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Virtual ICANN Meetings – YES, Please

In the early 2000s, when I began working in the domain name industry, I remember hearing from colleagues about these seemingly elusive ICANN meetings invariably hosted in some pretty incredible places, including Rio de Janeiro, Rome and Cape Town. I remember how some of my colleagues complained about being stuck in windowless conference rooms for hours on end, but secretly thinking that they were probably going to a few meetings, but then actually enjoying a fabulous vacation.

Of course, that was before I started attending meetings and realized that they were physically and mentally draining events that left me exhausted for at least a week upon my return. Don't get me wrong, as a result of my work at ICANN, I have been afforded the luxury of traveling around the world to places that I would otherwise never have seen. And for that, I will always be grateful.

That said, the costs for participating with ICANN are high — the financial costs of traveling around the world, the professional costs of being away from work, and the personal costs of being away from home and family. I've known people for whom these costs were just too high to continue their involvement actively.

And yes, I've heard from many that the face-to-face meetings that occur at the ICANN meetings are invaluable for building relationships and gaining deeper insights. They are, and I totally get it.

However, I see the move to virtual meetings as a way to increase participation in the multi-stakeholder model and believe that the Internet has the ability to level the playing field for ICANN participants as the meetings become more accessible. The use of web conferencing, along with the chat functionality it provides, has allowed the voices of those who often don't speak to have their perspectives heard. This is something that does not necessarily happen in the face-to-face meetings.

And yes, I know, ICANN has provided for remote participation for as long as I can remember — but somehow in the past, it always felt that if you were attending virtually, you weren't really at the meeting. I also know that there are many places in the world where it still isn't possible to attend remotely due to bandwidth or other technical constraints.

Am I looking forward to the day that ICANN can host its meetings, and we can safely meet face-to-face again? Absolutely. But is this a step in the right direction for increasing participation? I really think it is and would encourage those who have had an interest in attending sessions remotely, especially as topics around DNS abuse, the next round of new gTLDs, and the review of the UDRP begin to take shape.

By Elisa Cooper, SVP Marketing and Policy at Brandsight, Inc.

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