NGOs to DoC: Rebid!
Date: Wednesday May 29 2002, @06:06AM
Topic: USA Goverment Relations
hfeld writes "The Media Access Project and a group of non-profit organizations are writing to the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to request a rebid of the ICANN contract. This comes on the heels of a similar resolution approved by a majority of those voting in the ICANN DNSO General Assembly.
[Update: coverage in the Washington Post.]
[Update(2): Internetnews.com coverage]"
Here's MAP's Press Release:
NON-PROFITS URGE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE: SELECT INTERNET ADDRESS MANAGER THROUGH OPEN COMPETITION
An unusually broad coalition of non-profits today called upon the Department of Commerce (DoC) to open to competition the process for selecting who will control the process of how Internet addresses are designed and assigned. Groups as diverse as the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, the more progressive Consumers Union, and free speech advocates such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, urged the Commerce Department to “re-compete” the three agreements under which the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the domain name system (DNS) – the system that matches domain names with the actual numerical addresses computers recognize. DoC’s agreements with ICANN will expire at the end of September.
The letter requests that rather than simply renewing the agreements or negotiating solely with ICANN, the DoC should solicit proposals from all qualified parties.
“Requiring ICANN to compete with others for the management of the domain name system will best serve the American people and the Internet community of the world,” said Harold Feld, Associate Director of the Media Access Project. “ICANN has been terribly unresponsive to the Internet community. That will change if they know they can be replaced.” Feld represents North American non-profits on ICANN’s “NamesCouncil,” a body that helps ICANN formulate policy.
In 1998, the DoC announced it would turn over the addressing system of the Internet to a private, not-for-profit organization that committed to managing the DNS in an open and transparent manner. After an open competition period, the DoC selected ICANN to manage the DNS.
ICANN’s control over the DNS gives it the ability to regulate the Internet. For example, ICANN has imposed a “Uniform Dispute Resolution Process”on those who register domain names. Under this system, a company that holds a trademark can take a domain name away from anyone if it proves to a panel of ICANN-approved arbitrators that the name holder registered the name “in bad faith.” Several studies have accused the ICANN-approved arbitrators of favoring large corporations over individuals or small businesses.
ICANN has faced fierce criticism from powerful members of Congress and from segments of the Internet community for its lack of accountability and its increasingly closed and autocratic nature. So great has been dissatisfaction with ICANN that ICANN President Stuart Lynn has himself declared ICANN a “failure” and, at an ICANN Board meeting in March, the ICANN Board voted to launch a process of internal reform.
“We hope the reform process will prove successful, and that ICANN will address its many problems with public accountability and responsiveness to the Internet community,” said Feld. “If ICANN can’t solve these problems, however, Commerce will need a ‘Plan B.’ This is too important for Commerce to accept a second-best solution.”
Contact: Harold Feld, Associate Director, Media Access Project, (202) 454-5684, firstname.lastname@example.org
And here's the text of the letter itself:
May 29, 2002
Nancy J. Victory
National Telecommunications and Information Administration
1401 Constitution Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Assistant Secretary Victory:
The non-profit civic, consumer, public advocacy, and policy organizations listed below
respectfully call upon the United States Department of Commerce (DoC) to re-compete the three
agreements (collectively "the MoU") under which the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the Domain Name System (DNS) when these agreements expire.
The history of United States telecommunications policy has proven time and again that
competition inevitably yields better results than top_down management. Requiring ICANN to compete
against qualified bidders will provide a strong incentive for ICANN to engage in a thorough housecleaning and become more genuinely responsive to the comments of stakeholders. It will also ensure that, if
ICANN cannot put its house in order, the Department will have alternatives. In this way, re-competing
the DNS management contracts will benefit the ICANN reform process, the American people, and
Internet users around the world.
Four years ago, the Department of Commerce embarked on an experiment to test whether public
resources could be managed by private parties. However well intentioned, and despite some efforts to
address the concerns raised in the initial competition for the management contracts in 1998 relating to
openness, transparency and accountability, there is general consensus that ICANN as currently constituted
cannot carry out the functions assigned it by DoC.
