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GACmail? Belgium denies .spa gTLD shakedown

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2013, 22:03:36 (UTC), Domain Registries

The Belgian government has denied claims that the city of Spa tried to shake down new gTLD applicants for money in exchange for not objecting to their .spa applications.

The Belgian Governmental Advisory Committee representative said this afternoon that Belgium was “extremely unhappy” that the “disrespectful allusions” got an airing during a meeting with the ICANN board.

He was responding directly to a question asked during a Sunday session by ICANN director Chris Disspain, who, to be fair, didn’t name either the government or the gTLD. He had said:

I understand there is at least one application, possibly more, where a government or part a government is negotiating with the applicant in respect to receive a financial benefit from the applicant. I’m concerned about that and I wondered if the GAC had a view as to whether such matters were appropriate.

While nobody would talk on the record, asking around the ICANN 48 meeting here in Buenos Aires it became clear that Disspain was referring to Belgium and .spa.

It was not clear whether he was referring to Donuts or to Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, which have both applied for the string.

The string “spa” was not protected by ICANN’s rules on geographic names, but the GAC in April advised ICANN not to approve the applications until governments had more time to reach a decision.

My inference from Disspain’s question was that Belgium was planning to press for a GAC objection to .spa unless its city got paid, which could be perceived as an abuse of power.

Nobody from the GAC answered the question on Sunday, but Belgium today denied that anything inappropriate was going on, saying Disspain’s assertion was “factually incorrect”.

There is a contract between Spa and an applicant, he confirmed, but he said that “no money will flow to the city of Spa”.

“A very small part of the profits of the registry will go to the community served by .spa,” he said.

This side-deal does not appear to be a public document, but the Belgian rep said that it has been circulated to GAC members for transparency purposes.

There are several applicants whose strings appeared on ICANN’s protected geo names list that have been required to get letters of non-objection from various countries.

Tata Group, for example, needed permission from Morocco for .tata, while TUI had to go to Burkina Faso for .tui. Both are the names of provinces in those countries.

It’s not publicly known how these letters of non-objection were obtained, and whether any financial benefit accrued to the government as a result.

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