Fate of new TLDs to be settled in private

At the ICANN meeting in Colombia, the board passed resolutions indicating that it is one last step away from implementing the program to create new top level domains. The board considers the problems of trademark protection, root scalability, mitigating malicious conduct and economic analysis to be closed.

But the Board recognized that censorship of top level domain strings on the grounds of “morality and public order” is still an open issue. The resolution says “Discussions will continue on (1) the roles of the Board, GAC, and ALAC in the objection process, (2) the incitement to discrimination criterion, and (3) fees for GAC and ALAC-instigated objections. ICANN will take into account public comment including the advice of the GAC, and looks forward to receiving further input from the working group in an attempt to close this issue.”

Once again, the GAC has used the finalization process to reassert its power, which is not guided by any treaty or law. The small collection of national governments represented by the GAC still seems to want to delay if not stop new top level domains. This resistance is led by the USA, which is heavily influenced by trademark interests and geopolitical concerns. Accordingly, the GAC has invoked the ICANN bylaw requiring the board to consult with it before making a decision that counters its advice.

Something similar has happened with the .xxx domain. According to the resolution just passed, ICANN itself seems ready to go forward with that domain; the GAC is not.

Both disagreements will be resolved in secret. In February 2011, the GAC will get its own special “inter-sessional meeting” to address its outstanding concerns with the new gTLD process.

Why couldn't this critical meeting be held in San Francisco, the site of the next open public ICANN meeting, where the Board-GAC meeting could be open to public observation? This is more a complaint about the GAC and its constituent governments than ICANN. After all this talk of open, bottom-up multistakeholder process, the final resolution will come from a private bargaining session between ICANN's staff, board and a few powerful governments. And now we all know who is responsible for that.

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