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Will Launch of New gTLD Program Be Delayed as a Result of Recent Hearings?

Stéphane Van Gelder

Yesterday evening, the ICANN's Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) held its last teleconference of the year. We had invited ICANN's new gTLD supremo Kurt Pritz to give an update on the recent US Congress hearings (Dec 8 & Dec 14).

Kurt was ICANN's spokesperson in both hearings, and felt that the first was more favourable to ICANN than the second. When I asked him if he thought the launch of the new gTLD program might be delayed as a result of these hearings, his response was a cryptic: "the risk is greater than zero”.

Although there are calls for a delay to the program, it was fiercely defended by both Pritz and some American politicians who want to see ICANN's unique model of non state-centric governance succeed. "The New gTD Program demonstrates the strength of the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder process,” Pritz said in his testimony to the US House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. "The New gTLD Program under discussion today is the implementation of an ICANN-community policy recommendation to achieve one of ICANN's foundational mandates.

The prevalent feeling is that any serious blow to the new gTLD program now be a direct attack on a governance model that tries to be as inclusive as possible. Several nations, including the US, don't want that. Because they don't want to see the Internet absorbed into United Nations control and hence be put at the mercy of countries where individual and collective freedoms are not the priority.

So if the recent hearings don't seem to have capsized the new gTLD ship just yet, the seas remain choppy. That fact is made all the more obvious by a letter co-signed by 28 major international organisations, including the UN, NATO, WIPO and the WTO, asking to be given the same level of protection under the new gTLD program as was recently granted to the Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Red Cross (RC).

You can almost hear the "I told you so"s from ICANN community members like the GNSO's Non Commercial Users Constituency (the NCUC), who have been saying all along that giving the IOC and the RC what they want was a triumph of big trademarks of individual users.

Those arguments were ignored, but doing the same with this letter, sent to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, ICANN Chair Steve Crocker and Kurt Pritz, is going to be difficult. The GNSO is already working hard to refine the new gTLD policy to allow the IOC and RC requests to be implemented. With the new gTLD launch window set to open in just a few days (January 12, 2012), there is simply no time to include other organisations in this work. Let alone 28 of the world's most convoluted (in terms of the rights they would like to see protected) such groups.

For now, the goal post for the new gTLDs remains firmly set at the January 12 launch date. But there are some pretty stiff ill winds blowing around it…

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Chairman, MILATHAN

Related topics: Cybersquatting, Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

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