No Politics Please: We're Doing "Bidness"

When you’re trying to do “bidness,” as Molly Ivins so quaintly calls it, what you most fear is uncertainty. Politicians, on the other hand, thrive on uncertainty. The risk of losing is what drives campaign contributions. So when I got the latest press release from ICANN, the Department of Commerce and Network Solutions, I was pretty hopeful.

It looked to me like they were doing some “bidness.”

The deal, if I’m reading it right, is that NSI gets a four-year rollover agreement to be a registrar in the .com domain (as well as .org and .net) and maintain the registry for four years. The rival registrars get discounted access to the registry so they can compete. If NSI spins-off the registry within that time (it claims to already be running the registry separately from its registration business), it can also renew that contract for another four years.

There are also some details here on limiting ICANN’s power. While the devil is in the details, we already know that ICANN head Esther Dyson doesn’t want to rule the world anyway.

I personally don’t know whether this agreement is fair or unfair. It sounds practical, and for most businesses that would be enough, except for one little sentence in the middle of the release. “ICANN’s endorsement is subject to consideration of public comments.”

In other words, while NSI and the government have made a deal, ICANN has political wiggle room.

If this were the 1995 Internet, I’d say this was fine. But it’s not. Today’s Internet is filled with organized interest groups — lobbyists, if you will. It’s also filled with big, big money. In any political process (and make no mistake, this “public comment” period is a political process) money talks, and loudly.

Fortunately, most of the political process is still behind the technology curve. If you’ve seen the web sites of our Y2K Presidential candidates, and tried to establish a connection with one of their campaigns, you know how Clueless the political process remains about the Internet.

While they all want to hear from you, what they really want you to do is give them money and follow. No candidate has yet figured out that the central idea of the Internet is interactivity, and those who don’t get this Clue know nothing.

What happens now could best be termed a regulatory process. Many U.S. regulatory agencies have “public comment” periods, during which trade groups and big companies create carefully worded statements of opposition to a proposed rule, then send their lobbyists out to speak more bluntly. At the end of that time, the agency will measure the strength of the opposition against the strength of its commitment to what its staff did, and issue a final rule. (Die-hard opponents can then go to court to overturn the rule.)

In the last months Ms. Dyson has fallen, deliberately, from queen to chair of a virtual FCC, and my guess is she doesn’t even want that much power. But at some point, after all the emails are read, a final decision must come.

The guess here is the decision will be to approve this deal, perhaps with some minor modifications. And then (barring some court fights) we’ll have the certainty we need to do “bidness.”

Like I say, I don’t know if this is a good deal, or the best deal. I just know it’s a business deal. And “bidness,” like I said at the top, is a process I have confidence in.

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