Got a Feeling Inside – ICANN Explain

For some people, testifying before the U.S. Congress might be a moment of historical glory. But usually, especially lately, it seems to mean you did something wrong.

When you’re being put on the defensive, testifying has to be a little scary. Which is why it was heartwarming for most of us to see the new chief of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) get a grilling up on Capitol Hill.

It’s about time a bigger bully came along to kick some sand back into the face of ICANN, to make up for all the bullying of Web users and merchants that ICANN has committed for the past three years.

The problem with ICANN is that the agency clearly hasn’t matured as fast as the Web. That’s not necessarily surprising — the Internet has come into its own too fast in some ways.

However, as rival domain names spread and more cyber-squatting squabbles involve e-commerce — and therefore a growing chunk of the economy — there is a pressing need for ICANN to catch up.

Inside Job?

Congress called in the new head of ICANN, Vincent Cerf, for a chat to investigate the selection of seven new top level domains and the agencies that will administer them.

Many people feel the selection process was an inside job that undermined the idea of democracy on the Internet.

Congress pledged to keep its hands off and let the agency, which is overseen by a board representing business and industry, right its own ship. But how long does ICANN get to get it right?

It’s not as if the world will end if ICANN continues to stumble and bumble, but the stakes do go up every day, especially in dollar values.

Rising Stakes

Dry philosophical arguments tend to heat up considerably when there are millions of dollars at stake, as is clearly the case with new domains. But you don’t have to look too far on the Web to find people who think that the agency that doles out names is a sham.

Even a move to inject more public input, under which worldwide elections were held last year, turned into a public relations nightmare when only a few thousand people were able to register to vote and outspoken critics of the agency’s past actions were not elected.

Too Little Too Late?

To his credit, Cerf is trying to restore the image of ICANN. However, he has gotten off to a rough start with the election fallout, not to mention complaints that the criteria for winning a domain name franchise were a moving target that only a select few could hit.

Cerf made some progress when speaking with lawmakers, though, by admitting that some perfectly sensible domain proposals were tossed out and promising that more names were coming.

But that doesn’t do much good to the applicants who lost US$50,000 in a non-refundable deposit required to prove that their proposals were legit. It also won’t quiet the critics too much — one immediately responded in a mass e-mail that Cerf do something obscene with himself and resign, in that order.

The only thing ICANN may have going in its favor is that the domain-name land rush appears to have calmed considerably.

Does Anyone Care?

It’s been a while since we’ve heard of anyone plunking down several million dollars for a domain. The companies that paid the biggest sums for their addresses are among the quietest lately. Maybe they’re laying low, maybe not.

The truth is that the Web is still growing dramatically, and even if the first wave of e-commerce sites has ebbed into the sea a bit, more will come, some bigger than the first.

When those next-generation e-commerce companies do emerge, they deserve a level playing field, where everyone has an equal chance to win a prized domain.

More importantly, they should find ICANN to be what it has always said it wants to be: an open and transparent process, one that instills confidence in everyone who uses the Web — for fun, profit or anything in between.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

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Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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