If you read this blog regularly, or if you’re even tangentially involved in the Internet governance world, you know that 2014 is like no other year in the history of Internet governance. Since the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s (NTIA) announcement of its intent to transition out of its IANA role, contract, the topic has dominated global Internet governance discourse.
Apart from my day job as the head of the .CA registry, I’m the chair of the Country Code Name Supporting Organization (ccNSO), the entity within the ICANN ecosystem that represents the interests of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). As you can well imagine, I have been knee deep in the discussions around the transition of the accountability function the NTIA has played to this point for the IANA function.
To oversee this process, ICANN has proposed a 27 member Coordinating Group. This group is to be comprised of representatives from IANA’s customers, like ccTLDs and gTLDs, and other key stakeholders. Four of those 27 seats have been allocated by ICANN to ccTLDs, like .CA.
It’s important to note that ICANN asked the ccNSO to select four ccTLDs, not ccNSO members, to join the Coordinating Group. To facilitate this level of inclusiveness, the ccNSO went to great lengths to ensure that the call for applications was sent well beyond our community – through emails to every ccTLD in the IANA database, and by working with the Regional Organizations (ROs) to communicate with their members.
Let me note that I believe the process to choose the community representatives is critical, and not only because we need to ensure the best possible representation on this important group. Trust in the process is a crucial component to ensuring acceptance of the outcomes. We need to get the process right if we are to be successful in our work.
The ccNSO established a five member selection committee at the recent ICANN meeting in London and set out the criteria we felt that would enable the representatives to effectively represent the global ccTLD community. I was a member of that Selection Committee, along with four other selected individuals, including ccNSO members, an RO-appointed member, and one non-ccNSO member.
The communications regarding the call for nominations to this committee included the broadest outreach possible. We worked in many languages, and sent emails to every ccTLD in the IANA database. By working with the ROs in our outreach, we were able to expand our reach to every corner of the globe. Every effort was made to make the communications as inclusive as possible, and I think the ccNSO Secretariat did an excellent job in this regard.
We received about a dozen applications, and we were pleased that all of the nominees met the selection criteria and had the skill level and expertise to effectively represent the ccTLD community. We were faced with a very difficult task – balancing a wide variety of criteria to ensure effective representation of the diverse ccTLD community – 248 total worldwide. Among the considerations:
- High-level skills and expertise: the importance of the Coordinating Group cannot be underestimated, and to make sure ccTLDs receive the best possible representation on that group, we had set minimum standards of skills and expertise for nominees.
- Time: we also had to ensure that the nominees had sufficient time to devote to this process, and that they had the support of their host organization to do so.
- Diversity of the ccTLD community: ccTLDs organize themselves in many different ways. Most (151, or 60 per cent) are members of the ccNSO. Those 151 represent 70 per cent of all registered ccTLD domain names. Others are members of their respective ROs, and some are members of both the ccNSO and an RO. Others are non-aligned, choosing to not organize with any group(s) whatsoever. All of these groupings were considered in order to ensure the broadest possible reach among the nominees.
- Geographic diversity: ICANN has five defined regions: Africa (AF), Asia/Australia/Pacific (AP), Europe (EU), Latin America/Caribbean (LAC), and North America (NA). From the Selection Committee’s report: “The Committee members agreed that building on and in addition to the quality of the nominees on the shortlist, the geographic region of the nominee should be considered, also in the context of the composition of the full coordination group. Based on this consideration the committee agreed that out of the four ccTLD members on the Coordination Group, no more than two should be from the same Geographic region.” With only four seats on the Coordinating Group, it was clear from the outset that true geographic representation was not going to be possible. Furthermore, to ensure no one region would dominate the ccTLD representatives, the Selection Committee set a limit of no more than two nominees per region.”
- Registry size: ccTLDs range in size from a few thousand domain names under management to a few with tens of millions under management.
- Governance structure: some ccTLDs, like .CA, are member-based and/or not-for-profits. Others are government departments, and some are privately held
- Business models: while some ccTLDs are not-for-profits and generate income only to reinvest it in their host nation’s Internet community, others are run as for-profit business. There are a number of ccTLDs that are subsidized by other entities, such as governments.
Given the criteria we had to balance, there were no ‘reserved’ seats for any one group. The fact is four seats only allowed us to ensure some – not all – of the criteria were met. The discussion was difficult and the outcome was not unanimous. We did, however, reach consensus. In paring this list down to the final four, we balanced the selection criteria – balance being the keyword here. Geographic diversity is a good example of this – while there are five ICANN-defined geographic regions, we only had four seats on the Coordination Committee. Therefore, we knew from the outset not every objective would be fully realized. The goal was to balance all of the criteria and produce a slate of nominees that would best b representative of the key interests of global ccTLD managers and operators. I am confident we have done that.
