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Confirmed: Bill Clinton to Address ICANN Meeting in SF

Antony Van Couvering

William Jefferson "Bill" Clinton, 42nd President of the United States, with Rod Beckstrom, ICANN President and CEO.A personal source close to Bill Clinton has confirmed to us that the former president will give the keynote speech ICANN meeting in San Francisco March 14-18. The meeting promises to produce far more electricity than sleepy NGO-lawyer-techie-academic-lobbyist ICANN attendees are used to.

Getting Bill Clinton is a bona-fide PR coup for ICANN. The man can conjure loopy star-struck grins from even the most heavily-lobbied government functionaries, and his cameo will focus the Silicon Valley spotlight on the meeting where — we hope and expect — new gTLDs will get their final approval. For a brief moment the tech blogs might even take a break from their relentless, lifeless posts about iPhones and mobile check-ins and $500K funding rounds and spend a second or two considering the coming sea-change in Internet addressing and navigation.

The inevitable tech press that Clinton's presence will generate will be good for ICANN and for Silicon Valley too. ICANN acts as if it floats in a static, timeless bubble, protected from the rest of the Internet, and doesn't understand or acknowledge that gargantuan phenomena like Facebook might completely change how we navigate and message on the Web, or how the ascendancy of apps might make the whole idea of navigating on the web obsolete. Oblivious, it has no strategy to deal with such challenges. ICANN's impending encounter with the ferocious energy and money of Silicon Valley will be bracing and salutary for the ICANN Board and staff and community and they might (maybe) begin to see the bigger picture.

The tech world, for its part, doesn't know much about ICANN apart from a foreboding sense that getting anything done there is harder than selling Robert Mapplethorpe photos to the Taliban, and that bizarre Internet policy wonks will yell at you if you try. The tech press has ignored the huge branding and community-formation potential of new gTLDs, and hasn't woken up to the danger of letting the public policy and legal protections that are built into DNS policy (thanks to ICANN) get replaced by the logic-immune legal departments of Facebook and Twitter, who conduct all business with the public by autoresponder. Because although TechCrunch honcho Michael Arrington might get his name back more easily by calling Twitter than by filing a UDRP, the rest of us wouldn't. It's important that these two worlds engage with one another. ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom deserves credit for starting up an office in Palo Alto, and whoever snagged Clinton deserves a free gTLD.

Even governments are getting in on the act. The former president's star turn at ICANN, coupled with the sudden resurgence of the North Korean TLD, shows that regardless of your position on absolute government control over the Internet, just about everyone loves top-level domains.

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Is this a sign of ICANN's importance, J.D. Falk  –  Jan 13, 2011 3:24 PM PDT

Is this a sign of ICANN's importance, or of their already making more money than they know what to do with?

A Good Sign Indeed Michael D. Palage  –  Jan 13, 2011 7:59 PM PDT

Anthony,

While I share your excitement, I believe there may be different sources driving our respective excitement. Rod Beckstrom's personal reputation is now riding on the ICANN Board being able to deliver some type of closure in connection with the Applicant Guidebook at the San Fransisco meeting. Bringing in President Clinton hyping Applicant Guidebook version 6/7 would really be an anti-climatic non-event.

Therefore, if I was a betting type I would be placing all of my money on the GAC to "win place and show" at the upcoming ICANN Board / GAC meeting. The GAC now holds all the cards because unless the Board addresses all the GAC concerns, the San Francisco meeting cannot be the gala event that Rod Beckstrom has now hyped it to be.

I think it's just what it is: Alexander Schubert  –  Jan 13, 2011 9:21 PM PDT

I think it's just what it is: Clinton speaks at our next ICANN meeting. I like that a lot.

Thanks for sharing!

Alexander Schubert

ICANN is never that simple or straight forward Michael D. Palage  –  Jan 13, 2011 9:54 PM PDT

Alexander,

If ICANN was that simple and straight forward we would have had a finalized Applicant Guidebook long ago. There once was a much simpler time in ICANN's existence. Back in 2000 ICANN decided to move forward with the first new gTLDs in a proof of concept round approved in July (Yokohama); RFP published in August; Applications received in October; and an ICANN Board decision made in November. Five months start to finish by an organization with around a million dollar budget at the time.

President Clinton's attendance and the 500K sponsorship fees are not events occurring in a vacuum, but pawns in a much bigger chess game.

As originally stated, I am excited because there are now a set of dynamics which creates the pressure for true changes to the Applicant Guidebook along the lines the governments have been requesting for years. Once these changes occur the Applicant Guidebook can be finalized and new applications received.

