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After .org price outrage, ICANN says it has NOT scrapped public comments

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN this evening said that it will continue to open up gTLD registry contract amendments for public comment periods, despite posting information yesterday suggesting that it would stop doing so.

The organization recently formalized what it calls “internal guidelines” on when public comment periods are required, and provided a summary in a blog post yesterday.

It was very easy to infer from the wording of the post that ICANN, in the wake of the controversy over the renegotiation of Public Interest Registry’s .org contract, had decided to no longer ask for public comments on future legacy gTLD contract amendments.

I inferred as much, as did another domain news blogger and a few other interested parties I pinged today.

I asked ICANN if that was a correct inference and Cyrus Namazi, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, replied:

No, that is not correct. All Registry contract amendments will continue to be posted for public comment same as before.

He went on to say that contract changes that come about as a result of Registry Service Evaluation Process requests or stuff like change of ownership will continue to not be subject to full public comment periods (though RSEP does have its own, less-publicized comment system).

The ICANN blog post lists several scenarios in which ICANN is required to open a public comment period. On the list is this:

ICANN org base agreements with registry operators and registrars.

The word “base” raised at least eight eyebrows of people who read the post, including my two.

The “base” agreements ICANN has with registries and registrars are the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement and the 2012/2017 Registry Agreement.

The RAA applies to all accredited registrars and the base RA applies to all new gTLD registries that applied in the 2012 round.

Registries that applied for, or were already running, gTLDs prior to 2012 all have bespoke contracts that have been gradually brought more — but not necessarily fully — into line with the 2012/17 RA in renewal renegotiations over the last several years.

In all cases, the renegotiated legacy contracts have been subject to public comment, but in no cases have the comments had any meaningful impact on their ultimate approval by ICANN.

The most recent such renewal was Public Interest Registry’s .org contract.

Among the changes were the introduction of the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting policy, and the removal of price caps that had limited PIR to a 10% increase per year.

The comment period on this contract attracted over 3,200 comments, almost all of which objected to the price regulation changes or the URS.

But the contract was signed regardless, unaffected by the comments, which caused one registrar, NameCheap, to describe the process as a “sham”.

With this apparently specific reference to “base” agreements coming so soon thereafter, it’s easy to see how we could have assumed ICANN had decided to cut off public comment on these contentious issues altogether, but that appears to not be the case.

What this seems to mean is that when .com next comes up for renewal, it will be open for comment.

Hindu god smites Chrysler gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2019, Domain Policy

Car-maker Chrysler has withdrawn its application for the .ram dot-brand gTLD more than six years after receiving a government objection on religious grounds.

Ram is a brand of pickup trucks manufactured by Chrysler, but it’s also a variant spelling of Rama, an important deity in the Hindu pantheon.

Back in 2013, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee forwarded an objection from majority-Hindu India, later saying: “The application for .ram is a matter of extreme sensitivity for the Government of India on political and religious considerations.”

In a 19-page response (pdf), Chrysler said that Ram vehicles had been around for 75 years without offending Hindus, and that .ram was to be a restricted dot-brand that could not be used by third parties to post offensive content.

The objection appeared at a time when the GAC was not obliged to show its thinking and often deliberately obfuscated its advice. But ICANN placed .ram on hold anyway, where it has remained ever since.

Over the intervening time, Chrysler has rethought its dot-brand strategy, and last month called on ICANN to cancel five of the six gTLDs it already owns (but does not use) — .chrysler, .dodge, .mopar, .srt and .uconnect.

It’s still contracted to run .jeep, weirdly.

Top ICANN advisor Tarek Kamel dies at 57

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2019, Domain Policy

Tarek Kamel, a senior advisor to the ICANN CEO and one-time shortlisted candidate for the top job, died yesterday, according to ICANN. He was 57.

His cause of death was not released, but he apparently had been suffering from health challenges for some time.

At ICANN, Kamel was senior advisor to the president and senior vice president for government and IGO engagement, a role he was appointed to in 2012 by then-incoming CEO Fadi Chehadé.

