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New gTLD applicants: here’s how to lobby the GAC

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has let it be known that it’s open to receiving communications from new gTLD applicants.

But the GAC will only hear briefings from applicants at the request of GAC members, according to a notice posted on the GAC’s web site recently.

The GAC has strong powers to recommend the rejection of new gTLD applications, so naturally enough some applicants have already been lobbying to reinforce their positions.

Applicants are now being asked to send information to a specific email address or — implicitly — to lobby GAC representatives individually.

The new statement reads:

It is important to bear in mind that GAC members are still in the process of analysing the list of applications and applicants for new gTLDs. However, there have been a number of requests from applicants or other interested stakeholders to brief or provide briefing material to the GAC.

Briefings for the GAC will only be scheduled on a best-efforts basis and entirely at the request of GAC members.

An internal process for handling requests and tracking materials is being put in place, but those wanting to make their interest or availability known or to express an interest in providing written materials to the GAC can contact the GAC via gacsec@gac.icann.org. A list of those expressing interest or availability or that have provided materials will be made available to the GAC membership.

The GAC caused controversy last month when it accepted the European Broadcasting Union’s application for Observer status on the committee.

The EBU is also an applicant for .radio, which is contested by Donuts, Afilias and BRS Media.

BRS Media claims this is a conflict of interest and recently started lobbying for the EBU to withdraw its application. This week, it set up a web site to promote its cause.

.radio applicant slams GAC “conflict of interest”

Kevin Murphy, July 11, 2012, Domain Policy

BRS Media, one of the four applicants for the .radio generic top-level domain, claims ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has a “direct conflict of interest” over the gTLD.

As DI reported two weeks ago, the European Broadcasting Union, another .radio applicant (the others are Afilias and Donuts), joined the GAC during ICANN’s public meeting in Prague.

While the EBU only has Observer status, and may not vote, it’s still able to participate in discussions. Whether these include discussions about GAC objections to new gTLDs is unclear.

BRS Media, which already runs the radio-themed .fm and .am ccTLDs, is not taking any chances, however. In a letter to GAC chair Heather Dryden, company CEO George Bundy wrote (pdf):

We believe these activities to be a direct Conflict of Interest, by the European Broadcasting Union within the New TLD Application process.

Optimistically, to say the least, BRS requests that the EBU “recuse itself from the New TLD process by withdrawing its applications immediately”.

While I can’t see that happening, it seems to me that the GAC does have to formally address the conflicts issue if it wants to avoid looking like a bunch of hypocrites.

The GAC does not appear to have a formal conflicts of interest policy, even though it pushed hard for similar provisions in the ICANN board.

Now that it has its hard-fought veto rights over new gTLD applications, some sort of safeguards seem appropriate.

WIPO supported Draconian cybersquatting reform

Kevin Murphy, July 9, 2012, Domain Policy

Domain name owners who do not respond to cybersquatting complaints could automatically have their domains suspended, if the World Intellectual Property Organization gets its way.

That’s according to the latest ICANN documents to be released under its Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, following a request from the Internet Commerce Association.

The documents relate to the still controversial Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, a supplement to the existing UDRP for dealing with “clear cut” cases of cybersquatting.

The URS will be binding on all new gTLDs, but ICANN recently admitted that it’s been unable to find an organization willing to administer URS cases for the planned $300 to $500 filing fee.

Rather than implement URS with a $1,000 to $1,500 fee instead, ICANN plans to host two community summits to try to figure out ways to rearchitect the scheme to make it cheaper.

These changes could well mean fewer safeguards for domain registrants.

According to an email from WIPO released in response to ICA’s DIDP request, WIPO declined to host these summits unless ICANN agreed, in advance, to Draconian rules on default.

WIPO’s Erik Wilbers wrote (pdf):

it would seem unlikely that these stakeholders would now feel able to commit to the rather fundamental changes we believe to be in everyone’s interest – notably a shift to the proposed respondent-default basis without panel, subject to appropriate safeguards. We would consider an express prior commitment to such a shift, including the requisite Board support, as a pre-condition to a fruitful meeting on the URS.

In other words, WIPO thinks domain names should be suspended without expert review if the domain owner does not respond to a trademark owner’s URS complaint.

ICA counsel Phil Corwin is naturally not happy about this, writing in a blog post this weekend:

WIPO would only consent to hosting URS Summits if their result was largely pre-ordained – in which event, we ask, why bother holding the Summits at all? … This imperious demand should be dismissed out of hand by members of ICANN’s Board should it ever reach them.

That the structure of URS is still open for debate at this late stage of the game is an embarrassment, particularly given the fact that it’s been well-understood for some time that URS was unrealistically priced.

The new DIDP documents reveal that even the idea of summits to resolve the apparently intractable problems were a Band-Aid proposed almost accidentally by ICANN staff.

ICANN, it seems, is engaged in policy fire-fighting as usual.

The current hope is for URS to be finalized and a provider be in place by June 2013. It’s a plausible timetable, but I’m less convinced that a system can be created that is fair, useful and cheap.

Three Google gTLD applications doomed to fail

Kevin Murphy, July 3, 2012, Domain Policy

Google has applied for three new generic top-level domains that will almost certainly be rejected because they are on ICANN’s list of banned geographic strings.

I reported the story for The Register yesterday.

The applications for .and, .are and .est are affected by the rule that prohibits the delegation of three-letter country codes appearing on the ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 list.

A fourth application by a different company, for .idn, is also impacted by the same rule.

Based on DI’s analysis, there are at least another 16 new gTLD applications that are not currently self-designated geographic but which are also protected (but not banned) as geographic terms.

English dictionary words, brands and acronyms are affected.

DI PRO subscribers can read the full analysis here.

Breaking: ICANN awarded IANA contract

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has been awarded the contract to run IANA for another three to seven years.

It’s almost eight months since the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration put the contract up for rebid and four months after ICANN’s initial proposal was deemed unsatisfactory.

“This is the longest IANA functions contract we’ve ever had, running for a period of three years with two 2-year renewal options,” said Akram Atallah, ICANN’s new interim CEO, in a statement.

The new contract starts October 1.

A cynic might note that the renewal, which was of course expected, comes just a day after the departure of former CEO Rod Beckstrom. That cynic might also suggest that the timing was deliberate.

Former CEO Rod Beckstrom tweeted tonight that his last act as CEO was to sign the new contract yesterday.

The IANA contract gives ICANN its powers over the domain name root system and IP address allocation.

More on the story when we have it…