The View from Costa Rica: Observations about ICANN’s gTLD Registries Stakeholder Group

FairWinds Partners —  March 14, 2012

People sometimes wonder why ICANN hosts three public meetings annually, and in such varied geographical locations (this year’s meetings will start in Costa Rica, move to Prague, and then end in Toronto). While outsiders may regard these meetings as somewhat excessive, the truth is, much of ICANN’s “work” – discussing issues, developing policies, and even voting to approve or reject those policies – takes place at these meetings.

For three weeks per year, the members of ICANN’s wide and varied stakeholder community meet in a new location to extract the benefits of having everyone in the same place at the same time. For the rest of the year, they rely on email and scheduled phone conferences to take care of business. ICANN meetings also give the Board an opportunity to consult with various stakeholder groups before its meeting, which typically takes place at the end of the week.

While in Costa Rica for the current meeting, members of the FairWinds staff took the opportunity to observe the meeting of the gTLD Registries Stakeholder Group. This group, abbreviated as the RySG, is a constituency under ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), one of its key policy-making bodies. It is also the group that, once new gTLD applicants acquire their new gTLDs and launch their registries, will have the opportunity to join if they wish to become active in ICANN policy making. For the most part, it will be advisable for them to do so, to advocate for their best interests. Here are some of the key lessons for new gTLD applicants that we learned from observing that meeting:

1. Learn to Love Acronym Soup

ICANN is so aware of the fact that it uses such a highly confusing number of acronyms, that it publishes a dictionary on its website, and also in the distribution materials for its meetings. The organization knows that it can be hard for newcomers to break in and really become involved, because many of the issues discussed are quite complex.

This holds completely true for the RySG. If you aren’t familiar with the issues on the agenda before the meeting, you might as well skip it and sit by the hotel pool (a very tempting proposition here in Costa Rica). The meetings are very much continuations of policy discussions and developments that take place all year long, so active participation outside of the meetings is critical. Simply showing up just isn’t enough.

2. Figure Out how to Play the Players’ Game

VeriSign, Afilias, and Neustar are currently the three biggest registries in the marketplace, accounting for the .COM, .NET, .ORG, .INFO, .MOBI, and .BIZ gTLDs, as well as a handful of ccTLDs. They tend to have the most at stake when it comes to new policies or procedures that impact registry operators. Unsurprisingly, representatives from these three companies tended to dominate the discussions during the RySG meeting this week.

3. Consider a Pinch Hitter

According to the RySG Charter, all registries are eligible for membership in the RySG, so long as they fill out an application and pay the required dues. As part of this application, each registry must identify a “voting delegate.” However, there appears to be nothing in the Charter that prohibits naming an outside representative or consultant to serve as that voting delegate.

This could be an attractive option for companies that plan to apply for new gTLDs, and want to look out for their interest in ICANN policy development, but do not wish to assign that responsibility to an employee. Even though most ICANN stakeholders undertake their duties on a volunteer basis, staying actively engaged with policy discussions can be quite time consuming (there were various moments during the RySG meeting where a discussion was postponed because members simply had not had time to fully read up on the issue at hand). Companies may want to give serious thought to the idea of appointing a sort of “proxy” delegate who can represent their interests and advocate for them in policy development.

TAGS: Dot Brand, GNSO, gTLD Registries Stakeholder Group, ICANN

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