Kamel had been one of three shortlisted candidates for the CEO role and was hired immediately after Chehadé took over.

Born in Egypt, Kamel was considered locally as an internet pioneer, helping to found, then deregulate and reform the sector in his country.

He trained as an electrical engineer in Egypt and Germany, and is said to have established Egypt’s first connection to the internet in the mid-1990s, a period in which he also founded the local chapter of the Internet Society.

But Kamel spend much of his career in government, acting as Egypt’s minister for information and communication technology between 2004 and 2011.

His tenure ended in January 2011, as a result of the revolution which ousted President Hosni Mubarak.

During the final weeks of Mubarak’s regime, the government attempted to disrupt popular resistance by shutting down internet access across the country, causing pleas from Kamel’s friends for him to restore connectivity and preserve his legacy.

But Chehadé later defended Kamel’s actions during the revolution, telling DI in 2012 that he was not responsible for the shutdown and that he showed “near-heroism”, putting himself and his family at great personal risk, in order to restore services as quickly as possible.

Kamel was described yesterday by current CEO Göran Marby as a “dear friend” with a “big heart” and a “great sense of humor” who helped open diplomatic doors for ICANN in the Middle East.

Former ICANN chair and father of the internet Vint Cerf said “our Internet community has lost a kindred spirit so devoted to the idea of a global Internet to hold and use in common”.

He added, “if heaven does not have broadband yet, Tarek will make it so.”

Kamel is survived by his wife and two children.

Marby yesterday encouraged friends and colleagues to leave a memorial in the comments section of this blog post, assuring commenters that their words will reach Kamel’s family.

His family and friends have my condolences.

ICANN’s babysitting fund goes live

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has started accepting applications for its childcare grants program.

As previously reported, ICANN plans to offer up to $750 per family to community members who have no choice but to show up to its meetings with their offspring in tow.

The money is designed to cover childcare costs while the parent attends sessions at ICANN’s thrice-yearly public meetings.

ICANN will not be providing any on-site childcare itself, nor will it approve any providers.

The program is in a pilot, covering the next three meetings.

The current application period, for ICANN 67 in Cancun, Mexico next March, runs until November 20. The application form wouldn’t open for me.

Full details can be found here.

ICANN must do more to fight internet security threats [Guest Post]

ICANN and its contracted parties need to do more to tackle security threats, write Dave Piscitello and Lyman Chapin of Interisle Consulting.

The ICANN Registry and Registrar constituencies insist that ICANN’s role with respect to DNS abuse is limited by its Mission “to ensure the stable and secure operation of the internet’s unique identifier systems”, therefore limiting ICANN’s remit to abuse of the identifier systems themselves, and specifically excluding from the remit any harms that arise from the content to which the identifiers point.

In their view, if the harm arises not from the identifier, but from the thing identified, it is outside of ICANN’s remit.

This convenient formulation relieves ICANN and its constituencies of responsibility for the way in which identifiers are used to inflict harm on internet users. However convenient it may be, it is fundamentally wrong.

ICANN’s obligation to operate “for the benefit of the Internet community as a whole” (see Bylaws, “Commitments”) demands that its remit extend broadly to how a domain name (or other Internet identifier) is misused to point to or lure a user or application to content that is harmful, or to host content that is harmful.

Harmful content itself is not ICANN’s concern; the way in which internet identifiers are used to weaponize harmful content most certainly is.

Rather than confront these obligations, however, ICANN is conducting a distracting debate about the kinds of events that should be described as “DNS abuse”. This is tedious and pointless; the persistent overloading of the term “abuse” has rendered it meaningless, ensuring that any attempt to reach consensus on a definition will fail.

ICANN should stop using the term “DNS abuse” and instead use the term “security threat”.

The ICANN Domain Abuse Activity Reporting project and the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) use this term, which is also a term of reference for new TLD program obligations (Spec 11) and related reporting activities. It is also widely used in the operational and cybersecurity communities.

Most importantly, the GAC and the DAAR project currently identify and seek to measure an initial set of security threats that are a subset of a larger set of threats that are recognized as criminal acts in jurisdictions in which a majority of domain names are registered.

