The controversy over the sale of ORG has taken an ugly turn. As we have made clear in several blog posts related to the sale, what registrants need is not emotional cries to “stop the sale” but an ICANN-mediated renewal of the commitments made in the original grant, and some improved contractual commitments in the Registry Agreement. Once those are in place, it doesn’t matter much whether ISOC or Ethos runs the registry.
Unfortunately, the “stop the sale” meme has now morphed into a patently self-interested land grab. And some of the faces behind this land grab are so familiar and insider-y that they make Fadi Chehade look like a disinterested angel.
Yesterday a group calling itself the Cooperative Organization of ORG Registrants (CCOR) planted an article in the New York Times as part of a bald public relations push to get ICANN to redelegate the domain – to them. Who is behind this group? If you thought Ethos Capital was an insider play, wait until you see this list. Here are a few of the seven directors of the new entity.
Those with superficial knowledge describe Dyson as one of the founders of ICANN. She was indeed a member of the controversial initial board and ambitiously volunteered to be its chair as a way of furthering her personal ambitions. What they don’t know, or don’t tell you, is that her name was put forward by IBM, and when it came to ICANN accountability, Dyson was probably the worst board chair ICANN has ever had. She had no grasp of governance and policy issues. She opposed elections for ICANN board members and other accountability measures; she impatiently rolled her eyes at public forums when community members debated policy. Far from being a friend of the noncommercial internet, Dyson was openly hostile to the fledgling noncommercial users’ constituency, actually choosing to block its formation at one point because they were challenging policies and representational structures that were biased towards commercial interests. Despite her current positioning touting “an open and noncommercial internet” and “stewardship,” Dyson is a businessperson who made her money selling newsletters (EDVenture) and conferences for the private, profit-driven tech industry in the 1990s. She is not an “Internet pioneer.”
Roberts was the first CEO of ICANN, the consummate insider from the old federal networking community. Unlike Dyson he does have a background in the education and research networking community, at Educause. But Roberts, too, was deeply resistant to ICANN accountability and especially hostile to the influx of public interest groups into ICANN policy making in the early days. Leading up to the divestiture, Roberts wanted ORG to be a harshly restricted domain, in which registration would require proof of nonprofit legal status. Interestingly, Roberts leveraged his ties to the US government to transfer control of the EDU domain from Network Solutions (what is now Verisign) to his friends at EDUCAUSE in October 2001. Perhaps he was enlisted to see if he can work that magic again.
Maher is CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. As a legitimate Internet nonprofit organization, Wikimedia is analogous to the Internet Society just prior to winning the ORG domain. It is constantly in need of a regular source of funds. Is this group any different from, or any better than, ISOC?
Woodcock is one of the original crusty old-line techies. He runs Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit with mostly government and some military funding sources. Woodcock has been a board member at the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which is part of the ICANN regime, though the IP numbers people wisely have stayed at arms-length from ICANN and the domain name industry. Woodcock, however, is deeply conflicted on this issue. The current operator of the ORG registry is contracting with his organization to run certain registry services. The shift of ownership to Ethos threatens that relationship.
So if you thought the Ethos Capital deal was a bit stinky because of the involvement of the ICANN’s former CEO as an advisor, this group reeks. Frankly, I’d rather have ORG in the hands of an openly for-profit entity that can be controlled than see noncommercial values and interests invoked by people who pretend to be all about “stewardship” but are really just another group of opportunistic insiders.
I see no legal or contractual basis for ICANN to do a redelegation of ORG to some new entity that just popped up in the wake of the controversy. The whole idea would amount to nothing had not a New York Times reporter been punk’d into pushing CCOR’s sales pitch into the global public sphere. Wouldn’t it be nice if journalists would actually covered an issue in depth instead of serving as mouthpieces for interested actors?
Let’s be clear about what has happened here. By selling ORG, the Internet Society has provided the world with a fairly accurate, market-based valuation of what the ORG registry is really worth. Rather than recoiling in horror at the number, we need to accept its value as a fact and derive policies accordingly. Of course we don’t want the new owners to run ORG into the ground or exploit the high switching costs of its registrants. But any new owner is going to be in exactly the same position as ISOC or Ethos unless there are protections in the Registry Agreement of the sort we have asked for.