Dot-XXX Up for Debate at Weeklong ICANN Meeting

BRUSSELS, Belgium­—This is the first daily dispatch from the front line in the battle to defeat the implementation of a sponsored dot-XXX. Free Speech Coalition Executive Director Diane Duke asked me to accompany her to the capital of the European Union, Brussels, for the summer meeting of ICANN, the Marina del Rey-based non-profit that oversees the development of the internet’s domains.

I’d been down this road before. As an employee of FSC in 2006, I had traveled to an ICANN meeting in Wellington, New Zealand, for the same lobbying purpose. It was a trip that marked what might humbly be called the beginning of the organized effort by the industry to beat back ICM President Stuart Lawley’s aggressive ambitions by countering strategically his obdurate campaign to persuade ICANN of an untruth—that his attempt to establish a sponsored top-level domain provided a discernable value to the industry, and was wanted by a verifiable and broad-based majority of the industry.

Four years later, and at least one ICANN Board vote against the execution of dot-XXX, the application remains alive because of Lawley’s tenacity, his deep pockets and the result earlier this year of an inpendent review process, which found partly in ICM’s favor. A series of process options outlining how to proceed were proposed by ICANN staff in late March, after which a public comment took place. The Board may decide here in Belgium which of the three process options it intends to pursue. It may also kick the ball down the road again. We are here to lobby the ICANN Board as well as other seminal members of ICANN to pursue option #3, and kill the application once and for all.

The trip here was long, over 14 hours in the air, but was event- and delay-free and got us in early this morning to heavy overcast skies, colder-than-normal temperatures and light rain on and off throughout the day. After checking in to our hotel, which is about a kilometer from the conference center, we unpacked and rested briefly before heading off to register and dip our toes into the bureaucratic waters of ICANN.

We’d missed the welcome ceremony that took place at 9 a.m. but caught a later two-hour update on the new gTLD program, begun by ICANN in 2008. The meeting took place in a large auditorium, Gold Hall, and was well attended considering the fact that there was no substantial business on the agenda. It was also attended by some Board members, the very people we had come to meet (perhaps for the first time) and lobby. We also had packets to give them that contained position papers by FSC and letters of opposition from some of the biggest companies and leaders in the industry.

Some notable people were there, in fact; we had an opportunity right off to make our presence known. We took it, albeit with scant fanfare. It was very early in the week and there would be plenty of chances to make our very important process arguments. But when the big fish is right in front of you, you don’t let him go. I’ll leave the details for later, but suffice to say, our first interaction was a fascinating one, and provided immediate and tremendous insight into the dot-XXX mindset of some of the Board.

We have some promising leads for the days to come, as well, amid a full schedule of ICANN meetings on myriad subjects of profound interest to someone. Dot-XXX is but one of the many issues on the table, and one that, while it inspires mostly unequivocal opinions from everyone, is probably best thought of by ICANN watchers as the unwanted and obnoxious dinner guest who simply refuses to leave … ever. Some want the intruder banished; others want to just make him an official member of the family already.

The meeting concludes Friday, June 25, when it is expected that the Board will announce its decision regarding how (and whether) to move forward with dot-XXX.

More information about the Brussels meeting can be found at  Interested people can watch and participate in meetings online.

More tomorrow…