bloomborg-1.jpgJackson Hts., New York, March 24, 2012 - I’ve copied below a message I sent to Mayor Bloomberg earlier this evening. Its context is the sorry state of transparency and public engagement in the development of the city’s .nyc Top Level Domain. (See sidebar here.)

I’ve sent dozens of thoughtful and detailed emails and other communications to him over the years without success. Some have been delivered via scenarios worthy of a Spy vs. Spy episode, and I’ve grown increasingly frustrated trying to pierce his bubble. Not believing the mayor to be corrupt, just ignorant on this issue, penetrating that bubble has consumed an inordinate amount of my attention.

After describing the precarious situation of our city’s TLD (see sidebar here) to a group in Corona this afternoon, and detailing the secretive nature of the negotiations and documents that will guide the development of our city’s TLD, a participant commented, “It’s Capra Meets Kafka.” In desperation, with the official opportunity to participate in the process having ended,  I thought I’d try once again to pierce that bubble, hence the below Hail Mary to the mayor. Wish it luck.

[Also, a friend made the “BloomBORG” picture that I’ve been itching to use. I’ve long had a fantasy of sitting down with the mayor over a pot of Earl Grey, and the mayor, after a thoughtful discussion about the TLD’s potentials to foster our city’s greatness into the digital era, turning Picard-like to his staff and saying, “Make it so.” And thereby beginning a fruitful process for developing our city’s TLD.]

Here’s the receipt from the city for my Hail Mary to the mayor. I’ve highlighted my short message at the bottom.

The City of New York

The information you have provided is as follows:
Form: Customer Comment
Topic: CASE
Name:  THOMAS LOWENHAUPT
City, State Zip: JACKSON HTS, NY 11372
Country: United States
Company: Connecting.nyc Inc
Message: After a meeting this afternoon at which I described the
situation with regard to DoITT’s proposed contract with NeuStar
one of the participants said “they should make a movie and call
it Capra Meets Kafka.”

Please, don’t let them make the movie.

I await a response. (And don’t miss the details of the “public hearing.”)

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

Filed March 24th, 2012 under games, DoITT

rod-bergstoms-scream.jpgUPDATE: See details on the city’s application for the .nyc TLD as submitted to ICANN and its contract with vendor NeuStar here.

Jackson Hts., New York, March 23, 2012 - Below are the rough notes from my visit to DoITT’s office yesterday, March 22, 2012. Apologies for the lack of detail, but I was not provided with a copy of the document and was forbidden by city officials from using any recording devices, e.g., taking a picture of the pages with my cell phone. See details on this here.

The city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) held a “public hearing” on the proposed contract today. See my written statement here.

[Note: The city’s “transparency period” ended on March 23 and City Hall’s door has slammed shut without any meaningful public engagement on the TLD development process. And the city’s application for the .nyc TLD will be submitted on April 12 without having received any meaningful public review. This sad situation is reflected in an imagined response of ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom upon learning of the lack of public review.]

Editors Note: This report was originally made by CnI’s director, Thomas Lowenhaupt, based on  a brief viewing of city documents. With the arrival of a copy of some of the documents, we’ve provided this link to a more complete report on the .nyc TLD documents.

(Image of  ICANN’s CEO Rod Beckstrom reacting to practices that enabled cities to enter the complex realm of the TLD sans guidance.)

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

notes-from-DoITT-visit-on-NeuStar-contract-b.jpgJackson Hts., New York, March 22, 2012 - I’ve got to start with a gripe. I was forced to spend the morning at DoITT’s office at 75 Park Place looking at the parts of the proposed contract for the .nyc TLD that have been completed. Forced because they refused to email me a copy. Also, I was forced to make hand notes - see picture - because they wouldn’t allow me to take pictures with my cell. Why? It’s a draft document and not complete. (Perhaps a reason they shouldn’t be having a hearing on a incomplete document!)

Separately I was informed that the one public hearing - Friday, 2 PM at 2 Metrotech Center, 4th Floor, Brooklyn - meets the letter of the law, and that’s probably true. But clearly it’s not the spirit of the law. It’s an odious situation. And with the mayor and his staff quoted in this morning’s New York Times as saying he’s opposed to the “daily referendum” of social media and that people should focus on long term planning - OMFG.

