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Demand Media hit with first new gTLD objection

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2013, Domain Policy

With the deadline for filing objections against new gTLD applications fast approaching, the first such objection has been revealed.

Starting Dot, which has applied for .immo and other strings, has filed a String Confusion Objection against Demand Media’s .immobilien bid, according to the International Center for Dispute Resolution.

“Immobilien” is German for “homes” in the real estate context, while “immo” is a shorthand for the same term in a number of European languages.

The objection itself does not appear to have been published, but one can only assume that it’s based on the similarity of meaning between the two strings, rather than visual or audible confusion.

While it’s the first objection to be published, based on conversations with many interested parties I’m expecting a LOT more.

The deadline for filing objections using any of the four available mechanisms, is Wednesday.

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Chehade commits to grow the number of domain registrars in Africa

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has told African policymakers that he wants to make it easier for companies on the continent to become accredited registrars, saying he wants to grow the number five-fold in a year.

During a “Multistakeholder Internet Governance” meeting in Addis Ababa earlier this week, Chehade said he wants to see 20 more African registrars, in addition to the paltry five accredited today.

It can be hard for African firms to become accredited under ICANN’s rules due to assurances needed from banks and insurance companies, he said.

We committed to do our best. Dr Tarik Kamel and I made commitments yesterday. We will be talking to the African Development Bank, we will work with [the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa], we have relationships in the insurance industry. We will put our personal relationships — and I hope all of us cooperate on that — to change this.

We made a public commitment, that I may regret, that we will try as fast as we can by Durban to at least have some initial answers to facilitate this for the African community, because hopefully with your help and your assistance within a year we won’t be saying we have five accredited registrars, we’ll be saying we have 25.

The ICANN meeting in Durban, South Africa is slated for mid-July.

Chehade also told the audience that it didn’t make any sense that African domain registration money was flowing out of the continent due to the outdated registration practices of ccTLD operators there.

The speech largely focused on macro-policy issues of internet governance affecting the continent.

Naturalized American Chehade wore his Egyptian hat throughout, referring to Africans as “we”.

Listen to the whole 30 minutes here.

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Registrars and ICANN hit impasse on new RAA

ICANN and its accredited domain name registrars have hit a brick wall in their long-running contract negotiations, after ICANN demanded the right to unilaterally amend the deal in future.

Documents published by ICANN this morning reveal that the two sides have reached agreement on almost all of their previous sticking points — including the extremely thorny issue of Whois verification — but have run into some fundamental, eleventh-hour disagreements.

As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of weeks, the big unresolved issue is ICANN’s unilateral right to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement in future, which registrars absolutely hate.

Death of the GNSO? Again?

The text of that proposed change has today been revealed to be identical to the text ICANN wants to insert into the Registry Agreement that all new gTLD registries must sign.

It gives ICANN’s board of directors the right, by two-thirds majority, to make essentially any changes they want to the RA and RAA in future, with minimal justification.

Registrars are just as livid about this as new gTLD applicants are.

The proposed change appears to be one of those introduced last month that ICANN said “[stems] from the call by ICANN’s CEO, Fadi Chehadé, to work to improve the image of the domain industry and to protect registrants”.

Chehadé has been on the road for the last couple of months trying to raise ICANN’s profile in various stakeholder groups in the private and public sectors around the world.

One of the memes he’s impressed upon contracted parties and others is that people don’t trust the domain name industry. Part of ICANN’s solution, it seems, is to grant its board more powers over registries and registrars.

But the Registrars Stakeholder Group reckons unilateral amendments would torpedo the multistakeholder process by emasculating the Generic Names Supporting Organization. It said:

The effect of such a clause in the primary agreements between ICANN and its commercial stakeholders would be devastating to the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model.

First, it will effectively mean the end of the GNSO’s PDP [Policy Development Process], as the Board will become the central arena for all controversial issues, not the community.

Second, it creates an imbalance of authority in the ICANN model, with no limits on the scope or frequency of unilateral amendments, and no protections for registrars and more important registrants.

That’s the biggest barrier to an agreement right now, and it’s one shared by the entire contracted parties constituency of ICANN. Expect fireworks in Beijing next month.

Friction over new gTLDs

Registrars and registries are also angry about the fact that ICANN wants to force registrars to adopt the 2013 RAA, even if their 2009 or 2001 deals are still active, if they want to sell new gTLDs.

RrSG secretary Michele Neylon of Blacknight told DI today that it looks like ICANN is trying to “drive a wedge” between registrars and registries.

Here’s why:

ICANN is trying desperately to stick to its new gTLD program timetable, which will see it start signing Registry Agreements with new gTLD applicants in late April.

But it wants the base RA to include a clause obliging registries to only sell via registrars on the 2013 RAA.

