Last week in Prague, the GAC (Government Advisory Committee) relentlessly hammered ICANN over a range of issues relating to the new gTLD program. And while their criticisms were legitimate, one has to wonder to what extent governments were punishing ICANN for past offenses.
At the same time, the ICANN board and management seem to have finally — much belatedly — figured out how important it is to maintain a constructive and positive relationship with governments. ICANN representatives approached the GAC deferentially during Prague meetings, explaining issues with new gTLDs and being flexible about timing for objections to new gTLD applications.
But for a long time, the GAC was disregarded and sometimes disrespected by ICANN insiders, which I wrote about here. So this time, the GAC was not in a conciliatory mood. Government reps aggressively queried ICANN board members on technology glitches with new gTLD systems and uneven geographic representation among applicants.
These are all real issues, but none of them are intractable. Timelines can (and will) be extended to accommodate government objections. Technical glitches will be fixed (and hopefully avoided through more thorough testing by ICANN). Even geographic representation can be improved, although perhaps not as quickly.
Thing is, the GAC still seems to be stuck in the mindset developed over years of beating its collective head against the brick wall erected by ICANN's previous board leadership. While the GAC still is feeling the effects of that headache, it's time to shake it off and give the current board a chance to make things right.
Now that ICANN is at least showing signs of softening its approach and improving its responsiveness to the GAC, its in everyone's interest to accept ICANN's olive branch and forget — or at least forgive — past transgressions.
And while the exchanges in Prague were sometimes heated, things definitely cooled down when the GAC issued its communiqué after the meeting. It's long on constructive recommendations and formal advice, but the GAC communiqué contains virtually no critical rhetoric, and betrays none of the often-tense discussions that surfaced during last week's GAC meetings.
Hopefully the communiqué is a signal that the GAC, Board and ICANN management are building the kind of relationship that can endure the inevitable disagreements and glitches that lie ahead on the path to gTLD expansion.
The GAC has a critical role to play inside the ICANN process. But the GAC is also critical on the outside, where it acts as ICANN's direct link to global governments and — under the best circumstances — a defender of the multi-stakeholder model.
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