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There’s really only one question about the return to face-to-face ICANN meetings

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2021, 15:15:59 (UTC), Domain Policy

The struggles of remote working during unsociable hours and the possibility of a return to partially in-person meetings for Seattle in October were the subject of lots of well-deserved debate at the virtual ICANN 71 public meeting last week, but in reality I think there’s only one question that matters.

The question is posed by Americans to everyone else, and it goes like this: “You guys cool if we go ahead without you?”

Sure, lots of interesting and important questions were raised last week, particularly during the hour-long final session.

If ICANN decides to require proof of vaccination to attend in person, will it accept all brands of vaccine, or will it do a Bruce Springsteen and exclude those who have received the AstraZeneca jab, which is not currently approved in the US?

Is it a problem for overseas travelers that the number of vaccinated Americans currently appears to be plateauing, as ludicrous political divisions see primarily “red state” folks refuse to take their medicine?

What about attendees working for companies that have eliminated their travel budget for the rest of the year?

What if there’s a new flavor of Covid, worse than the current delta variant, in play in October? What if travel corridors into the US are still closed when ICANN 72 comes around? What if attendees have to self-isolate for weeks in expensive hotels upon their return to their home countries? Has ICANN done any research into this?

These are some of the questions that have been raised, and while they’re all very interesting I can’t help but feel that they’re completely irrelevant in the context of an ICANN meeting.

ICANN doesn’t know what the pandemic state of play internationally is going to be four months from now. Nobody does. Not the epidemiologists, not the healthcare leaders, not the governments.

ICANN isn’t a government. It isn’t the United Nations. It’s a technical and policy coordination body that sometimes appears to have a sense of its own importance as inflated as its budget. Its powers to assure an internationally diverse community can gather in literally the same room in October are close to non-existent.

But it’s a pretty safe bet that domestic travel in the US will still be permitted in October (did it ever even really stop?) and therefore it’s a pretty safe bet that community members based in America will be able to bump elbows in Seattle.

The only question remaining therefore is: how much of the rest of the world is ICANN willing to risk excluding to make that happen?

It’s a question its board of directors will answer in July. I don’t envy them the responsibility.

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Comments (9)

  1. James Bladel says:

    According to the link, Springsteen reversed their earlier guidance and will now accept Astra-Zeneca vaccinations. Which is helpful, considering AZ isn’t even planning to apply for approval in the US.

    Bigger questions remain around Sinovax and Sputnik. So I’d expand the scope of your question to include attendees from Canada (on pace to overtake the US in vaccinations by October), the UK, and a big chunk of Europe.

    Fair points about the other restrictions that are completely outside of ICANN’s influence or control. It isn’t fair to lay all of the travel/vaccination inequalities at the feet of ICANN.

    But while the Board & Community try to understand and manage the risks of meeting F2F, we should keep in mind that this problem isn’t going away, and could be a factor for years. Maybe the rest of our careers or lives. We need to find a way to manage the risks, or abandon F2F meetings entirely.

    And it also, technically, isn’t new. ICANN meetings have always been a potential breeding ground for some bug, whether it’s a nasty cold or flu, or Legionnaires, or Norovirus that always found its way to cruise ships. We pretty much ignored these risks before COVID, but they were always a possibility.

Leave a Reply to James Bladel