[ALAC] FYI - CNET on ICANN, "Domain Name Veto"

Marc Rotenberg rotenberg at epic.org
Mon Feb 28 13:52:43 UTC 2011

Perhaps of interest.




February 28, 2011 4:00 AM PST
No support for U.S. proposal for domain name veto
by Declan McCullagh

The Obama administration has failed in its bid to allow it and other
governments to veto future top-level domain names, a proposal before
ICANN that raised questions about balancing national sovereignty
with the venerable Internet tradition of free expression.

A group of nations rejected (PDF) that part of the U.S. proposal
last week, concluding instead that governments can offer nonbinding
"advice" about controversial suffixes such as .gay but will not
receive actual veto power.

Other portions of the U.S. proposal were adopted, including one
specifying that individual governments may file objections to
proposed suffixes without paying fees and another making it easier
for trademark holders to object. The final document, called a
"scorecard," will be discussed at a two-day meeting that starts
today in Brussels.

At stake are the procedures to create the next wave of suffixes to
supplement the time-tested .com, .org, and .net. Hundreds of
proposals are expected this year, including .car, .health, .love,
.movie, and .web, and the application process could be finalized at
a meeting next month in San Francisco of ICANN, or the Internet
Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Proposed domain suffixes like .gay are likely to prove contentious
among more conservative nations, as are questions over whether
foreign firms should be able to secure potentially lucrative rights
to operate geographical suffixes such as .nyc, .paris, and .london.
And nobody has forgotten the furor over .xxx, which has been in
limbo for seven years after receiving an emphatic thumbs-down from
the Bush administration.

"We are very pleased that this consensus-based process is moving
forward," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Commerce Department said in a
statement provided to CNET over the weekend. "The U.S., along with
many other GAC members, submitted recommendations for consideration
and as expected, these recommendations provided valuable input for
the development of the new scorecard."

GAC is the Governmental Advisory Committee of ICANN and composed of
representatives of scores of national governments from Afghanistan
to Yemen. The Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and
Information Administration, or NTIA, serves as the committee's
representative from the United States.

ICANN representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

Milton Mueller, a professor of information studies at Syracuse
University and author of a recently published book on Internet
governance, says an effort he supported--complete with an online
petition--"shamed" GAC representatives "into thinking about the free
expression consequences" of a governmental veto.

"When I started this campaign, I knew that the Department of
Commerce could never defend what they were doing publicly," Mueller
said. "There are also potential constitutional issues."

Complicating the Obama administration's embrace of a governmental
veto was its frequently expressed support for Internet freedoms
including free speech, laid out in Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton's speech last January. Clinton reiterated the
administration's commitment to "the freedom to connect" again in a
speech in Washington, D.C. this month.

One argument for the veto over new-top level domains is that it
could fend off the possibility of a more fragmented Internet, which
would likely happen if less liberal governments adopt technical
measures to prevent their citizens from connecting to .gay and .xxx
Web sites. In addition, handing governments more influence inside
ICANN could reduce the odds of a revolt that would vest more
Internet authority with the United Nations, a proposal that China
allies supported last year.

"I suspect that the U.S. government put (the veto power) in there to
show that it wants to respect the wishes of governments," said Steve
DelBianco, executive director of the NetChoice coalition. "I think
the U.S. would prefer to see a string rejected rather than let it
get into the root and have multiple nations block the top-level

DelBianco, whose coalition's members include AOL, eBay, Oracle,
VeriSign, and Yahoo, said "blocking creates stability and
consistency problems with the Internet...The U.S. government was
showing a preference for having one global root."

Today's meeting in Brussels between the ICANN board and national
government, which appears to be unprecedented in the history of the
organization, signals a deepening rift and an attempt to resolve
disputes before ICANN's next public meeting beginning March 13 in
San Francisco. (The language of the official announcement says the
goal is "arrive at an agreed upon resolution of those differences.")

A seven-page statement (PDF) in December 2010 from the national
governments participating in the ICANN process says they are "very
concerned" that "public policy issues raised remain unresolved." In
addition to concern over the review of "sensitive" top-level
domains, the statement says, there are also issues about "use and
protection of geographical names."

That statement followed years of escalating tensions between ICANN
and representatives of national governments, including a letter
(PDF) they sent in August 2010 suggesting that "the absence of any
controversial [suffixes] in the current universe of top-level
domains to date contributes directly to the security and stability
of the domain name and addressing system." And the German government
recently told (PDF) ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom that there are
"outstanding issues"--involving protecting trademark holders--that
must be resolved before introducing "new top-level domains."

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