City-TLDs and the Multistakeholder Model – Comments To ICANN

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Thomas Lowenhaupt - ICANN53 presentation to Board of directorsJune 26, 2015, Buenos Aires – Over the past few months we’ve grown increasingly distressed over the city’s failure to initiate a new governance process for the .nyc TLD. As we’ve mentioned previously, the city’s residents and businesses lost their say in planning our city’s TLD when the .NYC Advisory Board ceased operating last December.

While at the recent ICANN conference in Buenos Aires we learned that New York is not alone in its disregard for stakeholder engagement. Indeed, we were unable to find a city-TLD that respected the multistakeholder model in their TLD’s planning, design, and development.

Responding to the flawed governance process for city TLDs,  Connecting.nyc Inc.’s Thomas Lowenhaupt offered the following comment to the ICANN’s Broad of Directors at its June 25 Public Forum in Buenos Aires:

My name is Thomas Lowenhaupt. I live in New York City, and I’d like to speak about the public interest and city-TLDs.

On April 19th, 2001, a resolution I introduced was approved by a local governance body in New York City. Entitled “The Internet Empowerment Resolution,” it called for the development of the .NYC TLD as a public interest resource.

Now, a little over 15 years later, .NYC is operating with close to 80,000 names issued. One might imagine that I’d be standing before you filled with delight and joy. But the opposite is true.

In New York City, in all these years, there has not been a meaningful public hearing about our city’s TLD.

We’re not alone in that regard. This past Sunday at a geo-TLD meeting held right down the hall, I asked the representative from .PARIS about public engagement in developing its name allocation plan. She responded that there have not been any public meetings.

How might we improve this situation and insert the public interest?

I believe an effective process is before us, the multistakeholder model.

When ICANN again begins accepting applications for cities, a fundamental requirement of the process should be that all stakeholder groups have had a meaningful opportunity to participate in a consensus-based planning process. A meaningful opportunity to participate in a consensus-based planning processes. Any application for a city TLD should detail how it embodies the informed consent of all stakeholders. Informed consent.

Such a plan would define the public interest.

In support of this statement, over the past months we’ve advanced the concept of “informed consent” into the ICANN’s policy development processes. And in the coming years we’ll advocate for bottom up, multistakeholder governance by cities applying for their TLDs, and for public engagement in their ongoing operation. (Creative Commons photo courtesy of ICANN)

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FOILing the WHOIS Data for the .nyc TLD

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FOIL logoJackson Hts., New York, June 1, 2015 – A few of months back, when preparing our 6 month review of the .nyc TLD’s operation – see here, we grew curious about who had purchased the initial 75,000 .nyc domain names: Was this new resource being allocated in an equitable manner? For example, we wondered if the name purchasers were spread evenly over the city or concentrated in a particular neighborhood or borough. And if they were from a particular social or economic strata.

After considering the options for assessing the situation we concluded that the most effective way to envision the situation would be to plot the home addresses of registrants (aka owners) of .nyc domain names on a map. We’d seen something similar done with housing foreclosures resulting from the 2009 financial crisis. So we requested the WHOIS data from the city.

Over a 10 week period we exchanged a number of emails with city officials requesting the WHOIS data, which details who owns the .nyc domain names. After several back and forths with the city’s data keepers we concluded that it was unlikely that the data would be provided, and on May 27 we filed a data request under the NYS Freedom Of Information Law. We’ll keep you posted.

  • Update #1 – On June 5 I received acknowledgement that DoITT had received the FOIL request. As the law states that a response should have been received within 5 business days, we’re facing a lag of a few days. Also, the notification did not provide an estimated date when we might expect to receive the requested data, as required by FOIL. We’re following up.
  • Update #2 – Clarification resulted in the following: “Thank you for your email. If possible, DoITT will grant or deny your request by July 6, 2015, which marks the 20th business day from the date of acknowledgement. I am looking to locate the records that you have requested. At this time, I am unsure as to whether DoITT maintains WHOIS data of registrants of .nyc domain names.” While this seem outside the guidelines, activities here make it acceptable.
  • Update #3 – On July 6 we received notice that our request for location data (zip codes) for .nyc registrants was denied, as follows “Your request sought the following information: domain name, registrants name, contact postal code, administrative contact postal code, billing contact postal code, technical contact postal code, domain name registration date, and if registrant is a business or an individual. The Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (“DoITT”) has completed research and found the attached list of domains with their registration date and whether the registrant is a business or individual. Pursuant to the .nyc End User Privacy Policy, DoITT is unable to release any personal information regarding domain registrants, including names or locations of registrants of .nyc domains. Therefore, the portion of your request seeking names and location information is denied.” We’ll soon post the data provided on a Beta-NY site and again seek the zip code location information.
  • Update #4 – On July 27 we received notification from DoITT’s General Counsel that our appeal of the July 6 decision had been rejected. An Article 78 filing is our next step. See more on this latest decision here.
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Toward Effective Governance Of The .nyc TLD

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city hall questionJackson Hts., New York, April 29, 2015 – While there are no published documents describing governance of  the .nyc TLD, it’s our understanding that oversight is shared by representatives from the Department of Information and Telecom Technology, the Economic Development Corporation, the Office of Innovation and Technology, with the Department of Law advising. It’s a fluid process outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the contractor implementing consensus decisions. But who does what and the existence (or not) of channels for public engagement remains unclear.

