Governments Should Promote Cultural Diversity on the Internet

The entire new gTLD applicant community is awaiting, patiently, the forthcoming Brussels meeting between the ICANN Board and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) to take place from February 28th. After years of delays to the new gTLD process, ICANN and the GAC will try to reach an agreement on how and when to launch the new Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD) programme.

The expectations for the outcome of the Brussels meeting is huge among potential new gTLD applicants. Despite this, the media attention will be negligible when compared to the news coverage that the next ICANN public meeting in March will receive. Numerous media outlets will closely observe the activity in San Francisco, hopefully reporting that the delays to the new gTLD programme are over and that applications will soon begin.

To its credit ICANN has worked through over 3 years of delays to try to build consensus among the multiple stakeholders, who often have irreconcilable views and interests. Following dozens of meetings, hundreds of thousands of air-miles and countless emails and comments, ICANN staff managed to publish the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook (AGB) late last year. It was, though, a false dawn as the GAC pinpointed some, in their view, flaws in the programme.

In the GAC’s opinion, what are the unsatisfactory issues? For the most part the objections relate to intellectual property rights and with a government’s right to veto candidates on « moral » grounds. It is these areas that will be the focus of the Brussels meeting.

While a case could be made that these areas merit further examination it is clear that there are many potential applicants who would not fall foul of the issues raised by the GAC. There are many well-established non-commercial, community-based proposals such as, but not limited to, the six cultural and linguistic not-for-profit organisations that collaborate as ECLID (European Cultural and Linguistic Internet Domains). Working together in ECLID are puntCAT and new gTLD applicants for the Basque, Breton, Galician, Scottish, and Welsh languages and cultures. The members of ECLID view the recent technical, financial and legal success of .cat, the domain for the Catalan language and culture, as a touchstone. In 5 years puntCat has registered 47,187 domains without significant trademark or « moral » incident.

The GAC itself has recognized in a letter to ICANN dated September 23rd that bids such as those of ECLID are not likely to arouse significant controversy: « a number of relatively straightforward, non-sensitive and uncontroversial gTLD proposals — including community-based initiatives — which are being unduly delayed as a result of wider operational and policy development issues that do not directly concern or involve them ».

Even the most cursory glance at the comments on the ICANN forum shows the pressure certain lobbies are bringing to bear on the GAC. However, we believe that the GAC must consider the wider interest that the new gTLD programme represents and not just the pecuniary interests of a few big companies.

While the new gTLD applicant community is relatively small, in and of itself, it does represent vast numbers of people around the world who have lent their support to the initiatives. For ECLID bids alone there are thousands and thousands of people who have signed up on websites or send emails of support calling for their communities to be represented on the root.

We must not lose sight that what is at stake is the trust that people place in ICANN and the GAC is acting for the good of all internet users, trust that would be further eroded if the new gTLD programme launch date is pushed back beyond 2011.

We believe that its not enough to offer criticisms without offering solutions.

ECLID has repeatedly called, just as the GAC did in September 2010, for an earlier launch window for the community-based, uncontroversial candidatures. In an attempt to offer ICANN and the GAC a way out of their current impasse we’ve supported the creation of initiatives such as the Step-by-Step procedure, which advocates a simplified, cost effective, easy to understand process that enables a range of applications to be assessed in a window beginning as soon as possible. An early window would allow ICANN to test run current regulations on candidates that have the advantage of being non-controversial. These are candidates that have had to certify from the very beginning of the assessment process that they have the approval of the relevant administrations and communities they represent.

For now though we go back to waiting for the Brussels meeting to take place and see what solutions emerge.

By Nacho Amadoz, Chair of ECLID – European Cultural and Linguistic Internet Domains

Read on CircleID