ICANN gTLD Plan Begins to Unravel

Oh ICANN, Dear ICANN. Please say it ain’t so!

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the bureaucracy that oversees the Internet. This committee of intellectuals coordinates IP address space, assigns address blocks, governs standards, administers root DNS architecture, develops internationalization, arbitrates disputes, and perhaps – most ignobly – it sets policy over Top Level Domains.

They do this all under a US government contract which evolved as the Internet grew from academic and military roots to become an all-encompassing network of global public highways. But over the years and throughout the shifting winds of politics and technology, one thing has remained constant: ICANN’s fundamental Raison d’être is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet. Obviously, they cannot ensure the stability and ready access of every web server. The operation, maintenance and connection of equipment is the responsibility of the millions of server owners across the globe. Each GoDaddy, each Google, and each individual user is a node in a vast network that gradually creeps—some pundits suspect—toward consciousness.

Since ICANN manages a public resource, there will always be political components to the organization structure and funding. After all, it is difficult to imagine their responsibilities fulfilled by an entity subject to pure, free market mechanisms. But because they are international in scope, setting standards & policy that affect billions of people in every nook and cranny of our world, they should be depoliticized to the extent possible. Every opportunity should be exploited to move each department and each function toward free market mechanisms.

Unfortunately, in the post-Esther Dyson era, ICANN has turned into a money grubbing hodgepodge of special interests. It certainly appears that they are extorting wads of cash from the public by raising fears of trademark infringement. It’s the only reasonable explanation for their insane and malfeasant decision to create unlimited global Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

If you already operate as Coca-Cola.com, why on earth should you be pushed into buying .Coca-Cola? Simple. Because ICANN will sell it to someone else if you don’t.

In the middle of 2011, ICANN cooked up a cockamamie idea to unleash an infinite number of random top level domains on the world. I tried hard to dissuade ICANN from proliferating gTLDs when it was proposed in June 2011. (I wrote about it here at AWildDuck, when the Blog was created in August). I have a few friends at ICANN, though I suspect I am losing them fast. And so, here is my mea culpa: I told you so…

No—The plan has not yet been fully implemented. It’s slated to go online in 2013. But it’s already beginning to unravel. Today, ICANN announced that due to public dissent and gross technical problems (they called it “unexpected results”), they are scrapping a new system designed to prioritize TLD applications. This is big news to the few thousand applicants who hope to own custom top level domains such as .google, .dance-with-the-stars, or .i_are_an_idiot! After all, they put up US $185,000 each to corner the market for snake oil. They see it as a potentially valuable piece of web real estate.

Dear applicants: It is not. It is smoke up your derriere—an illusion.

Listen up, ICANN: Stop duping the public. Stop profiteering. It’s not in your charter. Go back to square one. In fact, Go a few steps behind square one. you are solving a problem that does not exist. There are already too many gTLDs (.com and .gov and perhaps .org are the only ones that are useful). Everything else clouds the water and invites squatters and profiteers. They only serve to fatten your wallets or stir up trade name disputes.

A better idea: Get rid of all TLDs. Every one of them! Let current .com users own the naked term and stop forcing little guys to repurchase their names. Please ICANN. The current debacle is just the first embarrassment. Run back. Admit the error. Give it up!

Don’t Force Verizon to Allow Free Tethering

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This post was originally my contrarian feedback to this CNet article. But
check out this August 2013 Update: Free Tethering Debate is Now Moot
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A Dissenting Opinion — This one should go to the carriers
But first, in classic Wild Duck style, some background…

Smart phones can act as an internet modem, even without a paid plan for off-device data.

Tethering refers to the use of a mobile phone as a modem for either a directly attached PC (using a USB cable or Bluetooth connection) – or even better – by broadcasting a Wi-Fi signal to several nearby devices. They each access the Internet as if they were accessing a router in a home or restaurant.

