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Read that controversial .africa letter

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, 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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DCA’s .africa bid officially unrejected by ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has un-rejected DotConnectAfrica’s application for the new gTLD .africa.

The board held an emergency meeting this morning to consider last Friday’s Independent Review Process decision, which said ICANN’s handling of DCA’s bid was not consistent with its bylaws.

Speaking at the Internet Governance Forum USA in Washington DC in the last half hour, ICANN chair Steve Crocker revealed the following:

We passed a resolution acknowledging the panel’s report — decision — accepting it and taking action. The primary action is to put the the DotConnectAfrica Trust application back in to the evaluation process. And there are other aspects of the panel’s decision that we will have to deal with later. This does not represent a final decision about anything. It just moves that process forward. There will be posting of the resolution and press release probably as we are sitting here.

If you want to catch it yourself, rewind the live stream here to roughly 59 minutes.

This story will be updated just as soon as the press release and resolution are published.

UPDATE:

The resolution has been published.

In it, the board agrees to continue to delay the delegation of .africa to ZA Central Registry, which is the contracted party for the gTLD, to pay the IRP costs as ordered by the panel, and to return DCA’s application to the evaluation process.

It also addresses the fact that the Governmental Advisory Committee has given formal advice that the DCA bid should not be approved.

The ICANN board says that because it has not decided to approve or delegate .africa to DCA, it’s technically not going against GAC advice at this time.

It will also ask GAC to respond to the IRP panel’s criticism of it for providing advice against DCA without transparent justification. The resolution says:

the Board will ask the GAC if it wishes to refine that advice and/or provide the Board with further information regarding that advice and/or otherwise address the concerns raised in the Declaration.

It was essentially the GAC’s lack of explanation, and ICANN’s lack of curiosity about that lack of explanation, that cost ICANN the case and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.

How the GAC responds will be interesting. There’s now a solid case to be made that it’s going to have to start putting its rationales in its advice, rather like the ICANN board does with its resolutions.

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ICANN execs helped African Union win .africa — report

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, Domain Policy

Top ICANN executives helped the African Union Commission win the .africa gTLD on behalf of its selected registry, according to a report.

Kieren McCarthy at The Register scooped last night that Dai-Trang Nguyen, head of gTLD operations at ICANN, drafted the letter that the AU used to demonstrate governmental support for ZA Central Registry’s bid.

The basis of the report is the unredacted version of the Independent Review Process panel’s ruling in the DotConnectAfrica case.

McCarthy reports that the uncensored document shows ICANN admitting that Nguyen wrote the AU’s letter, but that “did not violate any policy” and that there was “absolutely nothing wrong with ICANN staff assisting the AUC.”

Apparently, the original AU-drafted letter did not meet the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, generating a “Clarifying Question”, so the AU reached out to ICANN for help creating a letter that would tick the correct boxes.

The unredacted ruling also contains an allegation that ICANN told InterConnect — one of the three corporate members of the GNP — that the AU’s letter should be taken as representing all of its member states, El Reg reports.

DotConnectAfrica is expected to be shortly returned to the new gTLD application process, and then kicked out again due to its failure to meet the GNP’s criteria of support from 60% of African governments.

I’m in two minds about how damaging these new revelations are.

On the one hand, ICANN staff intervening directly in an Initial Evaluation for a contested gTLD looks incredibly bad for the organization’s neutrality.

One would not expect ICANN to draft, for example, a letter of support for a Community Priority Evaluation applicant.

I don’t think it changes the ultimate outcome for DCA, but it may have inappropriately smoothed the path to approval for ZACR.

On the other hand, the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook actually contains a two-page “Sample Letter of Government Support” that governments were encouraged to print off on letterheaded paper, sign, and submit.

Giving governments assistance with their support letters was in fact baked into the program from the start.

So did the AUC get special treatment in this case, or did Nguyen just send over the AGB sample letter (or a version of it)? That may or may not become clear if and when McCarthy publishes the unredacted ruling, which he has indicated he hopes to do.

A related question might be: how did the AUC screw up its original letter so badly, given the existence of a compliant sample letter?

The optics are many times worse for ICANN because all this stuff was originally redacted, making it look like ICANN was trying to cover up its involvement.

But the redactions were not a unilateral ICANN decision.

ICANN, DCA and the IRP panel agreed after negotiation that some documents revealed during disclosure should be treated confidentially, according to this September 2014 order (pdf). References to these documents were redacted in all of the IRP’s documents, not just the ruling.

What the revelations certainly seem to show is another example of ICANN toadying up to governments, which really has to stop.

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Time for .bloomberg after Twitter hoax?

Could the fake Bloomberg story about Twitter being acquired act as an impetus for the company to activate its mostly dormant dot-brand gTLD?

Twitter shares yesterday reportedly spiked as much as 8% on the “news” that it was the target of a $31 buyout bid.

The story was published on bloomberg.market, a cybersquatted domain hosting a mirror of the real Bloomberg web site.

While it was reportedly quite sloppily written, it nevertheless managed to convince at least one US cable news network to run with it, one reporter even tweeting the bogus link to his followers.

The story was quickly outed as a fake and within a few hours Rightside, the .market registry as well as owner of its registrar, eNom, suspended the domain for breaching its terms of service.

Rightside wrote in a blog post:

it pains us so greatly that, in the early stages when so many people are forming their first impressions of the new TLD program, these numerous positive examples are sometimes overshadowed by the malicious practices and behaviors of a very small group of people.

Bloomberg’s not at fault here, of course. No company should be expected to defensively register its trademark in every one of the 1,000+ TLDs out there right now.

But could the hoax persuade it to do something of substance with its .bloomberg gTLD, perhaps taking a leaf out of the BNP Paribas playbook?

Bloomberg has been populating its dot-brand with hundreds of domains since May — both the names of its products and keywords related to industries it’s known for covering — but currently they all seem to redirect to existing web sites in .com or .net.

It’s long been suggested by proponents of new gTLDs that dot-brands can act as a signal of legitimacy on the web, and that’s the attitude banks such as Barclays and BNP Paribas seem to be taking right now.

Could .bloomberg be next?

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Dot London auctioning 50 registry-owned premium names

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2015, Domain Sales

Dot London is to auction off 50 premium .london domains over the next two weeks.

The names are all currently registry-owned, and include the likes of dentist.london, flats.london and coffee.london. The full list can be viewed here.

The auctions are scheduled to end on July 30 and all have £100 ($155) starting bids.

According to the registry, it has sold over 3,000 names from its premium list since its launch last year. Some live examples include golf.london and catering.london.

The .london gTLD has a tad over 63,000 names in its zone file today.

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