What level of control governments should exert over the Internet emerged early in ICANN's meeting this week as a primary sticking point, with the representative from France advocating for more state control and the U.K. arguing for less.
More than 3,300 representatives from around the world have descended on London to discuss what will happen after the U.S. turns over control of the world's central DNS servers to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number).
During the Monday morning keynote, Ed Vaizey, U.K. minister for culture, communications and creative industries, said he had great faith in the Internet community as the U.S. takes a step back from its governance role.
Success in preparing the way for ICANN to take over will occur only through a collaborative bottom-up approach rather than through state-centered regulation, according to Vaizey.
"Some say this can't work -- it's a monumental task that can only be undertaken at the governmental or super national level. But look at how well the ICANN model has worked so far. In less than 20 years, the Internet has revolutionized the way the world works, talks and studies, and this explosive growth has not been managed by governments," Vaizey said.
A more state-controlled "bureaucratic World Wide Web of red tape" is doomed to fail, according to Vaizey.
"The Internet being run not by the people who make it work on a daily basis, but by people like me -- you don't want that," he said.
France, on the other hand, isn't as happy with ICANN's performance of late, and seemed to be proposing more radical changes.
"The problem is it is totally opaque, there is no transparency at all in the process," Axelle Lemaire, the secretary of state for the digital economy, was quoted as saying in the Financial Times on Sunday.
From the floor of the ICANN meeting, she said the role of governments should not be forgotten and suggested that a new general assembly should decide strategy, approve the budget and appoint board members to make it a truly international organization. Some politically sensitive issues should also be separated from more administrative matters, according to Lemaire.
Exactly how the general assembly would work wasn't clear, but Lemaire told the Financial Times that it would include governmental representation on a "one country, one vote" basis. Lemaire's office didn't reply to questions asking for elaboration on that point.
The main source of irritation for France is the delegation of .vin and .wine, which are two of the hundreds of new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) ICANN is in the process of handing out. To underscore the importance of the domain names, France is making the suspension of them a condition of its participation in the ICANN reform process, Lemaire said via Twitter.
France wants additional safeguards for geographical indications, which are used for goods such as cheeses and wines with special qualities attributable to their place of origin. For example, these protections would serve to prevent a company with no connection to the Bordeaux region from registering bordeaux.vin or bordeaux.wine.
France seems unlikely to get its way in this instance, but ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé emphasized the need for a fair process that takes into account all points of view.
"I think what we need to do is focus on the process to make sure its fair, open and allows everyone to voice themselves, and frankly not scream nothing is working when we don't get what we want," he said.
In a letter to Lemair dated Saturday, ICANN Chairman Stephen Crocker said that countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. have opposed measures that would restrict gTLDs.
Also, saying that ICANN is opaque is unfair, according to Chehadé.
"ICANN has been working very very hard on these issues, and we will continue to," he said.
Regarding the future of ICANN, ideas for improvements are welcome, he said.
"If [Lemaire] or others have ideas to create new structures to enable ICANN to improve, by all means lets put these ideas on the table," Chehadé said.
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