There were many good candidates among the applicants, and making a final decision meant a long and challenging discussion. In the end, we put forward four names for which we reach agreed consensus – but not unanimity:
- Martin Boyle, .UK, European Union region
- Keith Davidson, .NZ, Asia Pacific region
- Xiaodong Lee, .CN. Asia Pacific region
- Mary Uduma, .NG, Africa Region
Did we meet the all of the criteria set out at the beginning of the process? No, but given the constraints we were facing – four seats to represent a community as large and diverse as ccTLDs – I have no hesitation in endorsing each of them for their ability to be representative of the global ccTLD community – both ccNSO members and non-members – effectively.
Opinions in the ccTLD community can be as diverse as the ccTLDs themselves. But, at the end of the day, we are all ccTLD managers and operators who have a common interest in an excellent, high-performing and accountable IANA function.
We made our best efforts to be as inclusive as possible. That spirit of inclusiveness will extend to the consultations and discussions in the broader ccTLD community as this process moves forward with specific transition proposals. We are at the high water mark of the current Internet governance ecosystem.
The work we are doing today will affect the ways in which the Internet develops in the future. We need to get the process right, and we need to ensure that we are adhering to what are very important deadlines. With these four nominees, we are headed in the right direction.
The transition of the IANA contract oversight is, of course, the topic du jour at ICANN 50 in London. From the sessions to the hallway banter, it’s the hottest topic I can recall in ICANN’s history.
It’s an inherently over-the-top political topic, merging partisan politics in Washington with Internet governance. On numerous occasions in Singapore, Larry Strickling raised the domestic politicking on the part of the Republican Party regarding the IANA oversight transition, cautioning us of the discourse fuelled by opportunism.
He was right.
We now have two Republican-backed amendments that have passed the House of Representatives that are intended to delay, if not block, the transition of the IANA contract oversight. Phillip Corwin has published some excellent posts on CircleID on the topic, detailing the amendments and how they can impact our process.
Are the amendments simply political posturing? Or do they represent the true feelings of the Republican Party? If they do, there is a risk as we are heading into mid-term elections this Fall. The Republicans have the opportunity to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, effectively cutting President Obama off at the knees.
Regardless, it’s good politics on the part of the Republicans. We’ve all seen the headlines – Obama is giving the Internet over to either communists or terrorist or some combination of the two. The IANA transfer has basically allowed the Republicans to stick a political fork in Obama’s eye, and they are all too happy to do as much damage as they can in the process.
No big deal, right? After all, both Larry Strickling and Fadi Chehade have characterized the September 2015 date as a goal and not a deadline. It’s more important that we do it right, they say, than to do it quickly. It is possible to extend the contract, if necessary, to make sure the outcome will meet all of NTIA’s criteria and to encompass the reviews necessary to alleviate the concerns of the Republicans.
While I agree with the sentiment (of course it needs to be done right), I’m not convinced it is helpful to characterize the date in such a manner. Though I’m not hearing much in London about the amendments, I think they are something we ignore at our own peril.
Geographic proximity and personal interest have made me an observer of American politics, and I can tell you I can see a few things that may affect our process.
First over the next year the Democrats in Washington may effectively be frozen. If the Republicans take over both houses, Obama will be a lame duck president of the highest order, making it incredibly difficult to push the IANA transition through in political ecosystem.
Second, history shows us that key staff exits Capitol Hill in the final year of a president’s term, knowing that the next regime will bring in their own staff. (To be perfectly clear, this is a general political observation – I have no personal insight whatsoever into the future of any senior officials in the U.S.)
This could very well mean that the architects and supporters who are in positions of influence could likely be long gone before the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016, leaving the IANA transition without a champion in any influential positions.
The upshot of this is clear in my thinking – if the Democrats are stripped of power, the likelihood of seeing the IANA oversight transition become a reality if we miss the September 2015 date is significantly reduced. And, without champions in influential positions on the Hill, it’s far less likely that the process will be taken up under a new regime in 2016. Who would want to reinvigorate a failed process and all of the political risks that go with it?
Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian prime minister, once said “The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” We should heed his advice. In part, we are playing a political game with the IANA contract, and the stakes are high. Let’s consider the September 2015 date as a deadline. We now have external pressures, such as the Republican’s delay tactics, to deal with.
