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Outgoing ICANN chief touts domain name changes

from – Rod Beckstrom last week announced plans to step down next July as head of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

In an interview with Computerworld after the announcement, Beckstrom talked about ICANN’s accomplishments since he was named president and CEO two years ago as well as the organization’s efforts to implement new global Top Level Domains (gTLD).

Q:Why did you decide to leave ICANN?

I haven’t really decided to step down. When I was approached by ICANN to serve, and eventually agreed to serve, I only committed to a three-year term. That was a commitment I made, and that was the understanding I came to with the board. I wanted to give the board notification of my decision so that we could get on and recruit another CEO and have an effective transition.

Q: What are some of the major ICANN developments over the past two years?

I would point to internationalized domain names, bringing foreign language scripts, such as .china and Chinese characters, into the Internet and DNNSEC (Domain Name System Security Extensions).

When I came here most people had never heard of ICANN. And if they had heard of it, few respected it. We have clarified to the world what ICANN is. Simple descriptions that are clear and evocative, such as ‘One World One Internet,’ have gone global and have helped people understand what we do. We have turned into a world-class non-profit organization

Q: What is the goal behind ICANN’s planned expansion of generic Top Level Domains (gTLD)?

Here’s what it means: If you live in China for example, you might have to use Chinese characters and then a top level domain ending in a suffix like .com. In the Chinese language character set or the Hindi character set you didn’t have the equivalent of .com, .net, .org, .biz, .info.– what we call the generic top level domains. There has been no such choice. This means that around the world people would be able to apply for top level strings that are similar to .com., .net or a .edu. It’s important because the world thinks it’s important.

Q: What are the challenges associated with implementing the new gTLDs? How complex is it?

The Applicant Guidebook that we approved has all the rules of the program. It is over 300 pages and there are some very detailed rules. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of rules embedded in the document. So we have to process all of those very fairly and we have a lot of operational work to do.

We have panelists that we are hiring to do different panel reviews to make determinations if there is string confusion. What if someone chooses three characters in Cyrillic that looks strangely like .com? Is that confusing and should we use that? There’s also a complaint process, and there’s even bidding processes if two parties bid for the same string and they are deemed to be equally qualified. There’s a lot of management work, development work, contracting work, software development work, some recruiting, gearing up the services people. We are not encouraging anyone to apply, but the community feels that we need to make organizations aware of the offering globally and not just in wealthy western countries like the United States. It needs to be known about in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the like.

Q: The fee to apply for a new gTLD is $185,000. What does the applicant get for that money?

That’s the application fee that’s paid to ICANN. That was determined in consultation with the community. We have priced that out on a cost-neutral basis — what we think it is going to cost us to do the outsourced processing and to pay for the panelists.

Q: Has anyone applied for the new gTLD’s yet?

The application window opens on January 12, 2012 and it will close on April 12, 2012. This will be the first time in more than six years that a new gTLD window has opened.

Q: How would you characterize the relationship between ICANN and the U.S. government?

When the new gTLD effort first started, ICANN was controlled by the government.

I would describe the relationship as extremely constructive and engaged on many levels. There are many different touch points and like any important relationship it very complex and has different moving parts. But it has been very productive and very effective.

Q: What is the role of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)?

The bylaws of ICANN have a special role for the GAC. And the special role is that whenever the GAC issues formal advice to the board of ICANN, the board of ICANN must consider that advice. And if the board of ICANN chooses not to accept the advice then the board has to explain why. We have many advisory committees, [such as] the at-large advisory committee, the security and stability advisory committee, [and] the root server advisory committee. All of them are very important but the GAC is important because the board must consider their advice.


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