ICANN should acknowledge the GAC’s reassertion in its Hyderabad Communique that the set of security threats identified in its Beijing correspondence to the ICANN Board were not an exhaustive list but merely examples. The GAC smartly recognized that the threat landscape is constantly evolving.

ICANN should not attempt to artificially narrow the scope of the term “security threat” by crafting its own definition.

It should instead make use of an existing internationally recognized criminal justice treaty. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Cybercrime is a criminal justice treaty that ICANN could use as a reference for identifying security threats that the Treaty recognizes as criminal acts.

The Convention is recognized by countries in which a sufficiently large percentage domain names are registered that it can serve the community and Internet users more effectively and fairly than any definition that ICANN might concoct.

ICANN should also acknowledge that the set of threats that fall within its remit must include all security events (“realized security threats”) in which a domain name is used during the execution of an attack for purposes of deception, for infringement on copyrights, for attacks that threaten democracies, or for operation of criminal infrastructures that are operated for the purpose of launching attacks or facilitating criminal (often felony) acts.

What is that remit?

ICANN policy and contracts must ensure that contracted parties (registrars and registries) collaborate with public and private sector authorities to disrupt or mitigate:

  • illegal interception or computer-related forgery,
  • attacks against computer systems or devices,
  • illegal access, data interference, or system interference,
  • infringement of intellectual property and related rights,
  • violation of laws to ensure fair and free elections or undermine democracies, and
  • child abuse and human trafficking.

We note that the Convention on Cybercrime identifies or provides Guidance Notes for these most prevalently executed attacks or criminal acts:

  • Spam,
  • Fraud. The forms of fraud that use domain names in criminal messaging include, business email compromise, advance fee fraud, phishing or other identity thefts.
  • Botnet operation,
  • DDoS Attacks: in particular, redirection and amplification attacks that exploit the DNS
  • Identity theft and phishing in relation to fraud,
  • Attacks against critical infrastructures,
  • Malware,
  • Terrorism, and,
  • Election interference.

In all these cases, the misuse of internet identifiers to pursue the attack or criminal activity is squarely within ICANN’s remit.

Registries or registrars should be contractually obliged to take actions that are necessary to mitigate these misuses, including suspension of name resolution, termination of domain name registrations, “unfiltered and unmasked” reporting of security threat activity for both registries and registrars, and publication or disclosure of information that is relevant to mitigating misuses or disrupting cyberattacks.

No one is asking ICANN to be the Internet Police.

The “ask” is to create policy and contractual obligations to ensure that registries and registrars collaborate in a timely and uniform manner. Simply put, the “ask” is to oblige all of the parties to play on the same team and to adhere to the same rules.

This is unachievable in the current self-regulating environment, in which a relatively small number of outlier registries and registrars are the persistent loci of extraordinary percentages of domain names associated with cyberattacks or cybercrimes and the current contracts offer no provisions to suspend or terminate their operations.

This is a guest editorial written by Dave Piscitello and Lyman Chapin, of security consultancy Interisle Consulting Group. Interisle has been an occasional ICANN security contractor, and Piscitello until last year was employed as vice president of security and ICT coordination on ICANN staff. The views expressed in this piece do not necessary reflect DI’s own.

.org price cap complaints more like “spam” says Ombudsman

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman has sided with with ICANN in the fight over the lifting of price caps on .org domains, saying many of the thousands of comments objecting to the move were “more akin to spam”.

Herb Waye was weighing in on two Requests for Reconsideration, filed by NameCheap and the Electronic Frontier Foundation in July and August after ICANN and Public Interest Registry signed their controversial new registry agreement.

NameCheap wants ICANN to reverse its decision to allow PIR to raise .org prices by however much it chooses, while the EFF complained primarily about the fact that the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting measure now appears in the contract.

In both cases, the requestors fumed that ICANN seemed to “ignore” the more than 3,200 comments that were filed in objection back in April, with NameCheap calling the public comment process a “sham”.

But Waye pointed to the fact that many of these comments were filed by people using a semi-automated web form hosted by the pro-domainer Internet Commerce Association.

