IANA Transition, Accountability Will Remain Central at June ICANN Meeting in Argentina

The Internet Law Resource Center™ is the complete information solution for practitioners in cyberlaw. Follow the latest developments on ICANN’s gTLD program, keyword advertising, online privacy,...

By Joseph Wright

June 8 — Plans to transition remaining U.S. oversight of key domain name system functions to the global multistakeholder community and to enhance ICANN's accountability in the process will be front and center at the organization's public meeting in Buenos Aires later this month.

The meeting will take place at a pivotal point in the organization's history, as the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority transition and accountability effort promise to bring changes to the organization's structure, while the recently announced March 2016 departure of president and CEO Fadi Chehadé leaves stakeholders and observers wondering about the organization's future leadership.

“The accountability and stewardship discussions will suck all the air out of the room in Buenos Aires,” Jonathon Nevett, Donuts Inc. executive vice president, told Bloomberg BNA, although Nevett did add that Chehadé's departure will also be on people's minds at the meeting as well.

Accountability, Stewardship Sessions Planned

Much of the nitty-gritty work of the meeting will have already taken place by the time Chehadé's welcome and opening session takes place the morning of Monday, June 22. The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) that must deliver a complete transition plan to ICANN's board will hold a day-long working session on June 18, and the Cross-Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) will do the same June 19.

The ICG must combine the long-completed transition plans submitted by the technical numbers and protocols communities along with the much more contentious naming functions plan drafted by the Cross-Community Working Group to Develop an IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal on Naming Functions (CWG-Stewardship). The CWG-Stewardship recently completed a comment period on the second draft of its plan, which it intends to submit to its chartering organizations for approval this week.

Gregory Shatan, chair of the Intellectual Property Constituency and partner at Abelman Frayne & Schwab in New York, told Bloomberg BNA that the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) have said they can only take up the transition plan at a public meeting, so the organizations must approve the plan in Buenos Aires or hold up the process until the October meeting in Dublin.

While the CWG-Stewardship's work in Buenos Aires will primarily be advocacy for its plan, the CCWG-Accountability will spend its working session debating and drafting. Public comment on its first draft wrapped up June 3 except for those relying on translated copies, and the group has entered a second drafting period including the intensive face-to-face session June 19.

The two groups also have a joint engagement session planned for June 22 and multiple engagement and working sessions throughout the meeting. The GAC, GNSO and other chartering organizations will also devote multiple sessions to transition and accountability issues.

Chehade's Departure and Next Steps

Chehade's May 21 announcement was met with generous public statements about his tenure along with pronouncements that the IANA transition and accountability processes are bigger than any one individual. Nevertheless, the timing of his departure and how he will be replaced will be on the minds of meeting participants, as a succession process has not yet been announced.

“While he’s committed to staying until March of next year I suspect some people may have doubts,” Michele Neylon, CEO of Blacknight Solutions and chair of the New gTLD Registrars Stakeholder Group, told Bloomberg BNA. “Also, who will replace him, and more importantly, when? Fadi spent a couple of months following ICANN closely before officially starting the job.”

Chehade's predecessor as full-time CEO, Rod Beckstrom, announced his resignation in August 2011 but served out his term until June 30, 2012. Chehade's hiring was announced June 22, 2012 and he assumed the office on Oct. 1, 2012.

A CEO Succession Process session is scheduled for June 25.

New gTLD Program Analysis

As the first round of the new gTLD program winds down, stakeholders will be taking a hard look at the controversies that have arisen and will begin looking forward to the next round. Global Domains Division President Akram Atallah said in October 2014 that the next round was on pace for 2017 or 2018. Atallah said at the time that two camps had already formed, one looking to accelerate the next round and the other seeking to slow down and review every aspect of the program before going forward.

Out of 1930 new gTLD applications submitted, 635 have been delegated and only 29 contention sets remain. Only one string, .art, however, is currently scheduled for auction. The other 28 are on hold pending the outcome of accountability mechanisms or community priority evaluations.

The Global Domains Division will provide an update on the status of the program in a June 22 session.

Brian J. Winterfeldt, head of Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP's Internet practice, told Bloomberg BNA that a new policy development process working group will likely be formed to develop policy updates for the next round.

Other Issues of Note

ICANN's ongoing review of Whois accuracy will be the subject of June 22 session. According to a June 1 blog post, the project is currently assessing syntacical accuracy with a review of operational accuracy set to begin in August. How and whether to review identity verification is within scope for the project but is still under community discussion.

ICANN's compliance department will hold a program update session June 24 and outreach sessions with registries and registrars June 25. Compliance has been controversial recently as intellectual property interests seek a broader interpretation of registrars' abuse report response obligations that would block more infringing conduct, while registrars and registries want greater clarity on how ICANN interprets those provisions.

“ICANN's role as ‘content regulator' is going to rear its ugly head,” Neylon said. “There is increasing pressure coming from IP rights types about forcing ICANN to kill off ‘infringing' domains.”

In addition to multiple accountability and transition sessions, the GAC will be discussing longstanding concerns such as geographic names protection, intergovernmental organization names, country and territory names as second-level domain names and safeguards for the current and future rounds of the new gTLD program.

The GNSO will hold a preliminary meeting June 24 on the creation of a cross-community working group to determine the use of new gTLD auction proceeds. Those proceeds have been segregated from ICANN's other accounts while the community figures out what to do with the almost $59 million ICANN has netted to date. One auction is currently scheduled for July, while 28 contention sets remain ineligible for auction or on hold due to pending accountability proceedings or unresolved community priority evaluations. GNSO chair Jonathan Robinson has also proposed an informal June 25 meeting for an initial exchange of views with the ICANN board and the other supporting organization and advisory committee chairs.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Wright in Washington at jwright@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com