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Subject: IP: Salon articleon ICANN and Dyson

  • From: Dave Farber <dave@farber.net>
  • To: ip-sub-1@majordomo.pobox.com, ip-sub-1@majordomo.pobox.com
  • Date: Sat, 27 Jul 2002 09:25:05 -0400


-----Original Message-----
From: "Esther Dyson"<edyson@edventure.com>
Sent: 7/27/02 8:57:07 AM
To: "farber@cis.upenn.edu"<farber@cis.upenn.edu>
Subject: Salon piece

Esther Dyson defends ICANN
The founding chairwoman of the Internet's governing institution explains 
why we have to work with what we've got, even if it isn't perfect.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Farhad Manjoo

July 25, 2002 | As the founding chair of ICANN, Esther Dyson has enjoyed 
one of the better vantage points from which to view the near constant 
controversy that has embroiled the governing institution of the Internet 
since its inception.
ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is an 
international organization entrusted, originally by the U.S. Department of 
Commerce, with the job of overseeing the allocation of Internet domain 
names. Critics of ICANN argue that it is overly secretive, beholden only to 
itself, and far too willing to allow corporate trademark holders to stake 
their own intellectual property claims in cyberspace at the expense of 
everyone else. Critics are also alarmed at ICANN's resistance to allowing 
the direct election of board members by the general population.
On July 2, Salon published an interview with John Gilmore, a software 
entrepreneur and longtime Internet visionary, that called for the outright 
abolition of ICANN. Gilmore is also helping to fund a lawsuit by Karl 
Auerbach, a popularly elected ICANN board member, that is demanding access 
to ICANN's financial books.
In response to the Gilmore interview, Salon received an angry letter from 
ICANN's chief counsel, Joe Sims, and was also approached by Esther Dyson, 
who sought an opportunity to explain some of the "nuances" of ICANN's 
operations.

What's your current involvement in ICANN?
My current involvement is after I stopped being chairman they created 
something called the At Large Study Committee, and I was invited to join 
that, but I wasn't chairman of it. It was chaired by Carl Bildt, who's the 
former prime minister of Sweden. Part of the issue is that the At Large 
program gets ... its strongest voices from Americans. And in a group like 
ICANN, Americans are insiders -- so it was important that the chairman not 
be another American.
One of the biggest issues is voting for board members. And let's get real. 
The ICANN board at this point, right or wrong, is simply not going to 
accept that. Which to my mind is unfortunate because we have elected At 
Large board members and they're by and large reasonable people -- other 
than Karl Auerbach -- who unfortunately has some good proposals and it's 
counterproductive how he goes around trying to achieve that.
Why do you think it's such a non-starter to have elected members?
I do not agree with that but that's the board's position. ICANN exists. 
It's got a contract with the U.S. government. And you can disagree with 
them violently and say I don't want to have anything to do with them, or 
you can say, as I do, hey, I want to change this thing and I want to fix 
it. And I accept the reality that I'm not going to ask for the impossible, 
but I'm going to try to do two things. I want to change the attitudes of 
the ICANN board and help foster an At Large organization that will help 
them to change their minds because it turns out to be a reasonable and 
constructive organization that provides useful input. At Large users have a 
role in the governance of ICANN. But the question is how to make that 
constructive rather than incoherent, and how to get ICANN to listen.

So if not elections, what other method is there to get the public involved 
in ICANN?
Well, the long-term goal is elections, but it's not the near-term 
mechanism. Let's get real. I can't think of anything better than elections. 
You've got structures that make elections real, and one argument against 
them is -- I've heard from members who say "In my country we've had too 
many elections where you just go out and round up a few hundred thousand 
peasants and you pay them and get votes." And that's what the ICANN board 
in part is scared of.
Alt Text
First you have to understand there's two parts to this. There's elections 
of board members and then there's input into the policies, which I think in 
some ways is more important. When people sit down and they try to figure 
out rules for how the [domain name] registrars should operate, let's have 
some users sitting at the table saying what works, pointing out the problem.

But do you have that now? One of the criticisms of ICANN is that you don't.

No. Not effectively. Absolutely not. No. I mean, I'm not saying this is 
good. I'm saying I want to get inside and help it to change. But what 
you've got now is a stalemate where nobody wants to compromise. And my hope 
is that the Department of Commerce is going to force something of a 
compromise, by saying that we either will or will not renew your Memo of 
Understanding [a document establishing ICANN's institutional legitimacy].
But why should the Department of Commerce renew the memo? Why do we need 
ICANN?
We need ICANN to be exactly what it is -- in part. We don't need a big 
ICANN. It should be the place where you settle policy questions that need 
to be settled globally. Many policy questions don't need to be settled 
globally. As far as I'm concerned "dot-name" should have different rules 
from "dot-com" and I don't see that as a problem. So there are many policy 
areas in which I don't agree with how ICANN works. And one of them is 
simply the less power it has the better, but it needs enough power to 
resolve conflicts that do need to be resolved. And therefore it needs to 
have all the important players to be not forced in but seduced in by an 
attitude that says: Come join ICANN because this is the place that we 
compromise on policy.
You know, there are some things that need to be consistent, not very many. 
The problem is right now is ICANN's contracts for the top level domain 
names [.com, .org. etc.] are way too long. You measure them in thickness 
rather than length. There's too many specific rules. At the same time there 
are probably places where they should come together. They need to figure 
out what should be done with the WHOIS [database of information as to what 
Internet names and numbers are assigned to individual users] -- how that 
should be managed. They need to decide rules for each data element. It's 
not that there should be no rules. There should be a minimum.

