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ICANN CEO Farewell Letter Overlooks Innovation

Stéphane Van Gelder

Departing ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé has penned a goodbye letter to the organisation's Board as he prepares to leave this March.

The 7-page letter reads like a long list of Chehadé's achievements since he took over the helm in 2012. Whilst there can be little doubt about Chehadé's tireless energy and dedication to making ICANN a more effective governance mechanism for the Internet, his celebration of the last four years seems to overlook one important opportunity.

Missing from the 4 overriding objectives, 16 goals, 56 portfolios, 116 programs and more than 500 projects Chehadé describes in his letter is one of the new gTLD program's initial goals: fostering innovation at the Top Level. Today, 2 years after the first of a new generation of suffixes went live, the Internet's namespace remains bereft of any real innovation.

The new gTLD program generated interest far beyond existing registries as fresh ideas materialised in the shape of hopeful new registry operators. The dust has now settled somewhat after the mad first few months of new suffix launches and one thing seems obvious: the gTLD mould ICANN is working to has nothing "new" about it.

The system is designed for incumbents, or new registry operators that adopt an incumbent-like strategy or size. Registries that are smaller or have ambitions that do not make them look and work like the gTLDs the Internet has always known, do not have much chance of blossoming.

One reason for this is the fee structure ICANN maintains. This is so biased towards incumbents that any other industry would call it an unfair competitive advantage. At the same time, ICANN places contractual obligations on registries, all registries, that effectively mean any operator is better off copying the incumbent model, i.e. the one ICANN has always known, rather than trying to bring different naming services and opportunities to the Internet user.

There is no recognition of the existence of different models, communities and motivations for wishing to operate a new gTLD. An even bigger crime than this absence of any manner of helping hand extended by ICANN to those who would refresh the Internet is the organisation's total lack of promotion for new gTLDs in general.

ICANN has taken in vast amounts of cash in application fees and auction proceeds from the new gTLD program. Yet it has not seen fit to invest in increasing awareness for naming options that the general public remains very unaware of.

So as Chehadé lists the many departments created during his time as ICANN CEO, a glaring omission has to be any team tasked with ensuring greater diversity and innovation in the gTLD space.

Perhaps this is an oversight the next CEO will choose to look at. It's either that or running the risk of seeing the gTLD ecosystem remain as uniform as it was before its expansion. This despite the expansion. Now what a missed opportunity that would be…

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant. More blog posts from Stéphane Van Gelder can also be read here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Registry Services, Top-Level Domains


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Why still registering a domain name in 5, 10 or 15 years from now? Wim Degezelle  –  Feb 29, 2016 10:04 AM PDT

Stéphane, I support this need for innovative thinking and recognition of new models in the wider TLD ecosystem where growth is for many the only accepted indicator of success. Innovation is part of a long-term survival strategy. I’m often surprised how much time and ink is spent on predicting and stimulating growth or developing new businesses – important of course – and how little room there is for out-of-the-box thinking on questions such as ‘How to keep domain names relevant for the future generations of Internet users’.

Thanks Wim. I obviously couldn't agree more Stéphane Van Gelder  –  Feb 29, 2016 10:29 AM PDT

Thanks Wim. I obviously couldn't agree more ;)

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