[NA-Discuss] Reporting on Durban meeting

Dharma Dailey dharma.dailey at gmail.com
Tue Jul 23 21:54:26 UTC 2013

Well, thanks to Evan, I can shorten my report quite a bit. Consider this an addendum to his summary which succinctly covered the nuggets. 

General Observations. 

I haven’t been to an ICANN meeting since Mexico City 2009. To the good, it seems that At-Large/ALAC is much more integrated into the policy making process at this point. Praise for ALAC’squality and quantity of contributions came from many quarters at Durban- from other advisory constituencies, board members, and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé. 

Another marked difference at this meeting was that in Durban, I got the sense that the domain name industry is feeling a bit cornered. There were repeated references to the fact that domain names are now only one means of users reaching the content and services they seek. That means may be of diminishing import.  For example, at a Tech Day talk “Platforms and Policies Promoting a DNS Market in a Developing Country,” Dr. Ben Fuller described the “FaceBook factor” in Namibia. Fully 60% of Internet activity in the country may be attributed FaceBook use on mobile phones among users who “may not even know that they’re using the Internet.” Fadi Chehadé, dared to ask in the opening plenary whether as a result of search and walled gardens the DNS will go away.  One response to this concern has been the creation new trade organization for the domain industry:  theDNA.org whose purpose will be to promote the use of domains. In a presentation to ALAC, theDNA.org chair Adrian Kinderis told us the purpose of this group to promote “using domain names as the primary tool for users to navigate the industry.” It is their hope to restore “domain names as the default way to navigate the Internet.” Yet clearly they have their work cut out for them. Kinderis himself told us that his own mom is on FaceBook from “the moment she gets on the Internet to the moment she gets off.” 


Outside of the formal meetings, I heard a lot of speculation of where the expansion of top level domains will lead. What seems definite, is that there are many players in the domain industry ready to exploit the expansion by preying on the fears of registrants who feel compelled to “defensively register” to protect their online identities.  On the other hand, there is the possibility that some these new domains will create more trust among the public and value for the public, by, establishing TLDS that distinguishing themselves from the shenanigans of the average top level domain. The thinking being that if you know that a TLD holds its registrants to certain standards/practices/etc. you, the user, will be more inclined towards registrants within that TLD. We were told that several of the new TLDs have gone down this route by voluntarily signing on to additional “public interest commitments” beyond those in the standard contracts with ICANN. (Fadi Chehadé credited ALAC for nudging these PICs into existence.) However, the murmuring consensus seems to be, “time will tell” whether value-in-theory becomes value-in-practice. In the short term, ICANN et al will make money on registrations whether they add value (new businesses and services coming online) or suck value (scared registrants piling on the expense by adding registration after registration.) I was put off especially by one slightly drunk economist at the Gala who gleefully reveled in his rent-seeking ways. In the US, a significant portion of the economy is sole proprietor, self-employed and small business- which is to nearly to say- a significant portion of the population is tied up in high-overhead, low-net businesses where piling on the additional expense and hassle of multiple registrations is a particularly bad outcome. As it happens, this point was literally driven home to me. When I got off the plane from Durban, I drove 5 straight hours to the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania to join my family on holiday. One thing that struck me: the radio ads for these rural businesses are now pointing listeners to FaceBook pages instead of websites. I think that says everything about the wider world that ICANN is operating in (at least as it applies to North America.) 

Specific Issues Discussed.

Less big picture, but perhaps of note. Holly Raiche (of Australia) and Carleton Samuels (of Jamaica) presented a paper from the WHOIS expert working group which recommends a new third party entity should broker WHOIS information, handle accreditation and verify data. Garth Bruen and Evan Leibovitch were both vocal that before anything new is tried, the processes that are on the books should be implemented. One thing I really liked about the report and Holly and Carleton’s presentation of it was that it defined user in relation to the topic (WHOIS) and mapped out specific use cases for WHOIS. Amen. Very nice. 

Very much in passing, in the ALAC discussion with the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC), one SSAC member made reference to a report of theirs (I didn’t catch the report name or its status) on DNS attacks which finds that several of their recommendations to reduce DNS attacks “haven’t been implemented widely.” I was certainly curious to learn more about this. 

Another issue that came up briefly was raised during the Multi-stakeholder Roundtable by Hong Xue of Beijing Normal University. Xue has reviewed “several ICANN programs dealing with trademark infringement” and believes that she sees a recent pattern of extending protection from trademark infringement specific to the domain name itself to other forms of Intellectual Property concerns.  She specifically called out language in the new “Public Interest Commitments” (Those same PICs that ALAC/At-Large is getting credit from Fadi for?) According to Xue, RA Specification 11 requires registries to get registrants to sign prohibitions that include piracy, trademark and copyright infringement, and counterfeiting.  The language of these prohibitions, she says, goes beyond those in WTO agreements. And if registries don’t get registrants to sign such agreements, their contract with ICANN can be terminated. Xue believes that this sets the stage for registries to be drawn into enforcement on IP issues, and possibly is a gateway for DNS blocking as a tool for handling Intellectual Property disputes. Again, I would like to hear more about this. 

Another interesting issue that came and went was raised by way of a video-taped speech (available on YouTube) by Karaitiana Taiuru.  Accordingy to Taiuru any entity can make a claim for a TLD that represents an indigenous group such as .maori or .zulu. He called for At-Large to create an Indigenous working group to foster a way to make good determinations about who should hold such TLDs. Text of the speech is here:

ICANN is revisiting its engagement strategy both online and offline. Meetings with ICANN Staff Chris Mondini, Chris Gift, and Duncan Burns explained the current approach which considers a “continuum of engagement”  that reaches beyond those who now attend meetings and currently participate in working groups. Key to reaching the full continuum is another redux of its online engagement. New platforms are being created including ICANN labs which will, as I understand it, be an open platform for each constituency to use a vehicle for engagement and The ICANN Academy (which several At-Large members are involved in shaping) will be both an online learning tool (moodle based) and an offline activity. Both will soon be piloted. 


Upcoming Volunteer / Input Opportunities. 

These are just what I noted, I’m sure there are quite a few more: 

There are a myriad of committees rearing up to prepare the for the next worldwide At-Large summit called ATLAS 2. 

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé is putting together several small “President’s Strategy Committees” and is looking for input on who should be members of these committees. 

Cheryl Langdon Orr is running a monthly meeting on Metrics leading up to Buenos Aires. Those interested in metrics who can commit to full participation are invited to join. Those who can’t make a full commit to meet each month are invited to play a watching role. 

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