ICANN Sunday Workshop

phil osborn (philosborn@hotmail.com)
Tue, 02 Nov 1999 22:24:56 PST

Posted to ICANN 11.02.99

Phil Osborn, netizen

I attended the Sunday Workshop sponsored by the Berkman Center. At Sunday's end, I pointed out the inadequacies of the proposed voting model. First, it excludes the majority constituency by default. Most people are not on line, yet are impacted by ICANNís policies re future access. On the other hand, the stake in the internet
varies, so why should everyone get an equal vote?

I prefaced this with - "who owns the internet?" The tragedy of the commons looms, with all the possible related disasters discussed earlier on Sunday: intractable conflicts of interest, covert subversion/capture of ICANN by special interests, simple Board incompetence, etc.

I pointed out that perhaps a better solution is to create natural incentives as exist when those with a stake also have control. Why not make ICANN a shareholding trust, with domain name holders getting one voting share each? Why not make it a profit-making trust, owned by the world? Where then the conflict of interest? With Martians?

There are many possibilities for structuring such an organization to avoid problems: capture by special-interest coalitions, monopoly-pricing concerns. There is, however, a false premise implicit here.

ICANN does not have a true monopoly. There is nothing preventing competitors from setting up their own systems of naming, and they have, are, and will be doing so, from AOL to company intranets. A country wishing to keep its citizens isolated and controlled could set up an incompatible naming system, even incorporating
high-level state-enforced encryption to keep all communications segregated to that jurisdiction.

Should ICANNís pricing or regulation of domain name assignment become too onerous, anyone could start another internet, offering their own unique naming system, with all kinds of built-in features - e.g., backlinks as in Xanadu, or credibility-based filtering matrices, as I have suggested for decades, or a real social contract, as I have pushed since the Ď70ís - and surely with transparent links to
ICANNís version.

The bugaboos of ICANN taking over the world for the Borg or becoming so dispute-mired that it can no longer function are perhaps less important considerations than the potential benefits of doing things right. If the current proposed structures are implemented, then perhaps they will work well enough. There are many very good
people involved who are dedicated to that goal, and often good people of common will can surmount structural problems and stand fast against evil.

I would hope, however, that participants might think of themselves as sorcerers, as in ďAnother Roadside Attraction,Ē i.e., as those who deal with sources. We all can recall numerous cases - any major computer hardware/OS design - verifying that an organization's founding forever determines its potential, its strengths, its weaknesses. Let us not merely accept what might work. Muddling through may make it for now, but it sets a poor standard. As sorcerers we should aim higher - add some real magic.

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