China gets nod from ICANN for 2013 confab

The next big meeting of the group that administers the Internet will take place in Beijing, in a bid to win over one-fourth of the Net's users.

ICANN

Here's another sign that the economic powerhouse of China is a rising power in online matters, too.

The 46th meeting of ICANN, the body tasked with overseeing the administration of the Internet, will take place in Beijing from April 7 to 12 of next year.

"It simply was a strong proposal," ICANN president and CEO Rod Beckstrom said during a press conference in Prague this morning. "A quarter of the Internet's users are in China...it simply makes a lot of sense."

The ICANN committee was especially keen on holding the event in China's capital city, Beckstrom said, since it could lead to improved political access for its community. With luck, the Beijing event will serve as a proving ground for a future event in Washington, D.C., he said.

"It builds on this growing, increasing engagement with the Chinese Internet community that we've been working on very actively for the last three years," he said. "It's a nice next step."

The China Internet Network Information Center, Internet Society of China and China Organizational Name Administration Center submitted the successful proposal together. ICANN earmarked a budget of $2.23 million for the event.

The meeting will be ICANN's first in the Asia-Pacific region since Singapore in June 2011 and its first in China in more than a decade. Its 14th public meeting, in Oct. 2002, was held in Shanghai.

Explaining recent fumbles
Top ICANN executives also used the announcement to clarify questions around the organization's recent activity.

Outgoing chief executive Beckstrom, board chair Stephen Crocker and COO Akram Atallah did their best to underscore that fostering coordination, not administration, is the group's main objective -- even as one of the greatest shifts in the landscape of the Internet is about to take place.

That change, of course, is the removal of restrictions on the names of generic top-level domain names, or GTLDs for short. Since ICANN's board voted in support of the reform last year, organizations and corporations alike have moved quickly to take advantage of what my colleague Paul Sloan called " the greatest Internet landgrab in history. "

Given the significance of such an event, ICANN has been scrutinized for just how it plans to administer the new names. The body began accepting applications on January 12; CNET has since reported that many of technology's biggest names, such as Google, Amazon and Apple, have filed for their share of the now-massive pie.

But this weekend, ICANN formally suspended a program nicknamed "digital archery" that allowed applicants to generate a timestamp that would be used to determine in which of four batches their applications would be processed. ICANN is evaluating 500 at a time, for a total of 1,930.

ICANN devised the system when it realized it received four times as many applications than it expected. But the system backfired when it produced "unexpected results," opening a system already criticized as unfair to further criticism.

"Hindsight's 20-20," Beckstrom said. "No one's made a credible argument to me that, with the technology available, that this was forseeable."

"It is regrettable that we had these glitches," Attalah said. "It was not our finest moment."

And the possibility for a single-batch system? It depends on community feedback, Crocker said. ICANN hasn't yet made a decision, but it at least knows how many applications it's dealing with.

"Everything is possible," Attalah said. "I think everything is on the table."

Keeping the Internet free
Another issue: governance. Some reporters attending the press conference questioned how ICANN will protect the openness of the Internet as lawmakers in various countries, such as China, take steps to regulate parts of the domain name system.

Beckstrom said it wasn't ICANN's role to protect the Internet, only inform of the benefits of openness.

"ICANN has always supported an open, unified, global Internet," he said. "Different nation-states do and enact different laws...the ICANN community often engages, members of the community, work to educate lawmakers of some of the tradeoffs and disadvantages of things like DNS filtering."

ICANN hasn't observed a significant increase in efforts to regulate such things, Beckstrom said. Either way, it's not ICANN's role to take a political stand, Crocker said.

"The rest has to be part of a much broader international debate and debates within individual countries," Crocker said.

ICANN's accountability
A third issue: money. Thanks to hefty application fees for the GTLDs -- $185,000 per applicant -- the non-profit organization is sitting on a lot of extra cash. Several questions from reporters sought clarification on how the funds would be used.

"We chose to set aside $60,000 out of every application," Crocker said. "It's [a total of] $120 million, or somewhere in that range."

There have been several suggestions, including the creation of a foundation or the simple return of those funds. But none are clear winners, Crocker said.

"The surplus, however much it may be or not be, will simply not be used for general operating expenses and also we will go through a careful process of making sure what to do [with it]," Crocker said. "We have fenced off that money and put processes in place which are basically a parallel process to the existing financial management processes we have: we create budgets, we review what those budgets are, we assign expenditures -- all of the usual business processes."

However, ICANN could feasibly be sued, and as a non-profit it's unlikely that the organization has the funds to deal with such an event. Would it dip into the surplus? Quite possibly, Crocker admitted.

"It's basically one pot of money," he said.

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About the author

    Andrew Nusca is the editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor at ZDNet. He has written for New York, Men's Vogue, Popular Mechanics, and Money. He is based in New York.

     

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