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ICANN Day 2: The bells! The bells!

Category : ICANN, Journalism · by Jun 22nd, 2010

Nothing aids careful discussion and debate more than loud repetitive ringing. So thank you the Square Meeting Centre in Brussels for introducing not one but two ringing systems that go off every 30 minutes: a fire alarm and the bells from the nearby cathedral.

Despite this auditory assistance, the second (third) day of the ICANN meeting saw plenty of discussion. And some testy exchanges.

Most lively was when ICANN finally came good on its six-year promise to provide the country code managers with a figure for how much they actually cost the organization.

This has been a long-running argument: the country code managers will only providing voluntary contributions (because they don’t want to implicitly accept ICANN has authority over them), and ICANN wants more cash than it gets through this system.

The stalemate was finally broken when ICANN finally produced some figures this morning. Unsurprisingly, the ccNSO didn’t react to an annual invoice stretching to millions of dollars with unbridled glee. So what did it do? Well, it reads like a punchline to an ICANN joke: it created a working group to discuss how it might pay it.

This approach irritated ICANN’s chairman – who comes from the ccNSO – who complained that maybe the ccNSO should have thought about how to pay before now. Current chair Chris Disspain complained back that there wasn’t much point in going down that path when it wasn’t known whether the bill would be $1 million or $10 million. And so on, back and forth.

What was interesting though was, like receiving a restaurant bill and wondering whether your group really did have six bottles of wine, the ccNSO started drilling into what it was actually being asked to pay for.

Top of the question-marks appeared to be the $400,000 a year (for 10 years) cost of a new building in Palo Alto for CEO Rod Beckstrom and a claim that a TV studio was being installed for The Rod’s personal benefit. (Something that has since been denied.)

No one seemed sure about the TV studio – at least not enough to ask Rod to his face where he turned up 20 minutes later.

I fought the law and the law got a PDP

After yesterday’s main session in which law enforcement asked for changes to the RAA to protect us all from terrible cybercrime, the registrars hit back in semi-private with the ICANN Board.

They weren’t happy about the fact that the contract that defines their entire business had become a top news item for fixing child porn, gun running and all sorts of nastiness, and they told the Board as much. They argued, not unreasonably, that there was a thing called the policy development process and they’d rather big changes were made through that.

Chairman PDT did a good job of dispelling concerns, agreeing that policy shouldn’t come in through the back door but also telling the registrars – who often make the mistake of believing they are somehow special – that the community does have a role in deciding the contract.

The cybercops will no doubt despair at the systems that stop them making the world a better place; but the reality remains that building a system around the worst-case scenarios just creates a system that no one wants to use.

Party time

So dot-shop is taking an interesting tack. It doesn’t bother to argue the whys and wherefores in endless policy discussions; it just throws bloody big parties.

This time, party-goers were greeted with two women in white cowboy outfits inside large transparent balls waving seductively to them.

Presumably there is a catalogue somewhere that allows you to choose the enticing party greetments you want. I wouldn’t be surprised if attractive blondes in skimpy outfits placed in giant inflatable balls wasn’t on the front page.

Makes you wonder what else you can get. Flame-throwing mongeese in mini-skirts? Negligees made of vodka? Who knows? We’ll have to wait until Cartagena to find out.

GAC attack

Nothing can alternative between mind-numbingly dull and fantastically significant like a GAC meeting.

The GAC-Board get-together at every ICANN meeting is required viewing for just this reason. The room was packed. Chair Janis Karklins tried to persuade us this was because the largest-ever number of governments were present (58) but really it was because this is where the high politics are done.

True to form, the first half of the meeting was so extravagantly dull that several people tried to throw themselves out the windows because it was quicker that having to say “excuse me” to 96 people on the way out the door.

It was, of course, about semantics. In this case the word “advice”. What does this mean? When did the GAC give “advice”? Is advice always “advice”, or was it sometimes a mix of advice and comment. What advice could the Board provide to the GAC about the way its provided advice? What advice could the GAC give to the Board about its advice? And would that in itself be advice?

The problem of course is that the word “advice” appears in the ICANN bylaws and so, in inimitable fashion, hundreds of people have been obsessing about it ever since. The answer, which surely must have been screaming in others’ heads apart from my own, was “use a different bloody word; anything; ‘derek’, we don’t care, just stop saying the word ‘advice’.”

Suddenly though it got interesting when the GAC informed the Board, pretty bluntly, that the whole Public Order and Morality clause – reduced to, yes, PoMo – in the new gTLD guidebook was, well, completely useless and had to pulled out.

This is bittersweet news to all those who fought pitched battles more than a year ago to argue that it shouldn’t be included (but for entirely different reasons).

Even better than that, first the Board, then the GAC and then the GNSO publicly disowned the clause and almost as fast informed everyone else that they weren’t responsible for coming up with a replacement.

As ever the impossible task of keeping everyone happy fell to ICANN staff who are now expected to pull off the impossible in roughly two months.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so important.

Nanny-time

Of course what everyone fails to recognise on a higher level is that the only reason this is an issue is because everyone involved in ICANN is basically nannying the Internet. It’s their special baby and they don’t want any nasty real-world issues upsetting it.

Those who don’t feel that they have a god-given right to decide the future of the Internet may like to point out that if someone wants to outlay $200,000 to get an offensive Internet extension, a further $100,000 to run each it each and every year, and then seek to persuade people to sell the domains under it for no reason except to have a rude ending on a website, then let them.

It will go precisely nowhere. And even if it does, everyone will just block them.

You can pretty much sum up this mentality in a comment from one Board member who pleaded that ICANN didn’t create any top-level domains that weren’t made available in every country in every part of the world.

I admire this attempt to keep the hippy-like philosophy of the early Internet days alive but unfortunately, outside the hallowed walls of ICANN, the Internet has stopped being a special place and has just become a place.

ICANN hates the fact that new gTLDs are going to bring an end to the clubby atmosphere of the Internet where everyone knows everyone – which is ultimately behind the years and years of work on the new gTLD process. But at some point people have to let their little darling grow up, become an adult and start making its own decisions.

Day 4 preview

What’s on tomorrow? Well, not very much to be honest. It may be time to visit the cafes and bars around the Grand Place and grab a seat for England’s impending World Cup victory.

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