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NewTLDs : The Long and Winding Road

By Richard Henderson
October 23rd 2003


ICANN's expansion of the namespace, and introduction of newTLDs, has been criticised by some as arbitrary and by others as amateurish. With worldwide calls for many more top level domains - to break the supply bottleneck and give people more choice - ICANN have justified their slow expansion of names by claiming a testbed 'proof of concept' was needed first. The roll-out of new names must be subject to a careful Evaluation Process, they said. However, ICANN's approach to this Evaluation has been amateurish and lacking in openness at several key points.

Five Areas of Concern:

Firstly, they allowed an inordinate period of time to elapse between the launch of newTLDs in July 2001 and the start of a partial evaluation in May 2003. With the world waiting, they put everything 'on hold' for two years before the Evaluation even commenced. Secondly, they failed - and have still failed - to publish the Registry Evaluation Reports which were regarded as vital by ICANN's own task force. ICANN has been repeatedly asked to produce these reports but have failed to do so, making informed participation impossible. Thirdly, their appointment of Sebastien Bachollet to lead the Evaluation was carried out with no advertisement of the post, no invitation for rival applicants for this $300,000 contract, and no public announcement of his selection. Fourthly, there has been no public interface to allow informed participation with Mr. Bachollet, and no opportunity to work to an agenda and engage in dialogue with him. Fifthly, the Evaluation was supposed to be guided by a TEAC (TLDs Evaluation Advisory Committee) but there is no evidence of this TEAC on the ICANN website, no posts from it, no mailing list, no announcement of members or even of its existence - and yet the Board promised it would oversee the (invisible) Evaluation and publish quarterly reports.

The Evaluation Report itself is due for release this month (October). If it appears at all (it was originally due a year earlier) it will have been written without any public process during its period of compilation, and without any public access to the key Registry data. The New TLDs Evaluation Process has become an almost invisible private exercise, and yet it concerns a world resource and its development, and the process should be open to all.

Why the Evaluation Process became Embarrassing:

Although ICANN promised a thorough, open and detailed evaluation process - one where all participants could be involved and where objective facts could be investigated - the reality in experience has fallen far short of this. The ICANN Board and its staff have been extraordinarily unresponsive when potentially critical questions have been raised. Some correspondence from participants has gone 500 days without acknowledgement, despite constant reminders. ICANN has appeared to back off from open discussion and an open evaluation of the NewTLDs. You do not have to look far to see the grounds for ICANN's embarrassment…

These include… some of the problems with the Sunrise process for Trademark holders which descended into a farcical fiasco for Afilias and ICANN; problems with the landrush phase; legal challenges to the process; abuse of the ICANN agreements; critical weakness in the drafting of those agreements; failure of some Registries to live up to their marketing promises on which their applications were based; the gaming of the system by some registrars; the failure of ICANN to enforce agreements, which were ignored at will; the failure of ICANN to remove accreditation where fraud was found to have occurred; concerns over the objectivity of the selection of previous NewTLDs; concerns about the seemingly arbitrary restrictions on who may apply to operate the next TLDs; the failure of ICANN to respond openly to legitimate concerns raised by the community.

The most vocal and detailed source of critical analysis on the New TLDs launch was the Public Forum which ICANN had set up - two forums in fact, one named the New TLDs Forum, and then another called the New TLDs Evaluation Process forum. This became the focus for very detailed reporting of fraud, registrar abuse, ICANN inaction and the astonishing mishaps of the Afilias directors. It also picked up on the .biz problems, and the phenomenon of "short lists" used by some registrars to effectively queue jump in the round-robin processes. (For example, Signature Domains applied for no domains for the public in the .biz2B, but used its registrar status to submit a short list of about a dozen high-status names for a single Partner of the company, resulting in the acquisition of most of them before the public got their chance.) Characteristically, Stuart Lynn of ICANN dismissed the Forum as "a joke" which was a shocking marginalisation of a group of people who had conscientiously detailed the unfolding .info fiasco, bringing it to public attention before Afilias would acknowledge the scale of the problem. The BBC in the United Kingdom later reported on these people's work, but for ICANN it was just awkward and embarrassing data which needed to be sidelined. Some of the Forum's more disturbing findings have been aggregated on the IcannWatch site and can be found here. For those with the patience to read all the threads, a staggering catalogue of self-interest unfolds. The "joke" was ICANN for its pitiful handling of these fiascos, which largely resulted from the inept construction of its loose Agreements, and the failure to enforce anything upon a Registry and Registrar community on which it relied for most of its revenue.

