It’s not every day that ICANN comes to town. As an employee of Tucows, the third largest ICANN accredited registrar, I’m a little more tuned in to what’s going on with ICANN than the average person. But in my nearly three years at the company, I’ve never attended an ICANN meeting in the flesh. Instead, it’s been a case of tuning into the odd stream from the International Meeting, or hearing about the goings on from Adam Eisner, our Director of Domain Services at Tucows.
Not having been to an ICANN event, I didn’t know what to expect from the “Regional Gathering of ICANN-Accredited Registrars and gTLD Registries” when it came to Toronto last week. A check of the agenda had me wondering if some of the material would be over my head. The subject matter included security, compliance, data escrow and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement among other things. As I said, I try to stay up on what’s happening with ICANN, so at least I was familiar with most of topics being discussed.
The first session I attended was probably not the best introduction to the inner workings of ICANN. I had heard that there was a tendency to use acronyms to excess, so I came armed with a BlackBerry and the link to the ICANN website glossary. Despite my efforts, I still found myself leaning over on a number of occasions to ask my more experienced neighbours what the ALAC was and why the New gTLD AG3 was all about.
Once I got past the acronyms and got some background on some of the issues, I began to see in the room a group of people, each representing different interests, struggling to come to a consensus on how best to proceed. There was most definitely differing viewpoints presented, and a clear belief of being right about the best way to proceed. However, there was also a clear passion shared around the room (and around the world via phone) for ensuring that the eventual solution, or direction taken was the best for the Internet community as a whole.
Outside of the discussions around issues like the new Registrar Accreditation Agreement and the New gTLD Program which get a lot of press around the Internet industry, the gathering provided a good introduction to the work of some other areas of ICANN.
A presentation by Yurie Ito, Director, Global Security Programs for ICANN provided an excellent introduction to the kinds of challenges that the industry faces in terms of criminal activity and other abuse on the Internet. Presentations from representatives from .MOBI and .ASIA were valuable in understanding how different registries are working to market their domain extensions to the public.
The discussions about how the de-accreditation process was and wasn’t working revealed some of the differing challenges faced by ICANN, registries and registrars when a de-accreditation was undertaken. While the process is clearly not yet perfect, it was also clear that each of the stakeholders was committed to doing right by the registrants and was willing to give and take to ensure the best possible outcome was achieved.
That said, what I found most valuable was simply being a part of it. Lunch meant a chance to meet and converse with counterparts at other registrars, partners at registries, and even some long-time customers of Tucows. The evening activities, including a fantastic night at the baseball game (thanks to Afilias) allowed everyone to unwind and walk away from the issues that have the potential to overwhelm and burn out those who are front and center in the process.
Adam Eisner mentioned to me after day one that the most rewarding part of being involved in ICANN was that you were a part of the process that leads to changes that have a real impact on the Internet and how it works. It was a chance to be one of the people making it better.
The perception some have, and I confess that included myself, is that ICANN is a mess of bureaucracy and that nothing ever gets done. Sure, ICANN can be a frustrating experience at times – that was made clear in some of the discussions that took place. But I think that those involved have an unequivocal understanding of the task they have taken on and the challenge it represents.
There is little room for error when you start changing the very structure of the Internet. Second chances are hard to come by with a global network of such immense value to society. What’s amazing to me is that those involved are willing to work to make it better as opposed to being frozen in the fear of messing it all up.
The net result of attending the gathering is both a fuller understanding of just what is involved in nurturing and stewarding of this amazing thing called the Internet. I’ll definitely pay more attention to what’s happening, both through the remote access that ICANN provides and hopefully also in person in the future.