As I wrote about six months ago, the track record of the DNSO with regard to bottom-up policy development hasn't exactly been good. Initially, the Names Council began by establishing broad-based working groups on a variety of issues. Its results, however, were mixed. Working Group A was able to develop a UDRP proposal, and the Names Council did approve that proposal. But Working Group A's plan was the target of considerable criticism on process and substantive grounds; the Names Council's approval was without extensive discussion and amounted to a rubber stamp. The ICANN Board reacted by setting aside the proposal in favor of a different one drafted by a registrars' group, with the caveat that the new plan would be modified further by Louis Touton in consultation with persons chosen by ICANN staff. The final plan owed little to the proposal that emerged from the DNSO.|
The upshot of the work of Working Group B (on "sunrise" protection for trademarks) was that the DNSO was unable to generate any coherent recommendation. The Names Council issued a statement, but with little content: While the Names Council managed to recommend that "there should be varying degrees of protection for intellectual property during the startup phase of new top-level domains," the statement stopped there. It did not speak at all to the nature and strength of that protection or how it should be achieved.
Working Group C was able to reach some consensus points, but the Names Council was unwilling to endorse them; instead, it issued a statement of stunning generality, addressing almost none of the key policy issues raised by the deployment of new top-level domains. Those issues, rather, were left to be decided, either explicitly or sub silentio, by the ICANN staff and board. Ironically, the ICANN Board ultimately reached a result close to that of Working Group C notwithstanding the Names Council's conspicuous non-approval of its work product.
Working Group D's report is now before the Names Council, nearly two years after its task was assigned. That task was the development of rules for open DNSO working groups. Recently, however, the Names Council has shifted away from open working groups, in favor of doing its work in groups composed entirely (or almost entirely) of Names Council members, such as its Review Task Force, its committee on UDRP review, and its new committee on alternate roots. This approach has come at the cost of eliminating meaningful bottom-up participation -- as I noted above, only one open DNSO working group has been created since the summer of 1999. It's unclear, therefore, how often the WG-D rules will be used (if, indeed, they are used at all).
Nor should any of this be surprising, given the Names Council's odd and unrepresentative structure. Let's hope the ALSC's momentary attraction to the DNSO model is just the result of fleeting bad information.