February 15, 2007

Registrars and Customer Service - Three Comments - Part 3

This is a continuation of my previous note, "Registrars and Customer Service - Three Comments - Part 1".

One of the two letters was from David Maher of PIR, the registry handling .org.

I have great respect for David Maher - he's one of the "white hats".  But in this instance I believe he is going down the wrong path.

Perhaps the most important sentence of his letter was this:

While I recognize that the registrar function is best served by a competitive business model, the Internet has become too important to all its users to allow pure competition to set the standards for customer service.

When it comes to domain names under ICANN we have never ever had a "competitive business model".

What we have had is a highly regulated marketplace in which there is little real choice between domain name products - ICANN has dictated many of the terms of sale, ICANN has dictated the major price components (reserving a hefty chunk for registries such as PIR and for ICANN), and ICANN has severely constrained the number of vendors in the marketplace.

In other words, we are already living in the world in which there is not pure competition, indeed no real competition at all, except on a thin price margin above the core cost components that ICANN reserves for registries and for ICANN.

Why is this so?  Why are we consumers of domain names to be treated as children and not allowed the full possible smorgasbord of domain name products that vendors might create?

Let me be even more specific - By implication my proposal for a domain name product, my .ewe TLD, is a danger to the internet because it does not follow ICANN's rules.

But I deny that new, and different, ideas such as .ewe represent a danger to the stability of the internet.  Yes, such ideas pose a danger to the business stability of the current ICANN-approved incumbents, but we have never as a modern society accepted that there should be such protected marketplaces absent a clear, compelling, and clearly articulated reason for such protection.

So what I would like to hear is this:  What are the reasons that require NTIA and its secular arm, ICANN, to require that the domain name marketplace be wrapped with restrictions and limitations that effectively turn the domain name marketplace into a medieval guild?

I'm not willing to accept vague platitudes - I want to hear specific and concrete reasons.  And my measure of stability is based on the technical ability of the internet and the upper tier of the domain name system to turn DNS query packets into DNS reply packets with dispatch, accuracy, and without prejudice for or against any query source or query target.

I am sure that someone will raise the bogeyman of business failure of a registry or registrar causing hapless domain name owners to become orphans with names that no longer work.  To me that's a business issue, or a consumer protection issue.  The resolution of such issues is a governmental legislative matter, not something for a body whose role is technical coordination.  And there are easy, non intrusive answers to this - my own suggestion is that those registries and registrars that want to demonstrate a commitment to protecting their customers actually engage in data escrow programs and yearly audit themselves and post a statement attesting that they engage in adequate data preservation practices that a successor in interest could pick up the pieces and restore operations.  Consumers can learn to look elsewhere if a registry or registrar does not do these things.  This kind of self-protection on the part of consumers would be greatly enhanced if ICANN were to remove its existing rule against long-term registration contracts.

Posted by karl at February 15, 2007 11:53 PM