ICANN Needs to Listen and Learn

Since its inception in 1998, ICANN, has come under fire for its lack of openness and accountability. There is fresh fuel on that fire with the group's new proposal for a 75-cent annual levy for .net domain-name registrations.

Since its inception in 1998, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, has come under fire for its lack of openness and accountability to Internet users. On Dec. 10, ICANN tossed fresh fuel on that fire with its release of a ".NET Request for Proposals" that proposed a 75-cent annual levy for .net domain-name registrations, beginning next year.

That proposal, buried on Page 12 of the 19-page RFP, reminds us and others of ICANNs 1999 proposal for a $1 domain-name fee, a notion that Americans for Tax Reform lambasted as "the worlds first global tax." Despite holiday distractions, the week between the Christmas and New Years Day weekends saw a storm of similar criticism in many online discussions of ICANNs new action.

The complaints, which to us are justified, are about both money and principle.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about ICANNs proposal last year to double its budget.

A 75-cent fee might seem inconsequential, but it represents a multimillion-dollar revenue grab that ICANN apparently feels entitled to grant itself. Whatever the arguments may be in favor of giving ICANN added resources, those arguments deserve broader discussion in a process more respectful of the Internets many stakeholders.

Perhaps most unfortunate is that ICANN seems tone-deaf to the pitch of arrogance and indifference that actions such as this can produce. The result is that the community winds up talking about form rather than substance—about the manner of Internet governance rather than its goals. It would be more useful to talk about what we want the Internet to be, rather than arguing over the shape of the negotiating table.

There are things we all want the Internet to be. At the risk of plagiarizing the Boy Scout Law, it would be nice if the Internet could be trustworthy, courteous and respectful of diversity. The Internet should deliver whats requested and not deliver whats malicious; it should have effective mechanisms to prevent any one party from abusing its scarce resources; it should allow any protocol, and any form of content, to pass among mutually consenting parties.

Perhaps it cant help old ladies cross the street, but neither should it be the hunting ground for scammers selling them fake prescription drugs. ICANNs role in achieving these goals is a worthwhile subject for discussion.

The first step is to clarify the constraints within which ICANN should operate. Looking beyond the .NET RFP, the public has until Jan. 15 to voice an opinion on the strategic plan for ICANN over the next few years. We strongly encourage participation in the public comment process. ICANN board members need to know that discussion is more effective open than closed.

If ICANN cant listen, it faces being replaced by a more responsive organization. Talk is cheap, but dialogue is priceless.

Were interested in your Opinion. Send your comments to us at eWEEK@ziffdavis.com.