Comments to DoITT on Proposed NeuStar Contract
Here we detail a March 23, 2012 "public hearing" by New York City's Department of Information and Telecommunications Technology (DoITT), about a proposed contract with NeuStar, for the marketing and operation of the .nyc Top Level Domain.
Fun - Facts - Farce Notice from City Record March 20, 2012
A friendly bird tweeted to me at 3 PM on Tuesday, March 20th, that there was to be a hearing on a city contract relating to .nyc that Friday at 2 PM.
Having been promised by a high DoITT official that I'd receive prompt notification of any action on the .nyc TLD, I was dubious, and emailed the official.
At 10 PM the following night, on Wednesday, I was informed that the birdie was correct and that there was a notice of the meeting in the City Record, with a link provided.(And that he was very busy and was sorry he couldn't get to me earlier.)
[Fun Break: The below is the hearing's formal notice as placed in the City Record. See if you can find it online, start here. Perhaps you'll agree that the CR is "where transparency ends" in city government.]
[Regarding the contract PIN:85812P0001, see the referenced Section 3-03 of the city's Procurement Policy Board Rules here. And sections 326 of City Charter and 2-11 of Procurement Policy Board, the regulations cited by the DoITT public hearing Calendar for limiting public notice time to 3 days (why not the 10 days prescribed) and limiting comment time on contract PIN: 85812P0001 to 3 minutes. Was a letter of emergency requested and issued?]
When I arrived at the prescribed office the next morning - Thursday, March 22, at 10 AM - I was told the contract was not ready. And that the one page document used to place the ad in the City Record was the only information available to me.
When I pulled out my phone to take a picture of the document, I was told "no cameras" only hand written notes.
Flabbergasted, and with my camera out, I turned it on the city official and clicked his picture. He promptly picked up the paper and left the room.
I sat alone in the room for about 5 minutes. Did he go for a cop? Was I in trouble? Would they seek to confiscate my camera? Getting paranoid, I emailed the official's picture to a friend - "if I'm missing look for this guy."
But a few minutes later he returned with one portion of the proposed contract. With the meat in the Appendix documents, I requested a few of them - F, G. and H.
He departed to return a few minutes later (another official was brought in to watch me read the first document and make sure that I did not photo or steal document pages) to say the requested appendixes were not yet completed.
[Fun Fact: He offered me a copy of Appendix I dealing with the 7 Dirty Words. These are from George Carlin's 1972 skit about the 7 words the FCC said were not to be uttered over the public airwaves. There were 127 spellings of Mother*ucker - hilarious. Talk about fiddling while Rome burned...]
I asked when F, G, and H would be completed. He shrugged his shoulders and responded "I don't know."
Then I sought his opinion as to how I was to effectively participate in the public hearing the next day, more shrugs.
I did take some notes that showed this to be devastating to the creation of a community TLD that will serve our city for the long term. (See them here.)
However, preparing for the hearing allowed me to crystallize my thoughts on the benefits of a city-TLD as presented at left, "What is A City-TLD? 3 Views." So perhaps it wasn't a total loss.
Hearing Video Links
Below are the written comments submitted by Connecting.nyc Inc.'s founding director Thomas Lowenhaupt on the proposed contract between DoITT and NeuStar for the marketing and operation of the .nyc TLD. "Pursuant to Section 326 of the New York City Charter and Section 2-11 of the Procurement Policy Board Rules" he was limited to a 3 minute oral presentation, see here. His written comments follow:
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Written Comments by Thomas Lowenhaupt
DoITT Public Hearing on Proposed NeuStar Contract
2 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn New York
March 23, 2012
I'm Thomas Lowenhaupt, founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc., a NYS not-for-profit created pursuant to an Internet Empowerment Resolution passed by Queens Community Board 3 in April 2001. That resolution called for city government, or a public interest organization, to acquire and develop the .nyc Top Level Domain as public infrastructure. In 2005, when ICANN began a formal “Policy Development Process” to support issuing new Top Level Domains (or TLDs) – a process that seemed destined to exclude cities as valid recipients, and after the city had, on more than one occasion, stated that it was not interested in pursuing the acquisition of the .nyc TLD, I formed Connecting.nyc Inc. to undertake the task.
Let me begin by noting that I had the opportunity to review the completed parts of the proposed NeuStar-DoITT agreement yesterday and would like to thank DoITT for enabling that review. From an Information Technology perspective, my cursory review revealed a quality approach. But it's vital to note that the agency has been assigned a task well outside its charter and its area of expertise.
From the beginning we have viewed the .nyc TLD as far more than an Information Technology, or IT, task. And after reviewing the parts of the contract made available yesterday, I am more confident than ever that our basic premise: that a city TLD is a broad planning, organizing, and facilitation tool that should have been placed in the portfolio of an entity such as the City Planning Department. To explain why, let me present some perspectives on how a city should view the role of a TLD.
