The US government has put the IANA contract, which currently gives ICANN its powers to create new top-level domains, up for competitive bidding.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a request for proposals late yesterday, almost a week later than expected.
The Statement Of Work, which defines the IANA contractor’s responsibilities, is over twice at long as the current IANA contract, containing many deliverables and deadlines.
While the contract is open to bidders other than ICANN, ICANN is obviously the likely winner, so it’s fair to read the SOW in that context.
Notably, the section dealing with approving new gTLDs has been changed since the draft language released in June.
NTIA said previously that in order to delegate a new gTLD, ICANN/IANA “shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.”
The new SOW has dropped the “consensus support” requirement and instead states:
The Contractor must provide documentation verifying that ICANN followed its policy framework including specific documentation demonstrating how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest.
This could be read as a softening of the language. No longer will ICANN have to prove consensus – which is not a requirement of the Applicant Guidebook – in order to approve a new gTLD.
However, the fact that it will have to document how a new gTLD is “supportive of the global public interest” may give extra weight to Governmental Advisory Committee objections.
If the GAC were to issue advice stating that a new gTLD application was not in “the global public interest”, it may prove tricky for ICANN to provide documentation showing that it is.
The SOW also addresses conflicts of interest, which has become a big issue for ICANN following the departure of chairman and new gTLD proponent Peter Dengate Thrush, and his subsequent employment by new gTLD applicant Minds + Machines, this June.
The SOW says that IANA needs to have a written conflicts of interest policy, adding:
At a minimum, this policy must address what conflicts based on personal relationships or bias, financial conflicts of interest, possible direct or indirect financial gain from the Contractor’s policy decisions and employment and post-employment activities. The conflict of interest policy must include appropriate sanctions in case on non-compliance, including suspension, dismissal and other penalties.
Overall, the SOW is a substantial document, with a lot of detail.
There’s much more NTIA micromanagement than in the current IANA contract. Any hopes ICANN had that the relationship would become much more arms-length have been dashed.
The SOW includes a list of 17 deadlines for ICANN/IANA, mainly various types of compliance reports that must be filed annually. The NTIA clearly intends to keep IANA on a fairly tight leash.
You can download the RFP documents here.