Saturday, 3 December 2005

ICANN admits it overruled its own evaluators' recommendation against ".travel"

Although Internet governing body ICANN continues to ignore my request for independent review of the lack of transparency in its decision to approve a .travel top-level Internet domain name -- limited to and controlled by the travel "industry", to the exclusion and the detriment of travellers -- crucial documents released by ICANN on the eve of its current annual meeting in Vancouver, Canada, reveal that ICANN's Board of Directors overruled the recommendations of its own secretly-appointed "independent" evaluators that ".travel" should not be approved.

ICANN's secret evaluation team based its newly-revealed recommendation on the difference between the industry of "commercial providers of travel services" (the sponsors of the ".travel" proposal) and the broader travel community for whose benefit it was supposedly proposed, and the absence of any evidence that the travel industry would be capable of representing the interests of the "very diverse" range of non-commercial, individual, and other interests in travel.

These were exactly the arguments I have been making from the start against the capture of the Internet travel namespace by exclusively commercial interests, and the arguments I had made in my comments to ICANN on the most recent ".travel" proposal.

After receiving the evaluators' report, ICANN gave notice of the recommendation to the applicant (Tralliance Corp., a wholly-owned subsidiary of TheGlobe.com/Voiceglo.com, which is controlled by the same principal owners as Florida tour operator Certified Vacations ), and gave Tralliance (and perhaps others) an opportunity to submit additional (still secret) evidence and arguments. Critics of the ".travel" proposal were never told of the evaluators' recommendation, and had no chance to see, comment on, or rebut Tralliance's second (and perhaps additional) round(s) of submissions to ICANN. (See pages 22-23 of the evaluators' just-released status report for the ".travel" decision-making chronology.)

And ICANN's Board of Directors, after reviewing these still-secret documents in closed meetings and discussions from which I and all journalists and observers were excluded (despite my specific request to be allowed to observe, and despite ICANN's bylaws requiring "the maximum extent feasible" of transparency) overturned the evaluators' recommendations and approved the industry-only ".travel" proposal.

The evaluators' report and recommendations (which also revealed for the first time the identities of the members of the secret evaluation teams) were very quietly posted on an inside page of the ICANN Web site earlier this week, after the week-long ICANN annual meeting in Vancouver had begun.

There's no mention of the release of these documents on ICANN's press or announcements pages. I received no notice of their release, even though I've been seeking them for months, and even though they are among the documents the withholding of which is the basis of my pending request for independent review" of the (non)transparency of ICANN's decision-making process on ".travel". I learned of their posting only yesterday, when they were mentioned during a meeting of ICANN's GNSO.

I would have questioned ICANN spokespeople about these documents, but had no chance. ICANN did organize a press conference for its own CEO, Paul Twomey, as well as for Tralliance CEO Ron Andruff, at its Vancouver meeting on Thursday morning. But there was no public notice of the press conference on the ICANN Web site or at the meeting and conference venue. Selected reporters, not including yours truly, were told of it privately.

Even though by happenstance I was in the designated "press room" (which is completely devoid of any information for the press) for the ICANN meeting when the press conference began, and even though my exclusion from a similar press conference at one of ICANN's previous meetings in Argentina in April is another of the issues in my request for independent review, I wasn't told the press conference was happening. Only by further happenstance, while looking for another session, did I wander into the press conference just as Twomey was finishing his last answer, turning the microphone over to Andruff, and leaving the room. An ICANN staff member in the room claimed to have been monitoring the "press@icann.org" address to which I had sent several of my requests, but also claimed never to have heard of me or to have received any of my e-mail messages.

The evaluators' key recommendations on ".travel" are in the report of the "Sponsorship and Other Issues Team" which consisted of Liz Williams, Pierre Ouedraogo, and Daniel J. Weitzner, on pages 107-109 of Appendix D of the evaluation documents:

.TRAVEL

The ET [Evaluation Team] were not persuaded that .travel met sufficient of the selection criteria to warrant the application proceeding to the next stage of negotiations.

The ET thought that the string [.travel] chosen by the applicants was too broad to enable an adequate definition of a Sponsoring Organization or to identify needs that were not already met by the existing gTLD structure.

While the applicant does a very thorough job of defining a community, we did not believe that the community is consistent in breadth with the name string .travel. Rather, the community defined is limited to the commercial providers of travel services. Also, the ET believes that the needs of the very diverse travel community are well met by the existing gTLDs and that this proposal could be integrated as a second level domain name into, for example, .com, .biz or .info, quite easily....

[T]he scope of the chosen name string is not consistent with the community that is being defined....

C. Appropriateness of the Sponsoring Organization and the policy formulation environment

We do not believe that the application has defined a policy formulation requirement that is sufficient to justify a separate TLD. The applicant asserts that this sTLD would be the first and only means by which the entire global and regional travel industry and its organizations are able to directly participate in domain policy formation and implementation. While this statement is true, we have not seen any reason why the needs of the travel community require distinctive policy treatment. The main activities they cite -- authentication of bona fide travel organizations, searching in approved travel services directories and promotion of online travel-related services -- are all services that can be accomplished outside the DNS. Both general purpose and industry-specific search tools in existence today demonstrate this fact. We did seek clarification on this point but the response in the supplemental answers did not offer substantially new information than that which was in the application.

We are pleased to see that, as described by the applicant, the potential constituents of the Sponsoring Organization make up "nearly 100%" of the travel industries associations worldwide....

