ICANN 53 – What to Expect in Buenos Aires

June 18, 2015

By Clark W. Lackert, Reed Smith LLP

The next global ICANN meeting starts this weekend in Buenos Aires, an event important to brand owners and advertisers. Since the last meeting in Singapore in February, several seismic shifts have happened which may change the domain name ecosystem forever. Here are a few.

Perhaps the major change was the unexpected resignation of the ICANN CEO, Fadi Chehadé. While Chehadé has been under constant attack from various sources over the last few months, few observers thought he would resign in the midst of so many major projects and challenges including Second Round planning, IANA Transition, the continued rise of the GAC, and Accountability review. Chehadé said that he would step down in March of 2016. Now that Chehadé is a lame duck, ICANN 53 will be actively discussing what’s next, who will replace him, and how will his agenda be affected.

Another major change is an increased level of scrutiny for ICANN by the U.S. Congress, whether in hearings or correspondence, particularly on the more aggressive posture of the GAC to insert governmental objections and vetoes into the ICANN process. On June 10, 2015, Rep. Blake Farenthold wrote a scathing letter to ICANN, and signed by other members of Congress, to voice concern over the GAC’s desire for more power, an issue which has been consistently been of importance to ANA and its members. In fact, the letter referenced the ANA detailed negative comments on the GAC geographical name proposal last Fall as its first footnote. This proposal was authored by Olga Cavalli, Vice Chair of the GAC, and would greatly expand geographical name objections by GAC at the expense of brands. Another version of it will be discussed starting this weekend. It will be interesting to see if this new level of U.S. government monitoring will affect the GAC posture in Buenos Aires.

Further action from Congress comes in the form of the DOTCOM Act (HR 805), which would give Congress time to review the proposed IANA transition and require a Government Accountability Office audit of the transition before it is finalized. This bill expresses many lawmakers’ concerns that ICANN is not prepared for the IANA transition, highlighting questions about the transparency and accountability of the organization. Yesterday, the DOTCOM Act was voted out of the House Energy & Commerce Committee on a voice vote and is now headed for the House floor.

Although it may seem unrelated, the FIFA scandal has also affected public perceptions of ICANN, most importantly in the area of accountability, a hot topic at ICANN right now. Several commentators have noted that during transition and accountability discussions going on at ICANN now and soon in Buenos Aires, it is inevitable that the issue of lessons learned from FIFA will enter the debate at several levels.

Finally, following up on our posts on the “.sucks” controversy, now the Canadian government has also declined to intervene on the issue. Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have now sent the controversy back to ICANN to get its house in order. At the moment, about 100,000 names are on the “.sucks” Premium Sunrise (Market Premium) list, a development which continues to anger brand owners.

Whatever happens at the meeting, these complex challenges for ICANN are not going away soon. As always, ANA members should speak up now before Buenos Aires to make sure their views are heard.

Reed Smith LLP is the ANA’s General Counsel.

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