Originally ICANN had good reason to use the Evaluation Process as a ploy for delaying New TLDs, as an increase of TLDs would have alarmed the IP constituency and Verisign, with whom ICANN has very close relationships. Latterly, the Evaluation Process became a potentially embarrassing expose of ICANN's inept and partisan actions, and there was every reason in the end for ICANN to downgrade the whole Process to a low-key in-house document with minimum interaction from potentially critical parties.

Background to the New TLDs Evaluation Process:

In the year 2000, seven new 'Top Level Domains' (.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro) were selected for introduction to the Internet namespace - to add choice to the already existing endings like .com, .net, and .org - and ICANN gave an undertaking that the expansion of the namespace would be carefully evaluated, to inform responsible decision-making which would effect the future of the Internet.

The New TLDs of the year 2000 were therefore designed as a 'proof-of-concept' testbed, which was to be followed by what was called a New TLDs Evaluation Process. This was an undertaking which ICANN gave to the Internet community - the assurance that a detailed and professional evaluation would be implemented, which would learn from the mistakes of the previous round of TLDs, which would inform future selection of TLDs, establish criteria by which future applications might be measured, and to provide accountability for the way the new TLDs were actually launched, seeing if their contracts and undertakings were adequate and actually adhered to.

"These seven new gTLDs were authorized as a 'proof of concept' to gain understanding of the practical and policy issues involved in such an undertaking" (wrote Stuart Lynn). The Evaluation was therefore central to the future extension of the namespace (and the possibility of introducing hundreds more TLDs to the internet). The Evaluation Process was not some optional and marginal extra, but a central methodology on which the future shape of the Domain Name System might depend.

Surely, the international community could expect a professional process of the very highest calibre, bearing in mind the huge social and economic significance of the Internet and its systems, and the billions of pounds generated through it.

The fact that ICANN, a tiny Californian quango with a reputation for croneyism, was charged with oversight of these matters… might have raised concerns from the outset. Such concerns appear to have been justified in the past two years as delay has followed delay, and the process has grown increasingly opaque.

The NTEPPTF Planning Committee and Report:

The New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF) was set up by ICANN in June 2001 to define how the Evaluation of the year 2000 TLDs should be carried out. The Task Force was not to carry out the Evaluation itself. It was to define "how" any future Evaluation could be carried out.

In Stockholm in June 2001, it was "Resolved [01.74], the Board directs the President to form and chair a New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force, for the purpose of recommending to the Board and the broader Internet community, by means of a report to be discussed at ICANN's Montevideo meeting in September 2001:

(a) a plan for monitoring the introduction of new TLDs and for evaluating their performance and their impact on the performance of the DNS. This assessment should focus in technical, business, and legal perspectives and *rely on data gathered as part of the contractual arrangements with the new TLDs* as well as other data inputs that can be readily secured; and

(b) a schedule on which a plan should be executed."

In the event, there was a 10-month delay (which would not have been regretted by ICANN's IP friends or Verisign but which was surely bad management, given the priority the task deserved).

Note that there was a stated reliance on data contractually required from the new Registries, which I have repeatedly complained has never been published or seen, even though it was available for publication (by Vint Cerf's own admission) 16 months ago, but Stuart Lynn claimed ICANN staff had not had time to ftp it to the website (that excuse is now over a year old). ICANN said on their website (see second response to Richard Henderson): "For staffing reasons we are behind on assembling these reports. We are now addressing this issue." Twelve months later it is still missing. This was symptomatic of the laissez-faire approach to the task, which would have been inexcusable in any normal walk of life, and which pointed to the autocratic and inept management at the heart of ICANN.

