Not-so-beauty contest

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The Register is carrying several stories on Telcordia's evaluation of the proposals for the .net registry, including criticism from Denic, Phil Sheppard, and Sentan. Denic and Sentan both claim that there were significant factual errors in the report. Here's an excerpt from Sentan's letter:
There is an oversight in the Evaluators report regarding the risk associated with the proximity of the applicantsComplet primary and secondary data centers. The report gives negative marks to Sentan due to the relative proximity of its primary and secondary data centers at 400 miles apart. Sentan subsequently received a a "GREEN" on this factor (as did DENIC at 275 miles -- for apparently similar reasons). However, according to section 5.b.i and 5.b.xv of its proposal, VeriSign's two data centers are located in Dulles, VA, and Ashburn, VA, approximately 10 miles apart. Despite this discrepancy, VeriSign received a perfect "BLUE" score in this section and Sentan received a "GREEN." All other comments associated with VeriSign and Sentan in this section are equal, so it seems clear that Sentan was penalized for data centers that are 400 miles apart and VeriSign was rewarded for data centers just 10 miles apart. Given the considerable focus and concern placed on this item by the evaluators during their on site evaluation, in their questions to us, and in the final report, we believe a fair scoring on this factor would place Sentan in a higher color category than the incumbent.
and from Denic's statement:
It is also a fact that the report contains serious factual errors. One of the key shortcomings held against DENIC in the report is that it allegedly uses home-made database software, whereas it actually uses a commercial product from one of the world's foremost suppliers a point made expressly in the application documentation. Sabine Dolderer went on to add that "it is not now our intention to descend to the level of petty nit-picking, but there is no escaping the impression that the evaluation report was drawn up under great pressure of time, and it was its quality that suffered. It is precisely because there was little to choose between all the applicants as Telcordia concedes itself and because they would also all have the ability to administer .net that such sloppy mistakes are so problematical, since they give a false picture the applicants' true capabilities."

I have no idea whether these claims are correct or not, but I also don't think the answer is that important. Telcordia's report concluded that both Sentan and VeriSign are good choices. The only reason that it's necessary to make this fine a distinction is that ICANN has decided on a beauty contest methodology and has to pick a winner on merit. That's fine when the differences are large, but when they're small like this, we get treated to the festival of rent-seeking and influence behavior we're observing now.

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13 Comments

The DENIC claim is correct. In their proposal (whose technical parts were published by ICANN), they clearly state that their DBMS is Sybase (although in a table that was scanned in, so it's not easily grepable). As it is currently worded, Telcordia's justification for the yellow mark is factually incorrect. As always, you can give a bad mark for anything, you just need a sufficient amount of handwaving. But Telcordia didn't even bother to do that, all that's in their report is a factually incorrect statement.

Steven Forrest rips The Register's shoddy reporting to shreds.

Grumpy:

I think you're missing the important point here, which isn't about the Register but but about the basically flawed process that ICANN is using--one which makes the veracity of this kind of claim incredibly important and thus guarantees an enormous amount of effort being expended on this kind of nitpicking.

EKR,

You are right. I didn't take your point that the basic process was flawed (because I'm not sure where it was made in this post), so perhaps you should point out the parts of the basic PROCESS that are flawed. And I do encourage you to read Steven Forrest's blog regarding ths subject.

I have read Steven's blog, but he's mostly focusing on the details of how the beauty contest is being held. What I'm saying is that a beauty contest is a lousy way to choose who will perform a contract of this type. Bidding/auctions subject to minimum performance qualifications is a far superior approach. This point was made in my original post on this topic.

EKR,

I went back and read your first post and it is not clear that you are saying the same thing now as you did in that post. In your first post, you mention a better way is to evaluate based on price. Now you are using the words "auction" and "bidding". Are you suggesting that the winner should be the applicant willing to pay ICANN the most money per domain registration?

No, that the winner should be the one willing to do it for the least amount of money per domain. Structurally, this is still basically an auction.

So, if an applicant offers domain registrations at $0.01 but only has one name server on the end of a 56k dial up line, they should win the bid if all the other applicants are charging more for domain registrations?

It's like you're not reading what I wrote, which I thought was pretty clear: "Bidding/auctions subject to minimum performance qualifications is a far superior approach." In other words, ICANN would set some performance/quality/stability acceptance bar that all bidders had to clear. After that, yes, the contract would go to the lowest bidder.

No, I read that. I was just asking a clarifying question.

So, you believe it is acceptable to have .net serviced with lower performance by an applicant with fewer qualifications than it is today?

Hmm... We're starting to get outside my area of expertise (i.e. I don't know that much about registry operations, so I would want to have experts set the bar rather than me). However, that said, I think the answer is yes, for two reasons:

(1) I suspect that VeriSign today is more qualified than it was a year ago. .net was run fairly well a year ago.

(2) There's some natural margin of error in the determination of how well qualified any given applicant is. So, even if we explicitly choose applicant A who is apparently mor equalified than B, it may turn out that B is actually more qualified (this is acknowledged by Telcordia's statements about there being no significant difference between VeriSign and Sentan). Accordingly, if we *can't* live with an applicant less qualified than today, we've got a really serious problem.

You may have noticed that I am simply asking questions and not really providing any information. That is because it would be foolish of me to make any statements given my situation.

So getting to your above points:

1) You make an interesting assumption. Did any of the applicants propose tighter performance requirements than are required by the current contract? Should that be ignored?

2) How do you judge qualification? Is it based on something somebody proposes to do or something somebody already does? Which do you trust more?

And back to your premise regarding price: since pricing was part of the evaluation, how would you have changed its relevance in the evaluation process?

Sure.

I don't think either of the questions you're asking here are very relevant. I'm not proposing any particular scheme for deciding qualification. I'm saying that there should be one, but that it should be a yes/no thing rather than an attempt to rank the candidates.

Re: pricing. I would make it the tie-breaker between all the qualified candidates. Note that pricing isn't the only choice. You could equally well bid based on guaranteed performance. However, the nice thing about price is that all other things being equal, lower prices are always better. By contrast, it's not clear that the difference between 99.99999 and 99.9999% reliability is that important.

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