Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)
Hosted by David McGuire
Guest: Stuart Lynn
President and Chief Executive Officer, ICANN
Thursday, June 20, 2002, 2 p.m. EDT
Stuart Lynn is the president and chief executive officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that manages the Internet's worldwide addressing system. Appointed in 2001 to replace former ICANN chief Mike Roberts, Lynn has proposed major reforms in the way ICANN makes decisions.
Lynn discussed the ICANN reform process and other Internet addressing issues in advance of a pivotal ICANN meeting scheduled to take place in Bucharest, Romania later this month.
The discussion was moderated by washingtonpost.com tech policy reporter David McGuire.
And don't miss David McGuire's article, "ICANN, Dotted With Doubts" (The Washington Post, June 20, 2002).
An Edited Transcript Follows:
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
David McGuire: We're joined today be Stuart Lynn, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN manages the Internet's global addressing infrastructure and makes decisions about how much domain names cost, who may sell them and what extensions (dot-com, dot-org, dot-info, etc.) are added to and removed from the system. Lynn is spearheading an internal effort to reform ICANN by streamlining its decision-making processes.
David McGuire: Good afternoon Stuart, thank you for joining us today. How is the reform process going? Are you reaching any sort of consensus about how a reformed ICANN should operate? Are you on schedule to make a decision about ICANN's future when the board of director's meets next month in Bucharest, Romania?
Stuart Lynn: Good afternoon David, and thank you so much for the invitation. I think the reform process is going well. It's not pretty, just like making sausage.
On consensus: That's a difficult word to measure and a difficult word to gauge, particularly since there will not be a specific proposal on the table until the committee on the evolution of reform posts its report, which it should any day now. What I am pleased about is how the community is moving away from focusing on its own special interests to focusing on the greater good of the overall Internet, and that is the kind of consensus that I think is very important. But does everyone agree on every detail? Of course not. Are people coming together? I think you'll find that they will.
On schedules: The committee on evolution and reform should report out any day now. It will have a specific proposal for the board to consider. Not complete in every detail, but enough of a blueprint so that we can move forward.
Alexandria, Va.: I'm not sure I understand why it is taking ICANN so long to approve new domains. Are there technical reasons why lots of new domains -- .health, .law etc -- can't be quickly added to the global addressing system?
Stuart Lynn: The top-level domain names that the board approved were the first names in 17 years. No one understood sufficiently what problems would be encountered. What the board approved was seven names as a proof of concept so we could understand the issues. The last top-level domain should be launched shortly, and we will need to do an evaluation before moving forward. There are many people who think we should not have any new top-level domains, as there are people who think we should.
New York, N.Y.: Private and small business Internet users make up over 80 percent of the Internet Community, so why do you not think that they should have a proportional say within ICANN?
Stuart Lynn: Everybody who has an interest can have a say within ICANN. I encourage any small business user who is interested to get involved with the business constituency or any other part of ICANN that they wish. Many in fact do get involved indirectly through associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or other organizations that are very active in ICANN.
Memphis, Tenn.: There is concern among marketers that the proliferation of suffixes will lead to confusion among customers. How many suffixes are planned for release, beyond those listed on the ICANN web site?
Stuart Lynn: This is exactly the question that concerns many people, that we could have too many top-level domains that could cause consumer confusion. Some people think that this should sort itself out in the marketplace, others believe that ICANN should be careful in letting the toothpaste out of the tube. At this point in time, no new suffixes are planned for release, but you may want to look at the report posted by the task force looking at how to evaluate what we've done. This report is posted on our Web site, www.icann.org.
D.C.: Just curious. What's your background? What credentials do you have to be president of ICANN?
Stuart Lynn: I have a thick skin and I'm old enough to take the heat, but I have had a background in universities and the private sector, including being involved with the Internet and the establishment of academic networks.
For example, I was the founding chairman and president of Cenic, which is California's portion of Internet2. I was also one of the founding directors of Internet2.