As the NTEPPTF's 'talks about talks' carried on, deadlines drifted by. Although their report was supposed to be dealt with by Montevideo in September 2001, it ran behind schedule (with an interim report only appearing in December 2001). The final report was not in fact accepted by the ICANN Board until its meeting of 23 August 2002 (over a year behind schedule). And bear in mind, that this was not even the beginning. As the Task Force said in its report: "It is important to re-emphasize that the Task Force was not chartered with conducting the actual evaluation itself, but rather developing a plan for the Board's considerations as to how such an evaluation should be conducted." So, after thirteen months, this was only a report on "how" the Evaluation Process might be carried out. The actual Evaluation had not yet even begun!

The final NTEPPTF Report can be viewed here:

A study of this report demonstrates the detail and scrutiny - a professional process - which was seen as necessary because of the worldwide significance of extending TLDs. With its final Report, the Task Force said its work was complete, but "members of the Task Force stand willing to assist in whatever way the Board considers to be appropriate if and when the Board proceeds with the evaluation".

The Lynn Action Plan:

At the meeting where the Report was accepted, on 23rd August 2002, Stuart Lynn - the ICANN President at the time - was tasked with presenting an 'Action Plan' on how "to proceed with NTEPPTF evaluation recommendations". This Action Plan was duly presented on 18th October 2002. A shorter powerpoint version was presented at the ICANN Meeting in Shanghai on 30th October 2002.

In it, Mr Lynn called for the implementation of the NTEPPTF report and added an enquiry into questions of taxonomy (how new TLDs might be ordered systematically)- as well as one further addition : notwithstanding that the Evaluation Process hadn't yet been set in motion, Stuart Lynn then presented the ICANN community with an action plan for proposed further New TLDs.

This Action Plan proposed to "extend" the proof of concept Evaluation Process (not yet set in motion) to "include up to 3 more sponsored TLDs". There was a continued commitment to an "evaluation of what has already been accomplished, to provide guidance for the future".

On the face of it, this addition of more TLDs might seem a positive step forward, but it needs to be interpreted in the context of huge worldwide demands for much broader expansion of possibly hundreds more TLDs; and the proposed additional TLDs were to be specialist (sponsored) TLDs for a handful of specialist communities. In reality, ICANN was changing the terms of its 'Proof of Concept' while warding off the calls for real expansion or significant rivals to Verisign's .com.

However, some participants in the ICANN community were criticising ICANN's laissez-faire approach to the Evaluation Process (which was now arguably holding up real and substantial development of the namespace). The delay and need for this Evaluation Process to commence was noted (for example) by the Business Constituency in its report in December 2002: "In late 2000, ICANN authorized as a proof of concept four new unsponsored names (dot biz, info, name, pro) and three sponsored names (museum, aero, co-op). The ICANN board has authorized an evaluation: this needs to move ahead with urgency." The At Large community of Internet Users was much more vocal and derisory (but their voice had been stifled with the arbitrary expulsion of elected User Directors from the ICANN Boardroom).

What the Action Plan undertook to Carry Out:

The actual plans for the Evaluation Process, recommended by the NTEPPTF and accepted for implementation by the ICANN Board, were the result of very detailed and painstaking work. The Task Force (recognising the great significance of the imminent Evaluation) proposed a wide range of questions (in categories Technical, Business, Legal, and Process) which should be explored and answered by the future Evaluation Team, and it also proposed a Monitoring Program. There was, the Task Force stated, "a considerable body of work" to be undertaken.

This was no lightweight undertaking.

The Report also listed questions which "must be addressed early and most importantly as a prerequisite to embarking on another round of proposals for new gTLDs." It identified 12 critical questions (C1 questions) which should have priority. These twelve C1 questions were isolated by Stuart Lynn in his Action Plan. These were to be the focus of an Evaluation Team which was to be hired to carry out what he termed the "Initial Evaluation Project". Lynn wrote: "I recommend that a limited RFP be issued to solicit an Evaluation Team or Teams. Bidders would be asked to state how they would address some or all of the twelve Questions at different levels of funding." The funding levels ranged from $200,000 to $350,000.

