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The insider's guide to the ICANN meeting

Exclusive diary from Andy Duff of New.net

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For the next four or so days, we will be offering you an exclusive insider's guide to the ICANN meeting in Uruguay. It should prove an interesting meeting and is sparking more press interest than ever before as people finally wake up to the realities of the situation.

Our man in Montevideo is Andy Duff, the Director of Policy and Marketing for New.net. New.net, if you're not aware of it, is a bit of thorn in ICANN side in that it offers consumers domain names with endings such as .chat, .love, .golf etc. which ICANN has decided it will not include in its Internet hierarchy.

The fact that New.net is still able to do so strikes at the very core of arguments revolving around ICANN about how the Internet has been run, ought to be run and should be run in the future.

This then is the first part of the diary and consists of Andy's thought before he embarked for Uruguay:

Who wants to be a Supporting Organisation to ICANN?
Everyone, it seems... but what are they going to be "supporting"?

I'll be writing to The Register daily with updates from the ICANN quarterly meeting in Montevideo, a meeting which seems likely to generate a lot of heat. It awaits to be seen how much light comes out of the Uruguayan capital, at a meeting that is likely to consist of a lot of thrust and parry from the ICANN staff.

ICANN has been in the public eye increasingly since the last meeting three months ago as it struggled to cope with a series of serious challenges to its authority.

By looking at four of these challenges, we can provide a good flavour of how this meeting might unfold:

  1. Internationalized domain names
    Probably the biggest challenge, particularly for a US-based organisation facing a global internet community.
    The current domain-naming system uses ASCII characters but a growing number of Internet users live in countries which use non-Roman character sets.

    At present they have to switch to a Roman character keyboard whenever they want to type in a Web address. There have been a number of proposed solutions to this, and the mighty Verisign and others have already run commercial testbeds for registering and using names in non-Roman character sets.

  2. Introduction of new domains by "multiple root operators".
    Likely to be a major source of debate when discussions turn to the release of new TLDs.

    An increasing number of companies such as my own New.net have been responding to the broad market demand for new top level extensions, introducing new and more relevant extensions with simple technical solutions. the staff within ICANN have published a "policy paper" stating that multiple roots are a *bad thing* - although there are some within ICANN (including some ICANN Board directors) who have publicly supported a domain name space with multiple roots and a far larger number of top level extensions.

    The policy paper itself purports to be "a statement of existing policy", which has seriously aggravated many within the organisation. The subject of new TLDs is sprinkled throughout the four-day agenda, providing ample opportunity for consensus - or rancour.

    Until ICANN responds in a more positive fashion to the demand for more top level domains (and probably until the staff withdraw the policy paper), this one's going to run and run.

  3. ICANN's organisational structure - roaming "at-large"
    The question of how ICANN should be structured has been rumbling on since its birth, but now it looks like things are coming to a head. When ICANN was originally set up, the Board was to be made up of nine "at-large" directors (specifically representing the internet community from all corners of the globe) and nine directors from three "supporting organisations" which represented the protocol (PSO), the addressing (ASO) and the domain names (DNSO) areas. To the concern of many, this has not happened (there are still only five at-large directors), meaning that the Board has often been criticised for being too biased towards the interests of big business.

    A report earlier this summer by the NAIS (Non-commercial and Academic ICANN Study) group concluded that ICANN sorely lacked legitimacy for its non-technical policy decisions because it missed any semblance of representation from the broader Internet population afffected by its decisions.

    The At-large study group made three suggestions that have already been heavily criticised - a reduction in the at-large membership to a maximum of six members; only domain name holders to be allowed into the at-large (likened by some to the days when general elections were open only to property holders); and lastly the creation of an at-large supporting organisation. Which leads on to the challenge for ICANN that sums it all up.

  4. More supporting organisations please, but what are we supporting?
    At the meeting in Stockholm in June this year, the ccTLD constituency (representing the 200+ country-code domains such as .uk, .de, .fr and .au) unilaterally declared that it wanted its own supporting organisation (or "SO"), effectively stating that their business was as important as the other three SOs.

    Last month, a senior member of the Non-commercial Domain Name holders constituency (which claims to be the only body actually representing the interests of the developing world within ICANN) *also* asked for their own SO. With the At-large report arguing that a SO should be formed for that part of ICANN too, we've got SO proposals coming out of our ears.

    The trouble is, it still isn't clear what these SOs are supposed to be supporting.



What is ICANN's future? I'll let you know if I find out.

Andy Duff

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