As the global community who are committed to seeing the Internet succeed (and the transition of the IANA contract and the USG oversight role is something most of us agree is a big step in the right direction), let’s work together to ensure we meet that deadline.
We made an exciting announcement at CIRA last week with the release of the names of the organizations that will receive funding through our new Community Investment Program (CIP). In 2014, 28 organizations from across Canada will share in more than $1.2 million to help build a better Internet for Canada.
As the stewards of .CA – Canada’s online identifier – CIRA occupies a unique and important space. While our number one priority is the safe and secure management of the .CA top-level domain, we also have a mandate to do ‘good things’ for the Internet in Canada. In the past, this has meant working with organizations in the Canadian Internet ecosystem on a variety of issues, from establishing Internet Exchange Points to building digital literacy skills for young Canadians.
The new CIP allows us to take a major step forward in advancing Canada’s Internet. Take Simon Fraser University (SFU), for example. With $47,000 in funding from the CIP, a team at SFU are developing a web-crawler program that can identify images of child sexual abuse. It will enable law enforcement to identify child pornography online, without the tedious – and gruesome – task of viewing photos and videos of abuse online. This new technology, called Child Exploitation Network Extractor, will make the Internet a safer place for Canadians. I’m proud CIRA was able to play a role in its development – as a parent, keeping kids safe from predators is very important to me.
SFU’s initiative has already received a fair amount of media attention – check these articles here and here.
This is just one example of how we are supporting Canada’s Internet through the CIP. There are 28 more, and as those projects evolve we’ll be sure to share their stories with you. These initiatives run the gamut from local level access projects to infrastructure development, from surveillance and privacy initiatives to digital skills development and online service provision. And while the funded initiatives represent a wide variety of sectors and Canadian geography, they have one thing in common: they are all innovative projects that advance the Internet in Canada.
I’d like to say a special thank you to CIRA’s Board of Directors and the Community Investment Committee (CIC) for their hard work on the CIP. The CIC, an arm’s length committee of CIRA Board members and industry experts, were responsible for reviewing nearly 150 applications for funding. They truly went above and beyond with their work on the 2014 CIP.
By working with organizations that are ‘on the ground’ in Canada’s Internet ecosystem, we believe these projects are well-positioned to achieve the goal of the CIP to enhance the Internet for the benefit of all Canadians. For a complete list of funded projects, please visit our announcement.
The final report from the Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms was released today. I spent the past six months working with this group of bright and committed individuals to come up with a set of recommendations to evolve the Internet governance ecosystem and position it for the future. The Internet is at a critical point in its development – reforming the institutions that govern it has never been more important.
When we started out as a newly formed panel six months ago, we had high expectations and lofty goals. The panel was prepared to come out strong on the internationalization of the IANA contract and a set of principles to guide the Internet governance discourse for several years.
At that time, those goals seemed almost like pipe dreams. Sure, we would recommend them and believed them to be critical to the continued success of the Internet, but we were concerned about how to sell the transitioning of the stewardship of IANA functions away from the U.S. government in in the short term.
Then, midway through our process, the NTIA made their landmark announcement to not renew the IANA contract when it expires in September 2015.
And, the NetMundial conference was a great success, producing a set of principles to guide the evolution of the Internet and its governance structures. None of us in the governance world had foreseen it happening – both are good for the Internet, but unexpected.
It was kind of like we had poured the foundation for a new house only to find out that the construction site had moved. The recent past has been like no other in the history of the Internet governance ecosystem. With NTIA’s announcement and the outcome document from NetMundial, I think the Internet ecosystem evolved more than any of us could have anticipated in such a short period of time.
That said, I’m proud to have played a role on the panel, and I’m proud of the report we released today.
The work of the panel has had, and I believe will continue to have, an impact in the Internet governance world. I was definitely pleased to see the panel’s submission to the NetMundial conference reflected in the principles in its output document. And, the principles contained in our report will contribute to the global discourse as we endeavour to maintain a free and open Internet while adding two billion users online over the next few years.
What struck me about the process were the people involved. The panel was comprised of a group of individuals representing the geographic and multi-sector diversity encompassed by the Internet. Simply put, it wasn’t just the usual suspects from the Internet governance world.
That diversity can also be a challenge –a plethora of opinions comes with it, leading to many robust and healthy discussions. What we did have in common, however, was a passion for representing our community effectively and a commitment to the free and open Internet.
