Crikey’s list
of the 50 most successful Australians on the global business stage
usually only deals with people running businesses, but one of our most
successful not-for-profit executive exports is returning to Melbourne
this week to give a speech on Thursday night.

The organisation that controls traffic on the internet, ICANN, is run
by a career public servant – an Australian called Dr Paul Twomey. ICANN
controls what are known as Country Code Top Level Domains such as .au,
.uk and .nz, plus Generic Top Levels Domains such as .com, .net. and
.gov. Basically they are the traffic cops of the internet.

and ICANN are both based in the US and have enormous power. They
literally hand out monopolies. To give an idea of the money involved,
the Australian registrar of the .au domain (auDa) is a not for profit
but still manages to eke out $2.5 million in annual revenue without
trying. At the other end of the scale the primary registrar for the
.com domain (Network Solutions) was last sold for $US100 million.

ICANN’s impartiality is now being challenged. Recently ICANN knocked
back a submission from an organisation for the .XXX domain (to be used
for storing p*rnography). Although there were valid arguments for and
against this, ICANN has come under enormous criticism for appearing to
buckle to the will of the US Department of Commerce. Effectively
Christian Fundamentalists in the US are now getting a say in how the
internet is run.

The real problem is that the ICANN
monopoly is based on them being the only people running the domain
name system, but technically it doesn’t have to be this way. Anyone
with the technical nous, can set up a competing system and nothing can
stop them. This would cause complete chaos. But why would anyone do
this? Well for starters there are 100 million Chinese people using the
internet that can’t use their own language for their own email
addresses or company names. And millions more who can’t use umlaut’s,
accents or acutes in their domain names.

Ahhhh. Market forces.
Lets hope Dr Twomey’s background with organisations such as NOIE,
Austrade, DFAT and the Council for Overseas Aid prepares him for the
challenge. Any Australian making money out of domain names should be
feeling distinctly nervous.

Dr Twomey will be speaking on Thursday night at the Churchill Club in Melbourne and subscribers can click here to register.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey