Tom Barrett, CEO and President, PW Registry
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Officials at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) have a tough job ahead of them -- getting its constituents to foot an annual budget that continues to grow by the year.
The group adopted its latest budget last month, which nearly doubled the previous year's budget, partly by granting concessions (namely price caps) to registrars voicing their displeasure over funding 70 percent of the $15.8 million plan.
In the future, ICANN plans to get other constituents to pay up in order to meet the goals established for it by the U.S. Department of Commerce. The department wants ICANN to become an autonomous international body free of government oversight over management of the world's most popular generic top-level domains (gTLD) like .com, .net and .org. One of those plans involves getting the owners of country code TLDs (ccTLD) domains to pitch more into the treasury, a group that's historically been at odds with ICANN.
Tom Barrett is in a unique position within the ICANN community. He is the president and CEO of the PW Registry, a company managing the ccTLD extension .pw for the government of the Republic of Palau, a tiny island nation in the North Pacific Ocean. He is also the owner of Encirca, a registrar catering mainly to trademark owners.
As both a ccTLD registry and registrar owner, Barrett isn't necessarily restricted to defending one at the expense of the other. Not surprisingly, perhaps, is the fact he thinks neither group should pay for most of ICANN's budget.
Q: ICANN doesn't enjoy a very successful relationship with ccTLDs. Have relations improved recently?
ICANN's biggest challenge is to get ccTLDs to come on board. They're facing a big challenge in terms of the fact that in next year's budget they expect a third of that budget to come from ccTLDs, and the ccTLDs there are not playing along at this point. In fact, there are only 10 ccTLDs that have a contract with ICANN today; we happen to be one of them. [ICANN's] got a ways to go, but when you look at what the alternatives might be, I think ICANN's the best option.
Q: So you're not a fan of the idea that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) take Internet governance out of the hands of ICANN?
I'm not a fan. I think that the complaints about how slow ICANN moved on some fronts, such as introducing new TLDs, I think the ITU would be even slower and would be bogged down in bureaucracy, similar to how the U.N. is bogged down today. And the ITU is part of the U.N. When you weigh out what [ICANN's] accomplished the last few years, it's quite a bit, and I think they're doing a good job.
Q: ICANN's mandate with the U.S. Department of Commerce is to act as a technical body to ensure the safety and stability of the Internet. Are they prepared to be a policy-setting body also?
One of the biggest objections to [VeriSign's] wildcards wasn't that it was the illegal use of DNS -- it's a documented feature of DNS. Their objections to it were more policy than technology. If you look at how ICANN handles intellectual property, that's pure policy; how they handle privacy, that's pure policy. So they're already a policy body. Again, I don't know who you would turn to if they were not in that business.
So, for example, as a registrar, one of the bigger issues is the future of registrar transfers that enable people to have portability of their address when they move from one registrar to another. If ICANN was not facilitating that consensus policy process, it would not take place; no one would be motivated to make it happen. I think they play an important role there.
Q: ICANN is looking for alternative ways of getting money from its constituents. Do you think it's going to work?
I do not think that's going to happen, and I think ICANN needs to go to some other stakeholders in the business. For example, who's got the most to lose if something goes wrong on the Internet today? It's companies like Amazon.com, Yahoo.com, Google.com -- yet all these companies do is pay in $10 a year for their asset that's worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We need to come up with a system where they contribute more to ensure the stability of the Internet. Clearly, they are not represented, nor do they feel they need to be a part of this process. But they are the ones with the most to lose if things don't run right.
Q: Doesn't that remove the need for registrars entirely if companies have to pay in directly to ICANN?
You may see that. In fact, Amazon.com already is a registrar, and AOL is obviously already one. I'm not sure they're going to necessarily decide to put in the infrastructure, but surely there must be a way for them to contribute to the ICANN budget. ICANN is concerned with a lot more things than just registration, but I do think that the model that exists today, where registrars are paying 70 percent of the budget, simply doesn't scale. If they can't find alternative sources of funding, then I think they should just go to a per-domain name tax and collect it from the registries and not go through the registrars.
Q: What about making individual government's pay part of the bill?
Well, now you're back to the U.N. model. If you move to a U.N. model, then I wonder if you would see that same disparity.