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!