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The ENUM Issue: Obscure But Important
Posted on Sunday, April 01 @ 18:10:19 MDT
New gTLDs While everyone seems focused on the VeriSign deal, the arguably more important draft contracts with the new gTLDs are being ignored.

An article at ICB TollFree argues that there is a hidden "gotcha" in these new contracts - an ICANN assertion of control over the utterly obscure but incredibly important telephony initiative called ENUM. Indeed, this may only be one symptom of a larger problem.

ENUM is nothing less than a DNS-based architecture and protocols for mapping a telephone number to a Uniform Resource Identifier (URL) which can be used to contact a resource associated with that number - - a super-directory service mapping phone numbers to everything via DNS.

The ICB TollFree article focuses on two aspects of the new contracts. First, there's the text itself. ICB TollFree notes that the contract provides

Paragraph 3.2. Functional Specifications for Registry Services. All Registry Services provided by Registry Operator shall be provided under this Agreement and shall meet the functional specifications established by ICANN.
Is that clear enough for you? No?

ICB TollFree's explanation of this clause relies on paragraph 19 of ICANN's FAQ relating to the VeriSign contract for its interpretation. (Recall that one ostensible goal of the VeriSign deal is to make its contract more like the unfavorable ones being foisted on the new gTLDs–contracts that ICANN negotiated in secret with parties who had the least ability to stand up to it. See "Snookered Again" for more on this.) ICANN's FAQ explains that,

ICANN management believes that, when a registry operator seeks to provide services by leveraging the "DNS infrastructure" that it exclusively operates under its registry agreement with ICANN, those services should be subject to technical requirements and other policies developed through the ICANN process...Concerns have been voiced that the ENUM World initiative, depending on how it develops, may impair a sound technical enum implementation based on open and non-proprietary standards. To address concerns of this type, the new unsponsored TLD Registry Agreement covers registry services provided by the registry operator concerning "Registered Names," whether they are at the second or a lower level."
So there, ICB TollFree argues, you have it. ICANN is asserting the power to tell registry operators what kind of domain names they can register, and to constrain how they can be used.

Certainly, the more you think about it, the less paragraph 3.2 seems innocuous. It might be reasonable for ICANN to require some minimum level of service quality (e.g. serve N queries with latency M.) But why should ICANN assert this much control over what registries register? For example, could this clause be used to ensure that registries were non-interoperable with alternate roots? With services like new.net?