ICANN Nairobi – It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

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More than one person has said to me that attending an ICANN meeting is like watching paint dry, grass grow, etc.  Basically, pick your metaphor, but the point is not much happens and what does happen, happens slowly.  While there is some truth to this, I would argue that the better metaphor might be a duck, not much happening above the waterline, paddling like mad below.  You just need to know what to look for to see the activity.  But that’s a blog for another day.

The ICANN meeting last week was anything but dull, with a lot of activity happening around the latest round of gTLD introduction updates and the whole Expression of Interest (EOI) issue.

The other element that added a spark to this meeting was the new CEO himself, Rod Beckstrom.  Rod pressed a number of hot button issues, some on purpose, and some I am sure, came as a surprise even to him.

It all started at the opening ceremonies for the conference when Rod opened with an interfaith prayer…yes, a prayer.  This caught the very international gathering quite off guard.  This is after all an Internet technology and policy conference.  And it did not go well; from the Imam not showing up to the power going off during the prayer, it was an awkward few minutes.  From there Rod lambasted African telcos for their high prices (a little insensitive given most of them are state sanctioned, and we were the guests of Kenya), indicated that Kenya was no longer in the Commonwealth (it is), and invited six Presidents of the east African region, who were meeting nearby, to drop by and join with ICANN.  The one small wrinkle is that group includes the President of Sudan, an indicted war criminal – not a politically sensitive choice of guests.  And all this within about the first 15 minutes!

Two other more substantive areas that concern country code TLD operators like .CA that Rod stepped into are around financial contributions to ICANN as well as the requirement for a global DNS CERT.

ICANN is a not-for-profit corporation, which has a number of constituency groups within it.  Some of these groups are contracted parties, like the gTLDs (such as the commercial entities that run .com).  Others, like the various government participants and the country code operators (like CIRA) participate to be involved in the policy process and the coordination and governance of the Internet, but are not contracted parties with ICANN.  Many of the ccTLDs make a voluntary contribution of funds to support ICANN, but some don’t.   Rod has made a point that the ccTLDs need to start paying more, in fact he made this point clearly when the first ccTLD CEO stood up to speak.  Before he could get a word out, Rod demanded to know if that ccTLD made contributions, the implication feeling like if they had not, that the forthcoming question would not be as “valuable”.

While the question of ccTLD contributions is one that needs to be addressed, the way it was delivered and the innuendo did not win Rod any friends.    My sense of the room was that Rod left with fewer supporters than he arrived with.  You know the old saying, it’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.

The other issue, that I will blog on more expansively at a later date, is the notion of a global DNS CERT.  DNS security, stability, and resiliency (SSR) is a core part of my business, of any ccTLD’s business.  There are a number of organizations that that also do this and work in the security space.  Also, some form of cyber CERTs exist at the national level in many countries.  Many in the community would consider CERTs to be in their wheelhouse.  If there any gaps, let’s plug them rather than create a whole new ICANN bureaucracy, with a $5M US price tag, to administer it.  Again, SSR is near and dear to the operators’ hearts and anything that can make it better will be welcomed in the community.  But the tone of the message could be considered somewhat inflammatory.

Again, like your mother told you, it’s often not what you say; it’s how you say it.

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