Workshop: Empowering New York City’s Neighborhoods

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Neighborhood Preservation Center

This event’s report is now available.

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March 8, 2016, Jackson Hts., New York – The de Blasio administration has initiated a program to license operators of the 385 neighborhood domain names: Astoria.nyc, Bensonhurst.nyc, Corona.nyc, Ditmars.nyc, Egbertville.nyc, Flatbush.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc…

On Tuesday, March 22 at 7 PM we’re sponsoring a workshop to review that licensing program and explore ways to connect the independent operators of these civic media centers. Here’s the agenda:

  • Update on the city’s neighborhood domain name licensing program.
  • Share experiences and expectations of license applicants.
  • Structure and Voice: What organizational structure will best enable operators of these “dotNeighborhoods” to share best practices and be represented before city and other regulatory entities? How can these operations collaborate to create open-source modules such as ad collaboratives, bulletin boards, calendars, DNS allocators, etc?

One outcome might include the formation of an Alliance of of Neighborhood Media Centers to develop principles, policy positions, and best practices.

Where: The Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street
When: Tuesday, March 22, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

Light refreshments will be provided. Reserve a seat by emailing [email protected] or using our Meetup reservation page.

Can’t make it? The meeting will be recorded by our co-sponsor, the New York Internet Society.

Note: Interested in operating a neighborhood name? Begin your exploration on our beginners guide Adding Internet Mojo To Neighborhoods.

This event’s report is now available.

 

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Neighborhood Name License, part 3 – Secondary Level Names

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Third Level Domains

Jackson Hts., NYC, February 20, 2016 – This is our third post about concerns we have with the city’s draft Licensing Agreement for neighborhood domain names. In our first we bemoaned a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to revoke a dotNeighborhood license without notice and without cause. We opined that this policy would preclude any serious investment in developing neighborhood domain names. In our second we spoke of the chilling effects of various content prohibitions and vague language in the License agreement.

Today’s post focuses on a requirement in the draft Licensing Agreement (see Exhibit B, Section 8) that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior written approval before issuing “secondary-level” domain names. Our goal here is to explain how this prior-approval policy reduces the potential of the dotNeighborhoods. But first a bit of background secondary-level domain names.

Background

Like many words and phrases in the draft License Agreement “secondary-level domain” is not defined. And since it can easily be confused with second level domain names, we need to take a close look at the terms.

Second level vs. Secondary-levels – By reserving the 385 neighborhood domain names and requiring detailed applications and license agreements from applicants, city hall established tight control over these 385 second level domain names. Our Pizza.Harlem.nyc graphic above shows the 2nd level (Harlem) and 3rd level (Pizza) domains. But there can be far more levels than that. While seldom used there can be a 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, all the way up to 127th level of domain names. In total these comprise what the city is calling “secondary-level” domain names. (An explanation on the domain name system (DNS) and the rules governing the use of these 127 levels can be found in Wikipedia.)

What the city apparently intends to do by requiring that the operator of a dotNeighborhood domain name receive written consent prior to issuing a “secondary-level domain” is to extend its control over the entire breadth of the neighborhood domains, not just the 385 2nd level neighborhood domain names, but all potential names within the 127 secondary-levels.

The Chrysalis

One of the promising opportunities neighborhood domain names offer arises through the development of these secondary-level domain names. Seldom used on the commercial Internet, we see the secondary-levels as a Chrysalis within the domain name system, with a Monarch awaiting emergence.

The secondary-level names add an intuitive layer to the naming system. They build upon what’s already in our heads. The graphic above shows the word “Pizza” being used in a 3rd level in the “Pizza.Harlem.nyc.” It doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine where “Optometrists.GreenwichVillage.nyc” or “Supermarkets.Astoria.nyc” will lead.

Thoughtfully allocated and introduced, these names offer advantages to dotNeighborhood operators, name purchasers, users, and the neighborhood as a whole.

