CIRA launches new Website

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Today, I am happy to announce that we’re launching a newly redesigned corporate website for CIRA.  This is the first major redesign of the corporate website in more than two years, and we’re pretty proud of it.

Through research and focus groups held over much of the past year, we’ve talked to the people who use our website to get an idea of what informaiton they’re looking for when they visit, and how they like to access that information. 

As a result, the new site has improved navigation and enhanced usability, includes interactive features like video and has an RSS feed. To enhance customer support, an online chat feature will be implemented in May. This chat feature will allow users to chat with an agent from the Registration Support Unit.

I invite you to take a look at the new, improved website. And, please let me know what you think.

ICANN and the .XXX Decision

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As I stated in my last blog post, the latest ICANN meeting had plenty of action. The .XXX top-level domain (TLD) was approved, and there was plenty of drama surrounding the renewal of the IANA contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Effectively, .XXX and gTLDs have driven this last round of actions and the responses by all of the key actors in the governance world.  At the meeting, the ICANN board voted to enter into an agreement with the ICM Registry for the .XXX TLD.  The .XXX decision was unique not just because it adds a new “adult content” top-level domain to the Internet – it also tidily summarizes all of the governance conflicts plaguing ICANN for the past several years.  Not only did the board provide a 20-page rationale outlining the reasons for its approval of the ICM Registry application for the .XXX domain, many board members also explained their vote, whether in favour or against. 

Concerns about how to handle GAC advice, about the technical concerns of the anticipated DNS blocking, about alienating international governments, about influencing Web content, about lack of process and predictability, about respect for diversity and cultural sensitivities, and freedom of expression, were all on the table as the board hashed out, at times painfully, the .XXX decision. 

And while surely every aspect of the ICANN governance debate was raised during that decision, I think it is significant for two other reasons. 

First of all, ICANN definitely did not follow GAC advice in approving the new TLD.  This may very well trigger a shift in global Internet governance, whether by some other international body attempting to take control of certain ICANN functions, or by the GAC becoming more focussed, better organised, and asserting itself more powerfully and earlier on in the policy development process in order to ensure this type of decision, surely a disaster in many countries’ minds, never occurs again. 

Secondly,   I have never seen such a well thought out, articulate and clear ICANN board decision than the .XXX decision.   Those of us in the community who have pushed for greater accountability and transparency are hoping this is a harbinger of what we can expect from ICANN in the future.  If that’s the case, the Internet governance landscape is changing, for the better.

ICANN and the GAC

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In March, I was in San Francisco for a meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board of directors.

In terms of ICANN meetings, it was pretty run of the mill. However, in light of some ongoing events in the broader Internet governance world, there were some moments that highlight some of the deep issues that are making their way to the surface.

The welcoming ceremony, often a formal ‘pat on the back’ type event, had some very interesting moments. Larry Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, made some very pointed remarks with regard to ICANN’s role in governing the Internet. Strickling called out the ICANN board for its lack of transparency around its decisions:ICANN still has work to do to ensure that decisions made related to the global technical coordination of the DNS are in the public interest, are accountable, and are transparent.”

This, of course, is most interesting in light of the fact that the contract between the U.S. Department of Commerce and IANA to manage the root expires in September 2011. IANA is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources. ICANN manages IANA under a contract with the U.S. Department of Commerce. Under this contract, ICANN, coordinates the root of the Internet’s domain name system. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has issued a Request for Comments on IANA functions and will be, I’m sure, using those comments to inform their decision about the next iteration of the IANA functions  agreement.

The ICANN board has had a few public showdowns with the Governmental Advisory Committee, including most recently around the introduction of new gTLDs and the approval of the .XXX TLD (more on that later). So, it comes as no surprise that the U.S. government might use whatever means it has available to it to exert its authority, even if to just make a show of it.

Though the ICANN board doesn’t necessarily have to follow the advice of the GAC, they do have to be transparent about why and how decisions are made. In terms of a democratic approach to decision making, one group’s opinion can’t carry more weight than any others, but let’s be frank – governments are one of the most important stakeholders in the Internet governance world. The GAC even has special status in the Affirmation of Commitments.

There’s no question that some changes are necessary. This contract, originally written in 2000, reflects a very different Internet world than the one we have now. When I think about it, the original contract was written, Jon Demco was running the .CA registry out of a basement office at the University of British Columbia. We exist in a very different world now, and this agreement, whatever form it should take – needs to reflect these changes. It’s not just the U.S. government that wants changes; ICANN, clearly wants to distance itself from the U.S. government  as well.

The U.S. Government is in a bit of a bind here.  They are, unquestionably, the most powerful voice in shaping ICANN board behaviour. However, they can’t play their hand too forcefully.

Many of the proponents of a multi-lateral approach are nations that are less than happy with the Internet being controlled – as they see it – by the U.S. Government, a government that is diametrically opposed to their policies and beliefs. We’re talking about countries like Syria here, for whom human rights are not on their agenda as a priority issue.  It is a very delicate balance that the US Government has to weigh in its actions and pronouncements. They need to help mature ICANN’s behaviour, perhaps through tough love and guidance, but be seen to not be too directive and hands on.  All this because they actually do believe in the multi-stakeholder, bottom up model for Internet governance and genuinely want it to succeed.

Strickland went on to outline his suggestions for ICANN to move forward to demonstrate that the multi-stakeholder model, in practice, can work in the eyes of the U.S. government. The plan included the implementation of the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team, and a rethinking of the relationship of governments to ICANN through the GAC.

Are these suggestions a set of marching orders? Or some kind of threat? Time will tell. There’s a lot of politics at play here. Different entities are jostling for position, and the end prize is fundamental to the way the Internet – as we currently know it – is run.

In other surprising Internet news, it turns out I was wrong in one of my predictions for 2011.  ICANN did approve the .XXX TLD. However, if the Internet landscape really is changing for the better, I’m happy to eat metaphorical crow.