OK, got that off my chest. So what did I learn from my 2 hours at DoITT? I can say I was at some points pleased, for example, in its handling of the Nexus question. But even here close scrutiny is required and was not possible as I was relegated to a noise lunchroom to view the materials. (OK, last gripe, promise.)

But vital pieces had not yet been completed, for example, Appendixes F and G dealing with reserved domain names. G deals with “names reserved for marketing and business development.” Is that the neighborhood names? How is it possible to testify on that?

I didn’t see anything about creating a sustainable TLD. There was nothing about how the funds, from auctions of some names, were to be used: to help small business? for education/training? moderate the digital divide? - not a word. At least none that I was able to find in the lunch room. (Fact, not gripe.)

I asked about the contract development process: Was an independent industry expert brought in to advise the city? No. So apparently the proposed contractor, and the overworked city employee drafting the contract, worked out (or rather, are working out) the details.

I’ll be in Brooklyn tomorrow at the “public hearing” (first announced on the last page of Tuesday’s City Record, an arcane insider paper). Hope to see some supporters of good government and long term planning at 2 Metrotech Center, 4th Floor, at 2 PM tomorrow. The A,C, F, and R trains will take you there.

UPDATE: See details on the city’s application for the .nyc TLD as submitted to ICANN and its contract with vendor NeuStar here.

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

City-Hall.JPG Jackson Hts., New York, March 15, 2012 - With city government having decided to submit an application for the .nyc TLD without any prior public consultation - either by the administration or the city council - the below looks at 2 of the 50 questions it will be answering in that application, and raises some questions. (See the New TLD Guidebook for all 50 questions.) 

A city official has stated,

“Once the City is awarded [.nyc], we’ll fully develop all applicable policies concerning name acquisition on the TLD. We plan to gather feedback from stakeholders across the city as part of that process.”

So here we offer a helping hand, examining two of the questions it must answer [ with our questions and thoughts in brackets ]. As you’ll see, the answers to ICANN’s questions will frame our city’s digital existence. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that effective outreach is ultimately conducted and that answers submitted in April do not bind the city to a digital doghouse.

 #18. Mission/Purpose

18. (a) Describe the mission/purpose of your proposed gTLD [ This is the pivotal question, is it: To improve the quality of life for residents? To create a robust business climate? To facilitate improved delivery of government services? To create a more programmer-friendly city? To facilitate civic communication? To enable the creation of a self governing culture using the latest digital tools? To foster local Net businesses and keep Internet revenue here? To raise money by selling domain names? … ]

(b) How do you expect that your proposed gTLD will benefit registrants [ people who acquire a .nyc domain name ], Internet users [ everyone and anyone using the Internet ], and others [ non-Internet users, tourists, pedestrians, bikers, etc. ]? Answers should address the following points:

i. What is the goal of your proposed gTLD in terms of areas of specialty, service levels, or reputation? [ Answers here depend on the response to #18. (a) - Mission/Purpose. But one answer might be “To create a trusted digital space where the people of the world feel they can safely conduct business.” ]

ii. What do you anticipate your proposed gTLD will add to the current space, in terms of competition, differentiation, or innovation? [ Will it put us on a par or exceed the offerings of other global cities? Are there privacy or security offerings that will make .nyc a trusted TLD, where businesses will move to from a wild and insecure .com world? ]

iii. What goals does your proposed gTLD have in terms of user experience? [ For example, are help and emergency buttons going to be provided and required - 311 and 911? Will it embrace the Internet of Things, and create a pedestrian-friendly city? Will it have public spaces such as the parks, streets, and sidewalks in the traditional city? ]

iv. Provide a complete description of the applicant’s intended registration policies in support of the goals listed above. [ How is this question answered if public outreach is to be done after submitting the application? ]

v. Will your proposed gTLD impose any measures for protecting the privacy or confidential information of registrants or users? If so, please describe any such  measures. [ Are there measures to facilitate anonymous but responsible speech? And what about security? ]

vi. Describe whether and in what ways outreach and communications will help to achieve your projected benefits. [ We’d hope to see an answer pointing to our city’s democratic ideals and an intent to fully explore the potentials of a city-TLD, educate the public as to the options, and use consensus tools to set a policy and path. ]

