July 04, 2002

Ian Hanomansing: Where's the Coverage of Convergence?

ICANN, the supposedly democratic body that is in charge of governing internet domain names, seems to be avoiding the most basic principles of transparency. Salon's interview with John Gilmore has details, and bit of interesting history of the domain name system.

The strings that were pulled before and during the Clinton administration's "Green Paper" and "White Paper" process, that ultimately resulted in the creation of NewCo, also known as ICANN, were pulled by SAIC. SAIC is a very interesting for-profit company with a multibillion-dollar annual revenue, most of which comes from classified contracts with the U.S. military. What's even more interesting about SAIC is that there is no external control on it: It is "employee-owned," i.e., there are no outside stockholders. If you leave the company, you have to sell your shares in it. SAIC's board of directors reads like a who's who of the military-industrial complex (former secretaries of defense, spy-agency heads, etc.). When you read about the government wasting billions on "homeland security," guess who gets it. SAIC's home page features their new brochure on "SAIC -- Securing the Homeland."

Somebody at SAIC noticed that a tiny company had gotten the temporary monopoly to run the domain name system, and was being paid a few million dollars by the government, over a few years, to do all the work. In March 1995, SAIC acquired this company (Network Solutions) for $3 million, from its founder, who had won the bid because his five- or 10-person company was "minority owned." (He later complained bitterly that they'd screwed him.)

Within the next six months, somebody inside the U.S. government suddenly decided that Network Solutions (the new SAIC subsidiary) could charge every domain name holder $50 per year, extracting hundreds of millions of dollars from Internet users. That policy was instituted despite the best efforts of the Internet community to stop it. That's one string that was pulled. Who exactly pulled it? Sounds like a job for an investigative reporter.

I helped to design and build the infrastructure for CORE to become a domain name registry. It cost us less than 25 cents per year per name to run. Even if you added the likely legal bills from NSI suing us, it amounted to less than $2 per year for each domain name. NSI is still charging $6 per year, and doing it in much higher volumes, where it should actually cost them less than 1 cent per year to do the work.

posted by dru in politicsoftech