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ICANN's Strong Rebuke to Verisign's Chuck Gomes

Stéphane Van Gelder

Word to the wise: Fadi Chehadé's ICANN isn't going to take criticism lying down!

In the past, the organisation has tended to react to criticism with a silence that was probably considered a way to avoid aggravating critics any further, but instead tended to infuriate people that were expecting answers.

No longer. Since Chehadé came in as CEO, they get answers! Chehadé has quite rightly infused his staff with a culture of pride in what ICANN does. A message he has often carried himself. Whilst remaining open to criticism, he will answer if and when he feels that criticism to be unfair or unjustified.

A recent letter by Verisign's Chuck Gomes (published here by Chuck on CircleID) clearly fits that bill. In a letter dated October 3, 2013 and made public today, ICANN's VP for Domain Name Services Cyrus Namazi, writing at Chehadé's request, has reacted strongly to Gomes' accusations that ICANN has not been behaving as it should.

"Your letter makes vague and unsupported accusations about ICANN not operating as a multi-stakeholder, accountable organization," writes Namazi. "It appears to rely exclusively on examples in which your company would have preferred a different result. It is not surprising that you would take positions in the letter that are consistent with the outcomes being sought by your company. But in the light of your personal involvement with ICANN over many years, I have to assume that your own views on these issues are at least more nuanced."

Ouch.

Whilst some statements in Namazi's letter come across as stern but well founded ("to the extent that Verisign is unhappy with the new gTLD registry agreement, it is free not to sign"), there is also a level of dishonesty in the responses. I mean if anyone, not just Verisign, is unhappy with an ICANN contract, it's not as if they can go somewhere else and get the same service. ICANN has a monopoly over gTLD contracting and therefore, a strong responsibility to making sure everyone in the community is comfortable with them. I would therefore suggest that "If you don't like it, shove it!" might not seem as appropriate a response as a more nuanced "these contracts have been discussed for years and at some point, we need to move on,"

Namazi is also strong in his response to Verisign's security concerns. "Your accusation that ICANN is prioritizing the New gTLD Program over security is inaccurate and, frankly, reckless." Many in the community have voiced similar opinions of late, in response to Verisign's insistence that there are risks with the new gTLDs and these are being ignored.

The letter leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I appreciate the stronger stance ICANN is now taking against critics. On the other, I am ill at ease with what at times feels like unwarranted personal attacks. "We acknowledge the importance and value of your participation as a former Chair of the GNSO. We also understand that you write this letter as a representative of your company, Verisign," Namazi writes at the start of the letter, before ending with "I urge you to re-assume your role as a leader within the ICANN community."

So does that mean that because he served as GNSO Chair, Chuck should now refrain from calling it as he, or his employer Verisign, sees it? Surely that's like doing double time. You work hard to Chair a key ICANN group in a volunteer position, and then once out of there you must continue to tow the ICANN company line. Really?

If that's true, perhaps I shouldn't be writing any article that isn't 100% supportive of everything ICANN says or does…

However, I fully agree with Namazi's closing sentence: "it's time to lock arms, move on and tend to the real business at hand." That goes for everyone, ICANN critics and ICANN alike.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Chairman, MILATHAN

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Top-Level Domains

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Comments

Oh my, what are we to do Avri Doria  –  Oct 04, 2013 1:31 PM PDT

Oh my, what are we to do if GNSO Council ex-chairs mayn't be critical?

And the question that come to mind of what could happen if major Registries and Registrars called the "If you don't like it, shove it!" bluff, makes for an interesting thought experiment.

Call ICANN's Bluff Robin Gross  –  Oct 07, 2013 12:04 PM PDT

Registries and Registrars should call ICANN's bluff.

Namazi's response is weak, not strong Milton Mueller  –  Oct 06, 2013 9:43 AM PDT

A strong response would have addressed the very real accountability issues ICANN faces. Cyrus's response does not even pretend to do so. In essence, it only accuses Verisign of complaining because it did not get what it wanted from the policy process.
Now, I would be the first to agree that many of the parties complaining about ICANN are those who simply did not get what they wanted out of the policy process (especially the trademark interests and specific governments). I have little patience for those complaints - although ICANN itself has shown quite a propensity to cave into those complaints when they come from powerful stakeholders. But Gomes' letter of 30 August is in a different category. It documents specific ways in which ICANN simply ignored or overrode process and community consensus. Moreover, many of the accusations in his letter are corroborated and supplemented by the Internet Governance Project's 5-part series on ICANN's accountability meltdown.
No one can read the history of the "unilateral right to amend" the registry agreement and be impressed with Namazi's generic claims that ICANN is accountable. No one can read the history of the Trademark Clearinghouse TM+50 staff-made policy and be impressed with generic claims by Namazi or anyone else that ICANN respects its process.
Yes, Verisign is an interested player and has very specific self-interest in certain outcomes. But their criticism of the unilateral right to amend was joined by the entire GNSO, wasn't it? And the entire GNSO - with the exception of those who directly benefited - also saw the TMCH "strawman" proposal as an act of ultra vires policy making by ICANN staff.
In short, Stephane, I would not encourage ICANN to dismiss Mr. Gomes accusations simply because it is Verisign. Nor do I think your "let's all hold hands and get along" response appropriate. The communnity involved in ICANN needs to recognize that there are serious, structural problems with ICANN's accountability and we need to beat ICANN's staff over the head with them until they put aside their arrogance and pride and start helping us to fix those problems.

Chuck has responded to ICANN's letter and Stéphane Van Gelder  –  Oct 23, 2013 1:45 AM PDT

Chuck has responded to ICANN's letter and this is now posted on the ICANN website. http://www.icann.org/en/news/correspondence/gomes-to-namazi-18oct13-en

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