World will change ICANN's future, CEO says

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun May 10 21:05:20 UTC 2009

World will change ICANN's future, CEO says

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Almost from the first day it was created in 1998, ICANN, the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has been at the heart of a
worldwide controversy over who should control the Internet. Set up as
a nonprofit in California to coordinate the Internet's address system
and parts of the Internet's plumbing, ICANN is pushed and pulled more
than ever as more people around the world go online.

Just last week, a commissioner for the European Union, Viviane Reding,
called on President Obama to sever ICANN's ties with the U.S.
Department of Commerce when the joint agreement between the two
organizations expires on Sept. 30. She wants ICANN to be made
accountable to an international body - a "G12 for Internet
governance." ICANN President and CEO Paul Twomey, a genial Australian
whose job is to balance all of ICANN's opposing factions, called
Reding's stance "personal" and said the G12 is not necessary. But he
also said the agreement with the United States should be allowed to
expire because ICANN is ready to stand on its own.

Twomey plans to step down from ICANN this year after more than six
years of being in charge. He stopped by The Chronicle to talk about
how the Internet will continue to change as ICANN opens it to millions
of new users outside the United States - a job that he said is like
going through "a 15-story building that had red brick columns, and
changing all those red bricks to multicolored bricks, and doing it in
a way that makes certain the door is still open and the windows still

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: When can we expect to have international top-level domain names in
different languages?

A: I'm thinking first quarter of next year. There's a series of
countries - the northeast Asians, the Arabs, the Indians, the
Arabic-speaking Farsi, south Asia if you like, and then the Bulgarians
and the Greeks and the Russians - have all expressed interest in
fast-tracking this process. And this has got very high attention.

In Russia, it is an agenda item for both the president and the prime
minister. Similarly, we've had lots of good conversations with the
Chinese - it's going to the top of ministries and to state councils.

It's also a very high priority for India. The Indians are putting
fiber into 600,000 villages across India. Around 150 million people in
India speak English. The next billion don't.

So the policy is to bring the Internet to the next 300 to 400 million
people in India. To do that they have to have a keyboard that's in the
character set of the village. There are 22 official languages and 11

Q: What implications does this have for balkanizing the Internet? We
as English speakers are spoiled because the entire Internet has been
open to us, pretty much. Will that no longer be the case?

A: Let's be clear about what we mean when we say "the Internet."

The Internet has three layers. There is a transit layer - the pipes
and the radio signals. There is the protocol layer, which is the stuff
we're worried about - the mechanisms whereby every device on the
Internet talks to every other device, where 250,000 private networks
operate as one single, global, interoperable Internet.

And then sitting on top of those is the application layer. The reality
is that the application layer is increasingly localizing, and as a
consequence we're going to see the Internet reflect the world - the
local and the global.

Think how many businesses down in the Valley are all about local -
you've got to be local, right? Well, we're going to be local in
Shenzhen and we're going to be local in Hyderabad, not just local in
Boise, Idaho.

What we've been very concerned about is to ensure it's done in a way
that's fully integrated across the entire global Internet.

So, to give you an example, there were various proprietary voices in
the Middle East promoting plug-in mechanisms for Arabic that had to be
put in at the ISP level for people to have a fully Arabic experience.
The difficulty with that is that if you went to Switzerland on
holidays, it wouldn't work.

What we're concerned about is having a mechanism that no matter where
you are, from Norway to New Zealand, it's going to work. There is only
one single global technology. The TCP/IP protocol doesn't recognize
geographic boundaries, it's a topological network. This is one of the
geniuses of the Internet, why it's grown so quickly. We're very
committed to promoting that.

Q: If I had a domain name that was in, for example, Chinese
characters, and I didn't have my (Chinese keyboard) with me, how would
I type it?

A: Let me give an Australian example. I've got six or seven domain
names from some of the businesses I've had. We had domain names that
were "dot com" because we wanted to say we were global, particularly
focused on North America, and we had "dot biz" for similar reasons.
But we had "dot au" and "dot hk" because we wanted to say we're
Australian or we're Hong Kong Chinese, or whatever.

