The Canadian Internet Forum

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If you read this blog on a regular basis, you know how important I believe Internet governance is to Canadians. You’ll also know that I think it is the responsibility of organizations like CIRA – those on the ‘inside of the Internet governance world – to not only talk about what we do, but also to listen as well. It is only when we listen that we can approach international fora like the Internet Governance Forum and ICANN with positions that reflect the needs and opinions of the people we represent.

One of CIRA’s larger initiatives this year is the Canadian Internet Forum, or CIF. With the CIF, we are engaging with Canadians about the future of the Internet in Canada; how it should be developed, deployed and governed in Canada. We’ve been working with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Media Awareness Network (MNet) on the CIF to carry out this important process.

In November 2010, we hosted six face-to-face consultations across Canada with opinion leaders about their views of the role of the Internet in Canada. Since then, we have facilitated an online dialogue with CIRA Members.

Today, I’m happy to announce that this discussion is now open to all Canadians.

If you have an interest in how the Internet is run (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this blog you probably do) please take the time to engage in the dialogue. The Internet belongs to us all, and I believe it’s important for the people and organizations that use it have a say in how it’s run. The discussion forum is here. Visit often and please comment and engage with each other.

Results from the six consultations (available here), along with the discussion on the forum, will be presented at a free public event – the Canadian Internet Forum – on February 25, 2011 in Ottawa. A panel of Canadian experts will discuss the findings, and leading Canadian technology visionary Leonard Brody will provide the keynote address.

The event will also feature sessions for participants to provide their feedback and ideas about Internet governance in Canada and internationally.

If you won’t be in Ottawa on February 25, you can participate via webcast. The results on the national event will be included in a white paper for presentation to the international Internet Governance Forum, a United Nations entity where nations, the private sector and non-governmental organizations convene to discuss Internet-related issues.

What ideas are you going to share on the CIF discussion forum?

ICANN Cartagena – Reading between the lines

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As I mentioned in my blog a few weeks ago, Rod Beckstrom, President and CEO of ICANN, started off the December 2010 ICANN meeting in Cartagena, Colombia with a scripted response to a letter (.PDF) to ICANN’s Board from Larry Strickland, the Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). The letter criticizes several elements of ICANN’s proposed launch of new gTLDs.

Overall, Strickland sees a lack of improvement in ICANN’s transparency, accountability and fact-based policy development.  Specifically, the DOC criticizes the lack of a proper economic analysis evaluating the benefits of expanding the gTLD space.  Coincidentally, a couple of days after the posting of the DOC’s comments, ICANN published the second phase of its New gTLD Economic Study.

Additionally, the letter mentions concerns about ICANN’s Board adopting a resolution in November 2010 allowing cross ownership between registries and Registrars under the new gTLD program (in other words, eliminating vertical separation). Until that decision was made, the vertical separation debate was raging for years.  A good summary of the positions ICANN has been considering can be found on ICANN’s website.  What concerns the DOC is that the ICANN Board made this dramatic reversal of policy without explaining the reasons behind it, in particular because it’s been so hotly debated by various factions of the Internet community for such a long time.

Interestingly, although the DOC letter and Beckstrom’s response appear quite straightforward, I heard three totally different takes while at the Cartagena ICANN meeting in December 2010.

First, I heard the take that the DOC letter is merely a symptom of the growing pains facing ICANN, as ICANN matures into an “adolescent” corporation, becoming a little more independent and doing things its own way, away from the clutches of the “parent” Department of Commerce.  As every parent of teenagers knows, there will be times when the parent has some discomfort with their teen’s choices and behaviours, but it’s all part of growing up.  With this in mind, while a nod to the US government’s view is important, it should be given no more weight than any other submitted through the public comment process.  In fact, the DOC should be okay with ICANN acting independently.

Second, the conspiracy theory: certain key ICANN players expressed concern that the DOC letter is simply channeling the voices of pro-vertical integration Washington lobbyists and those who stand to gain from the change in policy.  With this view come worries that lobbyist-run Washington is attempting to have too much influence over ICANN’s operations, channeled through the DOC.

Finally, there was the more straightforward take that Larry Strickland of the U.S. Department of Commerce, the author of the letter, not known for political dances, wrote exactly what he meant – no need to decipher or read between the lines.  It is, after all, remarkably blunt for a diplomatic letter.  The DOC and ICANN have an agreement (the Affirmation of Commitments) of which Strickland is the signatory and which he takes very seriously, and there are concerns that ICANN is not living up to its obligations.  Those who hold this view worry about the possibility of the termination of the Affirmation of Commitments and ICANN’s role in global Internet governance.

I lean towards the third view.  From my interaction with Strickland, he strikes me as a plain spoken, no-nonsense straight shooter.  Several stakeholders, not just the DOC, have expressed concern and even alarm at some of ICANN’s decisions and processes.  While I’m not sure the DOC would go so far as terminating the Affirmation of Commitment and shutting ICANN out of the web of Internet governance, I think ICANN should sit up and listen to the numerous voices expressing concern about the execution of its obligations.