  • For dotNeighborhood operators, they offer the potential of revenue. Will entrepreneurs pay $100 a year for the right to develop Pizza.Harlem.nyc, Restaurants.Harlem.nyc, or DrugStores.Harlem.nyc? Will a local retailer like Harlem’s Tonys Pizza pay $20 a year for the “dirt cheap” marketing channel “Tonys.Pizza.Harlem.nyc” represents? We think so.
  • Internet users benefit from what is in essence a digital transplant of New Yorkers mental map that the secondary-level names represent. And with community buy-in (wiki-like with moderated comments, reviews, and ratings) these secondary names will create a trusted resource for residents and visitors alike, and a way to traverse a sea of questionable Yelper services that plague today’s search results.

But innovation will be sapped if the city’s Licensing Agreement requires dotNeighborhood operators to get written permission for every secondary name sold. The licensing agreement’s main sections provide suitable structure to assure that operators run them in a responsible manner. There’s no need for this additional over-the-shoulder regulation. The Section 8 permission requirements for secondary-level names should be deleted.

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Neighborhood Name License, part 2 – Content Restrictions and their Chilling Effects

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neighborhoods with prohibited symbolJackson Heights, New York, February 7, 2016 – The draft Licensing Agreement for the city’s neighborhood domain names has several significant limitations. In a previous post we wrote about a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to withdraw the right to use a neighborhood domain name at its whim – without explanation and without cause. We opined about this limiting the ability of a developer to garner the resources necessary to create an effective dotNeighborhood.

Today we’re focusing on more substantive problems, content limitations presented in the draft Licensing Agreement. There, in Exhibit B, the Acceptable Use Policy, one finds “Prohibited Content,” which details a dozen restrictions on categories of information that can be presented. We have serious problems with five of them.

Prohibited Content #1: “campaign-related materials or partisan political materials;”

We’ve always imagined the dotNeighborhoods as significant new venues for presenting and considering the qualification of candidates for elective office. Who better knows the needs of the neighborhood and the qualification of candidates than the neighbors~voters?

The first problem with the campaign prohibitions is the lack of definitions. What is “campaign- related” and “partisan?” Is there an impartial watchdog to enforce it? Who appoints its members? How are violations enforced?

But perhaps we should take a different approach. If we’re trying to create a better democracy, keeping money from polluting the candidate selection process, which we do very well here in New York City, perhaps the Licensing Agreement should require that dotNeighborhoods maintain a “campaign zone” where election materials can be posted free, or for a nominal fee. The license might also require that when elections approach these zones provide a prominent space on the dotNeighborhood’s home page announcing “It’s Election Time” and provide links to candidate promotional materials. There might be some restriction on the nature of the materials – for example, length limitations on video materials – intended to level the playing field by reducing the necessity for significant investment.

Prohibited Content #2: “offensive sexual  material, as described in New York Penal Law § 245.11, as it may be amended from time to time and/or material that contains image(s) of a person, who appears to be a minor, in a sexually suggestive dress, pose, or context;”

We don’t have a problem following the prescriptions of the state penal law, but when the prohibition gets into the “and/or materials” that extend its reach, we get concerned. We wonder who is going to determine the type of dress, pose, or content that is suggestive. Who is it that selects these censors? What are their qualifications? What penalties may they impose? And who sets the rules they are to follow?

Prohibited Content #3: “words that match, contain recognizable misspellings of or are otherwise recognizable variations of any of the seven words identified in Federal Communications Commission v. Pacifica Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978);”

Here the city imagines that the 7 filthy words and their variations are going to be hidden from the tender eyes and ears of youth. Here again definitions are a problem – “recognizable variations?” And what’s the remedy and who enforces it? Must the operators of the dotNeighborhood keep a vigilant eye on every comment posted?

And beyond the spirit offered here, isn’t it a bit silly for New York City to proscribe the words its residents use? The “Filthy Words” pertain to a national broadcast TV standard, not what New Yorkers say on their neighborhood websites. Let the First Amendment rule here.

Prohibited Content #4: “promotes unlawful or illegal goods, services or activities;”

Obviously we don’t want the dotNeighborhoods promoting illegal activities. But does livestreaming a non-permited rally constitute promoting an unlawful activity? Must the operator of a dotNeighborhood keep watch over all posted content, checking for parade permits before allowing a link? Again, a problem with definitions and regulatory enforcement.