It was a privilege to work with this group of great thinkers on a report that I believe will be instrumental in the development of the Internet governance systems and structures.
I encourage you to read the report, and let us know what you think.
The Internet is not new. It has existed, in one form or another, since the 1960s. Since that time, it has been primarily the domain of the engineers and the other technology-minded individuals that built it.
The organizations that were put in place to govern it predate the huge growth in end users the Internet experienced in the 2000s. These organizations were set up by the technology community to deal with technological issues. They are able, in structure and capacity, to deal with technological issues.
The issues facing the Internet in 2014, however, are very different from those in 1998. Issues of cyber-crime, online surveillance, copyright and trademark protection, and so on, are issues of public policy, not governance. Even IPv6 and DNSSEC have primarily moved from the technology sphere to the policy sphere with their current challenge of adoption and implementation.
Fundamentally, the Internet governance ecosystem has moved from discussions of ‘how it works’ to ‘how it’s used’, and structures like ICANN do not have the capacity, or mandate, to deal with these issues. However, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), created in 2006, is an annual multi-stakeholder forum for discussing Internet policy issues. While it has no binding outcomes, it is widely regarded as an important part of the Internet ecosystem.
It’s no secret that the IGF has struggled with a lack of funding for a number of years. I firmly believe that if we don’t step up and provide financial support to IGF today, we will have an important missed opportunity.
That’s why at the recent NETmundial meeting in Brazil, CIRA joined a group of ccTLDs to financially support the IGF. Together, we committed a minimum of $100,000 per year for several years. Participating registries include .AU (Australia), .DK (Denmark), .CN (China), .NL (Netherlands), .UK (United Kingdom), .BR (Brazil) and .MX (Mexico). I expect other ccTLDs to join us soon.
The IGF provides the ideal venue to discuss issues of how the Internet is used – public policy issues – in an open, multi-stakeholder and inviting forum. It provides an arena for discussions that have no other place. Because it is a United Nations-coordinated entity, it is approachable for newcomers to the governance ecosystem – the developing world, those two billion people we are about to bring online.
Let’s face it, fora like ICANN are easy for those of us on the inside. Our organizations, primarily based in the developed world, have been participants since the early days of the public Internet. However, what is easy for us may not be as inviting, or comfortable, for those who are not coming to the table with the same political and philosophical groundings – the governments and other representative bodies from the developing world. We need recognize the fact that the decisions we make today about the structures that govern the Internet need to work for both the newcomers and those of us who have been on the inside of Internet for many years.
The IGF bridges this gap.
The group of ccTLDs CIRA has joined believe the IGF is a critical entity in the Internet governance ecosystem. We are prepared to demonstrate our commitment to it with financial support. I’d like to call on other organizations that have benefitted from the IGF, and from the free and open Internet, to join us in our support.
Governments, the private sector and others have reaped the benefits of the work of the IGF, and now it’s time to give something back. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of support expressed for the IGF at NETmundial. The draft outcome document from NETmundial even calls for a strengthened IGF, including, “ensuring guaranteed stable and predictable funding for the IGF is essential.”
If your organization expressed support for the IGF at NETmundial, or has benefitted from fora like the IGF, I call on you to put their ‘money where their mouth is’. Join us by providing multi-year financial support for this important entity.
Today James Moore, the Minister of Industry, released the long-awaited digital economy strategy. As you will likely recall, in the summer of 2010, the federal government embarked on a consultation with Canadians about Canada’s digital future. In our submission to the consultation (.PDF), we made 19 recommendations to the government that we believed would help build a strong Canadian digital economy. Digital Canada 150 (.PDF), the strategy launched today, is grouped under five main thematic areas:
- Connecting Canadians
- Protecting Canadians
- Economic Opportunities
- Digital Government
- Canadian Content
There is some good content in Digital Canada 150. In particular, I was pleased to see that the government is committed to expanding broadband access in Canada to 98 per cent. While the target speed goal, five megabits per second, is not exactly ambitious, this will remedy the digital divide we reported in the .CA Factbook a couple of weeks ago. While broadband is available to 100 per cent of urban Canadians, only 85 per cent of Canadians in rural and remote areas have access. This divide is even more pronounced in the Canadian North, so I commend the government on this initiative.
In our submission, we called on the government to develop a strategy to deal with online threats and security issues, and invest in technologies that safeguard online transactions. We also called on the government to work to build trust and confidence in the Internet, online transactions and the digital economy. It appears that Digital Canada 150 delivers on this recommendation, as it states that the government will “take action so that the communications networks and devices that connect Canadians will be secure from threats, protecting the privacy of Canadian families, businesses and governments.” As the head of an organization that works at the very heart of the Internet in Canada, I would like to offer our support to make this happen.