The appointed Evaluation Team was to be supported and guided by a TEAC (TLD Evaluation Team) which Lynn proposed should consist of the previous team which had made up the Task Force. The NTEPPTF which Lynn was implementing said: "The TEAC should be required to provide quarterly reports containing findings to date." (None of these appear to have been published.) Furthermore, Stuart Lynn stated in the Funding section of his Action Plan: "I propose that the Board authorize me, *proceeding with the guidance of the TEAC*, to solicit bids as outlined above to determine what can be accomplished at different levels of expenditure: $250,000, $300,000, $350,000." In the event, it is my belief that (a) the TEAC had not been convened when the contract was granted, and (b) that there was no soliciting of bids in the plural - rather, the granting of the contract to one member of the Task Force, which is about as 'inside' the process as you can get. If so, this was not how the selection had been presented to the Board.

In addition, the Action Plan undertook to immediately launch a Monitoring Program to monitor the ongoing progress of the NewTLDs - a Program which, frankly, should have been up and running from their very launch. $50,000 was to be allocated to implement this work.

Overall the Lynn Proposals undertook to meet the Board's commitment "to implement the Key Recommendations of the NTEPPTF Report" at a projected possible cost of $350,000 (over $2,000,000 had been raised from the 44 applicants for the previous NewTLDs).

Conflicts of Interest and the Need for an Independent Evaluation:

It is my contention that ICANN has sought to lower the profile of the Evaluation process. It has tried to carry out the Evaluation using 'inside' staff and a Task Force member who comes from 'inside' the ICANN process. The failure to recruit from outside, and guarantee a full and independent evaluation is, in my view, a serious mistake, if ICANN is to seek credibility in its future selection processes and the continued expansion of the namespace.

There are several areas where ICANN itself may 'have a case to answer' and without an independent enquiry, people will suspect a whitewash.

For example, the Task Force noted: "important issues have already come to the fore - particularly in connection with the implementation of 'sunrise' and 'landrush' domain name allocation methods". These were areas of huge controversy and mismanagement and the need for independent evaluation of these issues prior to further NewTLDs seems paramount, if exactly the same abuses of process are not to be repeated over again.

ICANN has appeared to try to avoid any dialogue at all on many of these disturbing issues, partly I suspect because it was ICANN itself who precipitated some of these through poor planning, and ICANN who presided over the .info mayhem without intervening in defence of Landrush customers who lost in the region of $2 million when the first .info Landrush was wrecked by the loopholes that allowed the Sunrise fraud. ICANN had - within its own Agreements - the power to intervene, but it declined to do so.

Another example where an independent evaluation is called for, is the abuse of registrar privilege that occurred in round-robin queues, where some registrars simply queue-jumped by submitting extremely short lists for themselves : this problem was flagged up by The Internet Challenge website during the .biz2B, and I asked Dan Halloran how the same problem could be avoided in .info Landrush 2. Dan Halloran failed to respond, and history did indeed repeat itself. ICANN just presided over the abuse of process not once, but a second time as well, having been warned in advance.

But to fully understand ICANN and its conflicts of interest (as well as the conflict of interest implicit in allowing ICANN to evaluate its own processes and actions) one has to understand too the close - and some would say partisan or incestuous - relationship between ICANN and the DNS supply industry… that community of registry and registrar operators who closely co-exist with ICANN, and on whom ICANN relies for the greater part of its income.

There are many very decent people in this industry, registrars who work hard to provide a service, and who treat their customers individually and with integrity. For example, Robert Connelly, the Afilias Director who could not stand idly by when he saw consumers being abandoned in the .info fiasco… he resigned from the Afilias Board in protest at what he called the "abomination" of that launch. I can personally testify to Robert's honest and very personal service, but it was a great shame that as part of the industry 'cover-up' at the time, he was marginalized by other Afilias personnel as a 'malcontent'.

Other registrars appear to see the DNS as something they can get a stranglehold on, and ICANN finds itself in the compromising position of being dependent on these registrars for the greater part of its revenue. There is therefore always the danger of decisions being influenced by industry insiders. They need ICANN but ICANN needs them : logic suggests that impartial decisions in the public interest may then be at risk.