Even in ASCII, people use domain names as a form of identity. I think
that will be even more so around international domain name country

If you're in China, people will use the Chinese. And if they want to
deal with Wal-Mart as a buyer of their manufactured goods, they can
have a "dot com" or a "dot biz" or something in Roman characters, and
both Web sites will probably resolve to a hosted site that has English
and Chinese on it.

And if people have only an Urdu domain name, then they are probably
saying that they don't identify people who speak English or whatever.

I do think also that innovation will come in here and people will do
all sorts of translation.

Q: What are some of the new domain names that are coming online?

A: I'm hesitating because we leave it to potential applicants to go
public rather than us outing the field. But I will give an example.

There's clearly a series of geographic-specific ones. There's a series
of cities coming out - "dot berlin," "dot paris," "dot london." There
are some people who want to apply for "dot galicia" in Spain.

Q: "Dot nyc"?

A: "Dot nyc."

Q: "Dot sanfrancisco"?

A: Not yet that I know of ...

Q: We'd better get right on it.

A: So those are taking off, and at the same time our governmental
advisory committee is quite concerned about geopolitical terms,
geographical terms. We're putting in place a series of objections and
processes around geopolitical terms, which are quite an issueQ: Just a
silly question. Who has the right to apply for "dot sanfrancisco"?

A: Excellent question. It's likely that you would need to have the
support of the relevant public authority. And we will probably leave
it up somewhat to the local community to define what the relevant
public authority is.

We've also got regional communities. We're fully expecting
applications for indigenous groups - some from Europe, some from the
South Pacific. Certainly there's been talk about a "dot Marriott" at
some stage.

Q: Why not have unlimited top-level domains, just have people create
their own? Or is that part of the plan?

A: That's the plan. The BBC described it as "dot almost anything
goes." I like to think of it as "dot almost anything goes, but not
with complete chaos." There are going to be some rules around it.
There are going to be places for objections.

For a top-level domain, you can object on intellectual property
grounds. We've got a lot of experience from what we call the uniform
dispute resolution process. Something like 36,000 cases of these have
already been resolved in the last 10 years.

There are (dispute) mechanisms if you apply for a top-level domain.
I'm the Coke and Cola Association of the world and you're a certain
well-known beverage manufacturer in Atlanta. Who can get "dot coke,"

Or if you apply for "dot kom," "dot con" or something like that. It's
obviously a variation on a top-level domain. Also if you put forward a
string purporting to represent a community, but you don't really. You
put forward "dot maui," but you're really just a shoe manufacturer
with a new (Hawaiian-like) brand. There was period of time in Silicon
Valley when everything was in the Hawaiian language - people were
searching through languages for stuff like that.

And the last area is potentially morality and public order. The
community view was that there may well be applications or strings put
forward that are so controversial that they could actually run against
morality and public order.

That's a difficult issue, so the proposal would be for a senior
appellate judge of international arbitration and there would be quite
a narrow mandate for what could be taken to that judge. There's still
a lot of discussion going on in the community - we'll go through
several rounds of discussion on the implementation.

Q: What's the makeup of registered domains now?

A: There are about 170 million domain names in the world at the
moment, of which just over half are country codes. "Dot com" I think
is just short of 80 million, which is by far the major number for the
generic top-level domains.

Well over 70 percent of the registrations are in North America, so in
some respects, "dot com" is the de facto country code for the United

>>From what I'm seeing so far, it looks like we will potentially get
four categories of applications.

The first is for a series of generic names. There will be more than
one application for "dot web" and things like "dot shop," that sort of

There's also a group of people who are applying for community-based,
top-level domains like the geographical or ethnic communities or
associations. For instance, "dot coop" is a top-level domain with
about 8,000 registrations that have been in place for eight or nine
years, and I understand they're quite pumped. They don't need to have
8 million, only 8,000.

There are people who are going to apply for brand-related top-level
domains. We've been surprised by how much people are interested in

I've had some of the funniest experiences of having intellectual
property people from "Mega Corp." complain to me on Monday about how
the world's falling in, and on Wednesday having the product people
ring me to say, "Can we have the first (domain)? Because we have a new
product out and we'd like to launch with it."