I also find the commitment of $200 million from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to support small and medium sized businesses with digital technology adoption promising. Unfortunately, this sector has been slow to adopt technologies like the Internet. While Canadians are among the heaviest users of the Internet in the world, only 41 per cent of Canadian small businesses have a website. I’m hopeful that this number will increase with the support of the BDC.
However, there are a number of areas where the strategy comes up short. Putting aside the recommendations we made in our submission to the consultation, I am most disappointed with what Digital Canada 150 doesn’t do.
Building a strong national digital economy is not easy. It takes collaboration with a wide variety of actors, including governments, the private sector, NGOs, and academia to address the issues in a robust manner. I believe it is the role of the federal government to take on a leadership position in this work by first developing a vision toward which all actors can concentrate their efforts – a common goal. I don’t see this in Digital Canada 150; what I see is a list of activities in the digital sphere. Individually, many of them are important to build a strong digital economy. However, without a cohesive vision to guide the work of the many stakeholders toward a common goal, I’m afraid I have to say that Digital Canada 150 comes up short as a digital economy strategy.
Yes, there are challenges in a country like Canada – from our relatively small population and vast geography to our proximity to the United States and its influence, we are unique in the world. However, as Minister Moore pointed out in his speech today by referencing the building of the railway, we have been able to overcome these obstacles before in an effort to build our nation. However, we only need to look to other nations to see what can happen when a true digital strategy is enacted.
In 2000, Sweden had an Internet penetration rate of 45.5 per cent. As of 2010, that number has risen to 92.5 per cent, the result of a concerted effort on the part of the Swedish government that included a robust digital strategy. In 2006, South Korea was the first country in the world to achieve an Internet penetration rate over 50 per cent, yet only six years earlier their rate was a meager 15 per cent. Today, they have one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world. Again, this is the result of a broad and robust digital strategy.
In 2000, Canada was a digital leader, ranking at the top of almost every indicator by which one would measure a digital economy. In my business, a critical measure of success of a nation’s digital economy is a mix of broadband speed and price. Broadband speed and price are a nation’s ‘digital currency’, making it a more attractive place for start-ups and investment. On that measure, Canada now ranks in the bottom third compared to its OECD counterparts, 19th out of 34. Sweden and South Korea, on the other hand, have been in the top five for years now. Furthermore, we now rank 16th globally for Internet penetration, a measure we once dominated.
The digital economy, and Canada’s digital future, is too important to be left to a series of activities that may or may not relate to one another. We have seen time and time again what happens when leaders get too focussed on day-to-day activities instead of focussing on a strategic direction. Some of Canada’s best and brightest companies fell victim to it – think Blackberry or Nortel. Canadians are an innovative people. We built a nation out of one of the largest and most unforgiving lands in the world by building a railroad. We can do the same in the digital world.
Do you have any thoughts about Digital Canada 150? Please let me know in the comments.
You know an issue has political traction when Sarah Palin wades in on it. So I guess the IANA transition from U.S. government oversight is the issue du jour in the U.S., as this ever so eloquent statement was picked up by Fox News:
“Surrendering our control of the Internet is a colossal foreign policy error with long term negative repercussions for freedom.”
It’s an incredible quote, especially when you recall Ms. Palin’s wonderfully intellectual grasp on American foreign policy. She can see Russia from her house, after all (thank you, Tina Fey).
I use her words to illustrate one of the toughest challenges we face as the Internet governance community. While she can grab headlines with categorically false, inflammatory and self-serving statements, the truth is far too complex for the rest of us to boil down to a 15 second sound bite. I invite you to briefly yet effectively explain what the globalization of the IANA function means in accessible language.
Unfortunately, Ms. Palin is not alone in her politicking with IANA. A quick search found a lot of misleading and/or ill-informed articles about ICANN and IANA. Here’s a few of my favourites (certainly NOT an exhaustive list):
- The Future of Your Website Depends on This: Your business could be the biggest loser when the U.S. gives up control of the Internet next year, from Inc.
- US transfer of Internet control years in the making, fueled by foreign pressure, from Fox News.
- US government surrenders control of ICANN, from Fox News.
- How to Save the Internet: Congress can override the president’s decision to hand over control of Web addresses and domains to an international body, from the Wall Street Journal.
