ICANN Interviews GAC Chair Heather Dryden on Beijing Communiqué and New gTLD Advice

FairWinds Partners —  May 15, 2013

In the wake of recent widespread criticism for the Governmental Advisory Committee’s (GAC) Beijing Communiqué, the ICANN crisis management team sprang into action. Posted prominently on the ICANN website is a new, one-on-one video interview with GAC Chair Heather Dryden in which she addresses, and tries to explain the thinking behind, the Communiqué and New gTLD Advice.

The Communiqué, drafted during ICANN 46 in Beijing, covers a number of topics, including the GAC’s objections to specific new gTLD applications, safeguard advice to apply to certain categories of strings, as well as strings for further GAC consideration.

The most controversial part seems to be the “non-exhaustive” lists of strings that the GAC lists in an Annex to the Communiqué. The GAC describes a number of safeguards that should apply to strings that are linked to regulated or professional sectors. Similarly, the GAC also identifies a number of generic strings in which exclusive registry access should serve a public interest goal.

The Internet community is most riled up by the seemingly random way in which the GAC singled out strings to name in the Communiqué, as well as the GAC’s failure to offer any advice on how to implement its proposed safeguards or whether they are even feasible. It doesn’t help that the GAC chose to hold closed meetings.

The main problem the Communiqué poses to new gTLD applicants is that it may well delay their applications. In the interview, Dryden states that the GAC expects ICANN to fully take its Communiqué into account, even though ICANN is under no obligation to do so. She implies that if ICANN does not heed the GAC’s advice, there is no point to governments’ role in the multi-stakeholder model.

As FairWinds President and CEO Nao Matsukata stated, “If these proposals were to be adopted by the ICANN Board, they would have far-reaching and profound implications for gTLD applicants. Most immediately, the GAC Communiqué goes beyond commenting specifically on strings and provides advice that could delay and alter the string approval process, as originally outlined by ICANN.”

It is not clear whether Dryden’s video interview and ICANN’s public relations efforts will do much to quell the community’s concerns. While Dryden states that future GAC discussions will be more transparent and reiterates that the GAC’s Advice was drafted with regard for the public interest, the key will be the ICANN Board’s reaction and the subsequent impact on gTLD applicants.