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The ICANN Hunger Games

Adolescents were fascinated by the book and film called “Hunger Games”. The plot is about a government forcing people to watch, and forcing some to play, a cruel game for life and death.

ICANN’s own Hunger Games, the so-called “digital archery” or “batching” process, is not lethal to people, but shares all other features: it is forced upon the participants, it is destructive, unfair and unnecessary.

Most importantly, it is a travesty of governance. It is a disgrace for the “private-sector-led, bottom-up, multi-stakeholder process” that keeps talking about “accountability” and “transparency”. Is there any accountability? Only by avoiding anything to account for. Is there transparency? Only by being so transparent as to be invisible.

ICANN staff and the ICANN Board have been misled by three fallacies:

“No harm”. Digital archery appears innocent at first sight. It is not. It is harmful to all stakeholders, applicants and end-users at large—except to those who misuse the new gTLD process. A community-based, public-interest project delayed by another 2-4 years suffers great damage. A brand holder suffers damage if a direct competitor in the same industry sector gets two years lead time in deploying a TLD. This is even true for brand owners who do now yet know what to do with their TLD. It is enough for the competitor’s use of a TLD provides a competitive advantage.

“No alternative”. According to ICANN staff, it is impossible to evaluate much more than 500 applications at the time. This figure was announced as if it did not depend on what applications have been submitted. It is abundantly clear, even before the “great reveal”, that the majority of applications are for exclusive-use TLDs. Evaluating a TLD that does not pretend to serve anyone else than the applicant itself is less than a day’s work. So batching is unnecessary. A separate track for exclusive-use TLDs does the job. If a large number of third-party-use TLDs have been applied for, simple rules of priority suffice (applications with support from pubic authorities, community-based applications, IDN applications, throttling of bulk applicants).

“Not a lottery”. ICANN committed to avoiding a lottery. By pretending that the outcome depends on the applicant, ICANN believes that it has avoided randomness. But if the outcome depends on the applicant, a party with more to TLDs to test its archery skills will prevail over one with one or few TLDs. If on the other hand the process contains safeguards against this, these safeguards are necessarily based on randomness.

Digital archery cannot be the basis for public policy priorities. If it was, then governments and courts of law would be replaced by it. If ICANN does rely on it and evades its mandate, it not only ceases to have any purpose, it is itself harmful.

Many have been asking “is ICANN a casino?” The answer is no. Casinos do not force people to play.

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Very True! Fouad Bajwa  –  Jun 8, 2012 3:48 AM

Sorry to say, there is massive criticism of ICANN especially the way it is handling things and somehow the Digital Archery episode isn’t going to make it any better. You present a very good analogy of the situation Werner. ICANN is seemingly managing the new gtld application process as though its playing Russian Roulette both for itself and its applicants and stakeholders. I believe that there is much more to it than what meets the eye. There are some that want the process to be slowed down and the others that want to make a quick buck. It happens in every great game for that matter. However, the same folks that make that quick buck might end up at the receiving end of multi-million dollar lawsuits and I have feeling that might be soon so basically they will end up sleeping in the street. The current feeling around is that ICANN is leading the new gtld program towards a train wreck, first the TAS glitch and now this, it needs to fix its rail tracks quickly to avoid the upcoming blockade.

Feel free not to play The Famous Brett Watson  –  Jun 8, 2012 5:15 AM

Many have been asking “is ICANN a casino?” The answer is no. Casinos do not force people to play.

While I agree in general with your comments, I’m afraid that this last remark oversteps a rhetorical line. If you don’t like the game, feel free not to play. Seriously. Nobody is forcing you to be in the TLD game. It’s a casino with bizarre rules, and it’s the only game in town, as they say, but nobody has to play it.

Your whine is pressed from sour grapes.

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