Here is a good example of the symbiotic relationship that exists between ICANN and the DNS Supply industry (Registries and Registrars). In a post this month to the Registrars Mailing List, Jason Hendeles wrote as follows:

"I for one see no reason at this time to approve any increase in fees... It's time we send ICANN a clear message that we need new revenue opportunities in order to justify any increase in fees. The last time ICANN did anything positive for our constituency was when they authorized the creation of new domains for the registrars to market. That was almost 3 years ago... I think the registrars should take this opportunity to apply pressure to ICANN to open up the process for releasing new domain names... I think that we should reject any increase until something tangible is given back to our constituency.

Jason Hendeles

A Technology Company, Inc."

In other words, the belief that an objective way forward on extending the namespace for the public good can be compromised by applying financial pressure on ICANN, which is heavily dependent on the Registrar community for revenue. He seems to be calling for ICANN to be pressurised into decisions on the basis of a financial hold he seems to think the Registrars have over ICANN.

ICANN's selection of NewTLDs has attracted real concerns; ICANN's evaluation of the NewTLDs has appeared amateurish and unaccountable; ICANN's policy on further NewTLDs has seemed arbitrary; its restrictions on who can apply in the next round of gTLDs seems arbitrary and unreasonable.

How can we rely on ICANN to make decisions in the interests of the broader public if it is dependent for money on registrars like Mr Hendeles who see that dependency as a negotiating weapon for putting private profit first. ICANN is supposed to be Not-For-Profit and its decisions must reflect that. No-one will trust Icann as long as they have this dependent symbiotic relationship with Registries and Registrars.

At the very least, the Evaluation Process should be wholly independent of ICANN.

There were also a vast range of problems associated with the .info Sunrise (read the threads to be astonished), involving abuse of process by registrar members of the Afilias cartel itself - those registrars who had clubbed together to operate one of the new Registries - and by ICANN-accredited registrars who exploited loopholes in the process and submitted fraudulent details.

And yet, not one ICANN-accredited registrar was suspended. They pay ICANN's salaries.

The need for formal and detailed evaluation of the ICANN-Registry and Registry-Registrar Agreements, and of the Sunrise and Landrush processes in particular, seems essential if consumers are not to suffer huge loss and inconvenience all over again. Furthermore, this evaluation should involve public participation, because of ICANN's own compromised role in this affair, and its tendency to acquiesce in the abuse of their own processes by parties upon whom ICANN relies for its revenue.

The case for an independent body to carry out the Evaluation - and the case for this task to be put out to tender rather than being handed in private to an insider (however respected) - was overwhelming, given the public outcry and concerns, the refusal of ICANN to engage in dialogue over many of the problems, and the fact that this is a worldwide resource impacting on the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Put simply, there are too many conflicts of interest.

In contrast, ICANN during this period was closing down its contacts with the ordinary internet users of the world, expelling the elected representatives of internet users from its Boardroom in what it described as a 'Reform' process, though it was effectively a coup which safeguarded the remaining ICANN Board from the most independent constituency it faced - the internet users constituency, called the 'At Large'.

And it has appeared to suppress some of the most central data in the Evaluation Process.

Acknowledging the pressure for further New TLDs, the Task Force stated: "The potential for moving ahead faster does emphasize *the importance for starting to gather data as soon as possible*. Appendix U (for unsponsored gTLDs) and Attachment 21 (for sponsored gTLDs) of the various agreements establishes requirements on the new registries for acquiring certain data. It is important that ICANN monitor the new gTLDs to ensure that the data is indeed being collected as provided for in the agreements."

Under Appendix U of the ICANN-Registry Agreements, the Registries were obliged to submit highly detailed information for the Evaluation Process, in the form of Registry Evaluation Reports, which were mandatory and for the most part to made available (as the Task Force indicated) for public scrutiny. Without this key data, it has been impossible for constituencies to participate in an informed manner. The suppression of these Evaluation reports has been inexplicable.

