I recently arrived back from South Africa after having attended the 47th annual Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) meeting in Durban. The following is an update and my impressions of developments that occurred that this meeting.

On the opening day of the ICANN conference, the highlight was the signing of the first four registry agreements with new generic top-level domain (gTLD) applicants. As we have known for months, all four signed registry agreements were to be for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), and include:

  • The Arabic word for “web”
  • The Russian word for “online”
  • The Russian word for “website”
  • The Chinese word for “game”

This was a huge milestone for the new gTLD program, and it is predicted that these could operating and accepting domain name registrations as early as late October or November of this year.

Shortly after the registry agreement signing ceremony, Fadi Chehadé, chief executive officer of ICANN, discussed a renewed focus to better integrate ICANN into the global framework of non-governmental organizations, governments and other entities in the Internet governance ecosystem. Emphasizing this approach, Chehadé introduced a pre-recorded video statement by Dr. Hamadoun Toure, International Telecommunication Union Secretary General, who shared his opinions about the cooperative roles of ICANN and ITU.

At the end of the opening meeting, Chehadé announced the creation of five new strategy panels in an effort to develop a consensus surrounding ICANN’s long-term strategic goals. In its press release, ICANN stated that these five “strategy panels will convene subject matter experts, thought leaders and industry practitioners to support development of ICANN’s strategic and operational plans in coordination with many other global players, and will be comprised of up to seven members, including the chair, for an anticipated one-year timeframe.” The five strategy panels are:

1. Strategy panel on identifier technology innovation

Led by Paul V. Mockapetris, the purpose of this group will be to engage with the ICANN community and the public on technology matters, develop a technology roadmap for the DNS and other identifiers, and to provide advice to ICANN on technical and security operations, including best practice recommendations.

2. Strategy panel on ICANN’s role in the Internet organizations ecosystem

Chaired by Vinton G. Cerf, the key deliverables of this panel are to facilitate the review of assumptions, linkages and frameworks that underlie ICANN’s responsibilities in the current Internet ecosystem and to seek insight on ways to maintain and enhance ICANN’s stewardship in this ecosystem.

3. Strategy panel on ICANN multi-stick holder innovation

Under the leadership of Beth Simone Noveck, this group’s goal is to examine how Internet policy relates to unique identifiers in the future. It will also propose new models for broad inclusive engagement consensus-based policy making and institutional structures to support such enhanced functions.

4. Strategy panel on the public responsibility framework

Nii Quaynor will lead this panel to propose ICANN’s role and five-year strategic objectives for promoting the global public interest in the Internet ecosystem.

5. Strategy panel on the role of ICANN in the future of Internet governance

While a leader has yet to be announced, the key deliverables of this strategy panel will be to provide guiding principles to ensure the successful evolution of ICANN’s transnational multi-stake holder model in cooperation with national and international bodies and to propose a roadmap for globalizing ICANN’s role in Internet government ecosystem in consultation with these global players.

The middle part of ICANN’s week provided updates on the new gTLD program’s status and the development of the Uniform Rapid Suspension System (URS) and the Trademark Clearinghouse, among other topics. However, a significant amount of community focus was on the Government Advisory Committee’s (GAC) advice on certain new gTLDs.

At the Beijing meeting, the GAC has indicated initial objections to a number of new gTLD applications. Many of these objections were finalized and a few applicants decided to withdraw.

First, to withdraw was an application for .swiss by Swiss International Airlines. The Swiss government had objected to this application and the airline withdrew its application. Likewise, certain South American countries objected to the applications for .patagonia and .amazon. (For .patagonia, Argentina and Chile protested. Brazil and Peru objected to .amazon.) Essentially, these countries objected to private businesses owning a top-level domain name space related to a geographic location within their borders. Patagonia withdrew its application for .patagonia, but Amazon urged the ICANN board to disregard the GAC’s advice.

The GAC further advised that it was unable to reach a consensus on .vin and .wine due to the complexity of the matter, and the committee indicated it would take an additional 30 days to provide their final advice on these two strings. The GAC finalized its consideration of .date and .persiangulf and indicated that they did not object to them proceeding through the rest of the application process.

With respect to the GAC safeguard advice on closed or restricted registries, the GAC indicated that it had met with the ICANN board – and will continue to do so – concerning whether the GAC will approve of such restricted registries. This could have an enormous impact on a large number of brand applicants that have applied for their own “dot brand” TLD, many of which, naturally, restricted domain name registrations to only approved individuals, entities or business units.

ICANN chairman of the board, Steve Crocker, wrapped up the ICANN Durban meeting with a message to the host continent. He highlighted the positive engagement with the African community and the strides that the African technology community has made in the digital era. As the meeting was held over the birthday of Nelson Mandela, Crocker acknowledged the significance of the leader’s legacy and the appropriateness of ICANN gathering in South Africa on what-would-have-been Mandela’s 95th birthday.

Lastly, Crocker highlighted the changes to structure and management within ICANN, particularly the creation of a new Generic Domains Division and the arrival of a new chief operating officer.