ICANN will let new gTLD applicants change their applications in order to respond to the concerns of governments, it has emerged.
Changes to applications made as a result of Early Warnings made by the Governmental Advisory Committee “would in all likelihood be permitted”, ICANN chair Steve Crocker informed the GAC this week.
ICANN is also looking at ways to make these changes enforceable in the respective applicants’ registry contracts.
Combined, the two bits of news confirm that the GAC will have greater power over new gTLD business models than previously anticipated.
The revelations came in the ICANN board of directors’ official response to GAC advice emerging from last October’s Toronto meeting.
After Toronto, the GAC had asked ICANN whether applicants would be able to change their applications in response to Early Warnings, and whether the changes made would be binding.
In response, Crocker told his GAC counterpart, Heather Dryden, that ICANN already has a procedure for approving or denying application change requests.
The process “balances” a number of criteria, including whether the changes would impact competing applicants or change the applicant’s evaluation score, but it’s not at all clear how ICANN internally decides whether to approve a request or not. So far, none have been denied.
Crocker told Dryden:
It is not possible to generalize as to whether change requests resulting from early warnings would be permitted in all instances. But if such requests are intended solely to address the “range of specific issues” listed on page 3 of the Toronto Communique, and do not otherwise conflict with the change request criteria noted above, then such request would in all likelihood be permitted.
The “range of specific issues” raised in the Toronto advice (pdf) are broad enough to cover pretty much every Early Warning:
- Consumer protection
- Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors
- Competition issues
- Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use
- Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community
- Minimising the need for defensive registrations
- Protection of geographic names
- Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material
- The relationship between new gTLD applications and all applicable legislation
Some Early Warnings, such as many filed against gTLD bids that would represent regulated industries such as finance and law, ask applicants to improve their abuse mitigation measures.
To avoid receiving potential lethal GAC Advice this April, such applicants were asked to improve their rights protection mechanisms and anti-abuse procedures.
In some cases, changes to these parts of the applications could — feasibly — impact the evaluation score.
The GAC also made it clear in Toronto that it expects that commitments made in applications — including commitments in changes made as a result of Early Warnings — should be enforceable by ICANN.
This is a bit of a big deal. It refers to Question 18 in the new gTLD application, which was introduced late at the request of the GAC and covers the “mission/purpose” of the applied-for gTLD.
Answers to Question 18 are not scored as part of the new gTLD evaluation, and many applicants took it as an invitation to waffle about how awesome they plan to be.
Now it seems possible they they could be held to that waffle.
Crocker told Dryden (with my emphasis):
The New gTLD Program does not currently provide a mechanism to adopt binding contractual terms incorporating applicant statements and commitment and plans set forth within new gTLD applications or arising from early warning discussions between applicants and governments. To address concerns raised by the GAC as well as other stakeholders, staff are developing possible mechanisms for consideration by the Board New gTLD Committee. That Committee will discuss the staff proposals during the upcoming Board Workshop, 31 Janaury – 2 February.
In other words, early next month we could see some new mechanisms for converting Question 18 blah into enforceable contractual commitments that new gTLD registries will have to abide be.