I have repeatedly asked for the Appendix U data from the Registries to be published and made available for informed judgements, and my requests have to date been swept aside. I first asked in April 2002. I asked again in the Summer of 2002. And again a year ago when ICANN responded that they had been too busy to upload the data up onto the website (!) but that "We are now addressing this issue". I asked again in mid-winter 2002, again in the Spring of 2003, and in May of 2003 I put the case to the new President Paul Twomey… 5 months later he hasn't even acknowledged my mail… Is it so unreasonable to be asking: Where are the Registry Evaluation Reports? Why does it take so long for them to be ftp'd to the ICANN website, when they were due 12 to 18 months ago? Does this qualify as "amateurish" or is it deliberate?

This "first source" of data is given high importance by the Task Force in its Final Report: "To the extent that data obtained from the first of these sources is not confidential, every effort should be made to publish it to encourage other studies to occur."

Why has *NO* effort been made to publish this critical Appendix U data from the Registries?

Throughout the launch phase of the New TLDs I believe that ICANN's conduct has been compromised and unsatisfactory. There were arguably conflicts of interest in the original selection of registry operators - I question, for example, the close links of Ken Stubbs with ICANN, and the success of Afilias's bid in the face of 43 other applicants (the criteria for selection only became fully apparent after selection was made, which could have favoured insiders). There was in addition a fundamental conflict of interest in a cartel of registrars operating both the Registry and their own registrar businesses… the temptation to bend or break rules (and for Afilias to let it happen) was clearly too great for some. There was a conflict of interest for ICANN when it might have intervened to protect the consumer, because hurting registrar interests would have been hurting those who effectively pay the salaries and keep ICANN going. There exist continuing conflicts of interest which call into question ICANN's MoU with the US government to guarantee "the fair distribution" of the DNS.

For all these reasons, and more - because others will point to their own areas of concern - it was essential that the soliciting of bids to carry out the Evaluation Process was seen to be open, and that the Evaluation itself was clearly independent and exterior to ICANN.

Exactly the opposite seems to have happened.

The Appointment of Sebastien Bachollet to Head the Evaluation Process:

To carry through the New TLDs Evaluation Process, the Board (in accepting the recommendations of NTEPPTF) undertook to "solicit bids for an Evaluation Team" who could investigate the key questions and produce an informed report. It also undertook "to create an ICANN committee (which we designate for convenience the TLD Evaluation Advisory Committee or TEAC) which should be appointed to provide overall coordination and guidance to the Evaluation Team". This TEAC was supposed to guide the actual bidding process.

In the event, ICANN made a private selection of ONE individual, and I can find no trace of the much-needed TEAC. It looks much more like ICANN choosing to generate an Evaluation report "behind closed doors".

A Time Schedule was set out by NTEPPTF for the implementation of the New TLDs Evaluation Process. The Evaluation Team was to be selected, and a contract issued, by Oct/Nov 2002. High Priority issues would be reported back on by February 2003.

In the event, nothing was seen or heard until June 2003, when, stuffed away on the Business Constituency newsletter, I found this reference:

"BC member Sebastien Bachollet has accepted a 6 month contract with ICANN to oversee the evolution of the "proof of concept" round of gTLDs. Evaluation is currently underway and we look forward to Sebastien's report."

I find it very strange that ICANN has not published an announcement about this contract on its own website. Furthermore, this contract was originally to have been put out to tender, and the selection process was to be supported by a TEAC. Did such a TEAC (as the Board undertook to create when it adopted the NTEPPTF report) even exist when Mr Bachollet was selected? To what extent does the TEAC exist now? Where is its mailing list? Where are its workings?

There is no sign at all (at 20th Oct 2003) of the agenda or workings of the New TLDs Evaluation Process under Sebastien Bachollet on the ICANN website. It is as if the public have been left outside and the doors shut. There is no openness and transparency in the process. No interface. No means of interaction in the formulation of the report. No updates. No explanations. Nothing.

The only thing I could find - and I found it using Google, it appears to be a standalone page, not actually navigable from the ICANN site - is a page by Sebastien where he has cut and paste the critical questions and promised a report by October. He sets out a 3-month working period to carry out this critical report.

My concern is that the scope and detail of the Evaluation Process proposed by the NTEPPTaskForce seems to have been watered down to a 6 month (or rather now a 3 month) investigation by a member of the original Task Force team.

