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Fri Oct 6 00:33:40 EDT 2000

Mueller's response to Cave's TNR ICANN article

From: "Milton Mueller" mueller at syr dot edu
To: online at tnr dot com
Subject: [bwg+] Damien Cave's ICANN article
Date: Fri, 29 Sep 2000 00:10:55 -0400

Let's take a closer look at ICANN's "tiny corner of cyberspace."

Internet domain names, like telephone numbers, are valuable electronic real estate. Over a million are sold every week. The domain name market is worth about $2.5 billion annually now, but it's doubled in size every year for the past five years and shows no signs of abating. Sometimes a single name trades for over a million dollars in the secondary market. Not to mention the millions in lawsuits. ICANN has complete and total control over entry into the market for registering domain names.

There is, as yet, no (legal) market for Internet protocol addresses, so we don't know what those assets are worth, but try taking a bunch of them away from @Home or AT&T, or put a Class A address block up for auction on eBay and you'll find out that people will practically kill for them. If anything, the address space is more valuable than domain names. ICANN controls the top of the address delegation hierarchy.

"Tiny corner of cyberspace," huh? Try doing anything in cyberspace without domain names and IP addresses. But it's not just the Internet. Notice the regulatory battles going on in the telecom industry over number portability and the expansion of the toll-free number space. Those are a couple of other multi-billion dollar markets, and guess what -- telephone numbers are converging with the Internet. In a virtual world, identifiers matter.

If you don't think control of these resources has anything important to do with Internet policy, well, you just aren't paying attention. Look back at the history of broadcasting, when "technical coordination" of radio frequencies was leveraged to control broadcast content, ownership, and equipment standards.

The article says that ICANN's "strict bylaws" prevent it from using its control of name and address assignment to get involved in Internet policy issues. This is wrong, on two counts.

1) I defy the writer or anyone else to find such a prohibition in the bylaws. It simply isn't there. Unlike your reporter, I've actually read them.

2) ICANN is already using its control of name assignment to become deeply involved in one of the biggest hot button issues in cyberspace: intellectual property. Indeed, ICANN was created primarily to link the assignment of domain names to the enforcement of trademark protection. In the scary, early days of ICANN's existence the intellectual property lobby, including both major corporations and WIPO, was reaching for truly awesome powers over the use of names on the Internet. Fortunately, systematic intervention in WIPO and ICANN policymaking processes by "paranoid crazies," a.k.a. some distinguished Internet law and policy experts, succeeded in mitigating this onslaught, somewhat.

The article's statement that ICANN merely enforces the decisions of outside arbitrators shows just how frail this writer's grasp of the situation is. ICANN drafted the policy that governs domain name disputes. That policy now serves as a kind of global administrative law that defines rights to names in cyberspace. The arbitrators are functionaries of ICANN, not the other way around.

ICANN's full-time staff is indeed small, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. ICANN is also composed of three supporting organizations, each of which has a secretariat. It has a Government Advisory Committee with a representative of nearly a hundred states. Together, the SOs and related organizations occupy the time and energy of hundreds of people. ICANN Central's weakness is due to the fact that it is barely two years old and it has not quite succeeded yet in tapping into the large revenue stream represented by domain name sales. But it was not for lack of trying -- it's initial funding proposal for a dollar a domain name tax, coupled with other proposed charges, would produce an annual budget somewhere around $20 million. A Leviathan? No. An important, nascent international institution? Yes.

Sorry, I don't buy this poor, little, beleagured ICANN story, and I reject outright the claim that anyone concerned about its governance role is paranoid. Indeed, one of the main reasons people don't trust ICANN is that its highly ambitious staff and initial Board are constantly running around telling us how insignificant they are. We all know better. We know that they know better. So why do they keep saying it?

The above email was written by Milton Mueller and reprinted here with permission; reasonable people will assume he holds copyright to it.

The r_r began as a semi-collaborative nym on the <nettime> list, where it worked well; but the pseudonym precluded comments, and there was more to report than was good for the list, so now it -- or a mutation of it -- has resurfaced on TBTF. [ top]


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