I'm hesitating to use any examples, but you could have "dot car
manufacturer," and before that you would have "Brand A dot car
manufacturer" and "Brand B dot car manufacturer."

Some people seem to be interested in these mostly for e-mail. They
will basically shift their e-mail, again using e-mail as a form of
branding, to being Fred at Mega Corp., and they might have a few
second-level domains sitting behind the top-level domain.

And then the other one is going to be the internationalized domain
names, particularly the country code level, but also potentially for

Q: ICANN has had a sort of love/hate relationship with VeriSign over
the years. (VeriSign's legal challenge to ICANN's authority was
settled in 2006.) What's the relationship now?

A: I think it's a very constructive relationship now. Also, the
present leadership of VeriSign has been very constructive.

While people are very vigorous in defending their positions within the
contexts of ICANN and its frameworks, I think in the attempts to try
to break up ICANN, to destroy ICANN, people don't realize that the
only real alternative to an ICANN-type model is a series of national

You would go from the present marketplace to something which is
nationally licensed all around the world. That's a big change, and I
think most of the players are saying, "No, we don't want to be in that

Q: Has there been pressure to take any of this away from ICANN, to
take some authority away?

A: Yes. There are about 20,000 people in our community who are
involved on a somewhat regular basis with the issues we deal with.
It's probably getting bigger.

I'm increasingly surprised at meetings I'm asked to, where I find out
the people in the room know a lot about ICANN. I'm thinking, "Why
would you?" But they do.

We have a staff of about 120 people now. We have a board of 21, and
we've got around 2,000 regularly attending volunteers distributed all
around the world.

The consequence is that running ICANN is like running a business or a
political party. It's got a lot of similarities of different groups
coming together, of having factions talk to factions, working through
processes, people coming to common policy, and running a diplomatic
service because we deal with every country in the world.

The element you point out is this voice of American imperialism. It's
certainly something I've had to deal with a lot over the last 10
years, and I think one of the things we have shown and continue to
show in ICANN is look - you can't wish away history. There's an origin
of where this all came from.

But on the other side is ICANN - ICANN got stronger and more people
(from different places) have participated, and the more ICANN has
engaged in issues that address the rest of the world, the more there's
been a sense that ICANN stands for the United States.

You remember what happened here in the 1990s when there was the
Bellheads and the Netheads debate (engineers who grew up in the
telephone industry versus the engineers who knew the Internet)? A lot
of countries had the same thing going on.

You've had the security forces, broadly defined, who don't like what's
going on because they naturally like command and control, and they're
gradually getting used to things changing.

In India only four years ago, I can still remember being in
conversation with ministers who were part of the department that was
very anti-Internet, and the other (department) was pro-information
technology. That's all gone. It's all changed in a relatively short
period of time.

Our links with the United States government, which is the Joint
Project Agreement with the Department of Commerce and the procurement
contract for the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) functions,
are still there. People still raise them.

But I think we've got a pathway forward to show progress, although
we're going to continue to have a close link with United States. We
don't dispute that. So it's a balancing trick.

I do suspect that for a couple of years in some parts of the world we
became a proxy for U.S. foreign policy - and that has been noticeably
different since the election.

Q: The big story this year has been the global economic downturn. How
has that affected ICANN, or has it?

A: We take a pretty conservative approach to potential downturns and
revenue streams, so that's part of the reason why our expenditures are
not over our revenues, even though we're nonprofit.

There was an expectation that the top-level domain space would go flat
and the country codes would keep increasing. From what I've heard,
generic top-level domains have not gone flat, at least not so far this
year. They continue to grow.

I did hear yesterday that at the Amsterdam Internet Exchange, traffic
from June to December last year increased by about 50 percent, which
might mean that even in periods of downturn people turn to the

I could put a hypothesis to you - if people are losing their jobs,
they may decide they want to set up home businesses, and if you set up
a home business, one of the things you do is get yourself a domain

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