Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

The hollowing out of ICANN must stop

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

Last week, I did something I never expected to do. At the ICANN meeting in San Francisco, I stood up in front of several hundred people and the ICANN Board of Directors and delivered a full and frank criticism of the management of ICANN’s current CEO, Rod Beckstrom.

The response to this speech was overwhelmingly strong and supportive, both in the immediate and lengthy applause and, since then, in a constant stream of handshakes, twitter and facebook shout-outs, and emails – many of which were privately sent by current members of the ICANN staff. I am re-producing my comments here so that they may be more widely available and spark further public debate.

I know the Internet community well enough to say that this is not a popularity contest, and the support I’ve received for my comments isn’t personal. There is a widely shared and profound disquiet at how this organization has been managed, horror at the near-vandalism of the damage done, and a growing sense that it must stop.

“My name is Maria Farrell. I am a member of this year’s Nominating Committee, appointed by the NCUC (Non Commercial User Constituency), and I was previously a member of theICANN staff.

I have the distinction of being the first of a mass exodus of staff from the ICANN organization, in a series of forced departures which continue to this day.

I have kept silent and not spoken about this out of loyalty to the organization and respect for the leadership, and also my desire not to make a difficult situation worse for the ICANN staff. But my profound disquiet about how the organization is operationally being managed has moved me to speak to the Board today.

There has been a vast hollowing out of expertise, of relationships, of institutional memory, and of goodwill for this organization, and I believe the impact on ICANN ’s operational effectiveness has been profound. The impact on the international reputation is also quite an issue.

There is a climate of fear stalking the ICANN staff. People are afraid to speak frankly internally, and to speak unpalatable truths behind closed doors, the sorts of things that need to be discussed to allow the organization to function efficiently.

People are afraid of losing their jobs by doing their jobs.

The collegiality that we knew as former ICANN staff seems to have evaporated as we have hemorrhaged talent over the last year or so. The culture of collegiality has made way for one of managing up and managing expectations, rather than serving the community.

Operational planning is in some disarray, as budgets are made up as we go along, priorities change, and internal communication is nonexistent.

I believe also that ICANN’s relationships that have been cultivated around the world over many years and with much assiduity have been trashed.

This hollowing out of the expertise of the ICANN organization, of goodwill, and the trashing of its international reputation has come to such an extent that I believe it requires urgent board attention.

These are very harsh words. I don’t deliver them with any sense of ease or happiness, but I do believe although the board doesn’t wish to be involved in micromanagement, that it needs to pay attention to these issues.

Thank you.” (more…)

IPv4 endgame; following the money

Thursday, March 17th, 2011
As part of its campaign to be able to buy and sell IPv4 addresses in the profitable end game of numbering availability, Depository Inc., a US company led by David H. Holtzman (formerly of NSI) has written to ICANN complaining about the US regional Internet registry, ARIN. Depository wants bulk access to ARIN’s IP Whois in order to ensure accuracy of its own records, and says it doesn’t intend to use the database for direct marketing. ARIN rather unconvincingly argues that Depository’s stated use would contravene the community-developed acceptable use policy. Without bulk Whois, it’s hard to see how Depository can reliably sell routable address space to its own putative registrants. But how could a private firm with no obligation to the multi-stakeholder process or global Internet community get its hands on addresses and legitimately sell them on?
Many of these initial allocations were enormous; giving rise to the oft-stated complaint a few years ago that MIT had far more IP addresses than China. Initially, Internet address blocks were doled out to techies ‘in the know’ and in countries that got their Internet acts together quickly. In the early 2000’s, the UN’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which had initially ignored the Internet or railed against it – started clamouring to be the numbering authority. ITU’s argument that a closed shop of rich country engineers could not be allowed to divvy up the global public pool of address space resounded strongly with its largely developing country membership. But those interested in developing the Internet itself, and not simply using IP addresses as a communications ministry cash cow, agreed that the while the ITU proposal might arguably be fair, it was far from efficient.  Something had to be done. (more…)

We interrupt this programming

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

… to explain the lack of content on this blog for the past couple of months. I’ve been working flat out at the World Bank, with infoDev, a unit that works on technology and innovation in economic development. I’m handling infoDev’s communications and also an exciting new project with Brazil on what they should do with e-waste.

Which is all well and good, but hasn’t left any time for blogging. In the past week alone, I’ve made mental notes for pieces on Nokia and Finland’s industrial policy, Mozilla’s inspiring project, Drumbeat (‘keeping the web open’),  and two really fascinating and worthwhile organisations I’ve encountered; Panos, a DFID-funded nonprofit that gets more informed development-related information into the media, and Intermedia, a research consultancy that figures out how effective communication programs are.