Having emerged from the city’s democratic governance structure, we acknowledge the MOU as legitimate by traditional standards. However, considering the plethora of roles our city’s TLD will play, we believe additional channels for public engagement are essential – especially in these early days of .nyc’s development. Before offering our suggestions on an improved governance structure, we’d like to present some thoughts on the context in which .nyc exists.

  • Our City Charter was approved in 1987, before the Internet as we know it existed. It provides little guidance for oversight of .nyc or other Net resources.
  • New York City is among the first to develop a city specific-TLD and is ploughing virgin pastures with no experience among other global cities to draw upon.
  • Experience and expertise for operating city TLDs is emerging on a daily basis here and in the 30 other global cities developing their own TLDs.
  • The Internet will become an increasingly vital part of our city’s social and economic health in the coming years. Internet access, training, and our domain names must be managed with utmost care.
  • This is the Internet, it’s 2015, and people – especially our younger population – expect oversight to be open, transparent, and accountable.
  • There is some resistance to the development of Internet resources such as TLDs being managed in the public interest.

Issues

With minimal experience to draw upon, the scope and scale of issues requiring oversight remains an unknown. User experiences will set the oversight agenda over the next few years, however, questions such as the following will certainly need attention.

bottom-line

  • How much should it cost to buy a .nyc domain name?
  • Should prices be uniform for businesses, nonprofits, individuals, etc., or should there be a pricing structure that encourages not-for-profit activity in this area?
  • Is the .nyc TLD infrastructure worthy of investment?
  • Must the .nyc TLD be self sufficient?

ownership rights

  • Should some of the 3,000 premium names (news.nyc, hotels.nyc, pizza.nyc, etc.) be set aside for distribution by a means other than a high bid auction?
  • Should the encouragement of innovative proposals be given preference in making premium domain name allocation decisions?
  • Which premium names should have public interest commitments attached to their development rights?
  • What are these public interest requirements?
  • Who sets and approves them?
  • What should be the compliance mechanisms?

efficiency

  • Does the city stand behind its TLD?
  • Where does one go to make a complaint about a service or product sold by a site using a .nyc domain name?
  • Who assures that complaints are addressed?
  • What monitoring of user registration (nexus) and activation is in place and planned?
  • Should the requirements of INTRO. 683-2015, setting accessibility standards for city government operated websites, be required for all .nyc sites?

the public commons

  • How are civicly important domain names to be identified?
  • What usage level constitutes effective use of a civicly important domain name?
  • How can the city promote effective use of civicly important domain names?
  • What process should be followed to reclaim impotent civicly important domain names?
  • Should the city invest in templates to facilitate developing websites for categories of domain names, for example, the dotNeighborhoods?

policy

  • What are the linkages between the city’s universal broadband policy, education, the public access channels, and domain names?
  • How can mom and pop businesses be encouraged to utilize .nyc domain names (and the Internet)?
  • Should individual domain name registrants be able to keep their home addresses private through some type of proxy service?
  • What pricing, training, and allocation policies will facilitate the equitable distribution of .nyc domain names?

education

  • What programs should be used to educate New Yorkers about the utility and structure of the .nyc TLD?
  • What awareness and training programs can encourage civil society to better utilize the web?
  • How can we encourage a culture that proudly presents and protects our city’s internet resources?

optimization

  • Would effective privacy and security features entice more New Yorkers to use our city’s TLD?
  • Should we explore “digital city” relations with other TLD cities?
  • Should the city support a “green” policy that encourages .nyc websites to use power efficient systems?
  • Should access to .nyc sites be sped up by requiring that DNS servers be housed in the city?
  • What levels of transparency access should there be to DNS usage data?

It’s worth reiterating that the .nyc domain was only activated in late 2014, and the range of issues to be faced is only emerging. It’s reasonable to assume that the experiences of city dwellers here, and in 30 other cities just activating their TLDs, will help answer these and other questions that arise.

But today there are no dedicated channels for communicating with city hall about our TLD, nor for learning from the experiences of the other global cities developing their TLDs. Today’s communications options are limited, with an email to the mayor or a council member being perhaps the most effective.

