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NTAG Chair Blog: Odds and Endings

Imagine if the US Bureau of Labor Statistics delayed one of its reports for say, two months. No explanation. Just didn’t release the employment numbers when it said it would. What if the Federal Reserve decided to say it was going to raise interest rates, but then just didn’t? The global economy would be thrown into chaos. These organizations know that when you run critical infrastructure your word is part of that infrastructure.

ICANN is taking steps towards becoming a more mature organization. This includes opening global hubs, engaging more broadly with the international community, and putting in place performance management systems. It might even include relocation. As a non-American (yes, despite what many think Canadians are indeed quite different from Americans) I find many of these goals laudable. As the Internet becomes more global, ICANN will need to keep pace. A California not-for-profit that is also responsible for organizing the world to engage around the Internet’s system of unique identifiers looks increasingly incongruous.

I’d like to see ICANN less exposed to the American legal system, with its many expensive and spurious lawsuits. I’d like ICANN more easily attract international talent instead of having to slog through American visa applications. According to the Swiss Government, Geneva is the second largest centre of international cooperation in the world behind New York. In terms of international conferences and meetings it is number one. I’m not sure where Los Angeles ranks, but I bet it’s pretty darn low (unless you’re talking about the film industry). ICANN will always have roots in Los Angeles, just like I will always have roots in the small community in rural Alberta where I grew up. But it would be very difficult for me to try to do the work I do now from there, even with the connectivity the Internet has brought.

Yet, as I have learned in my own life, simply moving countries doesn’t make you more mature. It just makes you an expat. At least part of what makes you mature is learning to be careful about what you say, to keep your commitments when you make them, and to be open about and learn from your mistakes. Indeed, in hindsight I think some of my globetrotting has been a way of avoiding that harder journey of looking inward to make those tough changes.

As a Canadian, my first instinct was to thank ICANN Staff for acting so quickly to issue contract information requests once the Board resolved Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Category 1 Advice. I think most New TLD Applicant Group (NTAG) members are in agreement that Staff acted quickly to get applicants moving forward, whether into contracting or community evaluation.

What I didn’t expect was the amount of push-back from members about a litany of outstanding issues that continues to cause applicants concern. GAC Category 2 advice, the Name Collision Report, Specification 13 of the Registry Agreement, Auction guidelines and an auction start date, community priority evaluation delays, outstanding community objections and extended evaluation are just a few issues that come to mind. To these I would add my own concern that capacity on contracting and testing does not appear to have been scaled up, though a glut of applications will just have hit those gates, having been released from GAC Category 1 advice, and a bunch more will head into that queue as soon as auctions get underway.

I’m concerned that NTAG members still have such a long list of concerns. I’m more concerned by the fact that many members don’t seem to trust ICANN enough to hand them a carrot. When I look at this list now, and when I look back at ICANN’s communications track record since it signed off on the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Policy Development Process in June 2008, it’s pretty easy to get a sense of where that push-back is coming from.

I want to be able to thank ICANN and the Board for moving quickly on issues. Maybe it’s just the Canadian in me, but I think it is also because I have found most people will stop listening to you if you only hit them with sticks. Goodwill is a necessary part of any dialogue. Yet until ICANN starts treating its policy communications and commitments as part of the critical infrastructure that it coordinates, goodwill is going to be hard to build, and calling ICANN a mature organization is going to be even harder, no matter how it is structured or where it is based.

By Jacob Malthouse, Fmr UNEP Staffer, Ex ICANN VP, Co-founder dot-eco domain registry.

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