Working at The Bank, as you call it once you work there, is stimulating and tantalizing. Amidst the organizational sludge of a large institution, there are many bright lights doing unexpected and imaginative things. The Open Data initiative launched earlier this summer is a great example of what a small-ish group of determined progressives can achieve. There are endless brownbag lunches with experts and luminaries, from celeb-advocates like Shakira or Christy Turlington Burns to the living legends in my universe such as Doug North. But frequently I’m crashing on a deadline and don’t have time to go and listen.

I feel like I’ve become an even more central node in a buzzing information network, grabbing wildly at packets flying past. So it’s a time with lots of absorbing information, some processing of it, but not much spitting it back out in the form of blog posts. This too will pass.

In December, I plan to be at ICANN’s Cartegena, Colombia meeting, writing pieces every day. And next year, when I finish up in the Bank and move back to the UK, I expect to have a lot more writing time. Until then, I hesitate to announce a hiatus as it’s a blogging cliche that such an announcement releases the writer from the anxiety of the blank screen and precipitates a flood of posts. We’ll see.

IDNs: The Internet has changed forever, and no one seems to have noticed

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010
Yesterday, one of the biggest events in the history of the Internet took place; non-Latin top-level domains went live in the DNS root zone. In plain English, you can now type the whole of a domain name in Arabic script. Not just the left of the dot (as in dot org) but the right of it, too. The three new top-level domains are السعودية. (“Al-Saudiah”), امارات. ( “Emarat”) and مصر. (“Misr”). They are country code names in Arabic for Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

How did this happen? Years of collaboration and cooperation between countless technical, policy and linguistic experts around the world, endless patience and a fair amount of justified and motivating impatience for people to be able to use their own scripts and thus languages to access the Internet.

As Tina Dam, who leads ICANN work on internationalising domain names puts it, credit goes to the “registries and governments that have worked actively locally; the IDNA protocol authors; the policy makers; application developers” such as browsers who had to figure out how to make the url field read from right to left, and many, many more. Keep reading

Unhappy Mondays

Monday, March 15th, 2010

One of my last days in Dublin before I moved back to DC consisted of:

(a long dreary tale of visa woes) (more…)

Internet’s Government Advisory Committee is raising its game

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

http://www.youcellar.comAt the ICANN GAC (Government Advisory Committee) and Board meeting this week in Nairobi, the first topic was the GAC Secretariat. The question was ‘how can the GAC get more secretariat and policy support for its  work?’. For a dry and dusty sounding question, it actually touches on crucial issues of the role of governments in coordinating the domain name and numbering systems. Today I can happily report that last night, GAC moved much closer to pooling funds for secretariat and policy support. Brazil and the Netherlands are already committing funds to the project. This will be a very important step for the GAC as it will help it to be more effective within ICANN, and also demonstrates governments’ real commitment to the process.

The big reason GAC needs to beef up its support system is so it can do real work between ICANN meetings. Right now significant intersessional work, such as that on the GAC’s principles on IDN ccTLDs, is the exception and not the rule. The GAC wants to have input on the public policy aspects of big ICANN decisions, but it moves too slowly to play its full and expected role.

Asking everyone else to slow down to GAC’s pace just doesn’t cut it. The delays caused create ill will amongst the rest of the community and mean the GAC has less clout than it thinks it should have. Or, as non-GAC people might put it, the GAC wakes up towards the end of a long and public policy process and tries to insist on fundamental changes. As Ray Plzak – co chair with Heather Dryden of a Board/GAC working group – said, the GAC has learnt the hard way that “the longer you wait in a process, the stronger your statement has to be.” And the harder it is to have any impact, and the less your peers in other stakeholder groups think of your ability to be a team player.


Whither .XXX?

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

http://www.cobrasoft.beWhat’s going to happen this week on .XXX? Nairobi is the first public board meeting since the independent review panel’s nonbinding declaration in February  that ICANN acted against its own rules in refusing to go ahead with .XXX. Reports that ICANN is going to ‘do something’ about .XXX have gone around the world via BBC news, and even surfaced on the radio in rural Ireland. The ICM team are out in force here in Nairobi, and there is endless speculation about what will happen at the Board’s meeting on Friday.

ICM has no interest in being fobbed off with an invitation to join the new gTLD application process. That process is horribly delayed, of still uncertain timing and outcome, and would expose ICM to immediate competition from other porn-related TLDs. ICM has assiduously played by the rules and understandably does not wish to go to the back of the queue.

