The second day of ICANN49 was "visiting day" for the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), with various ICANN staff and stakeholder groups meeting with the GNSO. Meanwhile, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), ICANN’s mini-United Nations, huddled in another room, also receiving visitors from time to time.
The GNSO was visited by Cyrus Namazi and others from the Generic Domains Division (GDD), the group within ICANN staff tasked with running the New gTLD Program and dealing with existing gTLDs as well. We received a breakneck summary of the status of applications. Most objections to the new gTLDs have now been resolved – only 14 are still left to resolve. It looks like ICANN will be running some "last resort" auctions to resolve contention sets (where there are multiple applicants for the same domain name). In last resort auctions, ICANN keeps the money paid by the winning bidder. In private auctions or other arrangements, the losing bidder(s) get paid by the winning bidder. The last resort auction is only used where the bidders cannot agree among themselves to resolve the contention set privately (hence the "last resort" name). Some thought there would be no last resort auctions, so this was a mild surprise.
The real surprise from the GDD came out when they announced their intention to measure and track the economic and social impact of the new gTLDs, in order to prepare for round two of new gTLD applications. Round Two? Round Two? Many have asked if there would be a Round Two; now. It appears that Round Two is a "when" and a "how," not an "if." For those of you who survived Round One, this is big news. If you felt left out, this is good news. If you are a first round applicant, this may be bad news, as more competition floods the market. If you are a brandowner, still trying to figure out how to police and enforce your trademarks in over 1,000 new domains, be prepared to redouble your efforts. Brandowners should look at Round Two skeptically – is it needed? Can issues in Round One be resolved? Can it be stopped? Be prepared to spend time, money and effort on these questions, if you want to help shape the answers.
Jon Nevett, from Donuts, expressed surprise that Round 2 would be an ICANN staff-driven project, when Round 1 was driven in large part by the GNSO. He challenged the GNSO to own the issue. Several councilors agreed, and one noted that the GNSO will need the metrics, too. The GDD quickly backtracked and said that they had phrased this wrong – this was just about the metrics and they would be looking to the GNSO to drive Round 2. ICANN Staff continually needs to be reminded that the essence of ICANN is that it is a bottom-up, consensus-driven, multistakeholder organization – not merely a corporation that can act on its own initiative.
The GDD went on to discuss the various open public comment periods, which led to a discussion of how overloaded the various groups within the GNSO are in reviewing documents and providing public comments. It also turns out the document on Name Collision solutions put out for public comments lacked the underlying data – making it rather difficult to comment intelligently. The GDD replied that the data could actually make some existing networks more vulnerable (apparently, by revealing specific name collisions that could be "exploited" to breach a private network), but that it would be available in a couple of months. Somehow none of that is too comforting. In any event, the main "solution" is to put the burden on entities with private networks to mitigate the problem, by locating name collisions in their networks (i.e., when an internal "domain" or server on the network has the same "name" as a new gTLD). Since just about everybody now has a network of some sort – that means you.
Another significant issue came up at this point, and would be repeated later in the day. The Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) calls for registrars (the GoDaddys and Network Solutions of the world) to retain information about domain name registrants after their registrations change or expire (at least in part, to assist law enforcement and private enforcement of legal rights). However, there is a widely-held view that EU data protection laws prohibit such data retention. A number of EU-based registrars have asked ICANN for "data retention waivers," in order to comply with the law as they understand it. Before today, one waiver had been issued, and a second was issued just today. Some EU-based registrars have not signed the RAA, which means they cannot act as registrars for the new gTLDs. Others have signed the RAA. Registrar stakeholder representatives asked whether ICANN would waive enforcement of this provision for EU registrars – ICANN staff was noncommittal.
Another point was raised, in two variations, that would become a theme throughout the day. First, Elliot Noss of TuCows (a major registrar) stated that ICANN and the multistakeholder model will be under greater scrutiny due to the NTIA announcement regarding the IANA transition. As he stated today – "the world is watching." (Loyal readers will note that was the title of yesterday’s blog post – you heard it here first.) Second, the GNSO (as a living example of the multistakeholder model) needs to do a better job of working with ICANN Board and Staff (and vice versa).