What was desperately needed, after the difficulties of the previous TLDs, was a detailed and objective investigation which pulled no punches, and in which all constituencies could publicly participate, with full access to information, and an interface for comments on each step of a clearly-defined agenda.

This simply has not happened. After waiting 2 years, the ICANN community and the public will be presented with a report compiled in about 10 weeks, without any public interface, without opportunities for dialogue, contribution and exchange of ideas. Comments will probably be invited, but the outcome of 2 years of waiting will probably be a dilution of the original 'Proof of Concept' and an evaluation that is so high-level, that the detail and scrutiny which demonstrate ICANN's craven record will probably be overlooked… we shall see.

Concluding Statements and Questions:

Statement A: Stuart Lynn agreed to the NTEPPTF recommendation that bids should be solicited for a contract for an Evaluation Team.

Question 1: Was this contract open to others, was it advertised, and were bids sought from professionals outside ICANN's own community?

Question 2: Were there any other bidders, and if not, why not? Should this key post have been publicly advertised?

Question 3: Who actually assessed Sebastien Bachollet's bid, and made the decision to hire him? Did the Board formally approve Sebastien's contract?

Question 4: Where on the ICANN website was Sebastien's appointment announced?

Statement B: Up to $350,000 was allocated for the Evaluation, including the Monitoring Project. The Action Plan said that bidders offering to provide this service were to state how they would address the key critical questions, at funding levels of $250,000, $300,000, and $350,000.

Question 5: Did Sebastien Bachollet submit this statement, and detail what ICANN would get for its money at different funding levels, in a formal application process?

Question 6: Out of the $2million dollars raised from the 44 newTLD applicants, how much has ICANN decided to budget to finance the 'Evaluation Project' under Sebastien Bachollet?

Statement C: The Action Plan designated $50,000 to launch a monitoring program, and on 18th October 2002, Stuart Lynn said ICANN "is in the process of recruiting" onto the staff a NewgTLD Planning and Evaluation Co-ordinator.

Question 7: Has this appointment been made and who is it?

Question 8: Will the co-ordinator answer the questions I am raising, and the ones I posed 500 days ago to Dan Halloran concerning the NewTLD launch period?

Question 9: Was that $50,000 as well as, or part of, the $350,000 budgeted "for the Evaluation, including the Monitoring Project"? Was the $50,000 a kick-start prior to the $350,000 expressed in Lynn's Action Plan?

Statement D: The Plan, which the Board agreed must be implemented, states that it will follow the methodologies specified in the NTEPPTF report, which the Board also adopted. These include the publication of the Registry Evaluation Reports, mandatorily required under Appendix U of the ICANN-Registry Agreements. I have repeatedly asked for these central documents to be made available so that people can participate in an informed manner, and a year ago ICANN said "We are now addressing this issue" (Amsterdam Meeting Topic on NewTLD Action Plan). They are still being withheld, 18 months after they should have been available.

Question 10: Why have these reports not been put on the ICANN website, 18 months after they were available?

Question 11: Why, a year after ICANN said "We are now addressing this issue", are they still not up on the website?

Question 12: Why, when I asked this fair and reasonable question to Paul Twomey 5 months ago, has he not even acknowledged my letter? Does he consider this responsive?

Statement E: Stuart Lynn was instructed by the Board to set up a TEAC (TLD Evaluation Advisory Committee) to oversee the soliciting of bids for the Evaluation contract, to guide the Evaluation Project, and it was (in line with the NTEPPTF Report) to publish reports: "The TEAC should be required to provide quarterly reports containing findings to date."

Question 13: When was the TEAC formally set up, was it announced online, is there a mailing list, and who are its members?

Question 14: Why is there no trace of the TEAC on the ICANN website, and where are its quarterly reports?

Question 15: How is the public or any constituency meant to interact with the TEAC if there is no information about it?

Statement F: Very serious concerns arose over the abuse of process, and the failure of agreements, during the Sunrise and Landrush phases of the .info and .biz launches. The NTEPPTF agreed that these problems needed addressing and singled them out for mention. These concerns were raised - with specific questions - to Dan Halloran (in his capacity as ICANN-Registrar liaison executive) in the Spring of 2002 (and several times subsequently). Over 500 days later he has never even acknowledged the mail. The Evaluation Process must address these problems, or they may be repeated again in the future.

