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Pausing for Breath on a Didgeridoo


The didgeridoo performance that kicked off this week’s ICANN meeting in Sydney prompted Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush to marvel at how the player produced a continuous sound without pausing for breath. The didgeridoo could become the official instrument at ICANN, which pushes ever forward with its plans, often without pausing to respond to the legitimate concerns of stakeholders.


ICANN has a lot on its plate this week — the upcoming expiration of its formative agreement with the U.S. Government, the introduction of hundreds of new top-level domains (TLDs), internationalized TLDs, and internal restructuring, just to name a few.


What’s concerning is that with such a loaded agenda, ICANN seems to be succumbing to an artificial sense of urgency, trying to mow
through complex, challenging policy changes without taking the time needed to get the policy right.


One example of this trend was Monday’s discussion of vertical integration among registries and registrars. It’s a complicated
issue, and one that could have serious ramifications for all Internet users, as I tried to point out in my comments:


Allowing registries (wholesalers) to be owned by registrars (retailers) and vice versa may have some beneficial effects for the market, but also may have severe unintended consequences for Internet users in the business community and elsewhere.


The economists brought in by ICANN talked about market power problems with exclusive or preferential vertical contracts. But registrants are also impacted by old fashioned spite and rivalry, if it compromises market performance. For instance, some registrars choose not to sell some TLD domains because they don’t want to enrich a competing registrar who’s running the TLD registry.


This isn’t just hypothetical concern — it’s happening today with the dot me TLD. .me is a GoDaddy project, so some rival registrars don’t even show .me as an available TLD. If I’m a registrant in .me, or trying to build a social network around .me domains, I lose when inter-registrar rivalries suppress registrations (and traffic) in the TLD.


The complexity and lack of consensus on the issue was illustrated by the free-flowing (and long-running) debate that followed the discussion, but the buzz in the hallways is that ICANN is in a hurry to make a final determination on this issue to clear the way for the introduction of new
top-level domains.


Unfortunately, that buzz is a familiar tune, since ICANN often deems that meeting its own deadlines is more important than achieving
real consensus on serious issues.


As much as we enjoy the continuous sound of the instrument, it may be time for the organization to stop and take a breath.


–Steve DelBianco