As of Summer 2011, Verizon charges smart phone users $30 for a use of the Internet on the phone itself (the most popular mid-tier plan).* But they charge an additional $60 for the most popular Hot Spot plan, enabling the Smart Phone to broadcast Wi-Fi Internet connectivity to nearby devices. Verizon expressly forbids subscribers to use technical tricks to obtain this added functionality without paying for added feature, even if the user stays within their monthly data allowance and even though the phone has the native ability to do so.

Hackers have methods to use PCs and gaming devices through the mobile phone network, while making it appear that the data is used on phone itself. Most of these tricks require rooting the phone, a complex process that may “brick” the phone or void the warranty. (At least one Android tethering app doesn’t require rooting the phone).

A new complaint to the FCC pushes Verizon to allow free 4G tethering without added cost for the use of other devices on the carrier’s networks. The plaintiffs argue that they are paying for a fixed data allowance and that the phone they purchased from the carrier clearly includes the tethering feature. In theory, they are asking “Why should Verizon care on which device we access the Internet. Either way, we are paying for the connectivity and the overall amount of data.”

Carriers charge more for off-phone data use (a PC, camera or gaming device).

But Verizon does care! They realize that a single, palm-size device with a 4 inch screen pulls less data through overloaded towers than 5 or 10 PCs, digital cameras and even home theaters – all using the Internet at once. (Yes! Using the wireless carrier as a backhaul, a single smart phone acting as a WiFi router can provide internet connectivity for an entire home! My Droid Charge can service 10 wi-fi devices!)
Will plaintiffs succeed in a class action against Verizon? Can users force the carrier to allow tethering without a cost premium? If they do, I think that we all lose…

I can hardly be called an advocate for the carrier. Jonathan Zdziarski once led a class action against Verizon to stop them from crippling Bluetooth on the Motorola v710 phone. I was a plaintiff in that suit. We won on the basis that the phone and the packaging displayed a Bluetooth logo which conveys a certain meaning. I also played a role in persuading carriers to unlock the power of user equipment, to allow a native handset GUI, and – eventually – to allow rooting, at least with indifference.

I am a heavy data user. Although I love what Android has done to my smart phone, I prefer to use a PC with a PC OS, instead of the tiny screen on my phone. And as an acknowledged hypocrite, I will admit to occasionally using a tethering application, so that I can get Internet access on the go.

But, I am lobbying for the carriers on this one. It ain’t easy to stick a needle in my own wallet, but let’s play Devil’s Advocate for a moment. Let’s look at this from Verizon’s point of view…

Verizon smart phones are bundled with unlimited data for use on the phone itself (you could add a Bluetooth keyboard and even an HDMI monitor, but not, according to Verizon, serve up Wi-Fi to a other gadgets. That option is available for an additional fee of $60/month.

Given the wording of the license covenant, it is still possible that a judge may side with Verizon. Although the phone is designed to support tethering and Wi-Fi, it could easily be argued that these were incorporated to facilitate carrier options. After all, a tethering “app” is not an application as envisioned by the law. It isn’t a game, an email client, or a restaurant finder. It is a hack — a work around!

But let’s say that the judge interprets the restriction literally and awards the claim to the plaintiffs (presumably to all Verizon customers). If I were the carrier, this could only result in one action. Good for some phone users, but bad for most: I would change the pricing model. No longer could I offer unlimited data for phone users, because each phone can act as a mini ISP and router. It could effectively pump an entire building and all the splitters and switches within. It could service an auditorium or a trade show.

You get the point? Carriers would bill all smart phones for data by the gulp instead of the pipe. No law can prevent this. If you ship 1 FedEx package a month, you pay ‘X’. If you ship 30 packages, you pay more. In effect, we return to metered use. If you use 2GB, you get price A. If you use 8GB, price B, and more than 10G, price C. To those who use just the phone, this fight makes you the loser. You will occasionally hit the limit.

I can think of only one other alternative. Perhaps, Verizon will simply raise the price for all you can eat. But the judge may allow a discount or rebate to users who never tether their phones. This scheme could effectively bring back unlimited use in the palm of your hand, while forcing those of us who tether to pay our dues. As we should!

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