(Between jet lag and the pace of ICANN-related events, it’s taken a while to summarize the events at ICANN 49 in Singapore…)
Monday, March 23, began with the Opening Ceremony, even though the work of ICANN started on Saturday for many attendees. This ICANN meeting is freighted with history – Singapore was the site of ICANN 1, and also the site of ICANN 41 in 2011, where the New gTLD Program was officially approved. And now it has become the official kick-off for the IANA transition, the biggest change in the structure of Internet governance in many a year.
Steve Crocker, Chairman of the ICANN Board – himself freighted with history – kicked off the Opening Ceremony, then ceded the floor to Fadi Chehade, President and CEO of ICANN. Not surprisingly, much of the Opening, after the Ceremony, was devoted to Internet Governance – the IANA transition and the upcoming NETmundial meeting.
Immediately after the Opening, the room was turned over to a meeting that wasn’t even on the schedule two weeks ago – "IANA Accountability Transition." After touching on other developments at ICANN, Fadi walked through a series of slides, showed ICANN’s vision of how the transition process should go – and subtly pushed a plan where oversight of the IANA function is transferred to a global "multistakeholder mechanism" (not a separate entity), while the IANA function remains ensconced within ICANN, functionally separate and insulated from the policy business of ICANN. While this may be the wish list for ICANN management, others definitely disagreed on both points. An active discussion followed. The community made it clear, in comments from the floor, that ICANN needed to respect the bottom-up, consensus-driven multistakeholder process in facilitating the discussion and process of development.
Continuing the theme, I next went to the public meeting of the Cross-Community Working Group on Internet Governance (CCWG-IG). The CCWG-IG is a particularly broad group, with representatives from the GNSO stakeholder organizations, the ccNSO, the ALAC, the SSAC and the ASO – just about every group except the GAC. Given the timely subject matter, the meeting was well attended. The CCWG-IG submitted a contribution to NETmundial to provide the ICANN stakeholder perspective, and to counterbalance the inaccuracies in a number of contributions. As part of this meeting, the CCWG-IG asked for comments from the community on the CCWG-IG contribution, the IANA transition, and Internet Governance issues generally. Comments from the floor and the committee underscored the importance of bottom-up, consensus-driven decisionmaking and transparency and accountability in any multistakeholder process.
I next went to a session on ICANN Strategy Panels & the Planning Process. These four panels were assembled, in a rather top-down fashion, by Fadi Chehade last July. Each of these panels prepared reports that were published a few weeks prior to the meeting. The results were rather uneven. Given the importance of the multistakeholder process in the IANA Transition, the Strategy Panel on Multistakeholder Innovation could have been particularly pertinent. Unfortunately, it seemed to suffer from an emphasis on "crowdsourcing" ideas – which appears to mean that ideas good and bad are given equal weight – and a lack of study of the actual ICANN multistakeholder process, which gave the results a rather disconnected and uninformed feel. Further, Beth Simone Noveck was the only panel chair not to attend in person, instead participating by phone and joining only for her part. With that, and her status as an ICANN "newbie," she was probably unaware of the robust "give and take" that took place during questioning after the other presentations (and which is typical of ICANN meetings). By comparison, her presentation and responses to questions seemed evasive and uninformative, which might have been avoided if she participated more fully in the meeting. The future of these Strategy Panel reports seemed unclear as well – Fadi indicated that the panels would not be moving forward, although it seemed as if they might revise their reports based on the public comment period currently underway.
My last meeting of the day was "ICANN Accountability." Considering how important ICANN’s accountability will be, given the IANA transition, this is a significant topic. A fair amount of time was spent summarizing and discussing ICANN’s current accountability mechanisms. Key to ICANN’s accountability responsibilities is the "Affirmation of Commitments," a non-contractual document executed by the United States and ICANN, which sets out a number of ICANN’s responsibilities. The AoC is expected to evolve as part of the IANA transition. The United States will remain a party; however, other nations and possibly other stakeholders are expected to sign on to the AoC, and the content of the AoC may change as well – possibly significantly. The floor was opened for comments. A number of these comments reflected concerns that these mechanisms needed improvement.
While a great deal of attention was paid to the IANA transition and other Internet Governance issues, additional issues of considerable significance were covered on Monday. The overall progress of the New gTLD Program was discussed. In short, it’s full speed ahead for New gTLDs, with nearly 200 now open for business and nearly twice that number of registry contacts signed. Most of the objections have been resolved, and many of the contention sets have been resolved as well.
Name Collisions were also the subject of a very well-attended session. A report on name collision mitigation is now out for public comment, but unfortunately the underlying data is not available, ostensibly because the data would reveal a number of current vulnerabilities. The good news is that the name collision issue is being given fairly serious treatment; the bad news is that much of the work to mitigate the problem must be done by operators of existing enterprise networks, many of whom may not even know that the issue exists. Affected registries are impatient to move forward, but there are no shortcuts.
The last "official" event of the day was the Gala, held in the "Gardens by the Bay," a botanical garden that features huge domed indoor gardens, as well as outdoor "supertrees" – huge tree-like structures lit up against the night sky. The combination of nature in an artificial setting, and artificial trees in a natural setting, seemed fitting for an ICANN meeting, an organization rife with contradictions.
Tuesday is "Constituency Day" at ICANN, where the various constituencies, stakeholder organizations and supporting organizations work in their groups, which are open to public oversight and comment. Given all the change in the air, it was an interesting day….