Worlds colliding

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A couple of weeks ago, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) hosted the World Telecommunication and Policy Forum (WTPF), a high-level exchange of views on information and communication technology (ICT) related policy issues (read ‘Internet’).

You may recall that I tend to get a tad suspicious whenever the ITU talks about anything Internet related. To date I haven’t been proven wrong – the fact is the ITU is looking to extend its reach over the Internet.

Unfortunately, once again there was a proposal – this time from Brazil – put forward at the WTPF that would result in the ITU exerting some control over the Internet. Titled “Opinion on the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance,” this proposal received support among more than a handful of member states (including Russia, India, Iran, and Argentina, among many others). It’s worth noting that most developed nations, Canada included, did not support Brazil’s proposal.

On the surface, it looks like the typical scenario of ITU members doing their best to wrestle control of the Internet from the U.S.-based ICANN, and in part it is. However, I believe there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.

I believe the driver behind Brazil’s proposal is actually rooted in the Governmental Advisory Committee’s (GAC) communiqué (PDF) coming out of the ICANN meeting in Beijing.

In Beijing, the GAC issued consensus advice on two proposed generic top-level domains, .africa (from DotConnectAfrica) and .gcc (for Middle Eastern Internet users). It did not do so on two other potential ‘geographic’ domain names, .patagonia and .amazon, for which there are also multiple proposals.

Rumour has it that it was the U.S. members of the GAC that did not go along with the rest of the GAC members, who believed that the geographic proposal for these domain names should be approved. As I understand it, the U.S. instead sided with the trademark holders of the domains in question, resulting in non-consensus advice.

Keep in mind, the ICANN Board has to treat consensus advice from the GAC differently from other advice. They either have to accept the advice, or explain why the advice was not accepted. This gives consensus advice more weight than non-consensus advice, where the ICANN Board can accept it or not, and not have to give any explanation.

Will the trademark holders win these gTLDs? Only time will tell. But, is it possible that the Brazilian proposal at the WTPF was retaliation against the U.S. for it not supporting its gTLD proposals at the GAC?

I believe it is.

What we are witnessing, in my opinion, is the gTLD debate boiling over into the ITU. And I believe this to be a dangerous precedent. The ICANN and ITU worlds are now interrelated.

This entire situation, however, foreshadows what the world of Internet governance would look like if the Internet were governed with a multi-lateral model instead of a multi-stakeholder one; where member states act in their own best interest (as it appears both Brazil and the U.S. are), instead of the best interest of the Internet.

As I’ve said before, the multi-stakeholder model is a big part of the reason the Internet has been so successful. That’s because the people and organizations that stand to benefit from its success are at the table when decisions about how it develops are made. Therefore, acting in the best interest of the Internet IS acting in your own best interest under the multi-stakeholder model.

We are all aware of how the multi-lateral governance model can get bogged down in this ‘eye for an eye’ diplomacy. It doesn’t help anybody, least of all the free and open Internet.



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