Recommendations

City-TLD governance is a complex process requiring a framework, operating model, and infrastructure to enable effective oversight and relationships between management and users.

With 75,000 domain names sold and new websites being activated every day, we need engagement efforts and communication channels that facilitate sharing between residents and oversight entities. We need these here in the city and we need channels to share issues and best practices with the 30 other cities developing their TLDs.

The experts on our city’s TLD are the 8,200,000 residents who are purchasing the domain names, making websites, and accessing them. It’s time we empower them to shape our city’s TLD. To do so City Hall should initiate short and long term governance efforts.

Long Term – Looking back to 2001 and the Internet Empowerment Resolution that first called for our city to acquire .nyc, Queens Community Board 3’s recommendation was that the Commission on Public information and Communication (COPIC) be .nyc’s oversight entity. That still sounds like a reasonable approach.

But COPIC needs funding, staffing, and a legislative fix. The Public Advocate, Trish James, has applied for funding, with staffing to follow.

The legislative fix should institute a more comprehensive purview of the digital city, taking into account the need for universal access, processes and programs to facilitate the Internet’s effective use, the role (cable’s) public access channels should play in these cord-cutting times, as well as the oversight of domain names. Additional public members should be placed on COPIC, selected by individual owners of .nyc domain names.

The digital revolution’s impact on all aspect of city government’s operation should be reflected in .nyc’s planning and development. With the similarities of domain names to real estate, we see value in the City Planning Commission participating in COPIC reviews. Lessons from its ULURP and other public participation processes would aide in exploring appropriate uses for our city’s digital land. Additionally, CUNY and our other universities should have a say in the review processes.

Short Term – The .NYC Community Advisory Board should be reconstituted. This interim body was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg and strengthened by Mayor de Blasio. But it’s charter ended last December 31 and no replacement has emerged.

  • The .NYC Community Advisory Board had a knowledgeable and active core membership that should be reappointed.
  • It should be supported with staff and resources to facilitate broad public engagement.
  • The Board’s operation should be open and transparent with channels enabling contributions by the public, small businesses, and civil society.
  • Channels should be established with other TLD cities experiencing the same challenging birth to identify common issues and best practices.

To a far greater degree than the global Internet, New York’s Internet is a tangible resource, with its impact seen and felt as we move through the city. Let’s assure that tools to enable our residents to effectively govern this new force are made available now and for the long term.

In a future post we’ll take a look at the technology and relationships that enable the Internet’s global reach and see where and how the city might interact there.

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Innovation, Bureaucracies & New Haven

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velibe biles paris Jackson Hts., New York, April 13, 2015 – I attended the ICANN’s June 2008 board of directors meeting in Paris which passed the fundamental resolution for its New TLD Program.

Now, 7 years later, with New York City actively issuing domain names, I’ve come to wonder why it’s not functioning as I’d imagined. A recent thought on that might be worth civic or scholarly consideration and is presented here.

Let me first note that the mismatch between dream and reality is not for lack of interest or competence within the bureaucracy. My encounters with the city administration have uniformly been with highly intelligent and caring people.

The challenge originates with the lack of preparation for the idea’s arrival. With a bureaucracy crafted from hundreds of years of bad experiences, city government is a multi-layered, lumbering, behemoth. And sometimes a new idea is thrust upon it without proper awareness as to its appropriate location. In the instance of the .nyc TLD, we advocated for its being part of the city planning department. But responsibility seems to be scattered through several departments.

While there’s a booster club that likes to say New York City’s government is innovative, we see it being the “seal of approval” city. Generally, when New York adopts a new process or service, it’s been thoroughly vetted elsewhere, e.g., Paris’ Velibe paving a path for Citibike. The city’s philosophy in Broadway-speak might be expressed as “Work out the kinks in New Haven” (ref.). With New York among the first cities to adopt a TLD, that New Haven stop was skipped, and we’re playing the role and price of pioneer. (Commons image courtesy of Wikimedia.)

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Can it fly?

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can it fly - .nyc with wingsJackson Hts., New York, April 1, 2015 – Is the .nyc endeavor a success? The answer depends on one’s measuring stick. To those who draw a parallel to vanity license plates, success is at hand. But if the measure is .nyc’s ability to serve on the scale of a new infrastructure, the answer is not yet clear. Here we look at .nyc from that broader perspective.

Nexus

The best decision the city’s made was the adoption of a strong nexus policy. Nexus determines who qualifies to own a .nyc domain name.

Our nexus policy says .nyc domain names are for New Yorkers, and limits ownership to those with a close tie to the city. This offers two advantages: It makes name owners stakeholders in the city’s future. And it keeps the domain names, and the websites they support, under the watchful eye of the city’s administrative system. Getting a vast bureaucracy to identify and assume its responsibilities will take time. But a solid foundation has been set. Our Nexus Policy wiki page has more on this.

