New .Org Nominee an Old ICANN Face

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.”

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