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Fadi’s .ORG Fracasso

The stakeholder community needs to get with the program and assert itself now—if it still can.

The recent attempts by the Internet Society (ISOC) to wrap itself in the halo of Jon Postel’s “original intent” for .org is specious and laughable. As I’ve previously published, Postel also didn’t like how big the top-level domains were getting and suggested, in 1993, that top-level domains should be capped at 10,000 names and that further zone growth should happen at the second- and third-levels (similar to how the UK has .uk and then .com.uk, for example).

Postel would have been appalled at a zone with 10 million names in it and even further appalled that a private equity firm was acquiring ANY registry—he didn’t want the money associated with domain names to become a corrupting factor at the Internet’s core.

At the risk of being pedantic, it might be worth pointing out that the Internet’s core is comprised of three components: naming, addressing, and protocols and which are each administered, respectively, by registry operators, regional Internet registries, and the Internet Engineering Task Force. The first two are self-funding—registry operators sell domain names, and RIRs allocate blocks of IP addresses, which aren’t expensive, but they aren’t free. The IETF receives its funding from contributions/corporate support, and the rest of its financial resources are provided by ISOC.

From ISOC’s About page on their website:

The Internet Society was founded in 1992 by a number of people involved with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). From those early days, one of our principal rationales is to provide an organizational home for and financial support for the Internet standards process.

.org was given to ISOC, not really for any reason having to do with non-profits, but to create a permanent funding stream for the IETF. Vint Cerf and others advocated for this precisely because it was determined to be important that IETF was independent and not reliant on the registry operators or other commercial sources for its funding, which could potentially lead to the protocols becoming more commercially-driven and engineering expertise being subordinated to industry priorities.

The focus on non-profits was driven by the $5 million that Verisign gave. It wasn’t going to fund the startup of a competitor—and focusing .org on non-profits was an easy and non-threatening way to spin off .org so that it wouldn’t challenge .com and .net. Remember, at this time there were only 7 TLDs—.com, .net, .org, .gov, .edu, .mil, and .int. The last four were not publicly available for registration.

$1.15 billion is one heck of an endowment, and so from the point of view of ISOC’s Andrew Sullivan, he acted responsibly. The problem with the sale of .org is the bad faith, but entirely predictable manner in which it was done. ICANN, PIR, and ISOC were disingenuous and misleading in the justifications that they gave for removing the pricing restrictions, and the smoking gun is the 98.1% of public comments they ignored. The reason people should be angry is not that .org got sold, but that the community’s will was ignored in order to do so. If the pricing restrictions were still in the .org registry agreement, then it wouldn’t have been such an attractive acquisition target for Fadi and Ethos Capital—who likely will flip it in some form or fashion—and it wouldn’t have commanded such a princely sum.

Once again, the community fails to assert itself and instead gets frazzled and neurotic about a symptom rather than the underlying disease.

During the IANA transition, there was an opportunity to transform ICANN into a member-based organization, which would have provided six statutory powers to members under California law. A weighted system was proposed for the supporting organizations and stakeholder groups to function similarly to a legislative body and for ICANN-corporate to function as an administrative organ, and then with an Independent Review Panel, or IRP (not what exists today which is a total watered-down PoS) as the independent judiciary whose decisions would be binding, rather than the recommendatory body that exists today and that ICANN regularly ignores.

ICANN hated the whole idea and fought hard to leave itself as a so-called “designator” organization, which has one statutory power under California law—to recall the Board. The whole framework was further made complex by creating the existing system of an Empowered Community, which can supposedly empower itself to name a Sole Designator, which can then exercise the one power—to recall the ICANN Board.

Factions within the community itself fought against giving themselves additional powers—perhaps the first time in history that such an illogical, counterintuitive, and cognitively dissonant phenomenon has occurred. But such is the way of things in ICANN-land. It’s an interesting parlor game to wonder when the community will wake up and perceive that the reason why, in ICANN-land, up is down and left is right is because it is made to be that way. And it is made to be that way because of one thing and one thing only—and it’s the same thing that Willie Sutton was after when he robbed banks:

Cold. Hard. Cash.

An astonishingly small number of people pointed out during the IANA transition that this Sole Designator mechanism for accountability was essentially useless because, considering the fractious nature of the community and the severity of the single power that could be exercised, that the Empowered Community would rouse itself with only slightly more frequency than the appearance of Haley’s comet.

It seems like it may be an opportune time for a comet to come streaking into view.

By Greg Thomas, Founder of DNSDecrypt

Greg Thomas is founder of DNSDecrypt and author of How to Save the Internet in Three Simple Steps: The Netizen’s Guide to Reboot the Root. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Greg Thomas and and are not made on behalf of or for any other individual or organization.

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Small correction? Karl Auerbach  –  Dec 3, 2019 11:19 PM

If I remember correctly .org was originally part of the portfolio of Network Solutions/Verisign.  And that .org was spun off from Verisign as part of the settlement between ICANN and Verisign in 2003.

BTW, I’ve always maintained that the election (or what ICANN called a “selection”) in year 2000 made ICANN a California membership form of public-benefit/non-profit.  ICANN’s “aspirational” approach to the California Corporations Code had me quite concerned when I was a director that the corporate veil could fairly easily be penetrated especially as there seemed to be some events that could trigger the dreaded IRS “intermediate sanctions” rules and its 200% “excise tax” (possibly not covered by any E&O;insurance.)

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