New .Org Nominee an Old ICANN Face
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After a month-long delay, an Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) team selected Tuesday its choice for ownership of the .org domain extension.
The domain was on the block as part of a deal between ICANN and registry VeriSign, which agreed to let go of .org to keep control over .com and extend its registry ownership of .net.
According to critics the nominated bidder, the Internet Society (ISOC), was a shoe-in for the win from the beginning. Once a democratically-controlled body for addressing Internet issues (like domain extensions), the organization is now directed by those who pay for the membership level of their choice, which ranges from $1,250 to $100,000 a year.
Partnered with ISOC in the .org bid were Afilias Ltd. (owners of the .info top-level domain), IBM Corp., ULTRA DNS and DSI Technology Escrow Services, Inc. If ratified by the ICANN board of directors next month, ISOC will take over .org on Jan. 1, 2003.
According to Michael Froomkin, professor of law at the University of Miami and one of the editors of watchdog site ICANNwatch.org, there wasn't much doubt over who would get the nomination, regardless of the number of potential bidders.
Vint Cerf, ICANN chairman of the board, was once the head of ISOC, while Alejandro Pisanty, ICANN vice chairman, is the also the current chairman of ISOC-Mexico. ISOC, which has been in financial straits for years (thus the move to sponsored members), will reportedly use the profits from .org ownership to pay for ISOC's continued existence, Froomkin said.
"ICANN's decision to favor ISOC will rescue (them) from a looming financial crisis," he said in a post to ICANNwatch.org. "It will also reek of a 'done deal' since people have been saying for more than two years that top ICANN honchos wanted to give .org to ISOC to bail it out of its financial hole.
"The ISOC proposal nakedly says it will take money from .org registrants to support ISOC," he continued, "a body that recently pulled an ICANN and disenfranchised its individual, and formerly dues- paying, members."
Heather Carle, a spokesperson at Afilias, said ISOC will create a non-profit group, Public Interest Registry, to run the .org registry and that Froomkin's claims the profits will be used to fund ISOC's operations are patently untrue.
"The profits it obtains will be used to fund education and training workshops ISOC does around the world to further Internet education," she said. "Personally, I think that is a noble goal."
Stuart Lynn, ICANN president, said the winning bidder was picked by three independent teams according to the criteria put by ICANN's general counsel.
"The ISOC proposal was the only one that received top ranking from all three evaluation teams," he said. "On balance, their proposal stood out from the rest."
But one source close to the bidding process wonders why ISOC's own auditor's had doubts about the company's financial ability to take over the .org registry, one of the key criteria for selection as registry.
"If you look at their bid, it talks about their balances and their liabilities, and says that "these factors and others to the company raise substantial doubt about the Internet Society's ability to continue is a going concern," the source said. "If their own auditors are concerned, then why are they getting this recommendation?"
Evaluating the 11 bidders were consulting firm Gartner, Inc., a team of university chief information officers, ICANN's noncommercial domain name holders constituency and ICANN's general counsel.
According to the preliminary report, ISOC was the only bidder to rate an 'A' in all categories, a 4.0 GPA, so to speak. The only one close to achieving the same -- NeuStar (owners of NeuLevel, the .biz TLD registry) -- got a 3.5 GPA. One of the bidders, GNR (a partnership of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), -- the only non- profit organization among the 11 bidders -- didn't have a chance for ownership of a TLD created to make room on the Internet for non-profit organizations. It got a distant 3.25 GPA.
"I think the only thing that could conceivably derail this would be a showing of a serious error in the report," Froomkin said. "That said, I have no reason to believe ISOC will do a bad job of .org, nor any reason to think they'll do it at the lowest prices."