Because the 2013 RAA is not yet finalized, registrars could potentially hold up the approval and delegation of new gTLDs if they don’t quickly agree to the changes ICANN wants.

According to Neylon, the documents released today have been published prematurely; with a little more time agreement could be reached on some of the remaining differences.

Again: expect fireworks in Beijing.

Whois records will be verified

But the new RAA is not all friction.

ICANN and registrars have finally come to agreement on important topics where there was previously sharp divergence.

Registrars have agreed to a new Whois Accuracy Program Specification that is a lot weaker than ICANN had, working from a blueprint laid out by governments and law enforcement agencies, first asked for.

Under the 2013 RAA signed-up registrars will have to start verifying certain elements of the contact information submitted by their registrants.

Notably, there’ll be a challenge-response mechanism for first-time registrants. Registrars will ask their customers to verify their email address or enter a code that has been sent to them via SMS text message or phone.

Note the “or” in that sentence. ICANN and law enforcement wanted registrars to do email “and” phone verification, but ICANN appears to have relented after months of registrars yapping about costs.

In future practice, because email verification is far easier and cheaper to implement, I’d be surprised if phone verification is used in anything but the rarest of cases.

Other data points will also be verified, but only to see that they conform to the correct formats.

Registrars will have to make sure that mailing addresses meet the Universal Postal Union standards, and that phone numbers conform to International Telecommunications Union formatting, for example.

They’ll also have to verify that the street address exists (if they have access to that data) but there will be no obligation to make sure that address and phone number actually belong to the registrant.

Registrants that provide patently false information that fails registrar verification will get 15 days to correct it or face the suspension of their domains.

ICANN wants registrars to also verify their customer records (which are usually different to the Whois records and, anecdotally, more accurate anyway) too, but registrars have so far not agreed to do so.

Taken as a whole, at first reading it’s difficult to see how the new Whois verification spec will do anything to prevent fast-turnover abuse such as phishing, but it may go a small way to help law enforcement investigate longer-term scams such as counterfeit goods sites.

The proposed 2013 RAA, along with more explanatory documents than you could possibly read in a coffee break is now open for public comment, with the reply period closing shortly after the Beijing meeting.

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Go Daddy cozies up new gTLD players, drops its own .home and .casa bids

Go Daddy has changed tack in its new gTLD strategy, dropping its own applications and positioning itself strongly as a registry-neutral channel to market.

The company spent yesterday wooing new gTLD applicants at a specially convened meeting in its native Arizona; there were representatives from about half of the applied-for gTLDs in attendance.

But apart from the fact that Go Daddy has withdrawn its applications for .home and .casa — and symbolically dropped the “.com” from its logo — the company is playing its strategy pretty close to its chest.

Director of policy planning James Bladel told DI that the meeting was more about “starting a conversation” with registries, rather than laying out Go Daddy’s specific plans for new gTLDs.

The company will be a hugely important channel to market for many gTLDs, and competition for store-front space on the Go Daddy home page is expected to be fierce.

Existing big-volume “new” TLDs, such as .info and .co, can attribute much of their success to Go Daddy.

It’s responsible for well over half of all .info domains registered today and .CO Internet’s success to date can no doubt be attributed in no small part to its strong relationship with the company.

But Bladel would not be drawn on Go Daddy’s specific plans for the next wave of gTLDs.

While the company has a patent on a method of allocating shelf space via an Adsense-style bidding technology, Bladel said Go Daddy has not yet decided whether to use that system.

The company could also use other methods, algorithmic rather than commercial, for selecting which TLDs to display to users, such as geographic location, he said.

Another conversation that needs to happen relates to launch timing.

Ideas may include staggering launches to benefit from joint marketing efforts, or pooling launches into big-draw “launch day” events, Bladel speculated, noting that the company is more interested in hearing ideas from gTLD applicants right now.

While Go Daddy will continue to push its application for .godaddy dot-brand, with the loss of .home and .casa it will no longer be in the mass-market gTLD registry game.

Registry-neutral registrars may actually be a rarity in the new gTLD era.

eNom will certainly walk away with interests in more than a few gTLDs, directly and via its deal with Donuts. Tucows, Web.com and Directi will also have some, depending on contention set results.

Apart from Go Daddy, the only other top-ten registrars without their own gTLDs could be United and FastDomains.

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.mii becomes the first new gTLD to face rejection

The applied-for new gTLD .mii is too similar to the US military gTLD .mil and will therefore be rejected by ICANN.

While many applications have been withdrawn, this is the first involuntary rejection to be announced by ICANN.

The applicant for .mii was MiTek USA, described by DI previously as the filer of the stupidest new gTLD applications of the current round.

It also applied for .connector, .mitek and .sapphire, the names of its product categories and brands.