Chennai, India: You have proposed a nomination system for ICANN representation of the At-Large Internet Community. Is the election process considered impractical?
Stuart Lynn: The board considered online elections. We had experience with them a couple of years ago. The board decided that at this time they are too open to fraud and capture to be practical, and we have to look for other ways to represent the public interest. It was also not clear that enough people were really interested in voting in these elections to create a large enough body of voters that could be reflective of the public interest. This decision could always be reexamined in the future. In the meantime, we are encouraging other forms of at-large organizations to self-organize and create and encourage a body of individuals who could provide the user input and public interest input into the ICANN process.
Los Angeles, Calif.: ICANN gets a lot of scrutiny in the news, on the Web, in weblogs, and on mailing lists. Given what the organization does, does it deserve the kind of daily scrutiny that it gets? Is that kind of scrutiny healthy?
Stuart Lynn: You know, we welcome scrutiny. We are open and transparent, and we must be clearly accountable to the community. We welcome criticism as long as it is constructive. Unfortunately, because what ICANN does is not easily understood by many people, the news often gets confused and confusing. But by and large, I'd rather we were talked about than not talked about at all.
Arlington, Va.: ICANN is often criticized as being a very insider, "old boys" network type of organization. How do you respond to this criticism and do you think any efforts are being made to make the organizations more inclusive?
Stuart Lynn: Well, I am an old boy but not in that sense. But that criticism, I think, is misplaced. ICANN is open and transparent, anyone can get involved and they do. We listen, we talk, you just look at the reform process we've gone through and all the many comments, suggestions there have been from around the world. Now, when people engage in personal attacks, we don't listen too well. When people address the issues, we love to listen and we pay attention.
Herndon, Va.: ICANN claims to be an Internet organization, but it doesn't use the Internet for its meetings. It flies all over the world, spending far too much money, and listens almost solely to those who have the money to follow them. It basically ignores comments submitted online. Please tell us how ICANN will change that in future.
Stuart Lynn: We do use the Internet for our meetings. Our meetings are Web-cast and we receive comments and questions online. The reason we meet in different parts of the world is because we are a global organization and our constituents, as it were, are everywhere, so we want to give the opportunity for people who don't have the money to fly to the United States or to Herndon, Virginia, to attend our meetings. At the last meeting we had in Accra, Ghana, we had attendees from all over Africa, many of whom would not have been able to come had we held our meeting in the United States.
Washington, D.C.: What do you think of proposals to require ICANN to bid for the right to manage the DNS once the existing contract expires?
Stuart Lynn: That's a decision for the U.S. Dept. of Commerce to make. That's not our decision, and I think you should address that question to the department. From the testimony that Undersecretary Nancy Victory gave in the Senate last week, it doesn't sound to me as though she has that direction in mind.
Williamsburg, Va.: During the 2000 ICANN election process, one curious spinoff was the intensive competition that arose between Japan and China. Was this an aberration or is it indicative of complexities inherent in coordinating a global resource in a global manner?
Stuart Lynn: I really have no comment on that. This is a "have you stopped beating your wife" kind of question. I am sure there's always both competition and constructive dialogue among all nations. However, as we look back at the 2000 ICANN elections, as was reported by the NAIS, there appeared to be a lot of difficulties with the various elections that were held around the world.
Reston, Va.: Please define in concrete terms what ICANN means by stability of the Internet?
Stuart Lynn: ICANN doesn't use the terms "stability of the Internet," it uses the terms "stability of the Internet's naming and address allocation systems." What we mean by that essentially, is that anyone, anytime, from anywhere in the world, should predictably, securely and reliably get the same addressing result, namely the result that they intended. In loose terms, that means when I send e-mail to my aunt Sally, I do not want it to arrive at your uncle Juan.
David McGuire: Stuart, you make a good point that virtually anyone with some free time on their hands can participate in some way in the ICANN process, but what power do ordinary Internet users have to effect change in ICANN and the DNS?