- GOP warns Obama plan could give China or Russia control of Internet, from the Washington Times.
I didn’t include hyperlinks to these articles because I’d rather not be a source of traffic – and therefore revenue – for these ‘media outlets’. You’ll notice the list is entirely comprised of American media. When I searched for Canadian articles about IANA, all that was returned was ‘tumbleweeds and crickets’, so to speak. Apparently the survival of the free and open Internet is not an issue for Canadians. Honestly, I’m not sure which is worse – misinformation or no information at all.
If you believe what these ‘journalists’ are trying to tell you, as an American your web presence will be controlled by “foreigners” only interested in destroying the U.S.’s global standing once the IANA contract expires. The American Internet, and along with it free speech and democracy, has been sold out to foreign interests (China, Russia, and any number of other ne’er-do-wells) by a weak president who is bowing to pressure from foreign governments. There is no evidence whatsoever to support any of this. Based in extreme partisanship, it is in my opinion the epitome of what Stephen Colbert calls ‘truthiness’.
I didn’t take these headlines from fringe blogs. These are from the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times and Fox News, among others. And regardless of your opinion of the Fox News style of journalism, it represents a source of information (I hesitate to say news) for many, many people around the globe.
This isn’t new, nor am I saying anything we don’t already know. In his presentation to the ccNSO on Tuesday, Larry Strickling highlighted the politicization of the IANA contract by certain elements in the U.S. Let’s face facts – Sarah Palin knows as much about managing the Internet’s naming and numbering system as she does about nuclear physics. Her interest in this issue is strictly motivated by personal political gain.
All of this is not to say that there are not some good and informative articles out there. See Jonathan Zittrain’s excellent article here and this parsing of Fox News’ coverage of Bill Clinton’s statements on the subject here. However, these media outlets and blogs are on the outside of the mainstream – they are a little more academic and a little deeper in their analysis. So while there is good information out there, it is not entirely accessible to the average media consumer. Rather, it is likely skeptically viewed as left leaning and biased opinion created by out-of-touch, monocle-wearing intellectuals.
I believe journalists, American, Canadian and all others need to up their game in reporting Internet governance issues. This stuff isn’t the domain (no pun intended) of a core group of Internet geeks and wonks anymore. The issues do have a direct impact on the lives of billions of the world’s citizens. Freedom of speech and much of the global economy rely on the free and open nature of the Internet, something that has increasingly come under threat. By minimizing these important issues as little more than a partisan battle does the citizens of the world an incredible disservice.
To borrow a word from Ms. Palin, don’t misunderestimate the power of the press to influence these discussions.
I first got involved with CIRA back in 2005 when I ran for election to its Board of Directors. The organization needed to add business leadership and diversity of thought and with my financial, operational and entrepreneurial high-tech background, I felt I had something to offer.
In those ‘early’ days, the Board was dealing with many important issues, from evolving the governance policies and processes to setting the strategic direction to changing leadership for growth. It really was a pivotal time in the development of the organization. So when in 2006, I had the opportunity to take on a leadership role with CIRA as Chair, I was pleased to do so.
Once my term was over in 2008, I took a break from CIRA’s governance for a couple of years feeling confident that I had made a difference for Canada’s Internet community.
In 2010 I decided to get involved again. The organization was in a very different place in its evolution and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I watched it grow from a start up to a national and international thought leader. From their dialogue with Canadians at the Canadian Internet Forum to the recently launched Community Investment Program and its work in establishing Internet Exchange Points, CIRA is doing some of the most innovative and important work to advance the Internet in Canada. It is a source of pride for Canadians.
Since I don’t have the time to commit to CIRA’s Board of Directors (I already have seats on a couple of boards of national Canadian organizations) I chose to join its Nomination Committee, or NomCom as we call it.
The NomCom is an interesting and important entity. CIRA has come under fire in the past for having a complex governance structure. It has a two-tiered election process with separate slates of candidates all voted on by a member base.
However, this complexity serves to ensure the best possible representation on the Board as possible. An organization like CIRA is unique. Its work is high-tech, but it is also deeply involved in the Internet policy world. It is also one of the rare organizations whose work touches the lives of almost every Canadian, either directly or indirectly.
Ensuring the interests of those stakeholders are represented is no easy task. Making sure they are represented while also ensuring the organization has the skills and knowledge it needs to develop and grow is even tougher. That’s the role of the NomCom. It is the entity that helps to build a Board of Directors that represents a wide range of views and interests. By playing this critical role, the NomCom contributes to the strategic direction of .CA and Canadian Internet policy.