This could go one of two ways. First and most likely, the Board will fulfill its legal obligation to consider the panel’s decision by having, and being seen to have at its public meeting on Friday, a discussion of the ruling. Then, perhaps regretfully, it will punt on any action by adopting some sort of delaying mechanism. One way to buy time and maybe even some credibility would be for the Board to put the 2007 registry contract with ICM out for another round of public comment. ICM says it will take legal action if there’s any delay, though this might be hard to justify if it’s ‘just one more’ round of public comment. (more…)

My completely unreliable notes of the GAC/Board meeting on 9 March

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

I seem to have done a lot more typing than thinking today. It’s what my old LSE prof, Patrick Dunleavy would call a classic work displacement technique. One method I use to keep me focused on very long sessions is to take close to verbatim notes – it keeps my mind from wandering and makes me think harder about what I hear. As I’ve spotted that the public GAC/Board meeting that just finished only has an audio stream on the meeting website, I’m posting my Completely Unreliable Notes in case they’re useful to anyone else.

I hesitate to post these notes as the last thing I want to be known as is Typing Girl. This may be ICANN and it may be 2010 and the day after International Women’s Day, and not an episode of  Mad Men. But the next thing I know, someone will be slapping me on the rump as I fetch their coffee. (In much the same fashion that Alec Baldwin grabbed Kathryn Bigelow’s after he gave her the 2nd Oscar. Classy guy.)

Anyway, I’ll run the risk of the perils of patriarchy and reproduce the notes after the fold, as a public service. Enjoy.

Disclaimers: if you read anything surprising or controversial, check against the audio recording in my link above. I’m far too lazy to put people’s proper names, and in the case of a couple of GAC reps, I don’t actually know them. So employ your best guess that ‘Bertrand’ is the suave Frenchman, Bertrand de la Chapelle, Rod B is indeed ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom, and ‘Norway’ is, ahem, the government representative from Norway. Full list of GAC members is here. (more…)

ICANN Nairobi; CEO throws down the gauntlet to African governments

Monday, March 8th, 2010

After an amazing dance performance to open its Nairobi meeting this morning, ICANN’s CEO and President Rod Beckstrom threw down the gauntlet to African governments. In his opening speech, Beckstrom got quickly through the usual platitudes about the Internet’s potential to speed up economic development. He instead highlighted successes in development led by using a more bottom-up approach (the ‘Internet approach’) and identified Kenya as a leader. But despite all this good work, Beckstrom noted, there are still a billion people in Africa that need to be connected. What should be done for them?

Beckstrom invited east African heads of state from the IGAD meeting in this building tomorrow to come over to the ICANN meeting, taking ‘a few small steps for them and making a big leap for the Internet in Africa’. Then he told us how he really feels…

Beckstrom threw down the gauntlet to all African governments, asking them to:*

  • Shatter telecoms monopolies. He asked ‘how can the poorest people on earth pay the highest internet prices?’ and called out high connectivity costs as an impediment to development.
  • Dispel the untrue stories about the Internet circulating in Africa, specifically the myth that there aren’t enough IPv6 addresses for African countries. He said Afrinic, the regional Internet registry for Africa, is one of the finest RIRs in the world and has over a trillion addresses to give out already. Globally, IPv6 create enough addresses to give a million each to every man woman and child in the world. Beckstrom called on African leaders to hold their ministers responsible and dispel those dishonest scarcity stories. He went so far as to say that people who spread dishonest stories cannot be trusted to make policy.
  • Get more involved in Internet policy making. 19 African countries are represented on ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, but over 30 are missing. If these countries don’t have a seat at the table, how can they shape the future of the Internet?
  • Look at the Internet not just as a part of critical industrial structure, but as a platform for the future and for development.

Stopping just short of calling unnamed government people liars, Beckstrom unleashed some bold rhetoric about IPv6 and how, implicitly, untruths about the numbers available are being used to further a political agenda that is emphatically not bottom-up, not multi-stakeholder and not in the interests of anyone who wants an innovative, open and end to end network. It was a brave speech which, by some accounts, had already been toned down to better meet the political sensitivities of the region. Many thought it still went too far. (more…)

Google and Italy

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010


Google Pavarotti

Three Google executives have been convicted of violating Italian privacy law because of a children’s bullying video posted briefly by Google in 2006. Although Google took down the offending video of several children in Turin cruelly taunting a mentally disabled boy, and subsequently helped authorities to identify and convict the person who posted the video, three executives were convicted today of violating privacy. A fourth employee who has since left the company had his charges dropped, which seems to indicate that a political point is being made. The executives in question are outraged, and former UK Information Commissioner Richard Thomas is quoted as saying the episode makes a mockery of privacy laws.

For years I’ve observed that Italy always pushes for the most extreme EU version of laws about privacy and security and then domestically gold-plates them into laws that would seem more at home in Turkmenistan. It makes other Europeans scratch their heads as the Italians generally aren’t willing or able to enforce their draconian laws. Several years ago over a pint in Brussels, an exasperated UK official told me:

 ‘The Italians have no intention of ever implementing this stuff, but we’re a common law country and if it’s on the books, we actually have to do it’.