March 19, 2005

Open Governance spotted over at ICANN?

I checked in to ICANN to see if there was any news on the .net TLD since Adam and I wrote in some comments on conflict of interest, and lo and behold, there is! Not on the results, but on the process. ICANN has engaged Telcordia as an independent advisor to lead a team of DNS experts in evaluating the 5 contenders.

"Telcordia's Dr. David Sincoskie will lead a team that possesses 270 years of collective industry experience, with particular emphasis in networks, information databases, security and operations. Evaluation team demographics include two IEEE Fellows; a member of the National Academy of Engineering; a multi-cultural/multi-national composition, with nationals of Croatia, Greece, Pakistan, Taiwan, the UK and the US. In addition, 60% of the team possesses PhDs, spanning CS, EE and Economics;"

Heavy hitting!

It certainly makes sense to engage an independent team to do this evaluation, especially given the bitchy environment and the underlying challenge to the US Department of Commerce's benevolent dictatorship. This could give new meaning to the process; taking it into an era of open governance.

Some questions remain - it's not that easy to get scored on open governance. Who are Telcordia, and why are they independent? ICANN is again one step ahead there (are you shocked already?) and has published an "Advisory Regarding Neutrality of Independent Evaluators:"

"Telcordia Technologies is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Previously known as Bellcore, on November 17, 1997 SAIC acquired Bellcore and renamed the company Telcordia Technologies."

Bellcore! Related to the old AT&T Bell Labs? Or the System V guys? Well that should be just the ticket.

But wait, who are they owned by? SAIC? Now there's a problem. If you had to pick any player who was even more locked into Beltway politics than VeriSign, it would be SAIC. So, notwithstanding that half of the disclosure is full of reasons why SAIC has nothing to do with this deal, that's a matter of concern. On the watch list.

On balance we are still within the realms of open governance. ICANN have published their disclosure, and the more uncomfortable the disclosure is, the more valuable it becomes. That leaves three open questions:

  • who are the international DNS experts?
  • what will the recommend?
  • will the US Commerce Department interfere if the TLD goes offshore?

The first question is actually addressed but not answered in their real FAQ on the process.

Somewhere I saw that the end of March is the time for the report from the advisors. We haven't got long to wait to see if ICANN delivers a copybook case of open governance.

Posted by iang at March 19, 2005 12:49 PM | TrackBack

Lets have the United Nations run the ICANN function and make everybody happy. As far as non-US entities running the Net Registry that seems like the only choice in fact it should be one of the standards non-US entities cannot provide registry services. The ICANN agreement with Verisign should have been a matter or treaty not contract. ICANN should become a treaty organization administered by the United Nations. I'm sure the treaty will never be ratified by the US government and this would preclude any US entity from participation or use of the facilities. Since the constitution of the United States does not empower the Department of Commerce to ratify treaties or contract without congressional approval in a true legal sense they should have no issue nor should they have any input. What does the EU, China, India, or any other nation thats users will use the .Net Registry think? I'm sure that the registry industry is US based for the most part and has influenced the government for its purposes, but that does not mean that a rally against the US influence cannot be mounted. I suggest a strong effort to remove US entities from any organization that is not ratified by Congress in the form of a treaty. As far as Verisign goes well they will not survive the mounting law suits that will be unleashed shortly. The US based software industry is going to see some deep pocket attacks that will make tobacco settlements seem like lunch money. In the near future the influence buying will find a funding shortfall so many non-US entities will have equal access to provide registry services. It will be at this point the US will seek UN controll of the registry services and the removal of ICANN all together.

Posted by: Jimbo at March 19, 2005 01:44 PM

ICANN has hired consultants repeatedly before. In each case, like good consultants do, they've come back with a report that said what the client wanted to hear. In each case critics have pointed to pretty substantial flaws in the reports, and in the process by which the consultants gathered and weighed evidence.

Using consultants, who are in fact a black box to outsiders, has so far (and will generally tend) to _reduce_ transparency not increase it.

Why is this case different? I'd love it if it were, but why the optimism?

Posted by: Michael Froomkin at March 19, 2005 04:44 PM

If they have a track record of doing just that - hiring consultants to black box the report - then we already know the result. I'm not sure if they are planning to release their report; if they do then it will be pretty obvious whether it is flawed or not, given the vested interest each applicant has in surfacing the errors.

Has anyone opened a betting book on the 5 contenders? ;)

Posted by: Iang at March 19, 2005 04:57 PM
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