As far as comments go for ICANN, 3200+ appears to be quite a sizeable number. But, seeing as how the public comments can be filled out and submitted electronically, it is not unexpected that many of the comments are, in actuality, more akin to spam.

With this eyebrow-raising comparison fresh in my mind, I had to giggle when, a few pages later, Waye writes (emphasis in original):

I am charged with being the eyes and ears of the Community. I must look at the matter through the lens of what the Requestor is asking and calling out. The Ombuds is charged with being the watchful eyes of the ICANN Community. The Ombuds is also charged with being the alert “ears” of the Community — with listening — with making individuals, whether Requestors or complainants or those just dropping by for an informal chat, feel heard.

Waye goes on to state that the ICANN board of directors was kept well-briefed on the status of the contract negotiations and that it had been provided with ICANN staff’s summary of the public comments.

He says that allowing ICANN’s CEO to execute the contract without a formal board vote did not go against ICANN rules (which Waye says he has “an admittedly layman’s understanding” of) because contractual matters are always delegated to senior staff.

In short, he sees no reason for ICANN to accept either Request for Reconsideration.

The Ombudsman is not the decision-maker here — the two RfRs will be thrown out considered by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee at its next meeting, before going to the full board.

But I think we’ve got a pretty good indication here of which way the wind is blowing.

You can access the RfR materials and Waye’s responses here.

Botterman is new ICANN chair

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has announced that Maarten Botterman has been selected as its new chair.

He, along with newly selected vice chair León Felipe Sánchez Ambia, will take their seats after a formal board vote to come at the end of ICANN’s annual general meeting in Montreal next month.

Botterman replaces Cherine Chalaby, who has been in the role for two years. Chalaby is term-limited, having joined the board nine years ago, and will leave ICANN after Montreal.

Chris Disspain and Ron da Silva also stood for the chair, Chalaby said in a blog post last night. Becky Burr stood unsuccessfully for vice chair.

Disspain, currently vice chair, has stepped aside immediately to be replaced for the next month by Botterman. Disspain’s nine years come to an end next year.

Botterman is Dutch, based in Rotterdam, where he works as an “independent strategic advisor” at his own company, GNKS Consult.

He’s also on the board of the non-profit NLnet Foundation, which funds internet research, and is a former chair of Public Interest Registry, which runs .org.

He’s got a background in the Dutch government and the European Commission.

He was put on the board by the Nominating Committee three years ago and renewed for another three years last month. Theoretically, he could stay as ICANN’s chair for the next six years.

Kafka turns in grave as ICANN crowbars “useless” Greek TLD into the root

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally approved a version of .eu in Greek script, but it’s already been criticized as “useless”.

Yesterday, ICANN’s board of directors rubber-stamped .ευ, the second internationalized domain name version of the European Union’s .eu, which will be represented in the DNS as .xn--qxa6a.

There’s a lot of history behind .ευ, much of it maddeningly illustrative of ICANN’s Kafkaesque obsession with procedure.

The first amusing thing to point out is that .ευ is technically being approved under ICANN’s IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process, a mere NINE YEARS after EURid first submitted its application.

The “Fast Track” has been used so far to approve 61 IDN ccTLDs. Often, the requested string is merely the name of the country in question, written in one of the local scripts, and the TLD is approved fairly quickly.

But in some cases, especially where the desired string is a two-character code, a string review will find the possibility of confusion with another TLD. This runs the risk of broadening the scope of domain homograph attacks sometimes used in phishing.

That’s what happened to .ευ, along with Bulgaria’s Cyrillic .бг and Greece’s own .ελ, which were rejected on string confusion grounds back in 2010 and 2011.

Under pressure from the Governmental Advisory Committee, ICANN then implemented an Extended Process Similarity Review Panel, essentially an appeals process designed to give unsuccessful Fast Track applicants a second bite at the apple.

That process led to Bulgaria being told that .бг was not too similar to Brazil’s .br, and Greece being told that .ελ did not look too much like .EA, a non-existent ccTLD that may or may not be delegated in future, after all.

