Israeli bloggers trying to wrest control of 'secretive' Web group
Some say a probe is needed into how the Israeli Internet Association manages its profits.
In the early days of cyberspace, when older journalists would demand to speak to the "manager of the Internet," the pioneers of new media would laugh. Today, everybody knows that the Internet has no managers and nobody controls its content.
But this axiom comes with a footnote. Far from the limelight exists a small organization called the Israeli Internet Association which hands out Israeli domains, such as co.il and org.il. Proceeds from the domain name sales go to internet-related public projects.
Last week the blogging community began to revolt. Leading bloggers protested what they said was heavy secrecy surrounding the association's operations and choice of projects to endorse. Scores of Israeli internet activists have already signed up to the association, to "change it from within."
There are 152,739 registered domains ending with co.il. For the past three years, the registration was carried out through Internet service providers with the association's permission. ISPs would normally charge NIS 80 for the registration, paying some of the sum to the association. The group refuses to disclose exactly how much they get from the ISPs.
"Do you have any idea how much they're charging the ISPs for the domains?" asked Dr. Yuval Dror, who operates popular the popular Glob blog (at popup.co.il). "Let's say the ISPs charge you NIS 80, but how much of it goes to the Internet association? It's opaque. Not to mention the registration process is happening as if we were in the 80s - with fax machines and stuff."
The move to infiltrate the association was instigated by an opinion piece from online content expert Roi Shlomi (roishlomi.com), titled "The Israeli Internet Association has to change."
"People were amazed by the article, because they found out for the first time how this thing is run," he said. "Who decides which public aims the money goes to? Who decides how much? Who decides how much their PR company is getting?"
Attorney Jonathan Klinger, who blogs on jk.org, said all the information was reserved for association members only.
Shlomi, however, said it's not as clear as that.
"I joined the organization a month ago, to give some input and to influence decisions," he said. "Turns out there's no transparency there either. Critical decisions are made by a small internal forum, without informing the domain owners or even the association members. I've called on the association to release its documents, such as meeting notes, financial reports and sponsorship of grants and flights abroad. Sadly, they have so far refused."
The president of the association for the past three years has been Rimon Levi, a resident of Ashkelon, who works as chief of the computer unit at Sapir College. Levi, whose position in the association is unpaid, said he is happy with the renewed interest in the association but rejects the accusations raised by the "rebels."
However, he also refused to disclose the sum the association charges ISPs for domain registration. "This sum is designated in the contracts between the ISPs and the association. We're not revealing this information. It's not that important either. Our main purpose is to improve Internet service."
Levi said there were 850 members in the association, paying an annual membership fee of NIS 70. They elect the administration, which makes all the financial decisions. Levi said he did not believe there was any problem with administering domain registration and working as a non-profit.
"Non-profits run domain registration in all of the free world," he said. "Usually, although not always, such non-profits are promoting Internet use as a whole. These organizations aim to allow progress in the Internet. Our model is often referred to as ideal and exemplary."
The bloggers joining the organization were also critical of the obstacles they say face new members who wish to run for an administrative role. They were particularly disturbed by the demand that each contender must present reference letters from veteran members.
This is how a caste system would operate," Dror said. "Why should I seek references? If people like me, they'll elect me, if they don't, they won't. What role do these references play aside from sidelining new members and promoting old ones?"
Levi said in response that "a cooling period is a regular feature of many organizations. It's aimed to prevent a rapid takeover and to allow new members to acquaint themselves with the association."
Next week will see the first annual convention of the association to feature the "rebels."
"I hope the new membership will shake up this very important organization, and that it'll make its members rethink its identity and conduct, which are far from perfect at the moment," Dror said.
Levi said he was pleased with the new members and happy they decided to actively participate in the association.
"There's always room to think things over," he said.