ICANN, International Development, and Venture Capital

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Last week in Singapore a new era for the Internet was ushered in with the approval of the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), something that was six years in the making – six long, tough, twisting years.

A resolution to introduce the new gTLD program was debated at a special meeting of the Board of Directors that was held Monday. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) expressed its concerns about the introduction of the gTLDs, citing trademark and competition issues, and as of the previous Friday there was no guarantee the gTLD resolution was going to pass at the special meeting on Monday.

There was obviously some hallway politicking going on over the weekend in Singapore in order for concessions to get the needed votes to pass the resolution, which included pulling vertical integration (.PDF).  As well, a program that, as far as any of us could see, didn’t exist on Friday was suddenly part of the resolution on Monday. Somehow, over the span of about 48 hours, a program to provide financial assistance to governments and non-governmental organizations in the developing world was tacked onto the gTLD resolution.

With this funding program in place, the new gTLD program passed with only a single, rather eloquent naysayer.

Where does this leave ICANN? In charge of a multi-million dollar international development initiative or venture capital fund.

ICANN is staffed with many highly capable people who are good at what they do. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure implementing international development programs or acting as a venture capitalist and investing in start-ups is not one of them.

International development isn’t the forte of a technology-based not-for-profit in California. International development is incredibly challenging, just ask Oxfam, the UN, CIDA, or any other organization whose mandate is to work in the developing world. It involves working with governments (some corrupt, most not) and it involves working with a myriad of other organizations at the community, regional, national, and international levels.  Since ICANN is challenged to work with its partners on its own budget (.PDF), I’m not entirely convinced they’re going to get this right.

Keep in mind the incredibly tight timelines ICANN has imposed on itself. The intent is to have the new gTLDs roll out in 2013. I’m sceptical that it will be able to develop the in-house expertise to run an international development funding program or venture capital effectively and efficiently in that window.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am 100 per cent supportive of providing technological, policy and financial support to those nations and organizations that need it in order to navigate the labyrinth that is the gTLD application process. And it is important to note that capacity building is a key responsibility for some of us in the Internet ecosystem (.PDF), and ICANN plays an important role. The Internet has the potential to be a great equalizer, as long as we ensure the barriers to entry are few and far between.

But – ICANN the venture capitalist? ICANN the international development agency?

What do you think?


ICANN Board approves new gTLDs

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I’m at the 41st ICANN meeting in Singapore this week.

Today was truly a historic day in the life of the Internet.  In a special meeting of the ICANN Board of Directors in Singapore, the Board voted in favour of opening up the Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) space to any person, organization or community with the interest, idea and ability to pay the fee for a new top-level domain (anything to the right of the dot, such as .idea or .CA).

This is fundamentally akin to the deregulation of a market that has been tightly controlled since the inception of the public Internet and the founding of the Internet governing body, ICANN. The creative and innovative forces that this may unleash are still to be determined, but this step has been a long time coming. Getting to this point has required years of effort, and huge amounts of money and personal contributions to get it over the line. And, to be honest, it was anyone’s guess what the Board was going to do at the outset of this meeting.

The Board provided their rationale for the vote this morning.

Since I arrived in Singapore on Friday I have met with a range of folks, from the CEO of ICANN and other Board members, to the chairs of the various constituency groups as well as all manner of other stakeholders . . . no-one was confident in what the outcome would be. It truly was anyone’s guess what the final outcome would be, right up to the special meeting.

The approval of the new gTLD program did not, however, come without some compromise. Vertical Integration, whereby a registry is allowed to act as a registrar for its own TLD, a key component of the new gTLD program, was cut out for “further discussions.” I think this was an attempt to mollify a grumpy GAC who had really drawn a line in the sand on Friday with a last minute, high drama opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice anti-trust division. Further, the actual application start date is not until January 2012, giving further time to fine tune implementation details.

