[At-Large] The Case for Regulatory Capture at ICANN | Review Signal Blog

Evan Leibovitch evan at telly.org
Wed Jun 26 14:16:25 UTC 2019

On Wed, 26 Jun 2019 at 05:05, Olivier MJ Crépin-Leblond <ocl at gih.com> wrote:

> I agree with you that the price of domain names for end users to register
> is too high.

That statement, in a nutshell, explains one of the most fundamental things
wrong with ALAC.

Confusing end-users with registrants happens far too often within ALAC for
our own good. Their interests are not identical and really never have been.
And it is the source of genuine conflicts of interest that happen within
ALAC, not bogus ISOC conspiracy theories.
ICANN has always operated on the BS premise, propagated by the
domain-selling industry,  that every person and entity on earth is a
potential registrant who simply hasn't yet been convinced to buy one.
Besides being simply wrong, this approach has infiltrated ALAC culture to
the point where we're defending the interests of registrants rather than
end-users.  And in price caps we have an absolutely classic example.

Well, yeah, nobody wants to pay more for [ANYTHING] than they can get away
with. So it's in the interest of *registrants* to minimize prices. And
applying high-school-level economics suggests that we should simply apply
cost of production as the final price since ICANN doesn't deserve a markup.
Again, that is to argue for the interests of registrants and there is a
full one-half of GNSO that is empowered to speak for them. And they speak.
And, unlike ALAC, that half of GNSO actually gets to vote on policy
decisions which effectively bind the Board.

But to end-users? To people who will never buy a domain, many of whom will
actually type a FQDN on their browser less than once a year? What is their
stake in all of this? How are they impacted? These are questions that ALAC
has rarely if ever truly tackled, and yet this is the small-c constituency
we exist to speak for. We do a crappy job of it because we're constantly
conflating what's good for domain buyers with what's good for the billions
impacted by DNS policy. Our definition of consumers does not comprise the
consumers of domain names, but the consumers of the products and services
of domain owners. To the extent that we have constantly (and knowingly)
blurred that distinction, we have abrogated responsibility to perform
ALAC's bylaw-defined mandate.

I'd love nothing more than a debate on price caps -- or any other
substantive ICANN issue -- truly focused on the impact on people who don't
and never will own domains.

The CPWG just had an issue raised that we should take a stance on blocking
the use of currency codes (USD, EUR, JPY, RMB) as TLDs. My answer, with
which many fortunately agreed, was "who cares?". That issue may mean a
great deal to domain sellers and buyers, but it means not a whit to
non-domain-owning end-users. And thus ALAC should rightly just step away
from such internal ICANN conflicts unless and until there is impact to end
users. Block them, or don't, doesn't matter.

>From a purely end-user PoV I could easily argue that domains are massively
underpriced. Reduction in speculative and throw-away domains resulting from
higher domain pricing can have real end-user benefits. Many of the things
Olivier argues for are very justified, and he's also right that chances of
the domain cartel (GNSO) agreeing to them are zero. Indeed, ICANN probably
is incapable of incorporating the interests of end-users in its current
form. As Olivier suggests, this vacuum left by ICANN might get filled by
governments. Maybe the underpricing of domains can be addressed by taxation
if ICANN won't address it.

As Olivier also said, ALAC needs to keep speaking, but it needs to be
clearer whose interests it's speaking for. If we don't at least try to
address the interests of non-registrant end-users, who will?
- Evan
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