ICANN Chairman Responds To House Charges

Vint Cerf, chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, fielded questions from a skeptical House Subcommittee on Telecommunications Thursday.

Cerf and his organization have come under fire for the selection process used to determine last November’s seven new global Top Level Domains (TLD).

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) said in her opening remarks that America had a digital economy and an analog government, and her hope in these proceedings was that the government acted a little more digital.

“The challenge is to create a digital government to match a digital economy,” Harman said. “We have to do this right and we have to observe fairness. It would be a shame if we imposed analog procedures on this issue, so I hope we are a very creative and very digital committee as we move forward.”

Representatives, clearly respectful of Cerf’s credentials as one of the founding fathers of the Internet for his work with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPANET), wasted no time asking tough questions about ICANN’s decision-making ability.

Seven new domains were selected (.aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, .pro) from the 47 applicants who paid a non-refundable $50,000 fee last year. The winning companies have the right to negotiate further with ICANN for arrangements to sell those domain names later this year, opening up space on the Internet for the surfeit of .com and .net domain names.

Nine panelists from both sides of the TLD debate, including Cerf, were on hand to present their case and field questions from committee members in Washington, D.C. They were given five minutes to present the pros or cons of their ICANN experience.

Legislators asked Cerf to justify his board’s decision to name only seven winners and exclude popular Congressional favorites like .kids and .xxx.

Both domains generated a lot of interest with the public, one to provide a safe haven for children on the Internet and the other to corral adult entertainment.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), told Cerf he invited criticism by excluding both domains for final approval because of the controversy surrounding the issue.

“Politically, you would have had a stronger, favorable receiving from this committee had you used your position to address pornographic material on the Internet,” Shimkus said. “Many of us feel you failed in a great opportunity. You invite us now to legislatively get involved in forcing this issue. How is a .xxx avenue any different than any current zoning laws or issues which the public has addressed in other mediums?”

Cerf maintains his organization was founded to provide technical assistance, not make and enforce policy issues.

“One of the problems that we encountered was how we were going to prevent any pornographic sites from registering in other than ‘xxx.’ The principle question was enforcement and it wasn’t clear how we could do that, (or) if it could effectively be done.”

But the organization’s subjective methods for determining the actual winners had House officials the most concerned.

.Travel, an application presented to ICANN by the International Air Transport Association, was rejected in favor of .aero. It’s a decision that rejects the premise of an overall travel domain for a domain that caters only to one facet of that domain.

Cerf said that just because they were rejected in last November’s crop of selections, doesn’t mean they won’t be picked up at a later time. The seven domains were selected, he said because they wanted a test bed of the most viable, technically and financially, domains before letting more gain acceptance.

“We never expected, as a board, to approve every single application that might be qualified to act as a (TLD),” Cerf said. “We anticipated, however, once we got the results of the new TLDs in operation that we would use that to guide our next selection.”

It’s a decisi

on that rankled Michael Froomkin, professor of law at the Univesity of Miami, who said due process wasn’t met at any level of the domain name application process.

“There was a technical criteria used to get rid of a few (of the 47) and then they went subjective,” Froomkin said. “I watched the whole thing happen and I did not see a moment where they said, ‘Here’s the batch that meets the minimum criteria, now what do we do?’ They went at them one at a time it would appear somewhat erratically to an objective process.”

Recommendations for a solution depended on who was talking.

Leah Gallegos, AtlanticRoot Networks Inc., president and applicant of the failed .biz application, called for inclusion of the “so-called alternate root servers, which have been in use for years successfully,” she said.

Cerf found an unlikely ally in Alan Davidson of the Center for Democracy and Technology, and one of the panelists who said scrapping the awarded domain names and the effort that went in to it would not be in the best public interest.

Ellen Rony , co-author of “The Domain Name Handbook,” disagrees, saying the process needs a complete overhaul, if not a completely new start.

“I think there’s more to gain than to lose by doing it properly,” Rony said. “I don’t think it has to done from day one, I think there’s already a good body of information that’s there.”

Instead, Rony said, companies who unsuccessfully bid for a domain should have a full review explaining why it was rejected. She also said decreasing the $50,000 entry fee would go a long way. Many small businesses felt slighted because they were unable to meet the pricetag.

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