But the EU’s .ευ failed at the same time, in 2014. The appeals review panel found that the string was confusable with upper-case .EY and .EV.

Again, these are not ccTLDs, just strings of two characters that have the potential to become ccTLDs in future should a new country or territory emerge and be assigned those codes by the International Standards Organization, a low-probability event.

I reported at the time that .ευ was probably as good as dead. It seemed pretty clear based on the rules at the time that if a string was confusable in uppercase OR lowercase, it would be rejected.

But I was quickly informed by ICANN that I was incorrect, and that ICANN top brass needed to discuss the results.

That seems to have led to ICANN tweaking the rules yet again in order to crowbar .ευ into the root.

In 2015, the board of directors reached out to the GAC, the ccNSO and the Security and Stability Advisory Committee for advice.

They dutifully returned two years later with proposed changes (pdf) that seemed tailor-made for the European Union’s predicament.

A requested IDN ccTLD that caused confusion with other strings in only uppercase, but not lowercase (just like .ευ!!!) could still get delegated, provided it had a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy in place, they recommended.

The recommendation was quickly approved by ICANN, which then sent its implementation guidelines (again, tailor-made for EURid (pdf)) back to the ccNSO/SSAC.

It was not until February this year that the ccNSO/SSAC group got back to ICANN (pdf) to approve of its implementation plan and to say that it has already tested it against EURid’s proposed risk-mitigation plan (pdf).

Basically, the process in 2009 didn’t produce the desired result, so ICANN changed the process. It didn’t produced the desired result again in 2014, so the process was changed again.

But at least Greek-speaking EU citizens are finally going to get a meaningful ccTLD that allows them to express their EUishness in their native script, right?

WRONG!

I recently read with interest and surprise a blog post by domainer-blogger Konstantinos Zournas, in which he referred to .ευ as the “worst domain extension ever”.

Zournas, who is Greek, opened my eyes to the fact that “.ευ” is meaningless in his native tongue. It’s just two Greek letters that visually resemble “EU” in Latin script. It’s confusing by design, but with .eu, a ccTLD that EURid already manages.

While not for a moment doubting Zournas’ familiarity with his own language, I had to confirm this on the EU’s Greek-language web site.

He’s right, the Greek for “European Union” is “Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης”, so the sensible two-letter IDN ccTLD would be .ΕΈ (those are Greek characters that look a bit like Latin E).

That would have almost certainly failed the ICANN string similarity process, however, as .ee/EE is the current, extant ccTLD for Estonia.

In short (too late), it seems to have taken ICANN the best part of a decade, and Jesus H Christ knows how many person-hours, to hack its own procedures multiple times in order to force through an application for a TLD that doesn’t mean anything, can’t be confused with anything that currently exists on the internet, and probably won’t be widely used anyway.

Gratz to all involved!

Sorry, you still can’t sue ICANN, two-faced .africa bidder told

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Policy

Failed .africa gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica appears to have lost its lawsuit against ICANN.

A California judge has said he will throw out the portions of DCA’s suit that had not already been thrown out two years ago, on the grounds that DCA was talking out of both sides of its mouth.

DCA applied for .africa in 2012 but lost out to rival applicant ZA Central Registry because ZACR had the backing of African governments and DCA did not.

It filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN in 2013 and won in 2015, with the IRP panel finding that ICANN broke its own bylaws by paying undue deference to Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

It also emerged that ICANN had ghost-written letter of government support on behalf of the African Union, which looked very dodgy.

DCA then sued ICANN in 2016 on 11 counts ranging from fraud to breach of contract to negligence.

The Los Angeles Superior Court decided in 2017 that five of those charges were covered by the “covenant not to sue”, a broad waiver that all new gTLD applicants had to sign up to.

But the remaining six, relating to ICANN’s alleged fraud, were allowed to go ahead.

ICANN relied in its defense on a principle called “judicial estoppel”, where a judge is allowed to throw out a plaintiff’s arguments if it can be shown that it had previously relied on diametrically opposed arguments to win an earlier case.

