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CYBERSENSE–Can Commoners Hang With ‘Brainiacs’ on Web Panel?

If you want to have a say in the only group that can lay claim to governing the Internet, you’re going to have to do a little homework. The subject: ICANN for Dummies. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, is planning to hold an online election before Nov. 1 for five seats on its governing board. The winners will represent the interests of ordinary Internet users in the group, which oversees the assignment of Web addresses. But before you start printing up campaign fliers, you should know that some of ICANN’s current board members aren’t too excited about sharing their power with ordinary folks like you and me. Specifically, they’re worried we’d be a little, well… how can I put this gently? Maybe I’ll just let Esther Dyson, the board’s chairwoman, speak for herself. “I am concerned about capture (of the seats) by people who don’t know what they are doing,” she was quoted by The New York Times as saying during ICANN’s most recent meeting. “People who are stupid, individually.” Dyson and her fellow brainiacs were so worried about our sub-par IQ that they wanted to deny Net users a chance to vote directly for representatives on the board. But their plans were scuttled by public interest lobbyists who argued that we deserve a real voice in the process even if that voice is barely capable of forming a complete sentence. Thinking deep thoughts More than 6,000 Net users have applied to join the pool of Net users who will elect board members. With any luck, evolutionary forces will soon reward more of us with the opposable thumbs and click-capable index fingers necessary to join them in this budding democratic process. Dyson believes most simple folk don’t understand the intricacies of the domain name business. And I must admit, she’s got a point. She and other ICANN board members spend a lot of time thinking deep thoughts about vexing issues like copyright enforcement, global dispute resolution and intergovernmental relations. Meanwhile, the biggest domain name problem most of us mouth-breathers have is remembering whether we were looking for sex.com, sexx.com or sexxx.com But our own United States Congress is ample proof that democratically elected representatives need not be especially erudite. So long as new members of ICANN’s board adequately represent the interests of their intellectually challenged constituents, they’ll do just fine. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a platform for would-be candidates to adopt. While it might not be as brilliant as the ideas current board members have come up with including closed-door board meetings and a proposed $1 surcharge on every domain name it’s sure to be more popular. In the interest of holding onto the limited attention span of today’s Net user, my platform is limited to just one issue: free domain names for nonprofit sites. After all, who ever said the domain name business was supposed to be a business? Though ICANN was charged with bringing competition into the domain name market, it also wouldn’t hurt to introduce a little fairness. In the Web’s early days, the federal government chose a little-known company named Network Solutions as the sole distributor of addresses ending in .com, .net and .org. What started as a ministerial task was transformed into a lucrative monopoly built on exorbitant registration fees that have endured even as competition arrived. Give it away The incremental cost of adding an address to the domain registry isn’t even a penny. The real cost isn’t much more. But the going rate for a domain name is now $35 a year, and hundreds of companies are lining up for a chance to charge it. ICANN’s board members consider this a sign that competition is working. We simpletons just figure it’s proof we’re getting screwed. Why not force domain name registrars to give away addresses for free or, at most, a drastically reduced rate to people who don’t plan to profit from their sites? Why should individuals have to pay $35 a year for the right to post a Web site under their own name? The money made from business sites would be more than enough to cover the cost of providing this common-sense service to ordinary Net users. I have a feeling ICANN’s current board members would consider this to be a pretty stupid idea. Of course, they have a lot of personal experience with the very businesses that hope to make a killing in the domain name market. So you know, maybe they’d be right. When it comes down to it, this free domain name plan sounds like just the sort of pandering Dyson might expect from board members elected by a direct public vote. To me, though, it also sounds a lot like democracy. That, and a pretty good reason to get some “stupid” people on ICANN’s board as soon as possible. To contact Joe Salkowski, e-mail him at joes@azstarnet.com or write to him c/o Tribune Media Services Inc., 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, Ill., 60611.

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