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ICANN and the Almost Invisible New TLD Evaluation Process

There is a worldwide interest in the extension of the namespace to include new Top-Level Domains (TLDs) and select new registries to run them. If these New TLDs are to be selected objectively, and without partisan favours to insiders, then there is a clear need for criteria and careful evaluation of lessons gained from previous TLD launches.

This was the principle behind the "Proof of Concept" approach, promised by ICANN, and yet — in the wake of controversial problems with .info and .biz — ICANN appears to have retreated to a lightweight in-house evaluation, carried out obscurely, in the hands of selected individual under a 6-month contract 4 months ago. To date, nothing has been published about the process on the ICANN website.

This fuels concerns I have that ICANN wants to avoid public dialogue on its failings, and push through the semblance of accountability and evaluation, while wholly failing to meet its undertaking — that they would implement the recommendations of the New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF).

Background to the Evaluation Process:

The New TLDs of the year 2000 were designed as a 'proof-of-concept' testbed, which was to be followed by a New TLDs Evaluation Process.

"These seven new gTLDs were authorized as a 'proof of concept' to gain understanding of the practical and policy issues involved in such an undertaking." (Stuart Lynn - when President of ICANN)

A New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force (NTEPPTF) was set up by ICANN to define how the Evaluation of the year 2000 TLDs should be carried out.

In Stockholm in June 2001, it was "Resolved [01.74], the Board directs the President to form and chair a New TLD Evaluation Process Planning Task Force, for the purpose of recommending to the Board and the broader Internet community, by means of a report to be discussed at ICANN's Montevideo meeting in September 2001:

(a) a plan for monitoring the introduction of new TLDs and for evaluating their performance and their impact on the performance of the DNS. This assessment should focus in technical, business, and legal perspectives and *rely on data gathered as part of the contractual arrangements with the new TLDs* as well as other data inputs that can be readily secured; and

(b) a schedule on which a plan should be executed."

Note that there was a stated reliance on data contractually required from the new Registries (Appendix U of the ICANN-Registry Agreement), which I have repeatedly complained has never been published or seen, even though it was available for publication (by Vint Cerf's own admission) over a year ago, but Stuart Lynn claimed ICANN staff had not had time to ftp it to the website (that excuse is now over a year old).

Although the report was supposed to be dealt with by Montevideo in September 2001, it was not in fact accepted by the ICANN Board until its meeting of 23 August 2002.

The final Report can be viewed HERE

A study of this report demonstrates the detail and care — a professional process — which was seen as necessary because of the worldwide significance of extending TLDs.

Note that it states in section 2:

"It is important to re-emphasize that the Task Force was not chartered with conducting the actual evaluation itself, but rather developing a plan for the Board's considerations as to how such an evaluation should be conducted."

With its final Report, the Task Force said its work was complete, but "members of the Task Force stand willing to assist in whatever way the Board considers to be appropriate if and when the Board proceeds with the evaluation".

So The Evaluation Process itself had *still* not been set in motion.

Notwithstanding that the Evaluation Process had not been set in motion, Stuart Lynn then presented the ICANN community with an action plan for proposed further New TLDs.

This Action Plan proposed to "extend" the proof of concept Evaluation Process (not yet set in motion) to "include up to 3 more sponsored TLDs". There was a continued commitment to an "evaluation of what has already been accomplished, to provide guidance for the future"

The delay and need for this Evaluation Process to commence was noted (for example) by the Business Constituency in its report last December:

"In late 2000, ICANN authorized as a proof of concept four new unsponsored names (dot biz, info, name, pro) and three sponsored names (museum, aero, co-op). The ICANN board has authorized an evaluation: this needs to move ahead with urgency."

The actual plans for the Evaluation Process, recommended by the NTEPPTF and accepted for implementation by the ICANN Board, were the result of very detailed and painstaking work. The Task Force proposed a wide range of questions (in categories Technical, Business, Legal, and Process) which should be explored and answered by the future Evaluation Team, and it also proposed a Monitoring Program. There was, the Task Force stated, "a considerable body of work" to be undertaken.

The Report also listed questions, which "must be addressed early and most importantly as a prerequisite to embarking on a another round of proposals for new gTLDs."

For example, the Task Force noted "important issues have already come to the fore — particularly in connection with the implementation of "sunrise" and "landrush" domain name allocation methods". These were areas of huge controversy and mismanagement and the need for formal evaluation of these issues prior to further New TLDs seems paramount, if exactly the same abuses of process are not to be repeated.

ICANN has appeared to try to avoid any dialogue at all on these disturbing issues.

Acknowledging the pressure for further New TLDs, the Task Force stated:

"The potential for moving ahead faster does emphasize the importance for starting to gather data as soon as possible. Appendix U (for unsponsored gTLDs) and Attachment 21 (for sponsored gTLDs) of the various agreements establishes requirements on the new registries for acquiring certain data. It is important that ICANN monitor the new gTLDs to ensure that the data is indeed being collected as provided for in the agreements. This may be problematic unless ICANN can devote resources to the task."

I have repeatedly asked for the Appendix U data from the Registries to be published and made available for informed judgments, and my requests have, to date, been swept aside. Where are the Registry Evaluation Reports? Why does it take so long for them to be added to the ICANN website, when they were due 12 to 18 months ago?

This "first source" of data is given high importance by the Task Force in its Final Report:

"To the extent that data obtained from the first of these sources is not confidential, every effort should be made to publish it to encourage other studies to occur."

