Government Role in ICANN Increases

In the wake of controversy about the influence of national governments on ICANN, the organization's Government Advisory Committee has expanded its role, participating in the selection of members of policy review committees.

The U.S. signed in 2009 an Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) that defines ICANN -- the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers -- as a global, private sector-led organization dedicated to the coordination of Internet addresses. However, governments do play a role in ICANN direction via the GAC.

The GAC is for example working closely with the country code Name Supporting Organization (ccNSO) on the use of Internationalized Domain Names in country top-level domains (TLDs). ICANN started the fast-track process of the implementation of non-Latin TLDs in October last year.

The role of governments within ICANN has been a thorny issue since the World Summit on the Information Society in 2003, when some governments expressed dissatisfaction with the role of the U.S. in ICANN. Since then, ICANN has evolved and the Affirmation of Commitments underscored the need and general agreement to internationalize ICANN.

"The GAC has a major role to play in ICANN; it can help analyze the AoC in terms of what it means from a government perspective," said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN president and CEO.

Before the AoC, more governments had slowly started actively participating in ICANN, mainly on issues of public policy and interest, and the security and stability of the Domain Name System.

"Before the AoC, the GAC had decided to be more active in activities and policy development process, and co-operation with ccNSO in fast track for IDN ccTLDs is a good example," said Janis Kirklins, the GAC chairwoman.

Bertrand de la Chapelle, special envoy for the information society from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, feels that the role of governments is progressively growing because of general interest and dedication, and that the relationship between governments and ICANN will become clearer as time goes on.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding on what the AoC means to various parties, and it's important to examine the contract documents, which are available online," said Chapelle.

During the weeklong meeting the GAC held its sessions and developed a communique, which was shared with the board a day before the board mee

ting, and some of the issues the GAC was opposed to were considered.

For instance, the GAC took issue with the mandatory nature of Expression of Interest (EOI) on the new generic TLDs (gTLDs), and the document was withdrawn during the board meeting. The GAC felt that the EOI would constitute a de facto launch of the new gTLD application process, while some overarching issues such as trademark have not been resolved. More generic TLDs added to existing ones -- like .com. and .net -- are threatening to some companies worried about having to protect trademarks in multiple domains.

International language domain names was also a topic of debate.

"The introduction and operation of IDN ccTLDs should not undermine the security and stability of the DNS; ICANN and the relevant government should work together to ensure that the highest standards of TLD operation are achieved," GAC said in the communique.

IDN ccTLDs attracted attention recently after China failed in its application for the fast-track process. Although China and ICANN have been silent on the reasons why China's bid failed, a controversy on the number of Chinese strings (variations in language) -- including allegations that China wanted to claim several language strings to prevent Taiwan from claiming them -- is said to have played a role.

The GAC felt that there should be no limit on the number of language strings, and if there should be a limit, it should be done in agreement with the government or relevant public authority of the territory concerned, and adequate justification made for limitation.

"The number of IDN strings per territory should reflect the cultural and linguistic characteristics of the community concerned; a limit on the number of IDN strings per territory may only be considered if there are reasons to believe that some form of limitation on the overall size of the root zone file is necessary to preserve the stability of the DNS," said the GAC.

The limitation of strings is turning political, especially in areas with disputed territories and others where some countries feel they are entitled to certain language strings. The four countries of the fast-track process are Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

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