March 25, 2014, Singapore: GAC Meeting with the ICANN Board
In its meeting with the ICANN Board, the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) representatives from around the world provided some highlights of the issues that may be in their forth coming Singapore Communique. Key concerns are: the use of auctions to solve competition for important gTLD strings; promotion of diversity and community interests, and who/what will replace United States Government oversight of ICANN.
On the issue of auctions, the GAC Representative from Iran stated, in furtherance of a position set forth by the Russian Federation Representative, that since the adoption of Section 4.3 of the New gTLD Applicant Guide Book (AGB) (years ago) pertaining to Auctions, “the environment has drastically changed. With 1937 new gTLDs – an auction, although ‘last resort,’ runs counter to public interest. Giving privilege to those who can afford to pay (e.g. Google and Amazon) over those that cannot, but still have a right [or seek to serve an important interest].”
For those of you following the new gTLD process, it’s not just a good spectator sport, but rather has real implications on how the “new world Internet” is going to work. With many individual and community applicants vying for important strings that impact issues of public interest (copyright, trademark, and regulated sectors), the ICANN Auction to “solve” cases where more than one party has applied simply fails to serve the public interest. The highest bidder model, in its current form, gives no credit to Applicants that may serve the public interest. Thus, I find myself agreeing with the Iranian and Russian GAC Representatives’ that a process that allows the nearly infinite, deep pockets of Google and Amazon to trump all, is flawed, and neither serves the public interest nor promotes diversity.
Not surprisingly, Switzerland, chimed in on the issue of promoting “community applicants” and stated that when adopted, “the mechanisms were not fully understood and we now have a problem of community recognition that we need to make easier in the next round.” So, yes, the neutral Swiss aligned with Iran and Russia on the need for communities and diversity to be represented in the new gTLD world. Confirming the points, the United States GAC Chair concluded that “we in GAC need to think about future rounds and learn some lessons from the current round.”
This GAC Meeting provided some good dialogue and approval from those in attendance. For those reading this, individuals, and the domain industry need to pay attention to how this process continues to evolve. Principles of fairness, transparency and accountability are central to the future of the Internet.
Finally, on the issue of the IANA Transfer of United States’ Stewardship of the Internet, the GAC Representative from China had some pointed statements. With respect to IANA – Para 9.1 Section B on the issue of ICANN assessing the role and effectiveness of GAC and its interactions with the Board, the Chinese representative articulated his concern that ICANN currently has the authority to say the GAC “is no longer effective. This is an issue of accountability…, but now post IANA, ICANN will be accountable to whom? The ‘Multistakeholdrer’ is abstract — some imaginary thing.”
Interesting points indeed and ones that will need to be tackled as we move forward from an ICANN with United States oversight to something else. China also went on to question how the “new model” will operate and whether one private sector individual will have the same rights and equal footing as those of us [GAC Representatives] voting here…how do you compare someone speaking on behalf of themselves [or a corporate interest] with someone speaking on behalf of government s on behalf of millions of people?”
In response, ICANN Board Chair, Dr. Stephen Crocker confirmed that “in the present arrangement GAC has a very powerful voice,” and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade assured all in attendance that “the 2000 people in this building, everybody here [and you reading this too] has/have a voice in this process.”
Sound words from highly engaged and intelligent people that care about the Internet. Now, it’s up to you to get engaged and involved in this process. With the next ICANN Meetings scheduled for London and Los Angeles, make sure you are present to follow the developments and provide your input on how we move forward. For the “multistakeholder” process to work we all need to participate.