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Geneva – A meeting on changes to the Internet top level domain name structure concluded its first day yesterday amid much debate over the complex issues of future Internet governance and the substance of a new Memorandum of Understanding, due to be signed on May 1. The three-day meeting, which is being held at the Geneva International Conference Centre, is examining a proposal by the International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC) which will greatly change the way Internet general top level domain names are assigned and managed.
The meeting was chaired by Dr Bruno Lanvin, World Coordinator, Trade Point Programme for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). In his opening remarks, Mr Lanvin, long an active member of the Geneva Internet community, spoke of the need to develop a domain name structure for the Internet which was efficient, fair and sustainable. "The system needs to be efficient in that it effectively meets the needs of the user community; fair, in that it makes the Internet accessible to as many people as possible around the world; and sustainable in that it is in harmony with economic forces and the principles of competition. The new system must also reflect the globalization that we see all around us, and involve all the regions of the world," he said.
The Secretary-General of the ITU, Dr Pekka Tarjanne, then took the floor to welcome delegates on behalf of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which is acting as host organization for the conference. Dr Tarjanne spoke of the meeting as a historic coming together of two cultures – the Internet community and the telecommunications industry – and congratulated the IAHC on its work on the Memorandum of Understanding. "I see a new paradigm emerging," said Dr Tarjanne, "which I will call ‘voluntary multilateralism’. This process consists of identifying communities of interest which can come together on a voluntary basis to solve problems. Sometimes those communities will form around organizations such as the ITU, the WTO or the OECD. At other times, they will form around a special purpose group such as the IAHC."
Dr Tarjanne urged participants in the conference, when considering of the Memorandum of Understanding, to look for areas of common interest rather than focusing on inevitable areas of disagreement.
Dr Tarjanne’s comments were followed by a presentation Mr Don Heath, President and CEO of the Internet Society. Mr Heath made a strong and impassioned plea for conference delegates to support the proposal put forward by the IAHC, which he said would facilitate Internet self -governance and permit the network to reach its full potential. "Let there be no doubt – what you are supporting is in the best interests of the Internet; what you are supporting is not self-serving; what you are supporting will make the Internet more stable, more secure, and will begin the institutionalization of some of the entities that have been functioning in the public interest, from the beginnings of the network that, today, we call, the Internet," he said
Mr Heath’s speech was followed by a comprehensive presentation by Mr Robert Shaw, ITU Special Adviser on the Global Information Infrastructure. Mr Shaw explained the details of the IAHC plan, which will include the creation of seven new generic top level domains ( .firm, .store, .web, .arts, .rec, .info and .nom) in addition to the three existing general top level domains (.com, .org and .net), and which provides for the initial licensing of 28 new global Internet registrars, selected from seven world regions.
The afternoon session consisted of a presentation by Mr Dave Crocker, Director, Internet Mail Consortium and member of the IAHC, which was interspersed with vigorous debate between delegates and IAHC members. The main concerns expressed during this debate addressed issues of form and method but were generally supportive of the process. They essentially were:
- that the consultative process undertaken by the IAHC had not been extensive enough and important groups, such as bodies representing Internet service providers, the European Commission, and governments had not been involved directly in the work of the Committee;
- that there was not a wide enough representation of different nationalities and cultures on the IAHC;
- that the intention that delegates sign the Memorandum of Understanding at the close of the meeting on Thursday was too precipitate, and that a longer period of consideration and consultation was needed;
- that the fact that the new MoU will not initially cover the existing top level domains could pose problems and needs to be further discussed;
- that the proposed lottery system for choosing the new registrars should be reconsidered;
- that there were not sufficient mechanisms outlined in the plan to ensure that the power base of the governing body, the Policy Oversight Committee, would be later broadened to include a wider representation.
Mr Crocker and other members of the IAHC defended their approach, pointing out that their mandate had been to synthesize and harmonize the 4000 informal and 100 formal contributions received during the public submission period, all of which were given consideration. He said the final working group of 11 people (the IAHC) had been chosen on the basis that a larger group would be too unwieldy and would not be able to make the rapid progress necessary. Members of the IAHC included experts from both the Internet community and international entities, precisely with the aim of bringing an international dimension to the process and ensuring that public interests were being duly taken into account while maintaining the flexibility which the Internet requires.
"I am conscious of the criticism that the IAHC was put together hastily, without the involvement of governments, and that it may lack legitimacy," said Dr Tarjanne. "But I am persuaded that the process by which the IAHC has carried out its work has been open, representative and transparent," he added. "The process now launched resonates positively in many areas of the world; the self-governing structures put into place by the MoU will provide the possibility for all voices to be heard and all concerns to be taken into account in the review of the system," he concluded.
With regard to the lottery mechanism, Mr Crocker conceded that the selection of registrars, all of whom must first meet an objective set of business and technical criteria, may not be ideal, but said this mechanism was finally favoured by the Committee because it was fair and equitable. An auction giving the right to become a registrar to the highest bidder would unfairly favour wealthy companies, said Mr Crocker, while selection of registrars by the Committee or another body would have been fraught with the possibility of legal complications.
It was affirmed during discussions that the process for signing the MoU is open-ended, and that the purpose of having a core of signatories sign now is to send strong signals to the Internet community that a new era is emerging which will put a global resource – the Internet – in the public eye. Many entities – governments and private companies – have now been alerted to a new challenge which they may wish to consider in more detail and, once convinced of the solid foundation the new approach establishes, will wish to join and sign the MoU. Some participants did indicate that while they may not be ready to sign the MoU on Thursday, they were very supportive of the approach.
Don Heath summed up the open structure that led to the success of Internet: "The evolution of the Internet must be open to all those who have constructive intentions. The Internet has reached its present robust state for many reasons: a brilliant protocol; an early foundation period when participants were virtually unnoticed, and so, were allowed to make great progress with minimal interference; an environment extremely conducive to cooperation between and among the participants; an open forum using a grass-roots approach to standards development; the freedom to experiment in an uncontrolled environment; and indeed a self-regulating and self-policing culture."
Discussion of these issues will continue on Day Two, Wednesday April 30, when the conference will examine the MoU in detail, and will examine the issues surrounding trademarks and domain names.