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Read that controversial .africa letter

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, 16:58:01 (UTC), Domain Policy

Did the African Union Commission really use a letter written by ICANN to express its support for ZA Central Registry’s .africa bid?

Having now obtained and read it, I have my doubts.

I’m publishing it, so you can make your own mind up. Here it is (pdf).

That’s the letter that The Register’s Kieren McCarthy reported yesterday was “ICANN-drafted” and “duly signed by the AUC”

“Essentially, ICANN drafted a letter in support of ZACR, gave it to the AUC, and the AUC submitted the letter back to ICANN as evidence that ZACR should run dot-africa,” The Reg reported.

I don’t think that’s what happened.

What I see is a two-page letter that has one paragraph indisputably written by ICANN and whole bunch of other stuff that looks incredibly remarkably like it was written by the AUC and ZACR.

And that one ICANN paragraph was drawn from the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, where it was available to all governments.

The Reg reported that ICANN, in the unredacted ruling of the Independent Review Panel, admitted it drafted the letter.

What The Reg didn’t report is that ICANN merely admitted to sending the AUC a letter based on the aforementioned AGB template, and that it was subsequently heavily revised by the AUC.

It was not, I believe, a simple case of the AUC putting its letterhead and John Hancock on an ICANN missive.

I believe that ZACR had quite a big hand in the redrafting too. The stylized “.africa (dotAfrica)” is not how ICANN refers to gTLDs, but it is how ZACR refers to its own brand.

The letter was written in order to satisfy the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, which reviews new gTLD applications for the required government support.

The original AUC letter (read it here) was simply one paragraph confirming that ZACR had been appointed .africa registry, as the winner of an African Union RFP process.

It didn’t have enough information, or was not specific and formal enough, for the GNP, which issued a “Clarifying Question”.

In response to the CQ, it seems AUC reached out to ICANN, ICANN sent over something not dissimilar to its AGB template, the AUC and ZACR redrafted, edited and embellished it and sent it to ICANN to support their .africa application.

Did ICANN act inappropriately? Maybe. But I’m losing my enthusiasm for thinking about this as a massive scandal.

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Comments (7)

  1. John Berryhill says:

    “whole bunch of other stuff that looks incredibly like it was written by the AUC and ZACR”

    Are you intending to say that it appears to have been written by AUC and ZACR, or are you intending to say that it is not credible that it was written by them?

  2. Who is John Hancock?

    Well from the context, it seems you meant “signature”.

    But please bear in mind that a lot of people who read DI are not native speakers of English.

    And I’d bet you that 99% of people you asked on the streets of London would not know what John Hancock means. I had to read it three times before I was sure you hadn’t written ‘John Thomas’ and were being rude.

  3. John Berryhill says:

    For you, or your readers?

  4. This is a non-story in my opinion.

    Can you imagine if ICANN failed every applicant with a Clarifying Question? Remember, nearly every applicant passed Initial Evaluation. For example, the Letter of Credit portion of the application required specific, compliant language for ICANN to allow an applicant to pass. There are literally many cases that applicants had to work with their bank/financial institution to get the language right to comply with ICANN. How is this different?

    Siding with ICANN staff on this one.

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