ICANN80: Rwanda joins the small circle of sub-Saharan states to have hosted ICANN

ICANN80: Rwanda joins the small circle of sub-Saharan states to have hosted ICANN

Following on from Paris, which hosted the ICANN Contracted Parties Summit last May, the Rwandan capital has just hosted its first ICANN Summit devoted to Internet governance policy issues. Here’s a look back at what we learned from the event.

ICANN has found its new face

ICANN80 kicked off with the official appointment of Kurt Erik “Kurtis” Lindqvist as the future President and CEO of the organization. The 49-year-old Finn will officially succeed his predecessor Goran Marby, of Swedish origin, who resigned at the end of 2022. Sally Costerton’s interim appointment will therefore end on December 4, 2024, with Mr. Lindqvist officially taking office on December 5, 2024. Mr. Lindqvist has been CEO of the London Internet Exchange (LINX) since 2019. His appointment is the culmination of a long process that began with the creation of a search committee for a CEO. Initially, some 100 candidates representing over 20 countries in North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia were identified. After further evaluation, the list was whittled down to seven people (three women and four men) who were interviewed by the CEO’s selection committee. The selection process ended with the ICANN Board unanimously approving the choice of Mr. Lindqvist at a session held just before ICANN80. A first, the new CEO will be based in Geneva in Switzerland.

Spotlight on the Internet in Africa

You have to go back to June 2017 to find a city in sub-Saharan Africa hosting ICANN. Johannesburg, South Africa’s most populous city, hosted ICANN59. In June 2024, ICANN finally returned to Africa, with Rwanda as host country. A very good thing, given that Africa is still largely under-resourced when it comes to Internet access. The International Telecommunication Union estimated that by the end of 2021, 14.3% of African households had access to the Internet, compared with 57.4% worldwide. Fixed Internet connection is also more expensive than in other regions of the world in proportion to income. It represents 18.6% of gross national income (GNI) per capita, compared with a global average of 2.8%. The GAC, the body representing governments at ICANN, took advantage of the event in Kigali to organize a “High Level” governmental meeting. This brought together 50 countries with four sessions on the multi-stakeholder model, cooperation and governance, digital inclusion and support for connectivity. These issues are also at the heart of the United Nations’ Global Digital Compact, which calls for a more inclusive and equitable Internet. The African At-Large Regional Organization (AFRALO), one of the five At-Large regional organizations within ICANN (At-Large represents end-users), kicked off ICANN80 week with a round-table discussion on improving Internet infrastructure in Africa. For its part, ICANN Org recalled during the week’s Summit that in 2022 and 2023 two root servers have been made operational in Nairobi, Kenya and Cairo, Egypt. Most DNS root queries based on Africa therefore are now resolved in Africa. For example, the root server in Nairobi, Kenya, handles 40% of all DNS root requests for the continent. Prior to its installation, 35% to 40% of DNS query traffic traveled outside Africa for resolution. The two installations also increase the resilience of the global root server system for Internet users on the continent, and help to cope with the exponential increase in traffic expected on the continent over the next few years.

The promise of the next round of new generic extensions : an estimate of application fees finally made public

No fewer than eight sessions held on the first day of the summit addressed the future series of new generic extensions. ICANN Org pointed out that this program is designed to make the Internet more inclusive, relying in particular on the success of Internet extensions in users’ own languages – the so called internationalized extensions or IDNs. To date, there are 91 internationalized extensions among the 1172 generic extensions, a relatively low proportion. In country-code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs), the proportion of internationalized extensions is almost three times bigger, representing nearly 20% of the total. ICANN Org promotes this new series by pointing out the opportunity to create new generic extensions in native languages. For its part, the GAC is pushing for greater support for less-favored geographical areas. The intention is to make the new program more accessible to these areas with financial and operational support. ICANN Org has considered an amount of 2 million USD for this item, whereas the GAC estimates that the needs are more in the region of 10-16 million USD. The GAC has indicated that it hopes to be able to support at least 45 applications. 

These considerations obviously have to be set against the costs of a future application for a new gTLD project. On this much-anticipated point, ICANN Org has presented projections based on the number of applications received. While in 2012 there were 1,930 applications leading to some 1,240 delegated extensions, some of which have since been abandoned, we don’t know how successful the next round, which opens in April 2026, will be.

To recover its costs, ICANN Org estimates that the application fee should be 293,000 USD for 500 applications, 242,000 USD for 1,000 applications and 208,000 USD for 2,000 applications. In 2012, the application fee was 185,000 USD. It should also be noted that the median value of application fees submitted is around 259,000 USD.

A partial reimbursement of costs is considered if the costs retained prove to have been overestimated in view of a higher-than-estimated volume of applications. The question has been raised of how to reduce these fees, which means cutting budgets. ICANN Org has indicated that 13 million USD will be allocated to this program over 2025, for example, in staffing costs. As ICANN already has an operating budget that covers its payroll costs, question has been raised if these expenses are not covered twice (by the operational budget and the new gTLD program budget).

DNS abuse: first lessons from the contract amendments

ICANN80 was also an opportunity to take stock of the implementation of contractual amendments by registries and registrars to include remediation obligations for obvious DNS abuses such as phishing, malware or pharming practices. These measures came into force on April 5. ICANN’s Compliance Department reported that it had received 1,558 abuse-related complaints. 1,382 were invalid, either because they were not sufficiently substantiated or documented, or because they fell outside the organization’s scope of action. Some of them concerned ccTLDs (country code Top Level Domains) where ICANN has no jurisdiction. ICANN also reiterated that obvious abuses must first be reported to the registry operators and registrars who manage the concerned domain names.

ICANN80 remained above all a working summit with few announcements even if the new face of the organization was made official, information that nevertheless had been leaked a few days earlier. The appointment of « Kurtis » Lindqvist should not overshadow the fact that Sally Costerton has been acting as interim president of the organization for almost a year and a half now, and that during this time her determination has undoubtedly ensured that some topics move significantly forward, in particular the next series of new generic extensions which is now well underway. Work on implementing the policies and the future bidding applicant guide is progressing, and the bidding window envisaged for April – June 2026 now seems attainable. The range of application fees announced remains imprecise, ranging from 208,000 to 293,000 USD, depending on the volume of applications expected. While internationalized extensions were in the spotlight, it is above all geographical extensions and trademark extensions, the so called dot brands that are the most relevant. They will be an ally in the service of the security, performance and reputation of their owners. A genuine asset in an increasingly complex regulatory and legislative environment where cyber attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated.  To make a success of your future extension project and benefit from optimized solutions for your online assets, the key is to be well accompanied.