(c) What operating rules will you adopt to eliminate or minimize social costs (e.g., time or financial resource costs, as well as various types of consumer vulnerabilities)? [ Will the city’s Consumer Affairs Department work to protect the registrants of .nyc domain names? ] What other steps will you take to minimize negative consequences/costs imposed upon consumers?  [ Will the city encourage the development of free or inexpensive 3rd level domain names for civic organizations, schools, churches, local businesses? ] Answers should address the following points:

i. How will multiple applications for a particular domain name be resolved, for example, by auction or on a first-come/ firstserve basis? [ So party #1 wants news.nyc for a collaborative news service to which New Yorkers contribute on a peer-rated basis. And party #2 wants news.nyc as an outlet for Associated Press and New Corporation stories. What is the process for deciding? ]  Or [ Party #1 wants Corona.nyc to build a collaborative publishing and decision making hub serving the 55,000 residents of the Corona neighborhood. And party #2 wants Corona.nyc to help it sell beer. What is the process for deciding? ]

ii. Explain any cost benefits for registrants you intend to implement (e.g., advantageous pricing, introductory discounts, bulk registration discounts).[ Do civic organizations, neighborhoods, schools, and churches pay the same rate as multinational corporations? Will there be free third level civic domain names, e.g., fix-that-light.civic.nyc? What about subsidized domain names that facilitate electoral speech? ]

iii. Note that the Registry Agreement requires that registrars [ registrars are the retailers of domain names, for example, GoDaddy.com ] be offered the option to obtain initial domain name registrations for periods of one to ten years at the discretion of the registrar, but no greater than ten years. Additionally, the Registry Agreement requires advance written notice of price increases. Do you intend to make contractual commitments to registrants regarding the magnitude of price escalation? [ So can GoDaddy.com sell a name for a discounted $9.99 and raise the price to $99.99 in year 2? ] If so, please describe your plans.

#20.

20. (a) Provide the name and full description of the community that the applicant is committing to serve. … The name of the community does not have to be formally adopted for the application to be designated as community-based. [ Does .nyc serve just the five boroughs or is it a force for regionalization? See our Regional Consolidation and Nexus pages on this.]

Descriptions should include: • How the community is delineated from Internet users generally. [ Is the .nyc TLD a rallying point for the New York City community, as a civic entity focused on the creation of a more livable city? ] Such descriptions may include, but are not limited to, the following: membership, registration, or licensing processes, operation in a particular industry, use of a language. • How the community is structured and organized. For a community consisting of an alliance of groups, details about the constituent parts are required. • When the community was established, including the date(s) of formal organization, if any, as well as a description of community activities to date. • The current estimated size of the community, both as to membership and geographic extent.

(b) Explain the applicant’s relationship to the community identified in #20(a) [ This a very revealing question as it shows that ICANN thinks there’s little difference between .paris, .newyork, and .banjo or .car ] .

Explanations should clearly state: • Relations to any community organizations. • Relations to the community and its constituent parts/groups. • Accountability mechanisms of the applicant to the community.

(c) Provide a description of the community-based purpose of the applied-for gTLD.  [ Dear ICANN, we’ve not spoken to the community yet. We’ll get back to you on this. Sincerely, The City of New York. ]

Descriptions should include: • Intended registrants in the TLD. [ Residents, small businesses, anybody with the cash? ] • Intended end-users of the TLD. • Related activities the applicant has carried out or intends to carry out in service of this purpose. [ With the “intends” there the city can provide an extended answer to this question, I suppose. ] • Explanation of how the purpose is of a lasting nature. [ Will the city “recycle” names and make good names available for generations to come? See our page on a sustainable TLD for some insight on this one. ]

(d) Explain the relationship between the applied for gTLD string and the community identified in #20(a). [ If it’s .nyc, will there be a New York State sponsored TLD servicing the likes of NiagraFalls.newyork? Casinos.newyork? ]

Explanations should clearly state: • relationship to the established name, if any, of the community. • relationship to the identification of community members. • any connotations the string may have beyond the community.

