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The GAC Strikes Back

Steve DelBianco

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.

By Steve DelBianco, Executive Director at NetChoice. More blog posts from Steve DelBianco can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance

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Comments

Government objections? Milton Mueller  –  Jul 03, 2012 1:52 PM PST

Steve, aren't you the same guy who warned us a few days ago about how bad it would be to give governments power over the Internet because Ethiopia had just banned VoIP? If so can you please explain to me why ICANN and the surrounding community should be supportive of and deferential to governmental objections to new gTLDs? Do you not see that governments will object to new gTLDs in the same way and for the same reasons that they support restrictive regulations in the WCIT? By giving GAC de facto veto powers over TLD applications, we are actually giving them more power over Internet governance than they would ever be able to get via the ITU.

Packing the GAC Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 03, 2012 4:25 PM PST

Steve DelBianco's narrative of a "softening" of ICANN's position vis-a-vis the GAC is inventive, but unfortunately unsupported by facts.  The big unreported story coming out of the Big Reveal of applications is that the GAC's fears of controversial applications, or the fears of their lobbyists over trademark violations, have been proven to be utterly baseless. 

Thus the fact-based narrative is not one of the ICANN Board finally understanding that they need to appease the GAC. Instead, the newly reasonable tone of the GAC stems from sudden disappearance of the issues their lobbyists have been hawking at every opportunity for the last three years - trademark violations. (Quite the opposite - it is a trademark, Patagonia, that is causing angina in the Argentinian GAC representative).  The Big Reveal has been one big anti-climax; it is simply no longer possible to conjure up nightmare scenarios about "unlimited" new gTLDs stealing intellectual property from innocent and defenseless trademark owners.

Now we are seeing a new front opening - the GAC admitting non-governmental players who nonetheless qualify for membership in GAC under the "international fora" membership criteria.  The EULA, which the group behind the mystifyingly popular Eurovision contest, are joining the GAC in order to promote their gTLD bid for .radio, making a GAC objection against other applicants for .radio much more likely.

I look forward to seeing the high priests of finger-shaking about conflicts of interest on the ICANN Board, on the GAC and from other quarters, now turn their stern gaze and thunderous denunciations to the very obvious conflicts within the GAC.  OK, I'm holding my breath, starting now…

Don't turn blue Milton Mueller  –  Jul 03, 2012 6:48 PM PST

I really don't want my valued friend Antony to suffocate, so I am shaking my finger at the GAC right now (wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, as LFMAO might say....) As for thunderous denunciations [of the GAC], I have already issued my share.

If what you say is true - if GAC is admitting "members" who are not governments but nongovernmental TLD applicants - it is a travesty of the highest order. On second thought, however, it is not that much of a departure from the past. As the "sovereign" owners of ccTLDs they demanded and got new IDN TLDs that were not ccTLDs, yet were registration fee- and application fee-exempt. And they got a two year head start in the market. They also laid claim to regional and country names in the SLD and TLD space, even though current international law gives them no actual rights to such names. So national governments had "interests" in the DNS economy even as they claimed to be disinterested policy makers and representatives of the public interest. But this new move makes it all the more blatant.

Oh it's true Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 03, 2012 8:12 PM PST

http://domainincite.com/9640-radio-gtld-applicant-joins-the-gac

My mistake: it's called the EBU (European Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 03, 2012 8:34 PM PST

My mistake: it's called the EBU (European Broadcasting Union), not the EULA.

California Corporations code 35000-35007 Karl Auerbach  –  Jul 05, 2012 9:21 PM PST

ICANN always seem to forget that because of the GAC ICANN fits squarely into the defintion of 35002 (b) of the California Corporations code as refined by 35003 (b) of that code.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=corp&group=34001-35000&file=35000-35007

GAC and the public interest Philip Sheppard  –  Jul 10, 2012 1:51 AM PST

Steve DB makes a good point about working with the GAC. In my experience of two decades of government affairs, success has only ever been wrought by working with governments not against them.

And before we get too upset about the EBU joining the GAC and using that influence for .radio, it may be worth pausing and consider where lies the public interest for this generic TLD? Seems to me that the EBU can lay claim to that more effectively than others.

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