The judge has now found that estoppel applies here, because DCA fought and won the IRP in part by repeatedly claiming that it was not allowed to sue in a proper court.

It had made this argument on at least seven occasions during the IRP, Judge Robert Broadbelt found. He wrote in his August 22 ruling (pdf):

DCA’s successfully taking the first position in the IRP proceeding and gaining significant advantages in that proceeding as a result thereof, and then taking the second position that its totally inconsistent in this lawsuit, presents egregious circumstances that would result in a miscarriage of justice if the court does not apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to bar DCA from taking the second position in this lawsuit. The court therefore exercises its discretion to find in favor of ICANN, and against DCA, on ICANN’s affirmative defense of judicial estoppel and to bar DCA from bringing or maintaining its claims against ICANN alleged in the [First Amended Complaint] in this lawsuit.

In other words, ICANN’s won.

The case is not yet over, however. DCA still has an opportunity to object to the ruling, and there’s a hearing scheduled for December.

The Amazon is burning. Is this good news for .amazon?

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2019, Domain Policy

With the tide of international opinion turning against Brazil due to the ongoing forest fires in the Amazon, could we see governments change their tune when it comes to Amazon’s application for .amazon?

A much higher number of forest fires than usual are currently burning in the region, largely in Brazil, which critics led by environmentalists and French president Emmanuel Macron have blamed on relaxed “slash and burn” farming policies introduced by new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

The rain forest is an important carbon sink, said to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen. The more of it is lost, the harder it is to tackle climate change, the argument goes.

It’s been an important topic at the Macro-hosted G7 summit, which ends today. Even the bloody Pope has weighed in.

Arguably, the stakes are nothing less than the survival of human civilization and life on Earth itself.

And this is a story about domain names. Sorry. This is a blog about domain names. My hands are tied.

Amazon the company has been fighting governments over its application for .amazon, along with the Chinese and Japanese translations, for over six years.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was responsible for killing off .amazon in 2013 after it decided by consensus that Amazon’s application should not proceed.

That decision was only reached after the US, under the Obama administration, decided to abstain from discussions.

The US had been protecting Amazon by blocking GAC consensus, but changed its tune partly in order to throw a bone to world leaders, including then-president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, who were outraged by CIA analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread US digital espionage.

After ICANN dutifully followed the GAC advice and rejected Amazon’s gTLD applications, Amazon appealed via the Independent Review Process and, in 2017, won.

The IRP panel ruled that the GAC’s objection had no clear grounding in public policy that could be gleaned from the record. It told ICANN to re-open the applications and evaluate them objectively.

Ever since then, the GAC’s advice to ICANN has been that it must “facilitate a mutually acceptable solution” between Amazon and the eight nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ICANN has been doing just that, or at least attempting to, for the last couple of years.

But the two parties failed to come to an agreement. ACTO wants to have essential veto power over Amazon’s use of .amazon, whereas Amazon is only prepared to offer lists of protected names, a minority position in any policy-setting body, and some sweeteners.

In May this year, ICANN’s board of directors voted to move .amazon along towards delegation, noting that there was “no public policy reason” why it should not.

In June, the government of Colombia filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, demanding it reevaluate that decision.

The RfR was considered by ICANN’s Board Accountability Measures Committee at its meeting August 14, but its recommendation has not yet been published. I’m expecting it to be posted this week.

There’s still opportunity for the GAC to cause mischief, or act as a further delay on .amazon, but will it, in light of some country’s outrage over Brazil’s policy over the rain forest?

One could argue that if the nation that has the largest chunk of Amazon within its borders seems to have little regard to its international importance, why should its claim to ownership of the string “amazon” get priority over a big brand that has offered to protect culturally significant words and phrases?

Remember, as the example of the US in 2012/13 shows us, it only takes one government to block a GAC consensus. If Brazil or Peru continue to pursue their anti-Amazon path, could France throw a spanner in the works, smoothing .amazon’s road to delegation?

Anything’s possible, I suppose, but my feeling is that most governments back ACTO’s position largely because they’re worried that they could find themselves in a similar position of having to fight off an application for a “geographic” string in the next gTLD application round.