Saturday, 1 November 2003

The fix is still in on .travel

At its annual business meeting, the day after its public forum — not , ICANN announced “an expedited process for a round of new sponsored generic top level domains (sTLDs), which will result in new sTLDs in 2004. sTLDs serve specific communities. (Examples of current sTLDs include .museum, .coop, and .aero.) “ICANN is working hard to listen and be responsive to the Internet community’s needs and they have asked for us to address the issues regarding new sTLDs” stated [ICANN’s CEO and President] Dr. [Paul] Twomey, who introduced the resolutions to the Board.” ( text of ICANN resolution )

Such are the depths of ICANN doublespeak: “working hard to listen” by adjourning before the start of the open mike for public comments.

Apparently some comments were taken earlier in the day, from those in the room in Tunisia or who had found out the comment e-mail address and submitted comments in advance, without waiting to see what proposals would be introduced at the last minute (usually, in ICANN’s usual modus operandi , the most important ones). But those who actually wanted to respond to the staff and board proposals, and couldn’t afford to be in Carthage, were SOL.

Anyway, ICANN’s decision was exactly what IATA and its current front groups for its .travel scheme, Tralliance Corp. and the Travel Partnership Corp. , had requested (demanded?) in a letter to the ICANN Board of Directors after the Board’s last telephone conference, when the Board indicated that it might not approve a request for TLD sponsorship proposals at the Carthage meeting.

IATA wanted to make sure that it’s designee would be awarded .travel, ASAP, to manage for the benefit of the travel industry (and without regard for any conflicting interests of travellers, travel consumers, NGO’s concerned with travel, or Internet users at large). Delivering .travel to IATA required the following, and this is exactly what IATA approved:

  1. IATA wants .travel approved, ASAP, since IATA and its friends have already been taking ICANN approval for granted and spending money on .travel plans accordingly. IATA got what they wanted: the ICANN board voted to direct ICANN’s president to publish an RFP for new TLD’s by 31 December 2003, not waiting for the evaluation — only just begun — of the (failure of the) previous round of TLD’s including .aero . Interestingly, the Travel Partnership Corp. based its appeal for hasty action by ICANN on the cost to the TPC and its “constituents” of “delay” in approving .travel. This argument would make sense only if ICANN had already promised .travel to the TPC; if the only remaining isse was when — not whether — .travel would be awarded to the TPC and its partners; and if the TPC had invested in its plans on the basis of such a promise by ICANN. But the TPC didn’t even exist when IATA’s original application for .travel was passed over in 2000 — on the appropriate grounds that IATA airlines don’t represent the diversity of travel constituencies. And ICANN has never made any public statement whatsoever to the TPC, or promising to award .travel to anyone at all. The TPC’s letter and its arguments are an implicit admission that there was a secret promise by ICANN that .travel would be awarded to IATA — whihc there was, specifically through former ICANN staff person (and de facto manging director) Louis Touton), as I’ve written previously and described directly to the ICANN Board in my comments to previous ICANN meetings . The TPC’s letter was a thinly-veiled demand to ICANN to honor ICANN’s secret promise, and apparently ICANN got the message and acted accordingly.

  2. IATA needed a “sponsored” rather than an “unsponsored” domain: airlines and the rest of the travel industry weren’t interested in the existence of a TLD for travel, open to all constituencies with an interest in travel. No, the whole point was to get control of the Internet travel namespace (IATA is a cartel , remember), which is only permitted with a sponsored TLD. IATA and the TPC got what they wanted: ICANN will only consider applications for new sponsored TLD’s.

  3. IATA had originally argued for limiting the next round of TLD’s to failed applications from the 2000 TLD application round (to rule out any potential competitors for .travel) by non-profit sponsors (IATA is, in theory, a non-profit orgnaization, although that’s a bit of a stretch since all its members are for-profit or government-owned airlines). But ICANN passed over IATA’s .travel application in 2000 because IATA couldn’t represent all travel interests, and IATA had to create a new “non-profit” corporation, the TPC, to give the appearance of broader representation in the sponsoring body for .travel. Having done so, IATA realized that they couldn’t necessarily “transfer” the original application to the new entity (without making apparent that it was a captive front for IATA), and that even if they did, the TPC as a new shell corporation couldn’t meet the qualifications to actually operate a TLD. Tralliance Corp. might meet those qualifications, and has close ties to ICANN insiders, but it’s a for-profit corporation. So IATA & Co. reversed themselves, and asked ICANN to eliminate the limitation to nonprofit sponsors passed over in 2000 . ICANN dutifully did so: the new RFP will allow applications for sponsored TLD’s by any nonprofit or for-profit entity.

  4. Especially with applications theoretically open to all comers, IATA needed some way to ensure itself preferential treatment. ICANN delivered: the new round of TLD applications will be conducted so quickly as to heavily favor those who’ve already prepared their applications, and will lead to approval of only the top few applicants, probably 3, no matter how many worthy applications are submitted.

The fix is still in. Unless something major happens to derail it, ICANN will award sponsorship of a .travel TLD to Tralliance Corp. (with a nominal role for the TPC — which will be forgotten as soon as the sponsorship agreement is signed — as “policy making” body) as a front for IATA and the travel industry — to the exclusion of the interests of travellers, travel consumers, consumer advocates, and Internet users at large — at the next ICANN Board of Directors meeting, in Rome in March 2004.

Link | Posted by Edward on Saturday, 1 November 2003, 15:38 ( 3:38 PM)
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