Friday, May 19, 2006

Internet Follies

I can't decide whether the Internet is democracy's ultimate weapon of mass destruction , or whether it's just another tool for flim-flam artists to expand the gap between the world's rich and poor. There have been plenty of stories about how much cheaper and faster broadband access is in places like Japan and Korea than in the US, but that doesn't mean the US has the highest prices. It just means you don't hear the stories about the countries that are in worse shape than the US. Well, I just saw a new report that Africans pay an average of $1,800 per GB!! Perhaps this explains why only 1.5% of Africans are online.

Meanwhile in the rich world, hucksters continue to think up new ways to inconvenience Internet users on a routine basis. For example, ICANN's five day money-back period for domain name buyers has created a new, highly profitable industry. Hucksters are colluding with registrars to continually buy blocks of domain names, publish pay-per-click advertising pages, return the blocks for a refund, then buy them again. Others flim-flam artists are simply throw back nonproductive domains before the time's up. Either way, ICANN loses its fees, and those looking for an appropriate domain name can't find one. We've known about this for some time, but it appears that the problem has exploded – an astounding 93% of domain names registered last month were for such scams. Either way, consider this the next evolution of the typosquatting obsession.

ICANN could, if it so desired, fix the entire problem with the 25¢ fee which it receives on each and every .COM name (and others) kept past the grace period. The ICANN fee is tabulated by each registrar and paid quarterly. A small change here would fix this problem entirely – simply make the fee non-refundable.

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