Stuart Lynn: They have the power of speaking, writing and of being heard. In the reform process, we are continuing to explore how we can find ways to reflect the public interest and the views of ordinary Internet users are certainly part of this. I am very pleased with the embryonic work that the at-large organizing committee is undertaking to find more constructive ways for individuals to get involved with ICANN. By involved, I don't mean voting once every three years at some election and then disappearing. I mean being actively involved with their thoughts, their ideas, their proposals and their suggestions. The Internet has always been a marketplace of ideas, not of votes.
Washington, DC: The 11 .org applications are now in. I know ICANN's still in the process of vetting them, but what can you say about them so far? Are they different in quality from the applications for the new gTLDs? Is there anything you find surprising about any of them?
Stuart Lynn: Thanks for the question. Because this is a carefully structured process, we must be fair to all applicants and treat them equally. There is nothing that I can say at this time except that I am pleased by the degree of interest shown by those groups who have submitted applications.
Newport News, Va.: Are the recent retirement announcements from ICANN (three in the last three months, I believe) any indication that ICANN is folding?
Stuart Lynn: Absolutely not. My retirement was planned when I signed up for a two-year hitch at the beginning. I need to get back to my family, 7x24 works for just so long. I have a lot of confidence in ICANN's future, but I want to leave to my successor a reformed ICANN, well-positioned for what lies ahead.
Andrew McLaughlin has been at it for many years, taking time away from his position at Harvard, and now he feels it is time for him to phase back into his academic work.
Great Falls, VA: You keep saying ICANN is "open and transparent," but your board meetings are closed, decisions are made by staff in secret, and much outside input is completely ignored. Will that change in future?
Stuart Lynn: ICANN holds three or four open board meetings a year, along with its general meetings. Although it has some teleconference meetings in-between, it is committed to the extent possible that major decisions only get made at the open meetings, or at least get discussed at the open meetings. Policy decisions are not made by the staff; the board makes the policy decisions. Outside input is not ignored, it is listened to. But no individual can expect that their particular view is the one that the board will automatically adopt. The nice thing about ICANN is that we get many conflicting views because people feel passionate about the issues. These conflicting are all listened to, digested, but at some point boards have to make decisions, and not every decision is going to please everybody.
Washington, D.C.: Why is ICANN - which you say is short on cash - spending money fighting a director's attempt to exercise his legal right to see your books? Even if he didn't have a right to full access, what is there to hide? What principle is served in this post-Enron era to fight to KEEP info away from directors?
Stuart Lynn: I am so glad that you asked that question. This lawsuit has nothing whatsoever to do with access to records. Every ICANN director has a right to access records. Other directors have accessed precisely the records that are the subject of the lawsuit. This lawsuit is only about whether one director has the right to place himself above the board in terms of what conditions are placed on what can be done with those records once he has had access to them. Make no mistake, however: saying that ICANN is preventing a director from having access to records is political rhetoric, and has nothing to do with the facts behind this lawsuit.
New York, N.Y.: Is the Markle Foundation's just-released paper "constructive"? If so, how do you respond to their statement -- based on years of experience with ICANN -- that "ICANN, as it has developed, is seriously flawed as a global institution able to make decisions worthy of deference or to safeguard the public interest in an increasingly networked society"?
Stuart Lynn: I have only had a chance to glance through the Markle paper. As you could imagine, during this reform process, there are many, many documents that I read every day. As best I can tell, Markle is agreeing with what I said in my original paper, which I put out in February - the case for reform. Remember, I was the first one to open up the notion that ICANN needs to be reformed and changed. And in the process of going through reform, I find that all contributions are useful and constructive, including Markle's. I find it very interesting, however, that Markle uses these strong words, then goes on to make the same recommendations that I made in my original report.
David McGuire: Stuart, many of our readers are asking about new domains. How does ICANN propose to gauge the success or failure of the new domains (dot-info, dot-pro, etc.) that it approved in November 2000?
