Susan Crawford posted an anonymous comment that makes some powerful and controversial statements in the post “Time for Reformation of the Internet”. Though I have great respect for Susan (and like her a lot) I think the post is completely wrong.
I think it important to identify both Susan’s and my biases up front so that the gentle reader is able to better filter my comments and her posting of someone else’s (if I understand the disclaimer right). If Susan feels I misstate her or her biases I, of course, invite her to correct them.
Susan spent some time as a lawyer working for Verisign. She has spent some time as an advisor/lawyer (I am not sure which. apologies) working for Snapnames, a company that has been trying to launch a service, WLS with the Verisign registry that has been stalled by the ICANN process (although one might argue that it is not ICANN, but objection by the Internet community to the service that has stalled it).
Now some credit. I found “Time for Reformation of the Internet” to be well written and highly entertaining. I found many of the individual numbered points to be quite true. This, however, is what makes the document so misleading in my view. Take a number of powerful points and bury some fundamentally flawed underpinnings and you have a dangerous document.
One more point before I move on to some specific analysis. Except under careful reading it is not obvious that Susan did not write this. It would seem to more appropriately come from this guy. Whoever wrote it clearly wanted it to benefit from her blessing. They were correct in their thinking. It did. But for where it appeared I suspect I would not feel nearly so compelled to respond.
The most important points to respond to are the following:
“Now, ICANN is itself holding new TLDs, and even new services from existing registries and registrars, in purgatory – occasionally deigning to accept high fees to let some proposals proceed. (Registries and registrars both provide services at the edge, running their own databases on their own servers.)”
Even the author realizes how strained it is to claim that registries are operating “at the edge” and so tries to provide a definition defending it. I would love to see what David Reed or David Isenberg would say about that, but to the extent I know them I doubt they would agree.
The worst bit of sophistry that permeates this document is to use the words “registries and registrars” together. The author does so four times in the document. They are NOT the same. Registries are natural monopolies. They operate in a centralized fashion. They are NOT distributed. They do not exist at the edge. Depending upon their size and market power they should be subject to careful scrutiny.
Registrars exist in an extremely competitive environment by any definition (concentration ratio as but one example).
The use of the phrase “registries and registrars” blends the two and lulls the reader into thinking about innovation as it relates to these two entities similarly. This is, in my view, nothing short of misleading.
“10. Those who claim for ICANN the power to approve any innovation are ignorant or corrupt.”
The difference between registries and registrars is best exemplified here. My view of registries and regulation is relatively simple. Any service that flows directly from the operation of the natural monopoly that is a registry should be brought under scrutiny. The larger the registry the greater the scrutiny. A service flowing from operating the .com monopoly should be looked at much more closely than a service in .aero.
Importantly, with respect to registrars, I have no clue what the author is talking about. I have been a registrar roughly as long as there have been registrars. There has been a ton of innovation. I cannot think of any that has been stifled by the need for approval. Perhaps I am missing something.
There has been a great amount of innovation, some good, some bad, in the registrar market. I like to think Tucows has innovated regularly.
Tucows is constrained by the market, by having to compete, not by ICANN.
“13. There is no sound reason for ICANN to seek to regulate the business models adopted by those who offer innovative services on the internet.”
True for registrars. Not true for registries. This highlights well, for me, the misleading nature of mixing the two.
20. The internet would improve if ICANN were simply to disappear.
Not my Internet. I cannot conceive of what would constrain Verisign from considering its operation of .com as “ownership” and squeezing every nickel possible out of it (hmmm Tucows, we think, for your name $5k, no wait, $50k per year is now the price).
“23. ICANN meetings are attended by a small group of insiders who can afford to travel around the world (or who use ICANN fees to pay for this) and who enjoy such grand parties at the expense of netizens.”
Let me restate this one in my opinion. I note that I say this as someone who has attended too many ICANN meetings to count and as someone who is generally known for speaking his mind and knocking down icons.
23. ICANN meetings are attended by a diverse group of people who share a love for the Internet and desire to see it grow and prosper, whose companies or public interest groups pay their own way at great expense and taking much personal time and effort primarily for the benefit of netizens. Oh, and who are guaranteed of three things. Receiving scorn and derision from wags and no thanks from anyone.
“28. All registries for top level domains should immediately begin to employ any distribution channels and business practices they believe will best serve the domains in questiion.”
Of course leading to the prompt re-establishment of the old monopoly to the huge detriment of the Internet as a whole.
This is not at all a knock on Verisign. Unconstrained, I would argue they have an obligation to their shareholders to do just what is noted above.
As someone forced to innovate in competitive markets it is extremely frustrating to have those efforts not just lumped in with efforts to leverage natural monopolies but actually used to try and justify those efforts.
ICANN has done one thing indisputably well. Introduced competition in domain names to the clear benefit of users. We agree that new gTLDs are due. I was the one driving the discussion in Capetown (I probably wasn’t invited to the grand parties). I was happy to hear something of a timetable. I heard process in June, submissions in December. I plan to do my best to hold ICANN to it. Not fast enough for me. Not nearly enough to even think about the drastic positions this author is taking.
Susan, what do you think?