Prohibited Content #5: “image(s) or information that demean an individual or group of individuals, on account of actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, age, whether children are, may or would be residing with such victim, marital status, partnership status, disability, or alienage or citizenship status as such categories are defined in § 8-102 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York (as it may be amended from time to time) or, for those categories not there defined, as they are commonly understood;”

Again, this is well intended, but adding the concluding phrase “as they are commonly understood” leaves too much room for abuse by the regulatory apparatus.

Chilling Effect

If you add all these ambiguities of definition together with the city’s recourse to the “Without Cause” clause, you end up with a chilling effect that will crush speech, innovation, and experimentation in the neighborhoods: a Sword of Damocles capable of jerking the basic platform away without cause.

Next

Our next post on the draft Licensing Agreement will focus on the innovation eviscerating requirement that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior approval from the city before adding secondary level domain names (here).

 

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Neighborhood Name License, part 1 – CAUTION: “Without Cause”

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(Commons Photo courtesy of sporkwrapper.)Jackson Heights, New York, February 2, 2016 – The deBlasio Administration’s licensing initiative for the neighborhood domain names is currently accepting applications. So if you’re a neighborhood activist or budding media mogul, and want to activate Astoria.nyc, ConeyIsland.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc or any of the 380 other reserved neighborhood domain names, submit your applications now. (Here’s the application.) Successful applicants will be notified on February 12.

While we’re extremely supportive of the initiative, there’s a clause in the draft Licensing Agreement that diminishes the likelihood of serious parties investing the necessary resources, a “without cause” clause in Section 3.b of the draft Agreement which states:

Either party may terminate this License Agreement without cause (effective immediately);

We wrote the mayor’s office about our concerns (this one and a few others that we’ll post on soon) and were told they were reviewed “with the Law Department and while we are unable to amend the terms per your request, we have certainly noted your requests.” So seemingly, while the version of the Licensing Agreement shared with us says “DRAFT—NON-FINAL & DELIBERATIVE,” so far it seems changes will come from the city sans consultation with residents.

As we stated above, we love the “dotNeighborhoods” and see them providing a fantastic opportunity to improve engagement and provide a civic toolbox that will facilitate innovation and improve the quality of life. (See our Adding Internet Mojo To Neighborhoods pages.) Indeed, we gave serious thought to applying for the JacksonHeights.nyc domain, but the “without cause” clause forced us to hold off. How could we approach investors and garner the necessary resources without the city providing a serious commitment?

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UPDATE, February 5, 2016

This past December we contacted several elected officials about the “Without Cause” clause and the hardship it would impose on an entity seeking to garner the resources to undertake the development of a dotNeighborhood in a serious manner. We heard back from one recently, who informed us that in checking with their office’s attorneys, they were told that this was a standard clause in all city contracts. We checked the city’s agreement with Neustar Inc., the holder of the contract to operate the .nyc TLD for the city, and found no such reference. (See the city’s contracts with Neustar here.) When told of our finding a representative from the same city official said their office had received complaints from others about the situation and would be looking into it.

We don’t doubt that eager city lawyers try to impose a ‘Without Cause” clause whenever they can. And perhaps they sometimes impose it. But if the administration is serious about adding the Internet’s capabilities to improving the economic and social quality of life in our city’s neighborhoods, this clause has got to be removed “Without Delay.”

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Global Internet Governance: The Road Ahead

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United Nations General Assembly 2015

United Nations, New York, December 17, 2015 – Yesterday our esteemed colleague, Parminder Jeet Singh of ICT for Change, presented a speech before the United Nations General Assembly on global Internet governance. He began by asking,

The Internet is fundamentally transforming our world. These changes will be no less far-reaching than those of the industrial revolution.

The question then is: is the world today politically more mature, than it was in that distant past, to be able to better guide this transformation towards our common goals?

He then presented a three pronged path for answering this question.

First of all, we must give up the idea of Internet exceptionalism…

Next; the fully justified fear of possible statist abuse of the Internet has to be addressed by putting robust checks and balances into its governance mechanisms…

And thirdly, Madam President, a so-called tension between multilateralism and multistakeholderism must be resolved – through the test of democracy.

See the 5 minute video at http://www.itforchange.net/UNGA_WSIS10 and the full text http://justnetcoalition.org/2015/to_UN_GA.pdf.

Our thanks and congratulations go to Mr. Singh.

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