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

Karl Auerbach karl at cavebear.com
Wed Jun 26 20:44:13 UTC 2019

I've changed the subject line to reflect the forking of the conversation.

There seem to be several points in this conversation:

   1. That the existing registry fees for legacy TLDs (particularly 
.com, .org, and .net) are not anchored to actual registry costs and thus 
represent an ICANN-protected form of monopoly rent.  And the lack of any 
actual inquiry/audit into the costs experienced by those registries 
makes it impossible to hold an objective conversation about those 
registry fees.  However, my back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest 
that ICANN's fiat and protected registry fee structure for legacy TLDs 
amounts to an yearly internet tax - largely paid into the coffers of 
Verisign and, to a much lesser extent, PIR, in excess of a $Billion USD 
each year.

   2. That some people want the end (registry+registrar) pricing of 
domains to be so high as to discourage either speculation or rapid 
changes (i.e. to help scammers hide.)

   3. That domain name registrants are a distinct class of people (to a 
degree an overlapping class) with internet users and that thus one must 
not let the former "stakeholders'" interests replace the latter 
"stakeholders'" interests.

With regard to each of these points:

   1. Many of us (myself included) are effectively trapped into the 
legacy TLDs.  The cost of changing to a new TLD is high, and ICANN's 
arbitrary ten year limit on registrations, coupled with weak limits on 
price increases, means that even if we change we would remain 
unprotected against predatory pricing.

   To start this conversation, ICANN ought to initiate a review of the 
actual costs incurred by legacy TLDs, clearly differentiating the actual 
costs from the costs of corporate imaging (such as fortress data centers 
- secure against tanks but not necessary safe from cyber attacks) or 
"research" groups.

   2. Speculators get a bad name - but we all do it.  Many of us have 
retirement savings plans tied to speculative assets such as stocks or 
real estate.  I've met a lot of domain name speculators and have sold 
some domain names myself.  I have not observed them to be particularly 
ill natured or predatory.  (I have observed, however, that there are 
underclasses who are less blessed - by this I mean people who snap up 
names that someone forgot to renew or that have been abandoned and then 
use them to capture - and capitalize upon - traffic that still comes to 
those names.  My own company has learned to never relinquish a no-longer 
needed name because of the risk of those names falling into the hands of 
those who find it useful to tarnish our corporate reputation.  So we 
bear a cost - probably for the life of the company - to retain those names.)

   If we are worried about scammers (and I count myself among those who 
are concerned) who use and then abandon names rapidly and bear little 
cost for doing so, let me suggest that we begin with an easier 
proposition:  Change the five minute name server update time that came 
into existence under ICANN to something more like the prior 24 hours, or 
something in the middle, like 6 hours.  Those of us who do name 
maintenance have long learned to tune down the TTLs on names in advance 
of making changes and then tuning up the TTLs once the change has been 
made and tested.

   And we should encourage DNSSEC to help fight the rogue DNS server 
problem.  (I'm guilty here, I've got DNSSEC enabled on only a few of my 

   It also does not help that so many TLS (think HTTPS) certificates 
these days all run to the same authority, Lets Encrypt.  That weakens 
the ability to use certificate chains as a means of increasing our 
confidence that https and other certificate base communications are 
actually hooked to the proper peer.

   3. As I've made clear over the years, I find the "stakeholder" model 
to be quite contrary to the notion of bottom-up governance. And here is 
a case in point.  If a particular person is to be pre-designated as a 
"domain name registrant" or "user" or "small business" or "intellectual 
property user" then that pre-designation distorts the distillation of 
views and, thus, outcomes.  In political terms here in the US we use the 
term "Gerrymandering" for that kind of shaping of the interests.

   I've long said that the atomic unit of interest is the individual 
human being.  By allowing only individual humans to be recognized, or 
rather, to be counted, when measuring a proposal we push the resolution 
of conflicts into each person as he/she resolves his/her own various 
interests.  Thus if we measured an ICANN proposal by the count of 
opinions of people - rather than by pushing those interests into 
"stakeholder" groups - then people could look to their several interests 
when they develop their point of view on a matter.

   (I would go so far as to deny corporations to have countable opinions 
- if a corporate entity can't prevail upon its employees or owners to 
express support for the corporate interest then why should we undertake 
to do so?  Of course, a corporate interest, as should any, interest, be 
allowed to provide information and express its point of view.  But that 
should be merely information that gains weight only as it is accepted by 
individual humans.)

   When I was on the ICANN board I found it a difficult task to 
reconcile the fact that I was a representative with the fact that I am 
also an individual with strong opinions.  I tried to resolve that 
dissonance by trying to openly interact with people  and interest groups 
- a practice that irked several of the other board members at the time - 
and to always consider that my own opinion could be wrong and ought to 
be changed.

   I remain convinced that, as the title of my note expresses: 
Stakeholderism - The Wrong Road For Internet Governance - 


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