Stuart Lynn: David, as you may be aware, ICANN appointed a task force to recommend how that evaluation should be done. The task force just posted its draft final report, laying out a road map for evaluation, but focusing on the need for the board to concentrate on the most important questions in a defined time scale, rather than trying to answer any questions that may come across the table as far as evaluation is concerned. It also suggested that the board is going to have to make trade-offs between any desires it may have to move forward with short cutting on the evaluation. This will be a difficult trade-off for the board to do, and the task force tries to give it as much guidance as it can to help the board reach a balanced decision on how to move forward.
Arlington, Va.: Where does ICANN get its funding?
Stuart Lynn: Ninety percent of the funding ultimately comes from domain name registrants, but it is brought to us through the registrars and the registries, and a much smaller amount from the address registries. Smaller, but no less significant amount. It comes from both because registrars and registries have agreements with ICANN, and is also voluntarily contributed by many CCTLD's from around the world with whom we do not have agreements at this time.
New York: Does the United Nations or any other international body other than ICANN play any role in managing the Internet?
Stuart Lynn: No one manages the Internet. Bodies like ICANN coordinate specific parts of the Internet. Steve Wolff, years ago when he was at the National Science Foundation, once stated that asking who manages the Internet is like asking, who manages the world's sidewalk program.
Washington, DC: Obviously, ICANN reform is going to be the lead topic in Bucharest. In your opinion, what other agenda items are likely to prompt a lot of discussion?
Stuart Lynn: It's always hard to anticipate what will prompt a lot of discussion. Every time we say something's going to go smoothly, it erupts. Every time we think something will erupt, it will go smoothly. There are a number of other important topics on the board agenda and in the public forum.
Including: The redemption and grace proposal to give a longer window to a domain name registrant to renew their registration when they forget; The waiting list service proposal from VeriSign; And in the public forum, the new TLD evaluation report will be discussed. I think many people will be interested in the presentations to be made by the bidders on dot-org, so I think it will be a very interesting meeting in addition to reform.
Hope you can come or at least join on the Web!
Birmingham, Ala.: The ICANN meeting next week was originally planned to take place in D.C., following the INET Conference as usual. Why was the meeting suddenly changed to Bucharest? There is suspicion that the meeting was changed in order to avoid undue publicity and in-person attendance at this critical and controversial time in ICANN history. Is this suspicion warranted in any way?
Stuart Lynn: The ICANN meeting was never planned for Washington, D.C. I do not know where you got that from. ICANN rotates its meetings through the five regions of the world: North America, Latin America, Europe, Africa and Asia. This was Europe's turn. The October meeting is in Shanghai because it is Asia's turn. Last year in Stockholm, we held our meeting immediately following INET in Stockholm - that was convenient for some but very difficult with respect to the hotel and meeting room arrangements. The local committee had to pull out all stops to make it work. This is one of those amazing rumors that's spread about ICANN, and they get their way even into newspapers, but they have absolutely no foundation in fact. In the ICANN world, speculation becomes opinion; an opinion becomes fact.
Great Falls, Va.: ICANN's initial non-elected Board has received much criticism for extending their personal influence and power unilaterally beyond their original tenures. How will you and they act to guarantee that the new retirement announcements are not simply a prelude to move them into positions of power as the new unaccountable to outside review nomination committee of ICANN?
Stuart Lynn: I am not sure what you mean by personal influence and power. Everybody should feel free to get involved in ICANN's processes. I think it is wonderful if directors, once they step down, continue to want to participate in ICANN processes, but I have no idea what you mean by personal influence and power in that way.
Herndon, Va: Mr. Lynn, you just claimed to be "the first one to open up the notion that ICANN needs to be reformed and changed," but there have been demands for ICANN to be changed for years. How is it that you have not noticed these?
Stuart Lynn: You are quite right. Of course there have been demands for ICANN to be changed, but I laid it out systematically. I opened up systematically what problems ICANN is facing, and got the ball rolling on the current reform effort. At least grant me that what I did has had that effect.
Wolverhampton, U.K.: Why does ICANN ignore numerous requests for reviews of Forum UDRP Decisions?
