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ICANN execs helped African Union win .africa — report

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, 10:59:37 (UTC), Domain Policy

Top ICANN executives helped the African Union Commission win the .africa gTLD on behalf of its selected registry, according to a report.
Kieren McCarthy at The Register scooped last night that Dai-Trang Nguyen, head of gTLD operations at ICANN, drafted the letter that the AU used to demonstrate governmental support for ZA Central Registry’s bid.
The basis of the report is the unredacted version of the Independent Review Process panel’s ruling in the DotConnectAfrica case.
McCarthy reports that the uncensored document shows ICANN admitting that Nguyen wrote the AU’s letter, but that “did not violate any policy” and that there was “absolutely nothing wrong with ICANN staff assisting the AUC.”
Apparently, the original AU-drafted letter did not meet the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, generating a “Clarifying Question”, so the AU reached out to ICANN for help creating a letter that would tick the correct boxes.
The unredacted ruling also contains an allegation that ICANN told InterConnect — one of the three corporate members of the GNP — that the AU’s letter should be taken as representing all of its member states, El Reg reports.
DotConnectAfrica is expected to be shortly returned to the new gTLD application process, and then kicked out again due to its failure to meet the GNP’s criteria of support from 60% of African governments.
I’m in two minds about how damaging these new revelations are.
On the one hand, ICANN staff intervening directly in an Initial Evaluation for a contested gTLD looks incredibly bad for the organization’s neutrality.
One would not expect ICANN to draft, for example, a letter of support for a Community Priority Evaluation applicant.
I don’t think it changes the ultimate outcome for DCA, but it may have inappropriately smoothed the path to approval for ZACR.
On the other hand, the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook actually contains a two-page “Sample Letter of Government Support” that governments were encouraged to print off on letterheaded paper, sign, and submit.
Giving governments assistance with their support letters was in fact baked into the program from the start.
So did the AUC get special treatment in this case, or did Nguyen just send over the AGB sample letter (or a version of it)? That may or may not become clear if and when McCarthy publishes the unredacted ruling, which he has indicated he hopes to do.
A related question might be: how did the AUC screw up its original letter so badly, given the existence of a compliant sample letter?
The optics are many times worse for ICANN because all this stuff was originally redacted, making it look like ICANN was trying to cover up its involvement.
But the redactions were not a unilateral ICANN decision.
ICANN, DCA and the IRP panel agreed after negotiation that some documents revealed during disclosure should be treated confidentially, according to this September 2014 order (pdf). References to these documents were redacted in all of the IRP’s documents, not just the ruling.
What the revelations certainly seem to show is another example of ICANN toadying up to governments, which really has to stop.

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Comments (1)

  1. Kevin,
    I do not understand why this is a story. It is up to the African Union to decide who to support, not ICANN. It is not ICANN “pitching” or lobbying the African Union on who to support. Drafting a support letter is one of meeting ICANN criteria as envisaged by the AGB.
    We have over 100 letters of support for our community .MUSIC initiative. Many look different, some are the same, others use a template. Bottom line “Support” (whether community or geographic) require a relevant entity to support an applicant. ICANN had nothing to do with getting those letters signed. The EIU (under the new CPE Guidelines) has to verify those letters at its discretion and if they have clarifying questions on the validity of letters they could inquire. How is this different from ICANN wanting letters to be written a certain way by a relevant supporter? Bottom line is the African Union supports ZACR. How the letter is written really has no bearing on what the letter is trying to accomplish.
    If the story was that ICANN staff was lobbying the African Union to support ZACR then that is preferential treatment and a real story. But that never happened.
    Furthermore, a majority of new gTLD applicants received Clarifying Questions by ICANN. ICANN did NOT disqualify applicants and has provided pretty good service for all applicants to allow them to pass. An overwhelming majority passed Initial Evaluation.
    Can you image if ICANN disqualifed every applicant with a Clarifying Question? For example, there were many cases pertaining to Letter of Credits. The LOCs had to fulfill ICANN’s criteria and had to be written in a specific way to comply with what ICANN required and to be ICANN-compliant. How is that different? Do you believe ICANN should not have provided service to those applicants that did not provide the exact language ICANN wanted and disqualified them?
    One would reasonably expect that with a $185,000 application fee that ICANN can provide guidance pertaining to what an acceptable geographic support letter looks like to corroborate that support (if the support is real).
    This is a non-story in my opinion.

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