But, based on concerns about the breath of implication of the term "travel", we are concenred ed that even this broad commercial representation does not meet the policy formulation requirements of the far-reaching sTLD that is proposed. Hence, the delegation of the entire sTLD namespace ".travel" by ICANN to this Sponsor would not result in appropriately representative policy formulation. The application therefore does meet the selection criteria in that it fails to define a policy formulation and delegation environment suitably tailored to the proposed sTLD.

D. Level of support from the Community

The application and supporting material indicate broad support from the travel industry... However, we are concerned (as described in section 2A) that even this breadth of [industry] support is not sufficient to sustain the designation ".travel," which has both commercial and non-commercial aspects.

The application does not meet the selection criteria....

2. COMMUNITY VALUE

A. Addition of new value to the Internet name space

The application has not demonstrated in sufficient detail how a specific .travel sTLD adds value and diversity to the domain name space. The stated function of the TLD is to serve the global travel industry. However, the implication of the chosen namestring .travel extends well beyond commercial travel services. For example, in answer to supplemental questions posed by the ET, the applicant indicated that individuals with an interest in travel would be excluded from registration, as would providers of travel-related products. While there is reason to consider such potential registrants as outside the of the travel services industry, they certainly fall within the general notion of "travel".

Hence, though the addition of new travel services could add value to the Internet, the narrow definition of the sponsoring organization and the corresponding breadth of the namestring appears more likely to add confusion than value. All of the advantages listed in the application can be achieved in the existing gTLD structure.

Furthermore, the public comment forum is particularly ambivalent about support for .travel, most notably because of lack of public interest representation and the failure to articulate how .travel would differentiate itself from existing services and whether it is representative of that community. [emphasis added]

Recommendation:

In light of all these factors, we believe that .travel does not meet the Sponsorship and Other Issues selection criteria set forth in the RFP.

We recommend that the applicants consider narrower strings which would define more tightly the commun ity they wish to serve. Alternatively , they may wish to broaden the definition and representation of the proposed community. In the meantime, they may wish to work with existing gTLDs to integrate their service offerings.

Additional documents concerning most of the latest applications for new sponsored top-level domain names (sTLD's) were also posted, but little detail about ".travel" remained in the rest of the expurgated documents. The evaluators said another of my comments (see page 69 of Appendix D) concerning ICANN's financial liability for ".travel" decisions was "worth noting", but the entire section of the business and financial evaluation of ".travel" to which that analysis of comments was appended was redacted from the evaluation as released. So we don't know what conclusions the evaluators may have drawn from that comment, or what they may have recommended with respect to the shaky finances of Tralliance and its corporate parents or the conditions in contracts with ICANN to require openness and transparency in decision-making by sTLD sponsors.

Also this week ICANN published its General Counsel and corporate secretary John Jeffrey's e-mail to me of 12 May 2005 (published on my own Web site in May when I received it), in which he gave a preview of some of the arguments ICANN might make to an Independent Review Panel (IRP), but said nothing about whether, when, or how ICANN would actually refer my request to an IRP.

But ICANN didn't publish, or link to, my immediate response of 17 May 2005, in which I reiterated the basis for my request and pointed out that I couldn't "confirm" anything about ICANN policies and procedures for independent review (if it even has any) until I saw them, which I haven't. In that message, I requested a copy of those policies and procedures. I haven't received them, I'm still waiting for them, and that request remains unacknowledged and unanswered.

ICANN also hasn't posted any of Mr. Jeffrey's subsequent messages in response to my requests for the status of my independent review request, including his incredible claim 25 August 2005 that he had been "under the impression" that I had abandoned my requests, or his last message to me the next day, 26 August 2005, stating that that, "We will review alll of the materials submitted to date and get back to you."

So far as I know, Mr. Jeffrey et al. (I don't know to whom the "we" in his message refers, since I've received no notice of any ICANN meeting to consider my request) is still "reviewing" my request, almost 8 months after it was made, and I'm still waiting for him or any ICANN officer or body to "get back to" me, to take any action on my requests, or even to schedule a meeting to consider them -- if a meeting is even needed to perform what should be an almost purely clerical task for ICANN of referring the request to an IRP.

ICANN's Board of Directors meets tomorrow, and its public forum continues today. Chairman of the Board Vint Cerf promised during the first half of the public forum yesterday that all comments sent to vancouver@icann.org would be published on the ICANN Web site (as hasn't happened with comments to the similar e-mail addresses for previous meetings) and considered by the Board.

[Addendum, 3 December 2005: Commentary on my report and why process matters from Michael Froomkin at ICANN Watch; on my request for independent review and on the scene at the ICANN meeting in Vancouver from Karl Auerbach; and on my request for independent review and what it's like to try to report on an ICANN meeting from my fellow journalist on the ICANN beat, Kieren McCarthy of The Register .]

[Further addendum, 4 December 2005, 08:00 a.m.: I've still received no response from ICANN, much less any action on my request. But here from Kieren McCarthy is a preview of the ICANN Board of Directors meeting scheduled to begin in half an hour. Including, in the sprit of travel writing, his review of the toilets at the meeting venue. ("What the hell has this got to do with ICANN, you freak? Resisting the temptation to draw a parallel between toilets and our beloved Internet overseeing organisation, nothing at all.")]

Link | Posted by Edward on Saturday, 3 December 2005, 07:36 ( 7:36 AM) | TrackBack (5)
Comments

The situation may be much worse than it appears. I understand that .Travel may be reserving and withholding availability on premium names for itself. Very troubling indeed. Is this an example of a domain space hijacked by commercial interests? Don't they have a duty to act equitably and impartially.

Posted by: Itsworsethanthat, 28 April 2007, 08:13 ( 8:13 AM)
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