Stuart Lynn: ICANN's role in the UDRP process was to establish the policy and set up the organizations to perform the decisions. ICANN is not a court of last appeal. The UDRP was set up to enable parties to obtain quick and cheap resolutions of domain name disputes to avoid expensive litigation in the courts. Any party who disagrees with a UDRP decision at any stage in the process can still revert to a court process for a legal decision.
(NOTE = Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy)
Los Angeles, Calif.: How does one become part of the ICANN organization and what happened to Internic?
Stuart Lynn: The Internic can be accessed from ICANN's homepage. If by becoming part of the ICANN organization you mean getting involved as a volunteer, I'd encourage you to look at the link from the ICANN homepage (www.icann.org) called "participate in ICANN." If you mean join our staff, we post all job applications on our Web site and we would welcome your application for a suitable job.
Washington, D.C.: Given that you have written a report saying that ICANN is dysfunctional, why should ICANN be allowed to go on taking important decisions on a world-wide basis? Why should a dysfunctional entity be trusted to reform itself -- especially if the reform seems to consist of REMOVING outside accountability mechanisms?
PS: What's wrong with the ITU as an alternative? Aren't they more open than ICANN's GAC, which always meets in secret?
PPS: How often do you read ICANNWatch.org?
Stuart Lynn: My report said that ICANN has been successful and accomplished an enormous amount under very difficult circumstances. My report was nothing to do with ICANN being dysfunctional. What it said was that in order to continue to succeed in the future, changes are going to be needed.
So far as the ITU (the International Telecommunications Union) is concerned, there are some people in the community who would like to see a government treaty organization perform the roles that ICANN performs. My sense from what I have read is that the overwhelming majority of the community does not want to see that because they feel that a government organization is not well-attuned to the special needs of the Internet. When ICANN was formed, that issue was thoroughly discussed, and the community decision was that we needed a private sector ICANN that can be agile. My concern is that by surrounding ICANN with many of the trappings of ICANN but without the funding to support those trappings, that need for agility and that need for effectiveness can easily get subordinated to process.
How often do I read ICANNwatch.org? Only when I'm depressed and need a good lift.
Marquette, Mich.: As a regular Net user, I was wondering why people (hard core net users, big business, etc) always seem to be angry with your organization? The Net seems to be working well to me.
Stuart Lynn: Thank you! You are absolutely right. The bottom line is that the Net and the domain name system - the parts of the Net that ICANN coordinates - work well, thanks to the efforts of hundreds of thousands of people around the world working collaboratively together. It's hard for me to understand sometimes why people do get so angry. This isn't world war or famine or disease. This is a name. It's important that it work well, but sometimes we need a sense of priority.
The commercialization of the Net in 1994 opened huge opportunities that are truly fantastic, but the world of domain names changed. They were no longer free. They became associated with identity, which led to problems of cybersquatting and trademarks. They became big business - they had a value. Governments around the world were concerned about the degree of U.S. control over what is in fact a global resource. All of these and many other questions led to legitimate conflicts of views, viewpoints, that nowadays often get focused on ICANN as the lightning rod for controversy.
Now - the Internet thrives on differences of viewpoints, sorting out what is the right way to go from a clash of very different ideas, and that is good. The question is - when it gets carried to extremes and hinders progress because we are so immersed in concerns about process, but your question is absolutely the right one to ask, almost above all other questions.
Los Angeles, Calif.: What will be the big story next week when the meetings in Bucharest draw to a close?
Stuart Lynn: The blueprint for reform.
Huntington Beach, Calif.: At the Senate hearings last week - there was reference to importance of ICANN within the Internet community - what does the rest of the world think of congress trying to dictate ICANN's future?
Stuart Lynn: I cannot answer for the rest of the world, but it is clear that ICANN's role is global, and that the entire world Internet community has a substantive interest in the future directions of ICANN.
David McGuire: Unfortunately, our time is up. I'd like to thank Stuart Lynn for taking time out of his schedule to chat with us today. I'd also like to thank our readers for submitting so many thoughtful questions.