Letter from Mike Roberts to Rep. Howard L. Berman
Mike Roberts to Rep. Howard L. Berman,
August 4, 1999
The Honorable Howard L. Berman
Dear Congressman Berman:
This is in response to your letter of July 29, 1999, in which you ask what ICANN mechanisms exist to deal with complaints of the public about the activities of ICANN-accredited registrars.
As you know, ICANN's role is to serve as a consensus-development entity with respect to the management of certain (mostly technical) aspects of the Internet Domain Name System ("DNS"). Because it is a private sector consensus body, ICANN derives its "authority" from contracts with participants in the DNS, and the scope of its activities is limited by its Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, copies of which are available at www.icann.org. In general, these confine ICANN to adopting and implementing consensus policies with respect to a very narrow set of responsibilities.
One of the areas in which ICANN has some responsibilities is the promotion of competition in the registration of domain names. Under its November 25, 1998, Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Commerce, ICANN agreed to undertake the job of determining whether entities seeking to become competitive registrars in the .com, .net and .org domains, previously served only by Network Solutions, meet minimum qualifications to offer such services. These qualifications were established through extensive discussion within the Internet community, including posting for comment of detailed proposals for an accreditation program, solicitation of input from the community on 51 specific issues concerning the requirements appropriate for accreditation, receipt and consideration of over 50 written comments received from interested companies and individuals, and oral comments by members of the community at a public forum held during the ICANN quarterly meeting in early March 1999.
The outcome of this process is an accreditation policy that seeks to encourage robust competition among registrars by keeping entry barriers low while enhancing the Internet's stability through such measures as data escrow to ensure that registered domain names are preserved in the event an accredited registrar goes out of business. (The policy is available at www.icann.org/policy_statement.html.) In general, the requirements for accreditation include a demonstration of basic minimum technical and financial capabilities (including general liability insurance), the absence of past criminal or fraudulent conduct, and agreement to abide by policies adopted through the ICANN consensus process covering specified subjects, including domain-name/trademark dispute resolution and the public availability of contact information through WHOIS services. ICANN has already announced the accreditation of 57 organizations to begin offering name registration services in the .com, .net and .org domains as soon as the test process now underway is completed, and several new applications are being received each week. The names of those 57 entities can be found at www.icann.org/registrars/accreditation-qualified-list.html.
Since its inception, ICANN has maintained an e-mailbox for comments from the public on general topics at firstname.lastname@example.org, and any complaints about ICANN-accredited registrars may be sent to this address. Complaints not intended for public posting may be sent directly to me at email@example.com. Since the beginning of the test process on April 26, ICANN has received a few complaints, either through the comment mailbox or by direct contact, about accredited registrars (as well as a larger number about NSI). Any complaints received are reviewed by ICANN staff to determine whether they raise a question of compliance with the affected registrar's accreditation agreement. If they do, the matter is promptly raised with the affected registrar to achieve voluntary compliance if possible. In most cases, however, complaints involve specific consumer disputes not implicating any registrar's accreditation agreement.
While ICANN has been serving in an informal way to forward the complaints in these cases to the appropriate registrar, it has neither the resources nor the charter to serve as a consumer complaint agency for the DNS. The registrars are, of course, businesses subject to the processes of voluntary self-regulatory bodies (such as the Better Business Bureau), and are also subject to civil claims in court and, in sufficiently widespread or serious cases, to governmental enforcement of consumer-protection laws. For ICANN to attempt to undertake to process and resolve consumer complaints would obviously require a significant change in both its mission and its resources, and would be incompatible with the narrow reason for its existence: to provide the vehicle for private sector management of a limited number of technical and policy aspects of the DNS.
I hope this is responsive to your inquiry. Please let me know if I can provide any further information.
Michael M. Roberts
cc: The Honorable Howard Coble
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