One of the things that John Gilmore says is that we don't have to have a 
small number of top-level domains. We should have dozens or hundreds or 
thousands.
If people are redesigning the system from the start you'd probably do it 
entirely differently. But why could God build the world in only seven days, 
you know? Because he had no legacy systems.
Let's face it, you've got legacy systems. You may think they're immoral -- 
I don't, but you may. There are people who have trademarks and copyrights. 
Verisign has a very lucrative contract with the U.S. government. But the 
nice thing about the U.S. is you can enforce these contracts.
At some point you should interview Bob Frankston on this. One of the 
problems with the domain name system is that you've got identifiers mixed 
up with names. Your American Express number is an identifier, whereas a 
name has market value, it has connotations, etc. And they should have had a 
system of unique identifiers that were not names and everything would have 
been 10 times simpler. And Frankston says let's create a new top level 
domain that's strictly numbers and then let's gradually move as many people 
over to it as we can, and then let's have different systems -- things like 
RealNames -- that simply point to the unique identifiers. And then you 
don't need to have this globally consistent naming system.
But unfortunately we've got it. In the long run you could create thousands 
of top level domain names, but you'd end up with the same issues. As long 
as you have names you're going to have scarcity, and artificial scarcity. 
ICANN should create a whole lot more top level domains and take the 
artificial scarcity out of the market. But you do want a global system with 
a unique root that is kept consistent.

Let's talk about Karl Auerbach. He's a board member but he says that he's 
never been allowed to see the financials, and now he's suing to see them. 
And he's taken a populist argument, saying it's something the public should 
see, or that it's something that ICANN is afraid of having the public see. 
What's your feeling on this?
I probably should be very careful not to get messed up in a lawsuit. It's 
very unfortunate, and I would say both sides are to blame that Karl 
Auerbach cannot get along with them. The board despises him, and they won't 
listen to his good ideas, and he has some. And so he's not productive. Look 
at me. The American at-large community despises me but I think I'm doing 
more good for At Large by working with ICANN than I would if I were out 
there simply criticizing them, not trying to improve them.
Do you think that the lawsuit will take some of the secrecy out of ICANN?
Well -- I was chairman. I don't think anybody's getting rich out of ICANN. 
The directors are volunteers, which I'm not sure is a good idea. You look 
at the entire budget, and there simply isn't a lot of money there to steal.
So why not release the numbers?
Because as I said both sides are unhelpful. I don't think ICANN has 
anything to hide and they should have just opened up the books. Big deal. 
There's nothing in there. They're standing on a principle which I don't 
think is worth defending. At the same time I think Karl should just sign 
[the non-disclosure agreement] and take a look. But instead he wanted to 
make a big fuss and do a lawsuit.
Let's get real. In the scheme of things, the amount of money involved here 
is kind of piddling. A lot of people that talk about this think a million 
dollars is a big deal. But look at WorldCom -- there are better places to 
spend your time if you're just looking for misuses of money.
You've said that ICANN needs more resources. What does it need? And do you 
think it's going to get them?
If they sort it out it will. It doesn't need a huge amount -- but take this 
thing about transparency: The real reason ICANN got such a bad reputation 
for transparency is because they had closed board meetings, which was a 
mistake. It's still dealing with that legacy. But the fact is it's hard to 
get an answer from them. And the reason is they don't have anyone to write 
e-mails to the people who ask questions. Ask any P.R. guy. It takes 
resources. It's one thing to have everything on your site that nobody can 
understand because it's all written by lawyers, and it's another to have 
people answer your questions. Unfortunately, yes it requires resources. 
It's not simply a matter of saying we're going to be responsive. It takes 
people and money. The problem is people aren't willing to fund it because 
they don't see it working effectively. The moment they see it working 
effectively, they'll fund it.

salon.com
- - - - - - - - - - - -
About the writer
Farhad Manjoo is a staff writer for Salon Technology & Business. Sound Off
Send us a Letter to the Editor Related stories
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John Gilmore, original "cypherpunk" and all-around Internet supergeek, 
explains why the organization that runs the Internet is broken.
By Damien Cave
07/02/02 The end of the revolution
"Ruling the Root" documents the sorry tale of how the Internet was brought 
to heel.
By Andrew Leonard
06/14/02 Tilting at ICANN
Karl Auerbach, elected to the Internet domain-name authority with a mandate 
from the people, explains why he is suing his own organization.
By Damien Cave
03/19/02




Esther Dyson                    Always make new mistakes!
chairman, EDventure Holdings
writer, Release 3.0 (on Website below)
edyson@edventure.com
1 (212) 924-8800    --   fax  1 (212) 924-0240
104 Fifth Avenue (between 15th and 16th Streets; 20th floor)
New York, NY 10011 USA
http://www.edventure.com

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