ICANN 45: A (Re)new(ed) Multi-Stakeholder Era?

Posted by Tom Valcanis on 26 November 2012

It was a conference of new beginnings at ICANN 45 in Toronto. The usually sturdy stewardship of ICANN in all matters domain names was rocked about by new challenges in the previous months. gTLD implementation had proved unwieldy for ICANN and gave its detractors ample fodder for criticism. Attendees were eager for the unveiling of an Africa Strategy and the GNSO was roundly charged with simply “not working” (though opponents argued otherwise.)

Officially opening proceedings, new CEO Fadi Chehade sought to allay any fears about the future direction of ICANN and any problems it’s encountered, popularly perceived or otherwise.  Discarding his jacket and adopting a Steve Jobs-like presentation style (sleeves rolled yet his tie still on, however) Mr. Chehade outlined an impassioned commitment to the preservation of the multi-stakeholder model, many tweeting sceptically from the crowd. He rhetorically asked– what was ICANN’s number one strategy? “My number one strategy is to make ICANN work,” he affirmed.

Mr. Chehade introduced the new ICANN information hub entitled “MyICANN.” He pressed on to outline a revised relationship between the Staff, its Executives and the Board. He emphasised that he was to be held accountable for the future success of ICANN and wanted to not only live up to, but exceed some already great expectations.

He made an impressive mark in India, convincing the government to accept the multi-stakeholder model. Remarkable insofar it saw them abandoning a long-held preference for the UN led ITU governance model favoured by authoritarian states such as Russia, China and Uzbekistan.

Mr. Chehade took charge of overseeing the Trademark Clearinghouse to prevent cybersquatting in new gTLDs (more info here) and “personally” follow-through on finalising a new Registrar Accreditation Agreement. He would also push through the prioritisation draw for new gTLDs and Uniform Rapid Suspension, a low-cost bypass of UDRP for domain names which clearly infringe on copyrights (although no provider has yet put their hand up to run it.) You can watch Mr. Chehade’s entire presentation on the ICANN Website. Many were cautiously impressed with his enthusiasm and drive.

Later on the Monday, we met with our board member counterparts from Nominet (.uk), SIDN (.nl), InternetNZ, (.nz), Norid (.no), CIRA (.ca) and DK Hostmaster at an informal meeting in WaterPark Place, across the road from the Westin. Many challenges and solutions were discussed at the meeting that were pertinent to all ccTLDs. The .au outsourced registry model drew surprise from the board members in the meeting – it proved to be a unique system in comparison to other ccTLDs.

On Tuesday morning, most of the ccNSO attendees were eager to press the ICANN Board for their strategy and vision for WCIT and how it would incorporate the views of the ccTLDs. The Board shared the ccNSO’s concerns vis a vis the ITU and the possible threat it imposes on the multi-stakeholder model. ICANN Board member (and auDA CEO) Chris Disspain assured the delegation that the ICANN office in Los Angeles would be open “around the clock” to assist with the WCIT. The importance of the multi-stakeholder model should be explained to regional and national governments in order to dispel any misconceptions of it. There was consensus that ccTLDs’ fears may be justified in the face of the WCIT/ITU.

The most notable development in the joint GAC-ccNSO session held on Tuesday was a partnership with SIDN and the Dutch Governmen to jointly market DNSSEC. The initiative gained one million new registrations in .nl. In a separate GAC session, a policy for national governments to flag applicants who may be infringing on certain phrases or strings was discussed.

DNSSEC was the focus in the afternoon sessions of the ccNSO meeting on Day 1. CZNIC impressed us with their marketing campaign, hiring “fake celebrities” (CEO Ondrej Filip stressed that they gained all the relevant permissions to use their likenesses) as part of their video advertising to spruik DNSSEC. They also set up an entire website set up to raise awareness about the Internet and IPv6 and aired an IT Crowd parody on Czech TV to state the case for Czechs to register domain names.[4] A presentation from ISOC outlined business opportunities for ccTLDs that implement DNSSEC as well.

The highlights from the ccNSO sessions on Wednesday was listening to the .fi ccTLD becoming subject to a “Domain Name Act” and .lv toying with a real-time web app that connects users to statistics about their entire domain as well as global domain name indices, based on statdom.ru.

In the afternoon, .br and .nz led a panel on registry principles which formed the basis of their ongoing operations, publishing their own guiding documents for the attendees.  Panellists from the .dk, .nl, .fr and .no ccTLDs all had principles they followed also, but it seemed that the registries’ (or managers’) charge to provide a stable, secure and open domain name registration system for the citizens of their nation was shared amongst all the representatives.

An update for a replacement of the WHOIS protocol was discussed, notably the standardised implementation of the Web Extensible Internet Registration Data Service or funnily enough, WEIRDS.

Throughout the rest of the conference, there were calls for a Latin America strategy and a focus on developing nations.

In the closing public session with the ICANN board, the gTLD of “.cba” was floated as a contentious new gTLD string; it could be an abbreviation of “Colombia,” a province in Spain (Cantabria) as well as the acronym of the (applied for) Commonwealth Bank of Australia. Who wins out in this process? National or provincial identity or, the shareholders of a bank?

The burst of enthusiasm CEO Fadi Chehade brought to the start of the conference invigorated many detractors and cynics. Some were pleased with the choice in leadership (others not so much, some of whom tweeted derisively in the Board sessions.)  Many new and ongoing initiatives such as the Africa Strategy introduced at the meeting aimed to give buck to the bang of the multi-stakeholder model in defiance of monolithic, top-down governance as advocated by the ITU and its allies. The recent IGF in Baku, Azerbaijan and in a few days’ time, the WCIT in Dubai will test the mettle of steadfast believers (and actors) in the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. In Beijing for ICANN 46, we should see some of the discussed initiatives bearing fruit and whether the multi-stakeholder model wins over opponents during this global clash of Internet governance ideas.

We must give many thanks to organisers CIRA for hosting a successful conference and planning some distinctly Canadian events such as the ccTLD Hockey matches in the hotel courtyard!

You can read some of our tweets (and some of those from our friends and partners) below.