ICANN's 2012 Annual General Meeting is about to get under way in Toronto, Canada. These international meetings are a key part of the Internet's technical governance. ICANN's main prerogatives are threefold: to manage the Internet numbering system (IP addresses), naming system (domain names) and the protocols that go with both.
So what is to be expected of the Toronto meeting?
A new CEO…
Although he was appointed in June, new ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé was not due to start before October to give him time to wind up other business activities. But Chehadé was already very active at the June ICANN meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, and has kept very busy since.
"I have spent the past two months asking myself and many others from all over the Internet community worldwide the same questions," Chehadé said on September 14, the day he officially took over as CEO two weeks earlier than planned. "How can ICANN work better with its stakeholders to bring all interested parties to the table to debate and agree how to improve the DNS? How can we ensure that all global citizens can share an open Internet which is sustainable and resilient?"
I can personally attest to the truth of the above statement. Chehadé spent the summer months talking to ICANN community leaders to understand the key issues and build his strategy for this challenging organisation. In August, he contacted me as Chair of ICANN's GNSO (Generic Names Supporting Organisation) and spent more than an hour explaining his approach.
Exclusively, I can reveal here that Chehadé is implementing a 4 step management plan based on 1) seeking mission clarity, 2) achieving operational excellence, 3) increasing internationalisation and 4) maturing the multi stakeholder model that is at the core of ICANN's DNA.
Chehadé has already taken a number of high profile decisions, including appointing both a Senior Advisor for Government Affairs to lead all aspects of government engagement, an area of critical importance for ICANN to get right, and a Director of Stakeholder Engagement. In what is a clear sign of Chehadé's drive towards making ICANN less US-centric, both roles have been based out of Europe rather than the organisation's California offices.
Toronto will be Chehadé's first meeting as full-on CEO and his challenge will be to carry the momentum and the energy that his first few months on the job have generated.
…and new TLDs
Toronto will also be the first ICANN meeting held after the end of the official comment period on the 1,900-or-so gTLDs applied for as part of the new gTLD program. But a lot remains to be done.
The program's prior rights protection systems are still not ready. The Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) is designed to provide a cheaper and quicker alternative to the traditional Uniform Dispute Resolution Procedure for trademark holders who face an infringement. However the model is still being debated and in desperation, ICANN recently put out a call for URS operators. None of the potential operators ICANN had previously contacted feel they can manage the URS for the intended submission fee of around $300!
The Trademark Clearing House (TMCH) is the database planned to hold trademark information so that new gTLD registry operators have a central repository against which to check domain name registration applications being made in their TLD. However, here too, the current ICANN model has come under criticism, with two existing registry operators going as far as to propose an alternative model!
Protecting prior rights is a key part of the new gTLD program. ICANN must get this right if it is to allay fears that companies will be called upon to defensively register thousands of domain names matching their trademarks when upwards of a thousand new gTLDs are launched on the Internet.
This is such a key area that the US Department of Commerce's tha Larry Strickling from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) felt the need to prod ICANN in a recent letter. Strickling, ICANN's previous boss from the days when the organisation was still under contract with the US government, is still extremely influential. When he speaks, ICANN tends to shut up and listen. "NTIA remains concerned (…) regarding the limited progress of the Trademark Clearinghouse and the Uniform Rapid Suspension," wrote Strickling, in a clear "get a move on" message to ICANN.
Several workshops on the new gTLDs, the URS and the TMCH, are planned for Toronto. These will begin before the meeting itself officially starts, with the GNSO's weekend working sessions when ICANN Senior Vice President Kurt Pritz will address the GNSO on these two systems on Sunday October 14.
All about contracts
I wrote recently about the contractual negotiations currently ongoing between ICANN and its accredited registrars.
These negotiations are also crucial for domain registrants and are set to continue in Toronto, both through behind-the-scenes meetings and public updates planned during the week for the benefit of the community.
For me, Canada will be a very special meeting. After four years on the GNSO Council, including one as Vice Chair and two as Chair, I am term-limited and will therefore be moving on.
I will be staying very much involved having been elected by ICANN's Registrar Stakeholder Group to represent it on the Nominating Committee for the next year. The NomCom is an important part of the ICANN structure. Expect details on how it works in a follow-up article soon.
In the meantime, a reminder that ICANN meetings are free and open to all. So if you happen to be in Toronto from 13 October to 18 October, why not stop by and listen in?
Listening in is also possible remotely, as all ICANN meetings are extensively transcribed and recorded. Full ICANN Toronto schedule and participation details (including remote participation) can be found here.
Written by Stéphane Van Gelder, Registry Relations and Strategy Director, NetNames