The global organisation that co-ordinates Internet domain names, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), copped it all last week, from being accused of partiality to protect monopolies to ignoring public opinion and running a sloppy operation.
At the quarterly ICANN conference in Melbourne recently, the hot discussions revolved around the amendment of domain-name registry Versign's contract to monopolise dot-com sales. Verisign, previously Network Solutions, was due to relinquish its hold on the dot-com space in May by giving up either the wholesale or resale business. A revised proposal submitted to ICANN will allow it to retain both. In return, Verisign will surrender .org in 2002 and .net in 2004 while reserving the right to make a competitive bid on the latter.
Anti-Verisign parties feel that if ICANN consents to the revised proposal, it will freeze out competition in the domain space. On the flipside, James Ross, vice president of The .tv Corporation, feels that Verisign suffers from the "Microsoft syndrome".
"Because of their size people feel that whatever they do must be bad, regardless of what it is. The reaction is more of a knee-jerk at this stage, I haven't heard any compelling arguments against Verisign," he says.
ICANN has put off making its final ruling for a few weeks and is inviting public comment in the meantime. However, the move is seen by many as a ploy to allow Verisign to use its sway behind closed doors.
The other debate particularly centric to Australia is the relationship and relative powers of ICANN, country-code registries and governments. The barring of domain registry Dot CX from commercially selling the Christmas Island country code (.cx) was tabled as an example of a government overstepping its power-of-veto. How ICANN proposes to deal with this, however, remains a thorny issue because its own role is seen as managing rather than controlling.
"ICANN is serving a useful co-ordinating function. It's clear that it has no regulatory authority and it shouldn't go there," says Ross. At the same time, he says there are many "conspiracy theorists" who feel ICANN is struggling to remain neutral. Questions are being raised as to the lack of reseller representation among the 19 ICANN board members. "There's a feeling that decisions are being made without the full scope of opinion from parties that generate 40-60 per cent of ICANN's revenue," says RossThe botched introduction of new top-level domain names also caused a stir at the conference. Seven additional domains were selected in what was seen as a rather harried process last year. The contracts have not yet been finalised and five appeals are pending, with claims that ICANN was overwhelmed by the amount of applications and eliminated vital stages of the selection process. "In the end it was a very cursory decision that was made," says Ross, whose firm also lodged an appeal.