(e) Provide a complete description of the applicant’s intended registration policies in support of the community-based purpose of the applied-for gTLD. Policies and enforcement mechanisms are expected to constitute a coherent set. [ Based on the Mission/Purpose ]

Descriptions should include proposed policies, if any, on the following: • Eligibility: who is eligible to register a second-level name in the gTLD, and how will eligibility be determined. [ See our Nexus page for background. ] • Name selection: what types of second-level names may be registered in the gTLD. • Content/Use: what restrictions, if any, the registry operator will impose on how a registrant may use its registered name. [ Can a .nyc domain name serve as the basis of a non-New York business? If a business, must it follow New York’s Consumer laws? ] • Enforcement: what investigation practices and mechanisms exist to enforce the policies above, what resources are allocated for enforcement, and what appeal mechanisms are available to registrants. [ Will the city’s existing agencies be tied into the operation of the .nyc TLD? ]

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

March-7-2012-City-Hall-Bill-signing-open-data.jpg

Jackson Hts., New York, March 9, 2012 - I was at City Hall on Wednesday for Mayor Bloomberg’s signing of the Open Data Law. Having testified to the city council on a draft of the measure in 2010, I affirmed my support for the legislation. After concluding my remarks I passed on a copy of our award winning The Flushing Community poster to the mayor, saying I hoped it would help the city prepare for its next digital task - planning for the arrival of the .nyc TLD.

After the signing, a prominent expert and practitioner of all things digital, Beth Noveck, a professor at New York Law School and former Deputy Chief Technology Officer for the Obama Administration, said “You’re next.” and I was doubly cheered.

But then a conversation with Carole Post, commissioner of the city’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication (DoITT), darkened my day. With Connecting.nyc Inc. the first and primary advocate for the TLD’s acquisition, I’d hoped that our December 22 recommendation, that New York wait for ICANN’s second filing round, had provided the city with a basis and latitude for postponing the filing. (That statement’s essence said “no research, no outreach, no real deadline - let’s wait”.) But the Commissioner stated that they were on a path to submit an application to ICANN by the April 12 deadline.

I then asked the commissioner about the missing research and public engagement and she said “We’ll do that afterward.” I tried again, reiterating that there’s no rush, our TLD has been, in essence (see comment below), reserved for when we’re ready, and that ICANN has announced that it’s preparing to reopen the filing window. “We’re on a path to file by April.” she again stated. I tried a third time, stating that the filing required serious commitments on the part of the city, but she was sticking to her path.

I left city hall disappointed but thinking, “Afterward might not be that bad, at least they’re going to do it.” But I returned home to think about the situation, ponder her statements, and to look over the level of commitment required in the New TLD Guidebook. Beginning on page 99 it spells out 50 questions, many concluding with “A complete answer is expected to be no more than 10 pages.” And as one might imagine, there are many potential devils in the details that must be spelled out: Who qualifies to apply for a domain name, who gets what name, how is it decided, for how much, for how long, are there restrictions on name use, how are the needs of local businesses addressed, what about civic organizations, neighborhoods, schools, churches, how are our cultural resources preserved, what is the sustainability plan…

I was left wondering how they were completing the application without public outreach or expert assistance. Maybe they were going to fill it in after filing as the Commissioner indicated? But the Guidebook seemed clear that changes were the exception not the rule, and that ICANN would base its decision on the April submission.

Today I decided to prod DoITT and asked “What about the neighborhood names - JacksonHeights.nyc, Harlem.nyc, ParkSlope.nyc, etc. - what are the plans for their allocation.” I await an answer. 

So here I am, one month shy of an 11 year effort to bring this important resource to the city, and I find myself arguing against doing so. A sad situation indeed. (Commons Photo of Thomas Lowenhaupt at City Hall - courtesy of CnI Library.) 

Tom Lowenhaupt

Learn more about The Campaign for .nyc on our wiki pages.

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