Question 16: If the Evaluation Process needs to analyse the problems that arose at Sunrise and Landrush - and the NTEPPTF report says it does - will individuals like myself be able to participate in the evaluation, ask and answer questions with Sebastien Bachollet, and raise the issues which ICANN itself has refused to answer?

Question 17: How can people interact with Sebastien while he is formulating his opinions and compiling his report, if he offers no agenda and if there is no interface to do so?

Question 18: Was it professional for Dan Halloran to ignore (over 500 days) questions of sincere concern, which impact on past and future TLDs and the conduct of registrars in relation to ICANN's agreements?

Question 19: Will Dan Halloran, or the NewTLD Planning and Evaluation Co-ordinator, now answer my questions?

Question 20: How detailed will Sebastien's investigation be? (For example will it draw on the mass of data and evidence which has accumulated on the ICANN NewTLD Forums and the ICANNWatch website, concerning abuse of process and registrar fraud, Sunrise and Landrush problems etc.)

Statement G: There is no interface with the work of Sebastien Bachollet, the Evaluation Project, or the TEAC. Nor is there any published detail of Sebastien Bachollet's agenda, his working process, or opportunities to participate and interact with him, during the period when he is formulating his ideas, drawing his conclusions, or compiling his report.

Question 21: Why is there no published detail of his appointment, his work or his agenda? Why has the Process been made so inaccessible and invisible to public scrutiny, support and involvement?

Question 22: He is meant to be working with the TEAC. Is there a mailing list? Are they working with documents which the rest of us can see, and offer input to?

Question 23: The 12 critical questions may well merit input from all constituencies and the general public, whose contributions might usefully inform Sebastien's conclusions and recommendations. How can we all work together on the NewTLD Evaluation Process if most people are locked out of it?

Statement H: The Internet is now a multi-billion pound enterprise, essential throughout the world for commerce, for health, for education, for communities. It has huge social and economic implications.

Question 24: Is it realistic that the governance of an enterprise on this scale should be financially so constrained, that its processes are delayed and scaled down, because of lack of adequate staff and funding? Isn't it time for USG or other governments to upgrade this small Californian quango, and open up its management and methods?

Question 25: Does the handling of the New TLDs Evaluation Process demonstrate a small amateurish set up, which seems incapable of operating professionally on the world stage, and safeguarding this vital world resource? Given the scale and proportions of the Internet, couldn't they have done better and sought out more than one candidate to evaluate their product, and shouldn't they have been subjected to an independent process run from outside their own committees and separate from their own staff?

Question 26: Given the sum of $2million raised from the 44 applications for the previous TLDs, could the public have expected better value for money, better written agreements, and better results?

And Finally:

With just eight days of Sebastien's contract to run (the deadline set for his report) I have not been able to find a single mention of his work anywhere on ICANN's website.

I am concerned that all we might get is an "in-house" process which lacks sufficient detail and objectivity.

Hard questions need to be asked and these have been evaded by ICANN all the way down the line.

It is usually not ICANN but independent participants who ask the honest and awkward questions. What guarantee do we have that this "in-house" process will encourage a truly objective Evaluation, which remains independent of ICANN interference? And learns lessons for next time?

What have we learned about Sunrise, about Landrush, about abuse of process, about implementation and enforcement of agreements, about registrars who game the system to warehouse names for themselves, about proposed marketing budgets which evaporate into thin air?

What I think we're likely to get is a Lite-version, which pays mere lip service to the "Proof of Concept", because it will suit ICANN to exhume as few skeletons as possible.

What will be best for ICANN is a cheap, quick, lightweight, in-house report, which gives the appearance of an investigation, but is got out of the way as quietly as possible... quietly, as Sebastien was appointed...

Initially, the Evaluation Process seemed like a good pretext for delaying further TLDs. But in the end, it simply became an embarrassment, and ICANN has hidden it away and kept public participation to a minimum. They will invite comments, then they will move on.

The long and winding road, New TLDs just over the next horizon, one day, one day we'll have them!