Internet Governance & Policy

ICANN 54 Review

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October 29, 2015

By jbourne

ICANN 54, which took place in Dublin, Ireland, last week, featured some familiar scenarios, including IANA transition-related challenges and expressions of interest for another round of the New gTLD Program, alongside some unexpected conflagrations and controversies regarding ICANN’s role in online content regulation.

Ongoing IANA Transition Work

While a core focus of the meeting was the IANA transition, it proceeds as haltingly as ever, delayed by the sticky subject of ICANN accountability reforms, the most recent community proposal for which was rejected by ICANN’s Board.

After ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé ruffled some feathers with an ill-received presentation on accountability mechanisms at the beginning of the meeting, the Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN’s accountability (CCWG) made headway at the meeting, opting to ditch the model that had been rejected by the Board in favor of a less controversial “sole designator” model of enforcement mechanisms. During the week in Dublin, the CCWG stated that it expects to produce a third accountability proposal by November 15; this new proposal will be subject to a 35-day public comment period. CCWG members and others invested in the broader IANA transition hope that this next proposal will be finalized by early 2016 so that the NTIA can then review a combined plan for the IANA transition and accountability reforms and, in the best of scenarios, meet the goal of a late September transition date.

The Question of Content Regulation

A topic of keen interest that arose somewhat unexpectedly at ICANN 54 was that of ICANN’s role and responsibilities with regard to online content regulation.

For those who follow a strict interpretation of ICANN’s organizational remit, ICANN’s responsibility in this arena is non-existent. As Chehadé strongly argued last week, “ICANN’s remit […] is not in the economic/societal layer [of the Internet],” within which content policing takes place. Although this stance reflects the fact that ICANN was established in the 1990s as a technical organization, law enforcement officials and IP owners present at the meeting would argue that ICANN as a whole—and thus, its responsibilities in this area—has evolved significantly since then. While this issue will only become more contentious and central to Public Meeting discussions in time, for now, ICANN is resisting discussion of any involvement aside from supporting the development of voluntary efforts and remediation practices from within the domain name industry.

Looking Ahead Towards Round 2 of New gTLDs

Also of note during ICANN 54 was chatter regarding subsequent rounds of the New gTLD Program. As has been the case with past meetings, there is still no clear date for when a subsequent round will take place, though the internal wheels within ICANN have begun moving, albeit slowly. As ICANN’s policymaking community begins looking at how to conduct a next gTLD application round, there are many different questions on the table, including whether new rounds should be opened for specific categories of gTLDs. For example, Twitter, which made waves prior to the Dublin meeting by publicly announcing its plan to apply for a gTLD in the second round, asked the Board to consider giving brands their own dedicated rounds so that those (like Twitter) that missed out on the first round, can acquire their own gTLDs swiftly. Board members acknowledged this consideration while deferring comment to the GNSO, which has authority on the matter.

Looking ahead, the above issues will continue to be on the agenda at the next ICANN meeting in March, though, hopefully, by that date, the IANA transition will be well on its way toward approval and implementation.

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About jbourne