ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is ready to send out its Early Warnings on new gTLD applications today as scheduled, ICANN has confirmed.
The Early Warnings, which highlight applications that individual GAC members have problems with, are expected to be sent by the GAC to applicants and published by ICANN later.
Because the warnings are expected to be issued by individual governments, rather than the GAC as a whole, we could wind up seeing hundreds, due to multiple governments objecting to the same applications.
However, some governments may have decided to be conservative for precisely the same reason.
Governments won’t be able to hide behind the cloak of “GAC Advice”, as they did when .xxx was up for approval last year; the names of the governments will be on the warnings.
That’s not to say there won’t necessarily be safety in numbers. It’s possible that some warnings will be explicitly supported by multiple governments, potentially complicating applicant responses.
But which countries will provide warnings?
I’d be surprised if the US, as arguably the most vocal GAC player, does not issue some. Likewise, the regulation-happy European Commission could be a key objector.
It’s also my understanding that Australia has a raft of concerns about various applications, and has been leading much of the back-room discussion among GAC members.
Going out on a limb slightly, I’m expecting to see the warnings from Western nations concentrating largely on regulated industries, IP protection and defensive registrations.
We’re likely to see warnings about .bank and .sucks, for examples, from these governments. To a certain extent, any non-Community applications that could be seen as representing an industry could be at risk.
On the “morality” front, indications from ICANN’s public comment period are that Saudi Arabia has a great many problems with strings that represent religious concepts, and with strings that appear to endorse behavior inconsistent with Islamic law, such as alcohol and gambling.
But last time I checked Saudi Arabia was not a member of the GAC. It remains to be seen whether similar concerns will be raised by other governments that are members.
The one Early Warning we can guarantee to emerge is against .patagonia, the application from a US clothing retailer that shares its name with a region of South America.
The Argentinian government has explicitly said it will issue a warning against this bid, and I expect it to garner significant support from other GAC members.
The GAC Early Warnings stand to cause significant headaches for applicants, many of which are gearing up for a four-day US Thanksgiving weekend.
After receiving a warning, applicants have just 21 days to decide whether to withdraw their bid — receiving an 80% refund of their $185,000 application fee — or risk a formal GAC Advice objection next year.
But that’s not even half of the problem.
The GAC has indicated that it wants to be able to, effectively, negotiate with new gTLD applicants over the details of their applications after issuing its warnings.
At the Toronto meeting last month, the GAC asked ICANN to explain:
the extent to which applicants will be able to modify their applications as a result of early warnings.
how ICANN will ensure that any commitments made by applicants, in their applications or as a result of any subsequent changes, will be overseen and enforced by ICANN.
ICANN has not yet responded to these inquiries and it does not expect to do so until Thursday.
The fact is that ICANN has for a long time said that it does not intend to allow any applicant to make any material changes to their applications after submission. This was to avoid gaming.
It has since relaxed that view somewhat, by introducing a change request mechanism that has so far processed about 30 changes, some of which (such as .dotafrica and .banque) were highly material.
Whether ICANN will extend this process to allow applicants to significantly alter their applications in order to calm the fears of governments remains to be seen.
Whatever happens this even, many new gTLD applicants are entering unknown territory.