A positive addition was the designation of a seed fund to help potential applicants from developing nations with the application fee. Besides the obvious improvement this will make to ICANN’s role as operating in the global public interest, I think the attention paid by ICANN to the challenges of developing nations in the new gTLD world will also help stem the flow of support we’ve seen by developing nations of  the ITU as the Internet’s governing body. That said, it will be interesting to see how it gets rolled out. The devil is often in the details, many of which have yet to be defined.

The ICANN Board threaded the needle on this one; a pretty good job given all the competing interests at play.

Oh, and I called it in my pre-meeting tweet :-) – well, except for the seed fund . . .

The beginning of a new era on the Internet!


Guest post: CIRA enables IPv6

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Jacques Latour, Director of Information Technology at CIRA, wrote today’s post about IPv6. Enjoy.

Today is World IPv6 Day and as CIRA’s Director of Information Technology, I am proud to say that we are participating with a fully IPv6 enabled corporate website.

It took us five months to plan our IPv6 deployment. We started with an assessment of our infrastructure and services, conducted lots of training, and we developed a publicly available IPv6 Security Policy template.  Some of our equipment was not IPv6 compliant.  It was a major learning curve for our Operations & Security teams; we did a lot of testing in our lab before going live.

One challenge to overcome is network address translation (NAT), you NAT IPv4, but not IPv6.  The IPv6 addressing plan was also an interesting challenge.

We managed to get IPv6 transits (check our IPv6 routing paths) from our Toronto site as well a native IPv6 peering, not only is our web presence dual stack IPv4/IPv6, but we have our corporate LAN users dual stack as well, so we can enjoy the Internet in both IPv4 and IPv6.

All in all, it was a lot of work, but very important.

I just want to leave one final comment. The Internet is not just IPv4 or just IPv6, the Internet is IPv4 and IPv6.

Enjoy World IPv6 Day!


World IPv6 Day

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June 8, 2011 is World IPv6 Day. Organizations around the world are participating in this one-day event to raise awareness of the importance of adopting IPv6.

I’m proud to announce that CIRA will participate in World IPv6 Day by making our corporate website IPv6 ready. This is a public step toward making all of our systems IPv6 ready. We’ll also be installing a widget on our site that will let you know if you are capable of accessing our website via IPv6. If you aren’t able, check out this information page from the Internet Society.

Why is this important?

In the early days, when the ‘Internet pioneers’ were developing the naming and numbering systems, they had no idea that there would be such a demand for Internet addresses. The system that was established and is still in use today, IPv4, is 32-bit. This means there are a finite number of addresses – around 4.3 billion addresses – in the Internet’s address-numbering system.

Vint Cerf said it well at a conference in Australia this past January:

“I am a little embarrassed about that because I was the guy who decided that 32-bit was enough for the Internet experiment. My only defence is that that choice was made in 1977, and I thought it was an experiment.

The problem is the experiment didn’t end, so here we are.

I’m sure at the time, people like Vint Cerf likely thought this would be a seemingly infinite supply. It doesn’t seem that way anymore. In February, ICANN allocated the final blocks of IPv4 addresses.

So what does this mean? Let me put it this way – it’s kind of like when your city runs out of seven digit phone number and you have to start dialling the area code first.

We need to add the area code to Internet addresses, and that’s kind of what IPv6, the newest protocol, does. It provides exponentially more addresses – approximately 340 undecillion or 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 addresses, in fact.

Without IPv6, the Internet will not be able to continue to expand. It will also be difficult to incorporate new users, applications and devices, and seriously limit access for those who don’t adopt it.

At CIRA, we believe that adopting IPv6 is an important thing for Canadian organizations to do. By having an IPv6 ready website, we are taking a lead role in Canada with regard to IPv6 adoption. I’d like to point out two things:

1. We won’t be taking the IPv6 ready CIRA website down after World IPv6 Day. From June 8 onwards, you will be able to access our website via IPv6 and IPv4.

2. On June 8, CIRA will be the only IPv6 customer with our Canadian Internet service provider.

If you want to know more about IPv6, there are plenty of resources available.