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All hands on deck as ICANN navigates high seas

Published on 03 July 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

Summary Report of ICANN50 meeting by the Geneva Internet Platform

The 50th meeting of ICANN brought together more than 3000 participants from 22 to 26 June in London. The five regional At-Large organisations (comprised of more than 160 groups representing the views of individual users around the world) also met on this occasion for their second At-Large Summit (ATLAS II). They issued a joint final declaration emphasising the globalisation of ICANN, its transparency and accountability, and the future of multistakeholder models.

The need to improve ICANN’s accountability was a major theme throughout the meeting, as recognised by the organisation’s CEO, Fadi Chehadé at the Welcome Ceremony on Monday morning. He also announced that the number of staff will reach 300 by the end of the year and that the new additions will be based outside the Los Angeles headquarters office in ICANN hub offices in Istanbul and Singapore, as well as in engagement offices in Brussels, Geneva, Beijing, Montevideo and Seoul, as part of ICANN’s globalisation efforts.

The High Level Government Meeting addressing ICANN’s accountability and the transition of NTIA’s stewardship of the IANA functions, and chaired by the UK minister Ed Vaizey, came under the spotlight. The mere presence of China’s highest-level cyberspace official, Lu Wei, Minister of Cyberspace Affairs Administration, was a clear signal that China is interested in playing a strong role in the transition process. Although his address however mostly followed the known Chinese positions asking for an intergovernmental supervision of ICANN, he also mentioned the greater participation of his country (and various Chinese communities) in ICANN and argued that the candidates for the working groups on ICANN’s internationalisation should be determined quickly, in accordance with the number of Internet users of each country.

The Vice-President of the EU Commission, Neelie Kroes, in her unusually short reflection quickly pointed out that ‘the globalized ICANN must serve the public interest with implementable and verifiable accountability and transparency mechanisms’ (see her blogpost here). The related statement of the Commission later in the GAC-ICANN Board meeting rejected the idea of internal accountability – ‘ICANN cannot regulate, adjudicate and enforce at the same time’ – underlying the need to ‘break with the fusion of powers that characterises ICANN’s structures’ and inviting for an accountability to be established towards some external entity (though not specifying the kind or the format).

Once again the way in which ICANN acts as a venue for sorting out trade negotiations, such as the protection of geographical indicators, was disputed. More critically than before, the delegation of the .wine/.vin new gTLDs was raised. The French government delegation was very strict in requesting it to be suspended, threatening its withdrawal from the ICANN processes otherwise; its request was repeated by several other European governments including Portugal and Switzerland. This was a clear signal that ICANN is losing European support due to its favouring of the corporate sector’s needs over the concerns of governments. Disputes about other regionally important domains were raised (again): the African Union Commission reiterated its concerns about the delegation process of .africa, while Belgium raised an issue of .spa related to the town of Spa which has become eponymous with all other spa places. The overall concern in the GAC was that the regulation of domain names is used as a substitute for sector-specific regulations and preempts discussions in intergovernmental forums.

The GAC was also concerned about the protection of entities that serve public interests like the domains of the inter-governmental organisations (IGOs). It was questioned whether the policy with regard to new gTLDs related to the IGOs had been finalised, and insisted that the IGO names need to be protected under the international law, rather than by a policy set by ICANN or by the rules related to protection of trademarks. The case of the domain of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was brought up as an example again.

As expected,stewardship of the IANA functions  transition was high on the agenda. Chehadé compared ICANN with a child learning how to ride a bike and referred to the transition process as a removal of the ‘training wheels’ that ICANN has had since its creation. While confirming that accountability is important, he expressed his concerns that accountability had been pushed forward by some community groups to delay the process of transitioning the IANA function. The NTIA’s oversight is expected to end by 30 September 2015, yet if needed it can be extended for another two or even four years, the US representative clarified. They also reiterated that the transition process has to be in line with the four principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model.
  • Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS.
  • Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services.
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

ICANN is currently managing the coordination process for establishing a multistakeholder group to look for alternatives to the NTIA oversight. The coordination group will consist of 27 members representing different stakeholders, which each of the stakeholders deciding internally on their representatives. The allocation of seats per stakeholder remained a controversial issue in particular in the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), which requested three additional members (an increase from 2 to 5).

Throughout the meeting, there were many references to the NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement and the ways in which the ICANN community should follow up on this. At the end of the High Level meeting, ICANN’s CEO announced the initiation of the NETmundial Alliance, without further explanation of the idea or whether it would mean a continuation of the NETmundial process. This idea remained unclear throughout ICANN’s London meeting, with only a few slight further clarifications, such as that it should not replace other institutions and mechanisms – especially the IGF to which ICANN is one of the largest donors ‘even though it was designed to die’ and was ‘strangled’, as put by Chehadé emotionally. It remains to be seen if the NETmundial Alliance will be yet another temporary mechanism like the High Level Panel or /1Net initiated by ICANN, or if it will take off more substantially – and what its aims and formats will be.

The next ICANN meeting is scheduled for 12-16 October and will take place in Los Angeles.


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