ICANN, International Development, and Venture Capital

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Last week in Singapore a new era for the Internet was ushered in with the approval of the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), something that was six years in the making – six long, tough, twisting years.

A resolution to introduce the new gTLD program was debated at a special meeting of the Board of Directors that was held Monday. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) expressed its concerns about the introduction of the gTLDs, citing trademark and competition issues, and as of the previous Friday there was no guarantee the gTLD resolution was going to pass at the special meeting on Monday.

There was obviously some hallway politicking going on over the weekend in Singapore in order for concessions to get the needed votes to pass the resolution, which included pulling vertical integration (.PDF).  As well, a program that, as far as any of us could see, didn’t exist on Friday was suddenly part of the resolution on Monday. Somehow, over the span of about 48 hours, a program to provide financial assistance to governments and non-governmental organizations in the developing world was tacked onto the gTLD resolution.

With this funding program in place, the new gTLD program passed with only a single, rather eloquent naysayer.

Where does this leave ICANN? In charge of a multi-million dollar international development initiative or venture capital fund.

ICANN is staffed with many highly capable people who are good at what they do. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure implementing international development programs or acting as a venture capitalist and investing in start-ups is not one of them.

International development isn’t the forte of a technology-based not-for-profit in California. International development is incredibly challenging, just ask Oxfam, the UN, CIDA, or any other organization whose mandate is to work in the developing world. It involves working with governments (some corrupt, most not) and it involves working with a myriad of other organizations at the community, regional, national, and international levels.  Since ICANN is challenged to work with its partners on its own budget (.PDF), I’m not entirely convinced they’re going to get this right.

Keep in mind the incredibly tight timelines ICANN has imposed on itself. The intent is to have the new gTLDs roll out in 2013. I’m sceptical that it will be able to develop the in-house expertise to run an international development funding program or venture capital effectively and efficiently in that window.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am 100 per cent supportive of providing technological, policy and financial support to those nations and organizations that need it in order to navigate the labyrinth that is the gTLD application process. And it is important to note that capacity building is a key responsibility for some of us in the Internet ecosystem (.PDF), and ICANN plays an important role. The Internet has the potential to be a great equalizer, as long as we ensure the barriers to entry are few and far between.

But – ICANN the venture capitalist? ICANN the international development agency?

What do you think?

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  • http://dot-nxt.com Kieren McCarthy

    I’m with you 100% on this Byron.

    A very quick decision made by the Board as a last-minute compromise to get the Guidebook approved on an artificial timeline. Not very encouraging.

    The only person on the Board with any experience of these things was George Sadowsky – and he gave a long explanation as to why a $2m fund was a terrible idea. I am almost certain he will be proven to be right.

    You’re right – there is nobody on ICANN staff with the expertise or experience to set this up (and why should there be?), which is another red flag.

    And then there is the issue of mission creep. ICANN is not the ITU; nor should it ever wish to be.

    I think ICANN will eventually have to ditch this developing country fund idea, which it will probably do by constantly fiddling with it rather than simply admitting a mistake and shutting it down.

    The question will then be – as it frequently is – will anything be learnt from the error?

  • http://IPv16.com Jim Fleming

    What do you think?

    1. The U.S. Government has wisely launched (several) NEW competing/parallel Internets to serve the PUBLIC. The FCC is spearheading the work, but yesterday, mentioned collaboration with NTIA. PRIVATE ICANN is NOT involved.

    2. A new Internet Model or a return to the OLD uucp-style MULE-based network is being rolled out. It will likely blind-side many people who are mesmerized by the PRIVATE ICANN machine. The scenario is Clients (Mules) frequent WIFI cafes and carry TRUE.Objects.® around. Objects are Smart.Data.

    3. At $185,000 plus substantial annual costs PRIVATE ICANN is essentially building a BRAND.ROOT. Since many ISPs no longer need or use the old legacy root servers, they likely do not care. Others may “Shrug”. It makes no sense for BRAND owners to place their name in a Generic Space. Many Brands work hard to NOT become Generic. KLEENEX is an example.

    4. In 1998, Jon Postel (IANA) was told UNIX CPE would be developed to Route around his private cartel/club. He said that would cost “billions”. We told him, “So? It will be worth it.” We now have sub-$50 UNIX CPE to route around anything PRIVATE ICANN dreams up.

    5. People have been mislead that THE.Internet is founded or focused on some aging DARPA Purchasing Agents. UNIX has been central to what people view as THE.Internet. PAAS – Platform as a Service is a better long-term model than TCP/IP and IANA.
    PRIVATE ICANN or IANA did not develop UNIX.

    6. The World and especially the USA can not do some studies about what ICANN and IANA have cost. Delays, derailing, distractions all go into the study. The PRIVATE ICANN has not served the PUBLIC well.

  • http://IPv16.com Jim Fleming

    6. The World and especially the USA can not do some studies about what ICANN and IANA have cost. Delays, derailing, distractions all go into the study. The PRIVATE ICANN has not served the PUBLIC well.
    ==============
    6. The World and especially the USA can NOW do some studies about what ICANN and IANA have cost. Delays, derailing, distractions all go into the study. The PRIVATE ICANN has not served the PUBLIC well.
    ==============

    In the words of Martin Luther KING – “Now is the time…”

    People have seen enough of PRIVATE ICANN.

  • http://www.mindsandmachines.com Antony Van Couvering

    Byron – nice post.

    I agree that ICANN will probably not be very good at disbursing this funding in any effective way, but to be fair I don’t think they thought they would be: it seems to have been put together quickly and under duress. In all likelihood the $2M will not go to needy applicants, but rather the applicants which can make the best case for being needy — which as you know takes money.

    In any case, the huge amount of administrative overhead that ICANN and GAC have piled on to the applicants — especially any vertical separation requirements — is far more daunting and expensive than the actual fee. Personally I think the whole effort to “help” disadvantaged applicants is a sham, because the entire ICANN process works to weed out anyone without a great deal of determination and money.

    Our company has is offering 50% off to needy applicants, or applicants who will help underserved communities — according to our criteria. I do believe that some helpful advice and a price break on registry services will do far more than a highly bureaucratized funding mandate. If any of our competition care about this issue, they will do the same.

    Good post. I’d love to see you follow up on this particular boondoggle.

    Antony

  • http://www.mindsandmachines.com Antony Van Couvering

    Your blog stripped out the “shameless plug” tags I put around the third paragraph in my comment above. I wasn’t trying to slip in an advertisement for Minds + Machines, I actually tried to call it out. – Antony

  • http://cctld.dk Theo

    I agree on you’re view that the gTLD release window is very tight. Almost like they have an urge to push out these new gTLD’s. It went from tooth pulling slow to lightning fast.

    The whole announcement went way to fast to my liking with so many unresolved issues with the GAC. I actually did not think they would go thru but they did.

    A Chinese saying is maybe in place here. If you need todo something fast, take all the time you need.

    Moral of the story. A rush job leaves you with tons more issues to cleanup due to the rush and the mistakes you made during the rush job.

  • http://IPv16.com Jim Fleming

    We now have sub-$50 UNIX CPE to route around anything PRIVATE ICANN dreams up.
    ================

    But – ICANN the venture capitalist? ICANN the international development agency?

    What do you think?
    ==================

    7. One last point, since you mention the Internet Ecosystem, do not under-estimate the entire “Community” (all 52 of them) forming [the international development agency?]. The U.S. Government clearly has little ability telling PRIVATE ICANN what to do. Fifty people, EACH with a $50,000,000 per year gravy train can make a huge impact. The assumption is that it is always a GOOD Impact. It is clear who the impact benefits.

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