Indeed, ICANN President Stuart Lynn, in a widely published paper, proclaimed that ICANN has
failed in critical areas. ICANN has failed to gain the trust of the country code top level domain (ccTLD)
administrators and has lost the trust of many in the technical community.
Of particular concern is the fact that ICANN has deployed new top_level domains (TLDs) at a
snail's pace. This has stunted the opportunity for free and open expression on the Internet. At the one
meeting at which the ICANN Board approved new TLDs, it did not even consider the possible
opportunities for non-commercial and civic discourse. Nor has it generally considered, as part of its
overall policymaking, how its policies impact non-commercial and political speech.
Nor has ICANN complied with the transparency and accountability requirements of the MoU and
its 1998 by_laws. It has not created an Independent Review Board. Although ICANN promised to create
an At_Large membership that elects half the 18 member Board, ICANN abolished this provision of its
bylaws. In the one public election it permitted, ICANN retained four seats for its sitting unelected
representatives, reducing public representatives from a majority to a minority on the 18-member board.
Finally, ICANN's staff and executive committee routinely set policy in secret. Nor has it made
the details of its finances known, even to one of its own directors. As Representative Markey stated at
one Congressional oversight hearing: "We know more about how the Cardinals select a new Pope at the
Vatican than we do about ICANN's internal affairs."
ICANN has begun a process of internal reform. The signatories to this letter support this process
and intend to participate in it. Nevertheless, this does not change the need for DoC to take immediate
steps to announce that it will rebid the MoUs when they expire.
The signatories expect that ICANN will undertake strenuous efforts to reform itself. The
necessary reforms, however, may well prove painful, and ICANN staff and directors may find it difficult
to make the final decisions without the incentive of competition to compel consideration of alternatives
that limit the scope of ICANN's authority or impose suitable accountability mechanisms.
Furthermore, if ICANN cannot reform itself successfully, beginning now a process to re-compete
the DNS management agreements provides DoC with a suitable alternative or with public comment on
which to base new bidder requirements. Prudence would suggest that, while Commerce can hope for
success of ICANN's internal reform process, it must prepare for failure. Commerce's duty to the American
people requires Commerce to act with planning and forethought, rather than to accept, for lack of a better
alternative, whatever solution ICANN may propose.
Finally, ICANN's failures to date to fulfill its obligations under the existing agreements raise
doubts as to ICANN's ability to solve its own problems. ICANN's current problems stem largely from its
failure to work in an open and transparent manner. This has made it difficult for stakeholders to offer
solutions to ICANN's problems, discouraged stakeholder participation, and engendered mistrust. While
ICANN's Board and staff surely have worked with the best of intentions and to the best of their ability,
bad processes produce bad results.
The Department of Commerce has the authority, through the well proven method of competitive
bidding, to ensure a good process and a good result. It should seize the opportunity to do so quickly,
when it can do the greatest good.
Media Access Project
Technology and Liberty Program
American Civil Liberties Union
125 Broad St.
New York City, NY 10004_2400
Competitive Enterprise Institute
1001 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
P.O. Box 717
Palo Alto, CA 94302
Director of Research
Consumer Federation of America
1424 16th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Consumer Project on Technology
P.O. Box 19367
Washington, DC 20036
Internet and Telecommunications Counsel
1666 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC, 20009
The Convergence Center
Syracuse University School of Information Studies
Domain Name Rights Coalition
800 Nethercliffe Hall Drive
Great Falls, VA 22066
Electronic Privacy Information Center
1718 Connecticut Avenue
Washington, DC 20009
Electronic Frontier Foundation
454 Shotwell Street
San Francisco, CA 94110_1914
Public Assets Program
New America Foundation
1630 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20009
1875 Connecticut Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20009
United Church of Christ Office of Communication, Inc.
700 Prospect Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
[corrected copy re-submitted by MAP May 29, 15:15]
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Rebidding is only ONE option.
Surely ICANN should be a neutral non-profit organisation made up evenly representative of the Internet Community as a whole, ie run entirely by an 'At Large' membership, with perhaps only a committee of five to oversea policy and perform reviews of UDRP cases, etc.?
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