Why has *NO* effort been made to publish this critical Appendix U data from the Registries?

ICANN's Promises and Its Contract:

To carry through the New TLDs Evaluation Process, the Board (in accepting the recommendations of NTEPPTF) undertook to "solicit bids for an Evaluation Team" who can investigate the key questions and produce informed judgments. It also undertook "to create an ICANN committee (which we designate for convenience the TLD Evaluation Advisory Committee or TEAC) which should be appointed to provide overall coordination and guidance to the Evaluation Team".

In the event, ICANN made a private selection of ONE individual, and I can find no trace of the much-needed TEAC. It looks much more like ICANN choosing to generate an Evaluation report "behind closed doors".

There is no sign at all (at 11th Oct 2003) of the agenda or workings of the New TLDs Evaluation Process.

A Time Schedule was set out by NTEPPTF for the implementation of the New TLDs Evaluation Process. The Evaluation Team was to be selected, and a contract issued, by Oct/Nov 2002. High Priority issues would be reported back on by February 2003.

In the event, nothing was seen or heard until June 2003, when, stuffed away on the Business Constituency newsletter, I found this reference:

"BC member Sebastien Bachollet has accepted a 6 month contract with ICANN to oversee the evolution of the "proof of concept" round of gTLDs. Evaluation is currently underway and we look forward to Sebastien's report."

I find it very strange that ICANN has not published an announcement about this contract on its own website. Furthermore, this contract was originally to have been put out to tender, and was to be supported by a TEAC. Does such a TEAC (as the Board undertook to create when it adopted the NTEPPTF) even exist?

My concern is that the scope and detail of the Evaluation Process proposed by the NTEPP Task Force seems to have been watered down to a 6-month investigation by one member of the original Task Force team.

What was desperately needed, after the difficulties of the previous TLDs, was a detailed and objective investigation which pulled no punches, and in which all constituencies could publicly participate, with full access to information, and an interface for comments on each step of a clearly-defined agenda.

Therefore I'm left wondering:

1. Was this contract to Sebastian Bachollet put out to tender, or did ICANN just appoint a friendly insider without really telling anyone?

2. Should this key post have been publicly advertised?

3. Who, specifically, appointed Sebastian?

4. What about the contractual data from the registries (Appendix U etc) which hasn't even appeared yet?

5. Where is the TEAC?

6. How detailed will Sebastian's investigation be? (For example will it draw on the mass of data and evidence which has accumulated on the ICANN New TLD Forums and the ICANNWatch website, concerning abuse of process and registrar fraud, Sunrise and Landrush problems etc.)

7. Will Sebastian publish his working agenda, call witnesses and allow public input, as part of his Process?

8. At the moment we know about Sebastian's new role from a mention on a backwater website. How open is this process going to be, and is ICANN going to make his investigation transparent and interactive? Apparently not!!! With just 2 months of his contract to run, there is not a single mention of his work to be found anywhere on ICANN's website that I can find. Just as the Registry data should be in the public domain, so too the step-by-step deliberations of the various issues should also be accessible to the public, to encourage full participation.

I am concerned that all we might get is an "in-house" process, which lacks sufficient detail and objectivity.

Hard questions need to be asked and these have been evaded by ICANN all the way down the line.

"It is usually not ICANN but independent participants who ask the honest and awkward questions. What guarantee do we have that this "in-house" process will encourage a truly objective Evaluation, which remains independent of ICANN interference?"

Where is Sebastian Bachollet? Where is his work? Where is his process? Where is the opportunity for involvement? Is this just a cover up?

Conclusions:

I have waited over 500 days for even an acknowledgement of my concerns over the New TLD Process detailed here. I have waited over a year for a clear explanation of why the Registry Evaluation Reports have not been published. The bottom line is: this failure of management and implementation is growing more serious, and the need for belated action is wholly urgent. Otherwise, ICANN's decisions on selection and implementation of further New TLDs will appear arbitrary and ill-founded.

The ICANN Board committed itself to a Process. A Task Force worked extremely hard to design that Process. The ICANN Board agreed to proceed with that process.

But…

There is little sign of that Process. It is virtually invisible! Where, anywhere on the ICANN website, can people find an interface with Sebastian Bachollet and his Evaluation Process?

Will the selection of the further sponsored TLDs (sTLDs) be able to go ahead, if the Evaluation Process is as far behind as it appears to be? Will Sebastien's 6-month overseeing an Evaluation be sufficient to develop fair criteria, so that the selection of the next registries is not arbitrary ICANN preference, but founded on the detailed lessons learned from the previous problems?

What have we learned about Sunrise, about Landrush, about abuse of process, about implementation and enforcement of agreements, about registrars who game the system to warehouse names for themselves, about proposed marketing budgets which evaporate into thin air?

The NTEPPTF developed a huge and detailed list of areas deserving investigation.

What I think we're likely to get is a Light-version, which pays mere lip service to the "Proof of Concept", because it will suit ICANN to exhume as few skeletons as possible.

What will be best for ICANN is a cheap, quick, light-weight, in-house process, which gives the appearance of an investigation, but is got out of the way as quickly (6 months?) as possible, and as quietly as possible…

...as quietly, as Sebastian was appointed…

...ssssshhhhh!

By Richard Henderson, Active member of the At Large constituency

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Co-designer of the TCP/IP Protocols & the Architecture of the Internet

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