The next visitor was Theresa Swinehart, Special Advisor to the President on Strategy. She spoke to the GNSO about the various Strategy Panels that Fadi had commissioned and which she shepherded. The Strategy Panels, composed of "experts" largely drawn from outside ICANN, had produced four reports, which are now out for public comment until April 24 (in our copious free time). GNSO members were quite critical of the reports, finding them often ill-informed, misleading and inaccurate, as well as tedious and impenetrable. It was noted that the Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation had failed to engage in any meaningful way with the GNSO (one of the very groups where their innovations might be implemented), instead choosing to crowdsource many of their observations and present them undigested.
Based on Fadi’s discussion yesterday, the GNSO pushed for assurances that none of these reports would be implemented in any way, and would just sit there as completed projects, for whatever they’re worth. Theresa’s slides stated that the "Fate of recommendations to be determined after extensive community input, CEO & Board consideration." Of course, this is not ICANN’s process for dealing with potential changes in policy, governance, etc. It turns out that this was misphrased as well. There would be no fate other than limbo, the conclusions would not be treated as recommendations, unless the multistakeholder process decided to lift out a nugget and pursue it. We’ll see.
Now, it was time for the centerpiece of the day – the ICANN Board’s visit to the GNSO. The GNSO quickly cited several recent policy development successes by the GNSO – the IGO/INGO Protections, Thick Whois, and Privacy & Proxy Service Accreditation. The IGO/INGO Protections policy recommendations are a subject of controversy, since the GAC had already presented "advice" to the Board that was at odds with the GNSO recommendations, which were adopted by the Board as "temporary protections." Meanwhile, the Board had not yet voted on the GNSO recommendations. A spirited and direct discussion took place, criticizing the Board’s handling of this "policy clash." First, the GNSO community is frustrated by the failure of the Board to bring the GNSO recommendations to a vote. Rather than adopting (or rejecting) the GNSO recommendations, the Board seems to be crafting some kind of compromise in negotiations with GAC and IGO representatives, and then informing the GNSO of the results of these negotiations by letter. The GNSO objected strongly to being left out of the process, and insisted that any further discussions should include representatives of the GNSO. Steve Crocker, the Chairman of the ICANN Board, stated that he did not want to take the GNSO recommendations to a vote until he fashioned a compromise.
This issue is actually bigger than the issue of IGO protections. The real issue is the relative power of the GNSO and the GAC, and the rise of the GAC as a de facto policy development body for gTLDs. The Board is in a tough place, but nothing less than the integrity and balance of the ICANN policy development process is at stake. While there is a process to deal with this type of clash, it is heavy-duty and time consuming. The Board would like to find a quick ad hoc way to deal with this, which may end up being elegant or expedient, depending on your point of view. (You can get a more detailed sense of the discussion at my Twitter feed @GSS1958.)
The rest of the conversation was less heated. The GNSO Council and the Board discussed the need for greater global stakeholder engagement and retention, especially in the developing world. This could include adjusting some of the barriers to entry for potential registrars in the developing world, to assist with local access to the Internet and ultimately bring more people online.
The last visitor was the Meeting Strategy Working Group, which is looking into different models for ICANN meetings. It was clear that the team was very earnest, had put in a lot of work and had some very pretty slides. Currently, ICANN meets three times a year, for six days at a time. The MSWG plan reminded me of Goldilocks – one 6 day meeting similar to the current model, one 4 day meeting devoted to the working elements of ICANN (GNSO, GAC, Working Groups), and one 8 day (!) meeting devoted to showcasing ICANN to the world. The plan, while sincere, seems way off the mark. The plan is open for public comment (yes, another public comment) until April 4, with a reply period until April 25. We’ll have to see what comes of this.
Finally, it was the GNSO’s time to go visiting, and we trekked to the GAC. The time was largely devoted to discussion of a joint GAC/GNSO Working Group to deal with the challenges that the GNSO and GAC have working together and coordinating efforts. Some very nice charts were put up showing the GNSO policy development process and suggesting where and how the GAC could enter, provide input to or coordinate with this process. The basic message was that the GAC really needs to engage with the GNSO process earlier in the game, when consensus and recommendations are being developed. By and large, it was a friendly, innocuous meeting – and the IGO/INGO situation was never mentioned. (By contrast, the GAC/GNSO meeting in Durban featured a fairly testy exchange on the matter.)
At this point, the day was done and so was I. After a delicious Indian meal, it was time to head back up to the 60th floor, admire Singapore by night, and bring you this blog, Straight from Singapore.