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December 4, 2005

ICANN meeting passes on .com, .xxx decisions

As the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers wound up its annual meeting in Vancouver yesterday it was inactions that were still causing all the controversy.

By CBR Staff Writer

Major decisions on the .com and .xxx domains had been postponed until next year, as the domain name management body seeks to balance the interests of governments and commercial domain name organizations.

During a public forum on Saturday, domain registrars voiced concerns over the proposed settlement between ICANN and VeriSign Inc, which would give VeriSign a five-year extension to its .com registry contract and the ability to raise prices 7% a year.

And proponents of the .xxx domain said their proposals to launch a porn-only address has been turned into a political football by ICANN’s governmental advisors, a charge not being strenuously denied by ICANN or governments.

The very few governments that have written to ICANN, with the possible exception of the US, are not opposed to our proposal on substantive grounds, said Stuart Lawley, president of would-be .xxx operator ICM Registry Inc.

The ICM application is being held hostage in a dispute between ICANN and the GAC, he added, referring to ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee, which has members from dozens of international governments.

Lawley had arrived here working on the assumption that ICANN’s board would approve .xxx on Sunday. However, it was pulled from the agenda at the eleventh hour after the GAC asked for more time to review the .xxx proposal.

Some governments are concerned with the content of .xxx itself, then there are those concerned about process, GAC chair Mohamed Sharil Tarmizi, a senior Malaysian telecommunications regulator, said in an interview with ComputerWire.

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Members of the GAC are just trying to understand the processes ICANN took he said. Some had assumed that because a proposal to offer .xxx from ICM was rejected in 2000, that it would also be thrown out this time, he said.

There’s a bigger political picture too. Following the recent World Summit on the Information Society, a UN meeting on internet governance, governmental interest in the ICANN process has been reignited.

In some respects, this discussion about .xxx is a proxy for the renewed attention governments are paying to ICANN, ICANN president Paul Twomey told us.

WSIS created a document called the Tunis Agenda, which promised to leave existing internet management bodies including ICANN essentially untouched, while also recognizing the roles government can play.

It’s not unimaginable that some governments went into this GAC meeting with their own interpretation of Tunis Agenda, Tarmizi said. There were those who saw the Tunis Agenda being a statement of political will for change to take place, there were some who said it just reaffirmed what we had already being saying.

While Tarmizi would not be drawn on which governments are demanding the extra scrutiny of .xxx, so far Brazil, Iran and the European Union are on record expressing concerns on process grounds, with the US expressing concern on content grounds.

During an open-mic public forum before ICANN board of directors Saturday, others voiced strong objections to the delays on policy grounds.

The GAC is acting as an investigator, as sort of Congressional hearings agency so that they can assert authority to make the final decision about what top-level domains are accepted, claimed Syracuse University professor Milton Mueller.

Vote on xxx tomorrow, Mueller said. Get a backbone. Show that you’re independent of the US government and independent of the GAC, as you’re supposed to be.

I don’t see this as a question of our independence from governments. They are part of our process, ICANN chair Vint Cerf responded. He went on to observe several times that ICANN is criticized for not moving quickly enough as frequently as it is criticized for moving too slowly.

The GAC is not alone in its concerns about .xxx. ICANN and the US Department of Commerce received almost 100,000 objecting letters and emails, an unprecedented level of input, from people motivated by lobbyists on the Christian right.

While ICANN was being criticized for its inaction over .xxx, it was also receiving criticism for its actions in attempting to settle its lawsuit with VeriSign, a deal that many perceive as giving too many concessions to the .com operator, as previously reported.

ICANN is taking all the comments about .com on board, and yesterday extended the public comment period until December 7, after which it will publish a document summarizing the objections. A decision is not expects for some months.

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