An anonymous writer posted an article title Time for Reformation of the Internet on Susan Crowford’s blog. The article calls for an liberal approach towards ICANN making lots of references to IETF and its process.

Two years ago, I might applause the article but since working for IDA, I learnt a lot of the policy making process to think otherwise. While I also called for ICANN to be more liberal and hence still agreed with some of issues discussed, I dont agree with the conclusion, particularly the references to Jon Postel. (See also Elliot Noss’s comment).

First observation: It is written by an engineer. As I commented to Joi & Roberto in Cape Town, it is a mistake to think engineers = good policy maker. At best, we are good advocates and advisors. I am not saying it is not important to understand the technology (and it is the duty of technologists to educate policy makers), I am saying policy formulations are far more complex, involving people, money and ecosystem.1ICANN deals with natural monopolies – DNS registries. They don’t exist on the edge of the network as the anonymous writer said – they are fundamental infrastructure system in the core of the network. The edge arguments are dangerous because if true, then there is no basis for us to object Verisign from innovating the DNS like Sitefinder.

DNS registries are very much like telephone system or railway. Introducing more registries does not neccessary creates competitions – they just create mini-monopolies. Competitions are create if they are replacable. It is debatable if .biz is a replacement for .com. Theorically they are, marketwise has proven otherwise. And that’s essentially the problem – what we think it is and how it turns out to be. In telephone network, if we can get an CLEC to lay a parellel fiber, we introduce competition. But we arent sure how to do the equivalent in DNS registries yet.

The innovation argument are also dangerous. Like John Klensin’s comment during the public forum that he is scared with one such TLD, so do I (okay, maybe a bit more then one :-). While I reject technical arguments like the “DNS can only support 20 gTLD”, there are other reasons why it is a bad idea. Innovation ideas are like frogs’ egg: a thousand hatched only one or two survive to maturity (quote Peter Drucker). Like many others, I love to have that one or two frogs but we aren’t sure how to deal with the 999 other dead tadpoles. Particularly, how do we deal with the registrants who become dependent on the failed registries. “Oh too bad” is not an acceptable answer.2

(The only valid argument for new TLDs is now based on user needs. Today, there is no stronger need from the community then IDN TLD, as witness in KL and Cape Town. ;-)

So while I agreed with there are still some problem (government and at-large participation particularly) with ICANN, I think we are fairly right on track.

1 Some engineers does go on to become good policy maker. But unfortunately, lots of smart engineers also have the I-know-it-all attitude and look down on business people or laws makers which makes them very bad policy makers.

2 This is not to say I don’t want innovation. I would support a innovative TLD if they provide an section on “if I fail, …”

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