What do you think?  Is ICANN just being sent to its room? Are Washington lobbyists taking over Internet governance?  Or are we seeing symptoms of a perceived lack of accountability and transparency?

The Internet in 2011: my predictions

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At this time last year I put myself out on a limb and made some bold predictions about the top Internet-related topics for 2010. Fortunately, I was more right than wrong, but I stand by my original assertion that making predictions about the Internet can be a regrettable action. That said, here are the Internet-related topics I think we’re going to hear a lot about in 2011:

Net neutrality. Yes, I know the CRTC ruled on net neutrality in 2009, but that ruling doesn’t stop ISPs from slowing traffic at will; they just have to be transparent about it. It is an issue that is gaining steam in the U.S. and it’s also come up a lot in our Canadian Internet Forum consultations, an indication that it’s at the top of Canadians minds (perhaps because of incidents like this one involving Rogers). We’re going to hear a lot about net neutrality in 2011.

I blogged a lot about Internet governance in 2010, had an op-ed published in the Globe and Mail on the topic and was interviewed for this piece from CTV a couple of weeks ago. This is a topic that began to build in 2010 and I think it will continue at the same pace in 2011. The Internet is becoming more and more a force for economic growth – and a tool for terrorism and war – and nations whose intent may not be to uphold human rights or support a free economy are positioning themselves to exert control over it. The fundamental questions about who runs the Internet and the approach to its governance – multi-lateral versus multi-stakeholder – need to be resolved. The stakes are high and we’re going to have some pretty heated debates in 2011. That said, I do not think we are going to see some of the major issues resolved.

Last summer, Industry Canada held a national consultation on the development of a Digital Economy Strategy for Canada. In November, Minister Clement updated Canadians on the status of the strategy (even hinting at what it might include) and stated that it would be released in the Spring of 2011. The importance of a national digital economy strategy cannot be understated; we’re lagging behind our international counterparts – Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, among others – so many of us are eagerly anticipating its release. We are, as Sheridan Scott said in her op-ed in the Globe, overdue for a digital-economy strategy. Once released you can expect a lot of media attention placed on it. Let’s face it: with so many tools becoming automated, a digital strategy is the best way to boost productivity in any sector. Don’t just take my opinion; check out this interview with Robert Watson, the chairperson of the Information Technology Association of Canada.

The increased use of online video is a carryover from last year: Last year I had stated that sites like YouTube and Vimeo were driving people from their TVs to their computers. This year, I think the opposite is true. The launch of Netflix in Canada in 2010, along with Apple TV and Google TV, is seeing people streaming video from the Internet to their TVs. We already have full access to Netflix and Apple TV in Canada, Google TV isn’t far behind.  This is a significant change in the way people use the Internet – it has definitely moved from the desktop to the living rooms of our houses solidifying it as a part of almost all aspects of our lives.

The most alarming trend I see topping headlines in 2011 is the use of the Internet as a tool for terrorism and war. It’s enough of a threat that in 2010 the Pentagon set up Cyber Command (Cybercom) to defend U.S. military and civilian interests, while other nations attempt to identify and position their role in case of a full-blown cyber-war. In 2010, we saw the potential of the Internet as a tool for destruction, potentially in Iran and definitely when hackers started targeting websites perceived as being hostile toward Wikileaks. Side note: with this in mind, I hope Industry Canada takes CIRA’s recommendation in its submission to their Digital Economy Consultation to develop a Community Emergency Response Team.

In 2011, we’re going to see the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN kill the .XXX top-level domain. I said so back in July and I still believe it to be true. The .XXX story leading up to this point has really tested ICANN processes, and the GAC’s recommendation (.PDF) in August was to refuse .XXX. For better or worse, the ICANN Board will accept this advice. Come June, we will have seen the last of this story.

Some footnotes: I expect DNSSEC and IPv6 will be topics of conversation around many Canadian boardroom tables in 2011 as these very technical issues continue to go ‘mainstream’. We’ve been waiting a long time for it, but 2011 is also the year the new gTLDs are going to happen, likely at the ICANN meeting in San Francisco in May.

What do you think are going to be the top Internet-related topics of 2011?

CIRA’s Nomination Committee 2011

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CIRA’s Board of Directors is responsible for setting the policies and strategies that guide our work in managing the .CA domain space for Canadians. This week we launched a search for members to serve on our Nomination Committee, the first step in our annual process of electing our Board of Directors. The Committee plays a critical role in soliciting and selecting qualified candidates to run in the Board election. The slate of candidates selected by the Nomination Committee helps build a Board of Directors that represent the wide range of views and interests that make up Canada’s Internet community.

We’re currently accepting applications to serve on the 2011 Nomination Committee, and will be doing so until January 21, 2011 at 6 p.m. ET.

I invite you to apply to be a member of CIRA’s Nomination Committee. For more information, please visit the Nomination Committee web page.