That's one way to look at it Antony Van Couvering  –  Jan 14, 2011 12:11 AM PDT

@Michael,

I think it's unfortunate that people want to cast this as a GAC vs. ICANN thing, though I readily admit I've been guilty of this in the past. GAC is part of ICANN, and its job is give ICANN advice.  Since it's advice from governments, who are very important bodies, the GAC is given extra weight, both formally through the AoC and in practice by the respect and precedence given to their non-AoC-mandated requests.  The GAC has for the most part respected its role and understands that while it may make requests, even forcefully, at the end of the day they are just one of the parties within ICANN involved in the decision-making process.  Vide .XXX.

If one does persist in seeing it as a contest, I don't see that GAC "holds all the cards." A rash act by either party would basically immolate both of them.  The GAC (or rather the DoC) could nuke ICANN by pulling the IANA contract, leaving them with an infuriated civil society, as well as registries and registrars, and the task of building another organization that inevitably will look a lot like the current ICANN.  And the ICANN Board could completely ignore the GAC — which to its credit it shows no signs of doing — and face hostile obstructionism for the rest of its existence.  Neither of these scenarios can be very palatable to either side, and so a rather formal minuet is being danced so that each one can claim portions of a victory.  Furthermore, this is part of a larger conversation between governments and the private Internet that extends to the ITU, the IGF, and other venues. 

The Board will definitely address all the GAC concerns, but I don't see how that equates to doing what the GAC tells them to do.  ICANN's Board has a right, and a duty, to consider and weigh GAC advice and then make the best decision they can — which may or may not coincide with what the GAC wants. 

That's why they call it ICANN and not IGAC.

The Affirmation of Commitments is the ONLY way to look at it Michael D. Palage  –  Jan 14, 2011 3:05 AM PDT

@Anthony

If you read my articles/posts you will see that I am a rather broken record in the belief that ICANN is a "private sector lead" organization. This is taken straight from the Affirmation of Commitments. Now although ICANN is private sector lead, the GAC plays an important safety value function to ensure that ICANN's actions are made in the "public interest."

The Affirmation of Commitments "recognize that there is a group of participants that engage in ICANN's processes to a greater extent than Internet users generally." Now while the new gTLD implementation process has dragged out for the last several years, it has largely been driven by parties with an economic interest.

The GAC and other "non-interested" members of the Internet/Business community have been trying to tell ICANN of its concerns over the last several years. Unfortunately instead of listening to these concerns before they adopted the policy, ICANN opted to undertake the implementation work first and we now find ourselves in the current stalemate.

While you and others discount the economic studies, the fact is ICANN agreed to undertake an economic study of the marketplace as far back as 2006 - but never did. Instead of holding the ICANN senior staff accountable for failing to following through with the Board actions agreed to back in 2006, some just try to gloss over the concerns that have been raised since the very beginning. Go back and read Meredith Baker's Dec 2008 letter to the ICANN Chairman.

Getting back to my original comment. The reason I am excited with the President Clinton "unofficial announcement" is that Rod Beckstrom now has a lot at stake in ensuring that the "good faith" negotiations between the ICANN Baord and the GAC deliver some meaningful compromises to help bring a responsible closure to the new gTLD implementation process. This is a sense of urgency which I do not believe previously existed, and since I and a number of other stakeholders share some of the concerns expressed by the GAC in their most recent communiques there is a real good chance these concerns will now be addressed.

And just to show you that I still have a sense of humor even at 5 AM, I leave you with one last gambling/contest reference, a parody from one of my favorite lines in the movie Passenger 57 starring Wesley Snipes, "do you ever play roulette, always bet on [GAC]

Happy about the Clinton visit, but ... Avri Doria  –  Jan 14, 2011 8:40 AM PDT

I am really excited about listening to a Bill Clinton keynote.

And I am not even concerned about the amount of money that wil be spent for his speaking fees and for any extra security arrangements that are required to bring him to the SF ICANN meeting.

I do hope, however, that ICANN can find a similar sum which with to seed a fund raising program to help new gTLD applicants from developing economies.  And I hope that many of those who have gotten very rich from the many TLD businesses nurtured by ICANN, can use the occasion of his visit to make donations to such a fund.

Bill Clinton represents much of what is the best in generosity and in channeling funds to those who need a helping hand.  People in developing economies need a helping had to achieve the same level of cultural opportunity from TLDs as those in the developed economies have already achieved.  Let use the occasion of President Clinton's speech to kick off a real campaign to fund the efforts of those who will not be able to participate in the TLD explosion without some help.

quo vadis J.D. Falk  –  Jan 14, 2011 9:57 AM PDT

Avri,

if those developing economies want to participate, they should start training a whole lot of corporate trademark lawyers.  That's the only part of the "private sector" who are certain to benefit from this expansion.  It's clearly not for the benefit of actual internet users, no matter what economy they're participating in.

http://www.cauce.org/2010/10/who-are-domain-names-for.html

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