With ICANN seemingly hell-bent on approving its new top-level domains program at its Singapore meeting, June 20, the US government wants to slam the brakes.
Congressmen from both sides of the aisle this week said the launch should be put on hold, and yesterday Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, said he does not believe June 20 is realistic.
In a speech before the Global Internet Governance Academic Network, GigaNet, in Washington DC yesterday, Strickling said that ICANN needs to pay more heed to the advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee before it approves the program.
I commend ICANN for its efforts to respond to the GAC advice. Nonetheless, it is unclear to me today whether ICANN and the GAC can complete this process in a satisfactory manner for the Board to approve the guidebook on June 20, 2011, as ICANN has stated it wants to do.
While discussing the ongoing boogeyman threat of an International Telecommunications Union takeover of ICANN’s functions, he added:
Unless the GAC believes that ICANN has been sufficiently responsive to their concerns, I do not see how the Guidebook can be adopted on June 20th in Singapore in a manner that ensures continuing global governmental support of ICANN.
That’s incredibly strong stuff.
Strickling is suggesting that if ICANN rejects GAC advice about what goes into the new TLDs Applicant Guidebook, ICANN may be able to kiss international governmental support goodbye, potentially threatening the organization’s very existence.
And it wasn’t the only threat he raised.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is in the process of renewing and possibly amending ICANN’s IANA contract, which gives it the power to introduce new TLDs.
If anyone in any government is in a position to bargain directly with ICANN, it’s Strickling. He tackled this position of power head-on in his speech:
I heard from yesterday’s House hearing that some of the witnesses proposed that we use this contract as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency on the part of the company performing the IANA functions. We are seriously considering these suggestions and will be seeking further comment from the global Internet community on this issue.
I believe the only witness to raise this issue at the hearing was Josh Bourne of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse. He wants a full audit of ICANN before the IANA contract is renewed.
The Congressional “oversight” hearing in question, before the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, was not much more than a kangaroo court.
The Representatives in attendance read from prepared statements and from questions they frequently seemed to barely understand, stated fringe opinions as fact, asked inane questions that demonstrated the loosest of grasps on the subject before them, then came to the (foregone) conclusion that the new gTLD program should be delayed pending further work on protecting trademark holders.
I’m not saying these politicians need to be subject matter experts, but if the words “intellectual property” and “the internet” are in your job description, you ought be embarrassed if the words “new BGLTs, or whatever they’re called” come out of your mouth in public.
The Subcommittee has no direct power over ICANN, of course, beyond the fact that it belongs to the legislature of the country where ICANN is based.
But Strickling does.
In his speech yesterday, he also made it quite obvious that the NTIA currently has no plans to push ICANN further along the road to full independence by signing a Cooperative Agreement instead of a procurement contract for the IANA function.
That proposal was made by ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, and supported by a small number of others in the industry, including Vint Cerf. But Strickling said:
The fact is, however, that NTIA does not have the legal authority to transition the IANA functions contract into a Cooperative Agreement with ICANN, nor do we have the statutory authority to enter into a Cooperative Agreement with ICANN, or any other organization, for the performance of the IANA functions.
The Beckstrom proposal always seemed like a long shot, but to have it dismissed so casually will surely be seen as a setback on the road to true ICANN independence from the US.