A lot of interesting issues are simmering as we head to the Seoul ICANN meeting.

For civil society activists, the highlight of the week comes when the Noncommercial Users Constituency meets with the ICANN Board in an attempt to resolve differences over how the new Noncommercial Stakeholders Group will be organized. The room had better be big enough to accommodate the dozens of NCUC members at the meeting. The NCUC’s cause was bolstered recently when Board member and Structural Improvements Committee (SIC) leader Roberto Gaetano declared on the ALAC list that “the SIC has decided, after long discussion, not to have an automatic link between creation of a constituency and establishment of a seat in the Council.” De-linking constituencies from Council seats was a key objective that NCUC pushed for in their proposed NCSG charter and it is good to see that the SIC has understood the reasons for this.

There will no doubt be extensive discussion of the new Affirmation of Commitment.

The new gTLDs process has gotten inextricably linked with so many distinct policy issues that it is proving to be a challenge to the entire ICANN process. This is no longer about just adding new names to the top level of the domain name system but about linguistic geopolitics, the economic and regulatory model behind the separation of registries and registrars, thick vs. thin Whois, and suspension procedures for domain names.

Vertical integration of registries and registrars has taken over from trademark protection as the hottest point of contention. At an online meeting sponsored by ICANN Monday, economic consultants for the various parties sparred with each other with slides, and quickie studies. This session (via Adobe Connect) is rumored to be recorded somewhere but I didn’t have time to look up where. With respect to trademark protection, the Board has tried to salvage some semblance of bottom up process by taking the IRT recommendations, winnowing them and sending them back to the GNSO. The status of the GNSO in the vertical integration wars is also unclear. It is obvious to anyone exposed to the issues being debated that these are fundamental policy issues that touch on the core of ICANN’s regulation of the domain name industry. But the market for new TLDs has been suppressed for so long that prospective new entrants have no patience with proposals to follow a deliberative process – as soon as the door is open they want to rush through, and who can blame them? So the tendency is to revert once again to staff-made policy; i.e., to let new TLD advocates negotiate terms with Kurt Pritz and Joe Sims.