New gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice may be about to find that their launch runway is quite a bit longer than they hoped.
That’s the message that seems to be coming through subtly from ICANN and the GAC itself — via last week’s applicant update webinar and GAC chair Heather Dryden — right now.
Dryden made it clear in an official ICANN interview, recorded early last week, that the GAC expects its Beijing communique to be “fully taken into account”, lest governments abandon ICANN altogether.
But at the same time she seemed to suggest that the rest of the community may have misunderstood the GAC’s intentions, due in part to the fact that its deliberations were held in private.
Here’s a slice of the interview with Brad White, ICANN’s media relations chief:
WHITE: Suppose the [ICANN] board in the end says “thank you very much for the advice, we’ve looked at it, but we’re moving on” and basically ignores a lot of that advice?
DRYDEN: I think it would be a very immediate reaction, questioning the value of participating in the Governmental Advisory Committee. If it is going to be the place for governments to come and raise their concern and influence the decision making that occurs at ICANN then we have to be able to demonstrate that the advice generated is fully taken into account or to the maximum extent appropriate taken in and in this way governments understand that the GAC is useful mechanism for them.
WHITE: What you seem to be saying is there is concern about whether or not some governments might pull out from that multi-stakeholder model?
DRYDEN: Right, right why would they come? How would they justify coming to the GAC meetings? Why would they support this model if in fact it’s there aren’t channels available to them and appropriate to their role and perspective as a government?
Under ICANN’s bylaws, the board of directors does not have to adopt GAC advice wholesale.
It is able to disagree with, and essentially overrule, the GAC, but only after they’ve tried “in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution”.
The only time this has happened before was in February 2011, when discussions covered the final details of the new gTLD program and the imminent approval of the .xxx gTLD.
Then, the ICANN board and the GAC gathered in Brussels for two days of intense face-to-face discussions, which was followed by multiple “scorecard” drafts and follow-up talks.
It seems very likely that we’re going to see something similar for the Beijing advice, if for no other reason than the communique is vague enough that ICANN will need a lot of clarification before it acts.
So does this mean delay for new gTLD applicants? Probably.
Dryden, asked about the GAC’s agenda for the ICANN public meeting in Durban this July, said:
There may well also be aspects of safeguard advice that we would discuss further with the board or with the community or would need to, particularly the implementation aspects of some of the new safeguards that the GAC identified.
The “safeguard” advice is the large section of the Beijing communique that attempts to impose broad new obligations on over 500 new gTLDs in “regulated or professional sectors”.
Dryden appeared to acknowledge the criticism that much of the advice appears unworkable to many, saying:
The intent behind this was to provide a reminder or to reinforce the importance of preexisting obligations and the applicability of national laws and really not to impose new burdens on applicants or registrants.
However, there are measures proposed in that safeguard advice where there are real implementation questions and so we think this is a very good focus for discussions now in the community with the GAC and with the board around that particular aspect of the advice.
White put to Dryden DI’s criticism that the communique was a “perplexing, frustrating mess” aimed at using the DNS to solve wider problems with the internet.
For example, the GAC appears to want to use ICANN contracts use introduce new ways to enforce copyrights and data security regulations, something perhaps better addressed by legislation.
It’s really not intended to impose a new global regulatory regime. It is intended to be consistent with ICANN’s existing role and serve as a reminder to those that have applied of what is really involved with implementing if they are successful a string globally as well as really wanting to emphasize that some of those strings raise particular sensitivities for governments
So have we misunderstood the GAC’s intentions? That seems to be the message.
Watch the whole Dryden interview here:
Based on current evidence, I’d say that any applicant covered by the Beijing communique that still believes they have a chance of signing a contract before July is kidding itself.
The ICANN board’s new gTLD program committee met on Wednesday to discuss its response to the Beijing communique. The results of this meeting should be published in the next few days.
But there’s little doubt in my mind that ICANN doesn’t have enough time before Durban to pick through the advice, consult with the GAC, and come up with a mutually acceptable solution.
Quite apart from the complexity of and lack of detail in the GAC’s requests, there’s the simple matter of logistics.
Getting a representative quorum of GAC members in the same room as the ICANN board for a day or two at some point in the next 60 days would be challenging, based on past performance.
I think it’s much more likely that a day or two will be added to the Durban meeting (before its official start) to give the board and GAC the kind of time they need to thrash this stuff out.
ICANN’s latest program timetable, discussed during a webinar on Thursday night, extended the deadline for the ICANN board’s response to the GAC from the first week of June to the end of June.
On the call, program manager Christine Willett confirmed that this date assumes the board adopts all of the advice — it does not take into account so-called “bylaws consultations”.
While it seems clear that all 518 applications (or more) affected by the “safeguards” advice won’t be signing anything before Durban, it’s less clear whether the remaining applicants will feel an impact too.