Last week in Singapore a new era for the Internet was ushered in with the approval of the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), something that was six years in the making – six long, tough, twisting years.
A resolution to introduce the new gTLD program was debated at a special meeting of the Board of Directors that was held Monday. The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) expressed its concerns about the introduction of the gTLDs, citing trademark and competition issues, and as of the previous Friday there was no guarantee the gTLD resolution was going to pass at the special meeting on Monday.
There was obviously some hallway politicking going on over the weekend in Singapore in order for concessions to get the needed votes to pass the resolution, which included pulling vertical integration (.PDF). As well, a program that, as far as any of us could see, didn’t exist on Friday was suddenly part of the resolution on Monday. Somehow, over the span of about 48 hours, a program to provide financial assistance to governments and non-governmental organizations in the developing world was tacked onto the gTLD resolution.
With this funding program in place, the new gTLD program passed with only a single, rather eloquent naysayer.
Where does this leave ICANN? In charge of a multi-million dollar international development initiative or venture capital fund.
ICANN is staffed with many highly capable people who are good at what they do. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure implementing international development programs or acting as a venture capitalist and investing in start-ups is not one of them.
International development isn’t the forte of a technology-based not-for-profit in California. International development is incredibly challenging, just ask Oxfam, the UN, CIDA, or any other organization whose mandate is to work in the developing world. It involves working with governments (some corrupt, most not) and it involves working with a myriad of other organizations at the community, regional, national, and international levels. Since ICANN is challenged to work with its partners on its own budget (.PDF), I’m not entirely convinced they’re going to get this right.
Keep in mind the incredibly tight timelines ICANN has imposed on itself. The intent is to have the new gTLDs roll out in 2013. I’m sceptical that it will be able to develop the in-house expertise to run an international development funding program or venture capital effectively and efficiently in that window.
Don’t get me wrong. I am 100 per cent supportive of providing technological, policy and financial support to those nations and organizations that need it in order to navigate the labyrinth that is the gTLD application process. And it is important to note that capacity building is a key responsibility for some of us in the Internet ecosystem (.PDF), and ICANN plays an important role. The Internet has the potential to be a great equalizer, as long as we ensure the barriers to entry are few and far between.
But – ICANN the venture capitalist? ICANN the international development agency?
What do you think?