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Applicant says .islam ban would damage ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2013, Domain Policy

If ICANN decides to reject Asia Green IT’s applications for .islam and .halal it would “be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility”, according to AGIT.

The two potential new gTLDs are currently in limbo, awaiting a decision by the ICANN’s board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee, following stalemate within the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has objected to the applications, saying it represents 1.6 billion Muslims and that it’s “concerned” about the potential “misuse” of the names.

Mehdi Abbasnia, managing director of the Turkey-based company, recently wrote to ICANN too (pdf) to ask that ICANN speedily approve its applications, given that two formal OIC-backed Community Objections have already failed.

Abbasnia also wrote to DI on Friday (pdf) to reiterate many of the same points.

The two gTLDs are among only a handful originating it the Muslim world, he said, and the idea is to spur adoption of domain names among all Muslims.

Muslim communities the world over have a lot to gain from seeing their members empowered through namespaces that are better suited to their specific needs, easier for them to relate to and use and respectful of their culture and laws.

As Muslims ourselves, this is what we felt we could bring to our community when we first heard of the new gTLD program: our expertise as a technical enabler of TLDs by Muslims, for Muslims. We are looking to fuel the engine, not drive the car.

He added that AGIT prevailed in the objections filed against it, and the GAC failed to reach a consensus to object.

Some in ICANN circles have used the phrase “taking a second bite at the apple” to characterize attempts to overturn decisions and derail processes. In the case of our applications for .Halal and .Islam, the apple’s been eaten to the core!

The ball is now in the ICANN Board’s court. If it bows to the OIC’s pressure and blocks our TLD applications, not only will Muslims the world over be prevented from claiming their very own space on the Internet, but I believe it will also be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility, and to the credibility of ICANN as a multi-stakeholder governance organization.

While I have no opinion on whether the two applications should be approved or not, I disagree with the apple metaphor.

AGIT is in receipt of formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” explaining a non-consensus objection. That’s clearly envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, and there a process for dealing with it: ICANN’s board talks to the GAC to understand the extent of its members’ concerns and then explains itself after it makes a decision one way or the other.

There doesn’t seem to be an abuse of process by the OIC or GAC here, just a very tricky question for the ICANN board to answer.

Applicants spank IO in .health objections

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2013, Domain Policy

Donuts and Dot Health LLC have beaten back objections filed by ICANN’s Independent Objector over the .health gTLD.

In simultaneous separate rulings by the same three-person International Chamber of Commerce panel, it was decided that the string “health” is not intrinsically offensive.

The IO, in his Limited Public Interest Objections, had argued that health is a human right protected by international law, and that .health should be managed with certain safeguards to protect the public.

But the ICC panels sided with the applicants, finding that in order for an objector to prevail in a LPI objection he must show that the string itself contravenes international law.

The panels used a strict reading of the Applicant Guidebook and supporting documentation to come to their conclusions. In the Donuts case, the panel ruled:

The Panel has no hesitation in finding that the string “health” is not objectionable in and of itself. It is obvious to the Panel that the word “health” does not conflict with any generally accepted legal norms relating to morality and public order of the same nature as the first three grounds ICANN listed in AGB Section 3.5.3.

The LPI objection was created in order to prevent gTLDs from being delegated where the string itself endorses ideas such as racism, slavery or child abuse.

ICANN has said that applications for such strings “may well be rare or non-existent”.

The panels sharply dismissed claims that IO, Alain Pellet, and a staff member were conflicted due to their previous work for the World Health Organization.

The Donuts ruling is here and the Dot Health ruling is here.

The plurals debate is over as ICANN delegates 17 more new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Policy

Another 17 new gTLDs were delegated to the DNS root last night, most of them belonging to Donuts.

Notably, Donuts now runs .photos and .careers, the first two delegated gTLDs where live applications also exist for the singular form of the string.

Uniregistry is currently contracted and awaiting the delegation of .photo, while dotCareer is already contracted for .career.

The debate about whether ICANN should permit singular and plural versions of the same string to coexist is now surely over.

Just a week ago, the Internet Association — a trade group comprising Amazon, Google, AOL, Yahoo, Salesforce, Zynga and many others — called on ICANN to rethink its policy of coexistence.