As a member of the NomCom, we solicit and select qualified Candidates for the Nomination Committee Slate of CIRA’s Board of Directors Election. I’m now in my second term on the NomCom and have been the Chair of the committee since 2013.
I’m proud to say that I’ve been associated with CIRA for almost a decade now. It’s an experience I would recommend to anyone who has the skills and the desire to make a difference for Canada’s Internet community.
The opportunity to have some unique and amazing experiences is second to none, and you get to work with a diverse group of committed professionals from across the country.
In the coming months, CIRA will be issuing calls for both Board members and NomCom members. Please take the time to consider them. If you decide to put your name forward, great. If not, think about your friends and colleagues – would they, and the Canadian Internet community at large, benefit? Then please approach them. Together, we can build a better Internet for all Canadians.
Last evening the government of the United States made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the Internet governance world. The National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the Department of Commerce, publicly stated that it will not be renewing its contract with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) past its September 2015 expiry date.
The importance of this announcement cannot be underestimated.
The Internet is, for the most part, a product of U.S. interests, including the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce. As a result, key Internet technical infrastructure has been operating under contract administered by the NTIA. Core to these operations are the functions IANA plays – the coordination of the DNS Root and Internet Protocol addressing. As you can imagine, among the entities that comprise the Internet governance ecosystem and certain states around the world, there are many that are opposed to U.S. government interests so close to the Internet’s operations.
Interestingly this announcement, however big it is, should not be seen as entirely unexpected.
I’ve blogged before about the current governance model in place to manage the Internet. Commonly called the multi-stakeholder model, it is a bottom-up, consensus-based model that includes an organic mix of public and private entities at the regional, national and international levels – those entities that have a stake in the success of the Internet. This complex network of inter-related and inter-connected bodies that comprise the Internet governance world is analogous to a natural ecosystem. And like a natural ecosystem, the current governance structures and processes grew organically, beginning in the 1960s when the Internet was entirely under the control of the United States government.
Like a natural ecosystem, the organisms that comprise the greater governance entity exist in a delicate balance. As it is continuously evolving, the entities involved in the governance of the Internet also need to evolve. The fact is many organizations have ceased to exist or were reorganized as a result of the changing needs of the Internet ecosystem. Who remembers the International Network Working Group or the Federal Networking Council?
I should also note that it has always been the intent of the government to transfer management of these functions to ICANN. Central to this commitment was the transitioning of the so-called ‘IANA functions’.
I believe we are witnessing another evolutionary step in the development of the Internet with today’s announcement. Momentum to reform the current Internet governance structures and systems has been gaining steam for a number of years. However, much of the current discourse on Internet governance focuses on the linkage between ICANN, IANA and the U.S. government. The U.S. government backing away from that accountability role removes a considerable barrier in those discussions.
We are, however, left with an accountability vacuum. Whether or not you agreed with the role of the U.S. government, the fact is they did play an important – if only very limited in recent years – role in ensuring IANA was doing the work it was tasked with. With the removal of the U.S. government as that accountability body, mechanisms or structures will likely need to be put in place in order to assume that role. That said, I’m confident any number of solutions will be proposed over the coming months, and that we are on the cusp of settling a number of the outstanding issues that have dogged the Internet governance world for years.
In 2014, about 1,000 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will be added to the Internet’s root. Given that there are currently fewer than 300 TLDs total (a mix of country code TLDs like .CA and generics like .COM), it’s almost cliché to say that the domain name industry is in the midst of one of the most significant changes in its history.
A change of this magnitude isn’t just rare – the term disruptive comes to mind. As the head of the registry for .CA, my competition will increase by more than 400 per cent.
This is a sign our industry has matured – domain names aren’t the ‘domain’ of Web geeks anymore, no pun intended. We’ve gone mainstream. Our once quiet and relatively invisible industry has become a mainstay in the media. Our products are even advertised in prime time and on the Superbowl.
That’s a world apart from what we’re used to. For the past two decades, the domain name market has been characterized by high demand and relatively few competitors. Frankly, this combination has meant that selling domain names has not been overly difficult. Registries offered a product – domain names – that Registrars sold on their behalf. There was very little customer-focused activity on behalf of the registry. Even with minimal investments in marketing and sales, a registry could enjoy a reasonable market share. Double digit growth rates have been commonplace.
