You do tend to view things like hearings at the most powerful bodies in your society as somehow important, but having reviewed what happened at the hearing at Senate Committee on Commerce, yesterday, you have to wonder what the point was.
Let’s hope the second one, starting now, is a little better.
The title of the first hearing was “Internet Governance: The Future of ICANN“, but there was no talk of Internet Governance and precious little of ICANN or its future. Instead, the hopelessly unfocussed meeting comprised of different people’s bugbears: the FTC complaining about Whois; GoDaddy complaining about the dotcom contract; and VeriSign complaining that it was even being questioned.
The only thing that was interesting was Commerce Secretary Kneuer’s vague response that the US government would continue the MoU with ICANN after it ends on 30 September, and that it would stress better accountability.
The Senators themselves were embarrassing in their ignorance of the issues, and appeared to do everything they could to reinforce the picture of powerful men revelling in their own foolish power. The whole hearing caused a few headlines but there was nothing useful, nothing of substance, in it. The opportunity to ask some big questions and then push for the answers was not so much lost as on holiday in Florida.
There is another hearing – this time at the House of Representatives and its Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet – starting now. This time the heading is: “ICANN Internet Governance: Is It Working?”
I very strongly suspect that we again will not witness any discussion of Internet governance, and will steer well clear of asking whether it is working. But what is most worrying are the people that have been invited onto the panel. They’re not there to discuss Internet Governance, they’re there to make sure that the argument for Whois is made (again) and that no criticism of VeriSign goes unpunished (again).
First up we have Secretary Kneuer and ICANN head Twomey. These two have been stuck in a room for weeks and have thrashed out the MoU – which they will announce formally in just over a week – so there are going to have a script which they won’t budge from and they will be mutually supportive.
Then we have the VeriSign stooges. Steve DelBianco from the Association for Competitive Technology. ACT is famous for pushing Microsoft’s position during the anti-trust hearings and now it is again protecting a monopolistic company that can afford the best lobbying available in Washington. A brief search of ACT’s website reveals that it also lives in VeriSign la-la land.
And in a self-parody of a lobbying organisation, it has consistently used “small business polls” to push its big business client’s interests. It’s a joke but, incredibly, it works, and as a main contributor to ACT, VeriSign gets its money’s worth.
But what’s this? Thomas M. Lenard of The Progress & Freedom Foundation – another VeriSign-sponsored lobby group. Well, actually it’s a Republican business lobby group but VeriSign has got at them through its political connections and given them some money, so effectively in this area, it’s a VeriSign body. It has certainly never taken anything more than an occasional interest in ICANN, and only when the heat was on. The PFF rabidly supported VeriSign through the SiteFinder debacle – one of the few times when the entire Internet community was in agreement. And it was dead-set against .xxx.
And then we have Mark Bohannon of the Software & Information Industry Association, who shouldn’t even be in the room. The reason he is is because of the Whois issue again. In fact the SIIA has never had anything to do with ICANN except over Whois. And I bet he has absolutely nothing to add beyond that topic.
Help us, Mr Feld
And finally, Harold Feld of the Media Access Project. I owe Mr Feld an apology – I criticised him for talking out of his hat when he posted that the Internet Governance Forum was no more than a UN plot to get control of the Net. Mr Feld had in fact just posted the announcement notice which had come from “Americans for a Secure Internet” – another VeriSign front. Mr Feld knows a thing or two about ICANN.
Or perhaps more accurately, he *used* to know a thing or two about ICANN and wrote some very good and insightful pieces about the organisation *in 2001*. I don’t what the reason was but Mr Feld and MAP have had nothing to do with ICANN since early 2003. It’s strange that he’s suddenly popped up again.
He’s even been good enough to release an early version of what he will say [pdf] though, and I agree with nearly everything he has to say, apart from the fact it comes from a US perspective and there is an intrinsic sense of “we must keep this” pride that I don’t have.
So, we shall see, the hearing is due to start any second.
So that’s the end of the testimonies. Now:
What strikes me as really odd is this consciously blinkered perspective that says it is either ICANN or it is the UN. Europe, Australasia and chunk of Asia are already agreed on the UN not taking charge and have talked about creating a new flexible international model for ICANN to slot into. Even the DoC lawyer that created ICANN, Becky Burr, drew up a model that kept ICANN’s job out of the UN but help reduce the risk of a split root.
Is the US Senate *really* incapable of seeing anything apart from UN or US control? It beggars belief.
And they’re back after a loooong time…
Here we go – an MP3 of the most interesting part of the whole hearing about the ICANN Appeals process.