to whom ICANN can only make recommendations for the addition of new TLD's) and used by the DOC as the basis for revocation of its Memorandum of Understanding with ICANN for material breach of contract by ICANN.

If the ".travel" applications aren't rejected outright for fraud, they should be sent back for proper bottom-up consideration by travellers and other stakeholders, so that Tralliance, TTPC,, and IATA, and the relationships and agreements between all of them, can be subjected to public comment and scrutiny, to see if any consensus emerges as to whether any of them should be delegated authority over ".travel".

But given the momentum of IATA & Co.'s ".travel" juggernaut, I'm not holding my breath for any of that to happen."

NRC Discloses URL | "Sucks" Sites Don't Violate US Trademark Law  >

  ICANNWatch Login  


[ Don't have an account yet? Please create one. It's not required, but as a registered user you can customize the site, post comments with your name, and accumulate reputation points ("karma") that will make your comments more visible. ]

  Related Links  
· required
· notice
· ements/ travel/proposed-travel-app-a-2 apr05.pdf
· describes itself
· revelation
· meeting
· Mar del Plata
· ehasbrouck
· been reporting for several years
· secret deal
· process
· rewrote the specifications
· objections
· bylaws
· minutes
· More sTLDs hoping to enter legacy root stories
· Also by michael
ICANN reveals ".travel" sponsor is a front | Log in/Create an Account | Top | 6 comments | Search Discussion
Click this button to post a comment to this story
The options below will change how the comments display
Check box to change your default comment view
The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
I don't think there was a "secret deal"
by KarlAuerbach on Tuesday April 05 2005, @04:41PM (#14808)
User #3243 Info |
With regard to the assertion that there was a "secret deal at least as early as 2001" - I was on ICANN's Board of Directors in 2001. During my term I do not remember that there ever was any discussion of .travel during that time. Of course, ICANN does have its inner sanctum - the Executive Committee of the Board - to which I was not privy. Nor were the acts of "staff" particularly visible to the board.

In other words, what I am saying is that I don't think there was any such "secret deal" at the Board Level. Although I don't think it likely, in fact I consider it highly unlikely, I do not have any information to rule out conclusively any understanding by other elements of ICANN.

Nevertheless I had a general impression, based on more of a feeling than on concrete events and facts, that if any new TLD was going to be approved by ICANN, it would be .travel - In other words, although I could not point to it, I did have a sense that the skids for launching .travel were well lubricated.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]
  • 1 reply beneath your current threshold.

  • Search

    Privacy Policy: We will not knowingly give out your personal data -- other than identifying your postings in the way you direct by setting your configuration options -- without a court order. All logos and trademarks in this site are property of their respective owner. The comments are property of their posters, all the rest © 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 by ICANNWatch.Org. This web site was made with Slashcode, a web portal system written in perl. Slashcode is Free Software released under the GNU/GPL license.
    You can syndicate our headlines in .rdf, .rss, or .xml.