ICANN71 Virtual Policy Forum: Review

Donna Austin, Head of Registry Policy, GoDaddy Registry
July 01, 2021

Notwithstanding that a virtual meeting can never replace meeting in person, I believe we’re getting into a groove with virtual meetings and it is probably the only way to address the divisive time zone issue.

I found this meeting to be one of the best in terms of plenary session content and discussions, along with a number of other sessions that were of interest. The incremental technical enhancements that have been made over the last five meetings are to be commended.

The discussion about finding the right path to enable the community to meet again in person is an important and difficult one, given all the uncertainty that COVID has created across the world. I took a great deal of confidence from the discussions between the Board and various other community groups about future meetings, that the ICANN org is aware of, and sensitive to, the vast array of issues that need to be considered to make a sound decision about the path forward.

In my role as Head of Registry Policy for GoDaddy Registry, some of the topics of greatest interest to me are DNS abuse and subsequent procedures, so I’ll focus on these two areas.

Now, whether you deal with ICANN every day or you’re just a casual observer, you’ll know that the ICANN community loves a good acronym. Listening to conversations around the watercooler can be confusing if you don’t know your RySG from your RrSG; your GNSO from your ccNSO; BRG from PDP… well, you get the picture. 

Fortunately, ICANN has provided a great tool to help decipher what all these terms mean. So, as you’re working your way through this blog – or any other ICANN related blog – you may find it helpful to refer to the ICANN Acronyms and Terms glossary.

DNS Abuse

In my opinion, the discussion around DNS abuse has taken on a more collaborative and congenial tone. I recall some of the plenary sessions on the topic from the policy forum last year, and as a contracted party, it always seemed that we were on the defensive. I want to congratulate my colleagues in the RySG and RrSG that have largely risen to the challenge and reached out to other parts of the community to understand the areas of concern and work towards addressing those. 

The RySG and RrSG had quite a lengthy discussion with the Board earlier this week about DNS abuse. It was reassuring to know that the Board has established a caucus group on the topic and is looking holistically at the issue. As one of our RySG members noted, we know the policy development process is a lengthy one, and the outcomes are not always optimal because of the compromises made along the way.

Open engagement and dialogue among the community striving toward a common goal of security and stability of the DNS and agreeing on the role we have to play and what we can practically do to achieve that goal may be more rewarding and tangible than drawing lines in the sand.

Subsequent Procedures

Like many others in the community, I have spent five years dedicated to the Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process Working Group (Sub Pro PDP WG) that considered what, if any, changes needed to be made to the 2012 New gTLD Program to enable a subsequent new gTLD program to proceed. I was very pleased as a WG member to sign off on the final report in January this year.

One of the things we often discussed in the WG was the need for ‘predictability for applicants.’ Now that the final report has been approved by the GNSO Council and forwarded to the Board, I would encourage the Board to recognize that for potential applicants of future rounds, that predictability for applicants needs to start now. 

Predictability was a point made by several participants, including representatives from Uber and Ebay, during a discussion about getting ready for the next new gTLD round that the BRG hosted. It would be exceptionally beneficial for potential applicants if ICANN could identify a ‘date certain’ for the start of the next application window so that potential applicants, whether they be brands, geographics or IDNs, can kick off internal discussions and start to move forward. 

The presentations were well-considered and made me realize that while I had been engrossed in the Sub Pro PDP WG, I had forgotten that the outputs of that effort were either building on, enhancing or substantiating the many years of policy, implementation, application development and evaluation that resulted in the 2012 new gTLD program. So, none of this is new or ground-breaking—we’ve been here before.

Members of the GAC and ALAC actively participated in Sub Pro and provided input via the various public comment periods. The GAC was congratulated on a number of occasions for their contribution to the discussion. 

However, I’d have to say that I found the discussion between the GAC and the ALAC about Sub Pro quite discouraging as they considered whether or not to send consensus advice to the Board on those issues where concerns remain. When is ‘done’ ‘done’? After five years of community discussion with many twists and turns and compromises, I would have hoped that we could respect the policy development, and dare I say it, multistakeholder process and accept the outcome.

Also discouraging were continuing discussions by the GAC and the ALAC about holding the next round of new gTLDs at bay until the issue of DNS abuse is resolved. It’s impossible to resolve an issue if you can’t articulate the problem.

ICANN Community Excellence Award

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the recipients of the ICANN Community Excellence Award: Marilyn Cade and Rafik Dammak. Like many, I have my memories of Marilyn and recognize her significant contribution. I am confident her legacy will live on through the many, many newcomers that Marilyn mentored and encouraged over the years. I had the pleasure to get to know Rafik when we served as Vice-Chairs of the GNSO Council, and I sincerely congratulate him on being the co-recipient of the award this year.

With another virtual ICANN meeting done, our thoughts now turn to the 23rd ICANN AGM scheduled for October and potentially hosted in Seattle. Whether this will be face-to-face or another virtual meeting, only time will tell.

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