ICANN has heard an angry response from gTLD registries after delaying the release of two-character domains in new gTLDs, apparently at the whim of a small number of governments.
ICANN has yet to approve any of the over 350 requests for the release of two-letter domains filed by registries under a process approved by its board last October and launched in December.
The reason, according to registries, is that members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee — probably a minority — have objected and ICANN staff has “unilaterally” put a halt to the process.
Some governments — Spain, Italy and Cote d’Ivoire among them — are concerned that two-letter domains, such as es.example or it.example, may cause confusion with existing ccTLDs.
But the GAC itself was unable to find a consensus against the release of two-letter domains when it discussed the issue back in October. It merely asked for comment periods to allow individual governments to object to specific domains.
So ICANN’s board asked staff to create an “efficient procedure” to have requests swiftly approved, taking some of the stress off of the regular Registry Services Evaluation Process.
Two-letter domains have a premium dollar value for open registries, while multinational dot-brands expect to find them useful to market to the territories in which they operate.
Under the streamlined approval process, each request is subject to a 30-day comment period, and would be approved or not within seven to 10 days.
Right now, the oldest requests, which were filed in early December, are almost a month overdue for a response. The Registries Stakeholder Group told ICANN, in a letter (pdf):
We write to raise serious concern about what appears to be a recent closed-door, unilateral decision by ICANN staff, which took place over a period of weeks, to defer action on pending requests for two-character labels. This action was apparently initiated as a result of recent correspondence you received from the Chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee — but which critically does not represent formal consensus advice or even purport to represent the opinion of the GAC as a whole
It’s a case of governments strong-arming ICANN staff into changing policy, the registries claim.
GAC chair Thomas Schneider’s letter (pdf) says that an unspecified number of governments have “concerns” that the approval process was launched quite quickly and without any formal consultation with the GAC.
He goes on to make a laundry list of recommendations for making the process more amenable to governments, before requesting a “stay” on approvals until the GAC has further discussed the issue.
To date, registries representing a little over 300 strings have completed their 30-day comment periods, yet there have been only four comments from governments.
Italy and Cote d’Ivoire want ICANN to deny all requests for it.example and ci.example, because they may be confused with ccTLDs.
Spain, meanwhile, filed specific objections against the release of es.bingo, es.casino and es.abogado (lawyer), saying that these are regulated industries in Spain and should only be given to registrants who “have the required credentials”.
The RySG wants ICANN staff to immediately start approving requests that have passed through the comment process. The GAC says it will discuss the matter further at the ICANN 52 meeting currently going on in Singapore.
When RySG members raised the topic at a meeting the with ICANN board yesterday, directors avoided directly addressing the specific concerns.