Calling the policy a “violation of user trust”, the Association said (pdf), “the existence of these domain names poses significant risks to the DNS, Internet companies, and their users”.

The Association noted that the Governmental Advisory Committee had strong concerns about singular and plural coexistence, due to the risk of consumer confusion.

String Confusion Objection panels have reached quite different conclusions about whether adding an “s” makes a string confusingly similar to another.

Personally, while I’m all for competition, I believe coexistence will lead to parasitical business models that will bring the domain name industry into further disrepute.

I know for a fact that some registries are considering the merits of tailgating their confusingly similar competitors.

But it seems ICANN’s decision was final.

There’s currently no mechanism for ICANN to un-approve a gTLD once it’s been delegated — failing serious wrongdoing by the registry — so it’s difficult to see how it could now decide that plural and singular forms of the same string should be mutually exclusive.

While I’m sure the Internet Association and others will carry on complaining, I think they’re now talking to deaf ears.

There were 17 new gTLDs delegated yesterday in total, 15 of which were in Donuts portfolio.

Donuts has also added the following to its portfolio: .cab, .camp, .academy, .center, .company, .computer, .domains, .limo, .management, .recipes, .shoes, .systems and .viajes (Spanish for “travel”).

CONAC, the China Organizational Name Administration Center had .政务 (“government”) and .公益 (“public interest”) delegated.

ICANN publishes accelerated gTLD auction timeline

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has cut the anticipated length of its “last resort” new gTLD auctions in half, last night publishing a schedule that would take 10 months and end in early 2015.

The draft schedule and auction rules, put together by selected auctioneer Power Auctions, would see 10 monthly batches of auctions, with 20 contention sets resolved per month.

The revised rules, which are open for public comment, read:

It is anticipated that Auctions will be conducted once per month to resolve 20 Contention Sets per Auction, with the intention to complete all Auctions within one (1) year from the date of the first Auction.

It’s still anticipated that auctions will begin in March 2014.

That’s a lot better for applicants than the original plan, which was to limit each applicant to only five auctions per month. Due to Donuts’ large portfolio, that would have stretched the process out to April 2016.

An accompanying schedule (pdf) published last night actually batches up 201 of the remaining contested gTLDs into 10 buckets, so most applicants now know where they stand.

It’s good news for applicants that have high priority numbers but are in contention sets with applicants with low priority numbers — they’ll get bumped to the front of the queue.

For example, dot Buy Limited drew 1,883 in the prioritization lottery, but will be in the first monthly auction because it’s up against Amazon, with priority number 128, for .buy.

There’s still no news about how ICANN will handle indirect contention, however.

While the schedule has placed the likes of .unicom and .unicorn — which were found similar by evaluation panels — in the same auction, it does not yet reflect the results of objections that should (in theory) place different strings in the same contention set.

Should new gTLD objections have an appeals process?

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2013, Domain Policy

That’s the question the ICANN Ombudsman is asking today.

Several new gTLD applicants that have lost objections — many in decisions that appear to diverge from ICANN’s rules or are inconsistent with other decisions — have been in touch to ask for redress, Ombudsman Chris LaHatte blogged this morning. He wrote:

The real problem as it seems to me, is that apart from the internal review procedures, there is no ability to seek an appeal from the panel decisions. A number of complainants had mentioned the need for an appeal process, emphasising that some of the decisions were in their view, inconsistent or not following the majority views.

LaHatte noted that his role is to decide issues of fairness in ICANN’s own decisions. As objections are all handled by third-party arbitration bodies, it’s not at all clear whether he has any authority at all over objection decisions.

Applicants have also been invoking the Reconsideration process en masse in an attempt to have successful objections overturned, but all Reconsideration requests to date have been rejected.

Reconsideration generally requires that the requester provide ICANN with new evidence that was not considered at the time of the original decision.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration, appears to be happy to leave objections in the hands of the arbitrators so far.

But the new gTLD objection process is a bit of a joke at the moment.

String Confusion Objection panelists have delivered inconsistent decisions, while Community Objection and Limited Public Interest Objection panels often seem to be making up rules as they go.

So should ICANN have an appeals process? If one is created it will undoubtedly be broadly used.