Navigation

One of the key advantages of having our own TLD is that it enables mapping both our city’s traditional and electronic resources into a hybrid digital city. The goal here was that New Yorkers would come to trust their intuition and type in traditional names, then add a .nyc extension. As New Yorkers came to trust their intuition they’d receive quicker access to city resources as intermediaries were removed. For example: “Humm… I wonder what the domain name is for the Jackson Heights Library? Is it JacksonHeightsLibrary.nyc?” And if the result was a “Ta-dah!” we’d have a slightly more livable city.

Success here is uncertain. With 75,000 domain names sold, and little incentive for activating them or respecting their intuitive use, some policy directives and education programs will be needed before New Yorkers begin to feel comfortable typing .nyc domain names. But there are some immediate steps that can help here.

  • Reserved Names – The city has set aside 800 names to support public purposes, half of them neighborhood names. The thoughtful allocation, activation, and promotion of these names would herald the city’s long term commitment to .nyc and improve navigation.
  • Premium Names – 3,000 premium domain names (airports.nyc, hotels.nyc, pizza.nyc, etc.) are scheduled to be auctioned to the highest bidder. Attaching public interest commitments to some of these will enhance .nyc’s navigability. The city should mandate that common words which encompass broad ideas be inclusive in their operation. For example, should Hilton win the auction for hotels.nyc, it should be required to present all hotels, not just Hilton Hotels. We’ve a wiki page with a series of recommendations on this. From it one can link to the 3,000 proposed premium names and comment on their use.
  • Search.nyc – The search.nyc domain name should by thoughtfully developed for those non-intuitive moments. In addition to finding things, this will keep search dollars in the city and provide a small boost to the economy. See our Transparent Search wiki page for more on this.

All this brings to mind a city planning effort from 200 years ago. When Manhattan’s street grid was laid out by the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, the need for parks was not generally recognized and space for Central Park wasn’t included. It wasn’t until 3 decades later that New York State allocated funds enabling the city to carve the park out of the grid.

With nexus and the city’s power of eminent domain in place, we’d expect the reclaiming of common public space and function names to begin within a far shorter time frame – if .nyc is to rise above the vanity level.

Community

While nexus and enhanced navigation provide a platform for .nyc’s success, our TLD will rise to the level of infrastructure, serving everyone, only if it’s supported by a community. Success requires the average resident to recognize and accept .nyc as something that will have a positive impact on their lives, and worthy of their precious time. To date there’s little indication such support exists. Each day 75 or so new names are sold, but these appear to mostly be vanity purchases or speculative business investments. 70% remain parked (unused). Few are for existing businesses.

How do we build community support?

Over the past few decades the best work on making communities has been done by the Project for Public Spaces. They’ve identified 11 actions that can transform public spaces – parks, plazas, public squares, streets, sidewalks or a myriad of indoor spaces – into vibrant community places. How well the Project’s program would integrate both the digital and traditional requires exploration. But community building is an art worth pursuing.

Can it fly?

With the city controlling the foundation agreements that govern the use of .nyc domain names, and with a huge bureaucracy capable of enforcing them, New York City has both the capacity and opportunity to bring the broad potential of a TLD to fruition. So the simple answer to the “Can it fly?” question is yes.

But broad success – creating a more prosperous and livable city – depends on the de Blasio Administration taking a hands-on role.

  • It needs to recruit residents be part of the oversight process – being part of setting standards for using our domain names and operating our TLD.
  • It must create reporting channels that enable the public to partner with the city on enforcing city standards. 311, the Department of Consumer Affairs, and other city agencies must develop systems that facilitate public participation in enforcing city standards.
  • It needs to educate and recruit the public on using these reporting channels, establishing a collaborative “eyes on the web.”
  • It must enforce the nexus policy. Weekly audits are required under the city’s agreement with the contractor. These must be published, and the public invited and enabled to assure that .nyc names are being used by and for New Yorkers.
  • It needs to add equity to the premium name allocation process, through public interest commitments, subsidies, payment stretch outs, or otherwise. Excluding all but the well off is no way to build community support.
  • It needs to educate the public about the price of a disorganized digital infrastructure in a global economy; that with hundreds of cities expected to develop their TLDs in the coming years, we must be competitive.
  • Once the public and administration are solidly and actively behind .nyc, the administration must promote the .nyc TLD globally as a trusted places to do business.
  • Finally, the administration must adopt a comprehensive digital policy that combines .nyc with universal Internet access and broad education efforts.

So yes, .nyc can fly. But we need to energize our mayor and garner broad community support if it’s to be our newest excelsior.

(Commons image Can It Fly? courtesy of Asas de borboleta vetor)

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