In this new market, we can’t assume we’re going to sell domains based on high demand alone. There’s going to be more than enough choice to meet that demand. To that end, some of the registries for the new gTLDs are approaching the industry with radically different business models. As the Internet has become more important in the day-to-day lives of many of the world’s citizens, we’re selling more than just domain names. We’re selling an identity, an experience, and not just a virtual address.
Traditionally, new domain names became available following a standard pattern: a sunrise period (for trademark holders to claim their names), land rush (for keyword names) (PDF) and general availability (first come, first served). In the current delegation of new gTLDs, this pattern has been revamped. The sunrise period still exists, albeit in a minimal timeframe. Pre-registration is being offered for some domain names that do not even exist yet, often for a very high price. Some registries are using declining scales for this pre-registration period: if you’re interested in a domain name, it can be yours in the first phase of the scale for a high price (say, $10,000). If it’s not picked up in the first phase, the fee for pre-registration drops, and so on until it is registered.
Some registries are taking this a step further by offering pre-registration for TLDs that have not successfully been awarded by ICANN yet. Each new gTLD application came with a $185,000 USD fee (plus additional fees for reviews, infrastructure costs, etc.). To date, registries have not realized any revenue from these new domains. Offering a new gTLD is a pricey endeavour, and the applicants are looking to make that money back as soon as they can through pre-registration.
There have been TLDs with defined markets since the earliest days of the Internet. For example, many ccTLDs have residency requirements (.CA included) and there are industry-specific gTLDs such as .MUSEUM. With the exception of ccTLDs, history shows limiting the potential market for a TLD has not been a recipe for success.
There are a few registries that seem to believe that will no longer be the case. In fact, some of the new gTLDs are hyper-focused. Never mind ccTLDs that limit registrations to a nation’s citizens, there are city-specific domain names like .NYC that are only available to New York City businesses, organizations and residents. Apparently, it’s no longer enough to identify as an American using a .US domain name when you’re a citizen of the city that never sleeps:
“Increasingly, the Internet is not only about what you are, but where you are. A .nyc address tells the world you are located in NYC.”
Some new gTLDs can set a registrant apart from their competition in other ways. TLDs like .PLUMBING and .CONSTRUCTION are profession-specific. .CEO appears to be counting on exclusivity to stand out in a market with 1,300+ competitors.
The potential markets for these TLDs are limited, but the registries behind them are counting on the fact that the sheer number of domain names out there (265 million and counting) makes finding a plumber, NYC business or whatever else difficult. By moving the thinking from the ‘left of the dot’ to the right of it, these registries have found an innovative way to stand out from the crowd.
Bulk registrations are now offered by Donuts, a registry that is behind hundreds of gTLD applications (307 to be exact). They have a list of about 200 new gTLDs – if your organization wants to register all of them for a particular domain name (i.e. domain.bike, domain.camera, domain.wine, etc.), it will cost you a fixed price, not domain by domain as it has traditionally worked. For the domain name Registrant, domain names are about to be a larger expense for many organizations who wish to have an online presence – or prevent others from creating that presence in their name.
A number of the new gTLD registries are offering their products with a variable pricing model. ‘Premium’ domain names – those domains that are viewed to be more in demand – will have a higher initial registration fee. While this isn’t exactly new – similar pricing models have been in place for TLDs in the past – what is new is the fact that the renewal fee will also be higher for premium names. For those on the higher end of the spectrum, this could mean many thousands of dollars per year for a single domain name.
There are some well-known newcomers to the domain name business. Google has applied for 101 new gTLDs, and Amazon has applied for 76. I find it difficult to believe they are looking to expand their already very successful businesses into domain names.
Is it possible a company like Google is entering the market with a completely different business strategy? I’d say it’s not just possible, it’s likely. They have a history of entering a market and offering a product for free that was previously charged for – think about Google Public DNS, Google Analytics (how many people pay for website analytics anymore?) or Google Drive. Google’s profits come from ad sales – they’re going to be one of the domain name newcomers to watch in the near future. Whatever their plans are, I can guarantee they’re serious, and will be a departure from traditional domain name sales.
The changes I’ve discussed above are neither good nor bad, they just are. While the incumbent domain names, country codes and generics, have enjoyed limited competition for many years, new gTLDs are changing the world we operate in. In a sense, it’s a daunting prospect for the incumbent TLD operators, CIRA included. But it’s also an exciting time for the industry. Interest in TLDs is at an all-time high. Competition is healthy in any industry, and it will result in new and innovative ways of running a registry and marketing TLDs. We’re on the cusp of a new era in the domain name industry and I’m pleased to be a part of it.