Friday the Commerce Department released a “Further Notice of Inquiry” on the important contract between itself and ICANN, known as the IANA contract. The NTIA approach to the IANA contract is a bizarre mixture of sober, reasonable statements and the utterly insane. Of course it's more fun to write about the crazy stuff before launching into a step by step analysis of the whole proceeding, so let's start with the interesting stuff. A later blog post will go into more detail.
There was much discussion in the public comments of the need to separate the IANA from ICANN's policy development process. The IANA is supposed to be a neutral implementer of established policies. ICANN is the wonderful multi-stakeholder mess that develops the policy. The NTIA says it agrees with the need to separate them. Its draft suggestions for the new IANA contract requires that “all staff dedicated to executing the IANA functions remain separate and removed from any policy development that occurs related to the performance of the IANA functions.” Very good. The NTIA understands what needs to be done.
But wait. On page 13 the NTIA says that it supports commenters’ views that it is “critical that the introduction of individual new gTLDs reflects community consensus among relevant stakeholders and is in the global public interest.” And so “the Draft [IANA contract] includes, in paragraph C.18.104.22.168.2, a requirement that delegation requests for new gTLDs include documentation demonstrating how the string proposed reflects consensus among relevant stakeholders and is supportive of the global public interest.”
So it appears that NTIA is trying to regulate what new TLDs get approved by modifying the IANA contract to give the IANA final say over policy. This is downright crazy. Bonkers. Please, NTIA, tell us this is a joke, a little aside snuck in there to see if anyone is paying attention?
For those of you who are unaware of what a revolutionary change this might be, the IANA administers the authoritative root zone. ICANN is supposed to be the place where we fight and lobby and deliberate about what policies allow what new TLDs to enter the root. A Board vote approving a domain based on those policies is supposed to be the decisive factor in implementing a new domain. The IANA is just supposed to execute ICANN Board decisions about what TLDs are approved. IANA, which is composed of technicians who understand DNS and BIND
well enough to make root zone entries in a secure and mistake-free
manner, is just supposed to put it in the DNS root. IANA staff are in no position to make a judgment as to whether “consensus” exists on a specific TLD, much less whether it is in “the global public interest.” Moreover, there is no established policy that TLDs meet some vague, undefined “public interest” standard.
Why is NTIA trying to make IANA the final arbiter of what TLDs serve the public interest? Doesn't this put IANA in the ultimate policy making position?
In effect, NTIA is telling TLD applicants that have already paid a quarter of a million dollars in application fees, gone through a hellish vetting and approval process, made it through any number of possible objections, and obtained a Board vote approving their domain, that their ultimate fate depends on whether some functionary hired by IANA likes them? This not only subjects them to massive new uncertainties, but it completely emasculates the ICANN Board vote approving the domain. Surely, the NTIA can't be serious about this. It's gotta be a joke. <nervous laugh> Yeah, it was a good one, Larry. Now we respectfully suggest that NTIA remove this joke/typo/momentary insanity from its FNOI and repost a new one, so we can get down to business.