What is a City-TLD? 3 Views
- Let's think back to the early 1800's when work began on what's now called the Commissioners Plan of 1811. The Plan set out the city's street grid - 1st to 155th Streets and 1st to 12th Avenues. It took 4 years and even then they left out a few parts – like Central Park. And late in the process they said “Let's put in Lexington Avenue.” Not by name mind you – but conceptually. The Commissioners' Plan wasn't about names. And this city-TLD is not, in its essence, about names. Names are part of both. But the core elements are structure, order, and accountability.
My view is that .nyc is a scaffold for our culture and our treasures. Think for a second about the operation of one of these treasures, the New York Yankees. Yes, all the star players have names, and the skill and health of each player is important. But it's the combination of players, coaches, trainers, owners, fans, and concessionaires selling hotdogs and beer that make the New York Yankees a success. Each and every person in this list of what might be called the “Yankees Network” has a name. But it's an effective organizational structure and culture that makes the Yankees win. From my perspective our city's TLD is a culture making tool. A scaffold for organizing and locating our resources, and for creating an even greater city.
Let me tell you another view, one I'll call The Grand View (I'm thankful to David Bollier's Viral Spiral for this.) – It involves the legendary Adam Smith. Everyone is familiar with the impact of his The Wealth of Nations. To some this 1776 economics treaties is their constitution and bible. In it Smith wrote about people's penchant for what he called “truck, barter, and exchange” - markets and capitalism. Today his thoughts serve as a basis for our global economy.
In another work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith wrote about “deep impulses of human sympathy and morality” that included the most important of human traits – sharing, loving, caring, sympathy, empathy. The Grand View holds that the .nyc TLD is an organizing force for noting these most important human impulses. At first glance, to an old timer like me, this sounded like crazy talk. But when I look at developments like Wikipedia and the Open Source movement, I see Smith's “deep impulses of human sympathy and morality” played out on a daily basis. Projects like these are all about people sharing to help one another.
So 250 years later Adam Smith's sympathetic half may reach fruition through Internet resources like the .nyc TLD. Because now we have a tool to more effectively identify, count, track, and value the good.
Imagine our city with a 1,000 Wikipedia scale projects. Efforts like:
So what's a city-TLD? It's a powerful planning and organizing tool that can improve our city and our lives during the foreseeable future.
Problems with DoITT's Proposed Contract
As you know, with the contract viewing time only beginning on Wednesday and ending today, I (and the public) was not provided with adequate access to conduct a reasonable assessment of the proposed contract. And it's also important to note that the contract is incomplete, only portions were shared with me, and I could only make hand drawn notes. Based on my cursory review, I can make the following preliminary assessments:
- No independent consultant was used in developing the agreement – the contract was a DoITT ~ NeuStar creation. DoITT did not avail itself of independent expertise.
- The presented contract is missing important parts - Appendixs G & H dealing with name allocation. Without them it was impossible to determine, for example, if space was provided for neighborhoods and political discourse.
- It presents unreasonable time schedules for the distribution of civic, government, and small business names. For example, Federal, State, and City governments will have 45 days to indicate those .nyc names that will benefit their operation. The same 45 days are available for all of the city's not-for-profit organizations.
- The use of auction funds was unclear.
- Access to the DNS data log – 'our city's twitter' – was not specified.
- I could not find a plan to assure the TLDs sustainability for the coming decades.
Work To Be Done
A city-TLD is a type of master planning tool for the city's future. It has digital elements, but more important are the affordances it provides to perform social, economic, security, education, health, sanitation and a plethora of other tasks – for government, civil society, neighborhoods, and local business. There's a role for DoITT in this process, but it's the last step of a process, not, as now, the first an only step.
First there's research to be done. Never in history has a TLD been issued to a city. City Hall's expecting DoITT to perform this task represents a failure at the highest levels of city government.
We recommended convening a CARPA Study with representatives from civil society, local business, the community boards, BIDs, schools and churches, and our cultural institutions, assisted by subject matter experts in anthropology, city planning, economics, city operations and governance. But none of this research has done. Instead, DoITT was told to accomplish the tasks on its own - without a budget and on a tight time line. An impossible task.
So research, then education, public outreach, city council hearings, legislation. And only then does DoITT do the quality IT work, like it's done here – but without the necessary public outreach and direction. Asking DoITT to do everything in one felt swoop is like assigning to a pharmacist the task of providing health care. There are doctors, tests, analysis, a patient's desires, and then a drug may be prescribed by a doctor. It's not a pharmacist’s job to provide heal care - they deliver medicines. And it's not DoITT's job to create an effective city-TLD plan. Its role comes at the end, after the research, public education, outreach, city council hearings, legislation, and then, and only then, a contract procurement.
In closing I'd like to note that I've spent the better part of the past 12 years dedicated to making .nyc work for our city's residents and organizations. As this process has approached its conclusion, I've begun to think, what's next? It turns out what I know best is city operations, governance, technology, and how to optimize city-TLDs.
And I'm in the process of forming a consultancy team that will advise cities on ways to weave city TLDs and the Internet into their future – for education, for safety, for health, etc. And I'm wondering if I'll use my experience with my home city as an example of what to do, or of what not to do.
Today it's leaning toward what not to do. I hope that turns around.
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