Joint meeting GAC and ALAC

23 Mar 2017 01:00h

Event report

The joint meeting between the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the At-Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) was structured around five topics.

Update from GAC Working group on the protection of geographic names

The group focuses on how to improve the protection offered to geographic names in any future expansions of gTLDs. Currently, it discusses the elaboration of a set of best practices for new gTLDs in relation to geographic names. The main proposal is the development of a repository of terms, that would reveal stakes and interests of people, communities, or rights holders in particular names, at the beginning of the gTLD application process. This would allow potential applicants to find out about possible conflicts with regard to the strings they consider applying for. The proposal is to have the repository compiled by ICANN, while governments will input names. It could also benefit from lists of geographic names that are compiled by various international organisations.

The idea, still under discussion, has received both support and opposition. Some of the concerns include:

  • some strings have a multiple legitimate use and meaning;
  • there could be possible harm to free speech and legitimate commerce;
  • if the list is created, some governments may not be sending names to the database, as not all of them are aware of ICANN processes;
  • there is no established legal basis or accepted norm that would ensure predictability for new gTLD applicants.

The main argument in favour of such a repository is that it would help avoid future conflicts and litigations with regards to geographic names.

Community-based applications (CBAs) for new gTLDs

An overview was given of the Council of Europe (CoE) commissioned report on CBAs. The report analyses ICANN’s policies and procedures concerning CBAs, from a human rights perspective. The rationale for this report stems from the fact that CoE considers top-level domains as tools that enable people to communicate and access information; they are also important for the enjoyment of freedom of expression, assembly, and association, all of which should be enjoyed without discrimination. The report outlines a series of findings and recommendations, and the objective is to submit these recommendations for consideration in the context of the relevant policy development processes on new gTLD related issues.

For ALAC, it was disappointing to see that the process for CBAs has been set up as such a high bar that only few applicants could meet the requirements to qualify. For future rounds, it will be important to ensure that communities are actively supported to obtain gTLDs. It is possible that ALAC will support at least some of the recommendations in the CoE commissioned report.

GAC draft survey on underserved regions

Within the context of the GAC Underserved regions working group, a survey has been prepared with the aim to understand challenges and capacity needs of governments from under-served regions when it comes to participation in ICANN. The survey is also intended to help GAC respond directly and appropriately to such need, to increase the participation of under-served countries in GAC and broader ICANN processes. The survey is now targeted at GAC members, but the committee hopes that it will be expanded to the wider community, with support from ALAC and others.

ALAC and GAC have a shared goal when it comes to reaching out to underserved communities and trying to encourage and/or empower them to participate in ICANN processes. And synergies and forms of collaborations could be identified in this area.

At Large review

The At-Large community has undergone an organisational review process which resulted in a draft report outlining several recommendations. ALAC finds some of these recommendations easy to accept, while others are see not only be unacceptable, but dangerous to implement. Some recommendations are related to engagement, outreach, and the need to bring new people into At-large activities. ALAC noted that one challenge in outreach activities has always been related to being able to present ICANN in an understandable way, and that the community will try to identify new approaches.

During the discussions, concerns were raised over what some perceive as unsuccessful review processes within ICANN, mainly due to difficulty in finding external independent reviewers who can understand ICANN’s complexity.  One significant challenge when it comes to review processes is to achieve the right balance between an independent evaluator and an evaluator that understand what he/she is reviewing.

Cross Community Working Group on ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) Work Stream (WS2) – topics of joint interest

One topic of joint interest for both ALAC and GAC in WS 2 of CCWG is related to the issue of diversity within ICANN.

One concern expressed by ALAC was that there are still instances in which ICANN staff or even the Board considers that they do not have any obligations to parties other than the ones contributing money to ICANN. This is something the two committees could try to further explore, as they are both concerned about the public interest.

One comment made during the discussion was related to the 2012 round of new gTLD applications and the fact that the application and evaluation processes have demonstrated that the existing accountability mechanisms are not always working properly and can even be used for a purpose which is opposite to the one they were created for. As both ALAC and GAC are serving the public interest, the two committees could jointly look into such issues.