All four of its applications will be formally rejected when ICANN publishes its Initial Evaluation results.

MiTek didn’t bother to answer the most basic questions in the new gTLD application, simply stating “TLD will not be resold. Purchased for brand protection only.” on almost every line.

The decision by the String Similarity Panel to rule .mii confusingly similar to .mil confirms what we already knew from the .hotels/.hoteis ruling — the letters I and L are confusing.

String similarity testing compares upper and lower-case letters as well as, I believe, different typefaces.

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Told you so? Four new gTLDs given geographic surprise, others given a pass

Kevin Murphy, March 7, 2013, Domain Policy

Four new gTLD applications have been told by ICANN the strings they wanted are geographic and will require government backing if they want to be approved.

One of the affected applicants is Tata, the $100bn Indian conglomerate.

During a webinar this week, ICANN reported the results of its new gTLD program’s Geographic Names Panel, which decides whether applicants need the support of governments or not.

Six applicants that had designated their applied-for string as geographic were ruled to be actually non-geographic. Three applicants that said they weren’t geographic were ruled to be, in fact, geographic.

And four strings DI had previously said were likely to be ruled geographic, actually received a pass.

These are the applications that have been told they’re geographic:

  • .bar — This was applied for by two applicants (one of which was a Demand Media subsidiary) as a TLD for drinking establishments. But “Bar” is also a commune of Montenegro, so it’s been deemed a geographic string by ICANN.
  • .tata — This is a dot-brand applied for by Tata Group, the 150-year-old, $100bn-a-year Indian conglomerate. But “Tata” is also a province of Morocco.
  • .tui — Applied for by TUI AG as a dot-brand, the string is also a province of Burkina Faso.

Geographic gTLDs can only be approved with the formal support or non-objection of the relevant governments.

All three of these strings were highlighted in the DI PRO database as potentially problematic geographic gTLDs over a year ago, well before the new gTLD application window closed.

I even reported for The Register in January 2012 that .tata was going to have problems.

According to ICANN’s Application Guidebook, any string that matches something on the various International Standards Organization’s lists of geographic names will be deemed geographic for new gTLD approval purposes.

But we got it wrong on some counts.

For example, we wondered whether the seven applications for .store were going to be ruled geographic, on the basis that Štore (note the accent) is a municipality of Slovenia.

Also, .delta, .est and .capital match regions of Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Denmark and all appear on the same protected ISO 3166 list as .tata, .tui and .bar, but do not appear to have been ruled geographic.

ICANN has not published the rationale behind its panel’s decisions yet.

A further six applied-for gTLD strings that had been designated geographic by their applicants were ruled to be not, in fact, geographic.

These all appear to be abbreviations of place names, or place names that do not appear on protected lists: .frl, .ist, .ryukyu, .scot, .vegas and .zulu.

There’s no real harm to applicants that find themselves in this position.

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PICs could be Beijing deal-breaker for new gTLDs

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee may delay the approval of new gTLDs if applicants don’t submit Public Interest Commitments tomorrow.

That’s the message coming out of ICANN today, on the eve of the deadline for PICs submission set less than one month ago.

PICs, you will recall, are binding, enforceable commitments that new gTLD applicants are able to voluntarily add to their registry contracts with ICANN.

They’re meant to satisfy the GAC’s request for ICANN to tighten its grip on new gTLD registries and to give applicants a way to avoid GAC Advice and formal objections against their bids.

Applicants that commit to do whatever was asked of them in GAC Early Warnings, for example, may be able to avoid having the warning mutate into a full-blown GAC Advice kiss of death.

When ICANN announced the PICs idea a month ago, it gave applicants until March 5 to submit them. It intends to publish them on Wednesday for public comment and the GAC’s perusal.

But applicants are understandably nervous (to put it mildly) to comply, given that PICs would be enforceable via a dispute process that has yet to be written but could put their contracts at risk.

Responding to these concerns during a conference call today, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade urged applicants to hit the deadline or risk the GAC delaying its Advice discussions beyond Beijing.

“I don’t think we can delay the submission of the PICs,” Chehade said. “If we do, then we will definitely not have the GAC come back to use with their committed advice in Beijing.”

“Unless we want to get them to do this advice beyond Beijing, we should stick with the 30 days or so we’ve asked people to get this done and make it happen,” he said.

The Beijing meeting runs April 7 to 11. The GAC is expected to issue its advice shortly after the meeting ends.

ICANN reckons it will be able to start approving new gTLDs April 23, but has also stated on numerous occasions that it will not approve anything before the GAC has spoken.

Chehade said today, based on his conversations with influential GAC members, that pushing the PICs deadline out beyond March 5 by even a few days would seriously endanger the current GAC Advice timeline.

New gTLD applicants are now in the tricky position of having to decide between potentially costly delays today and an unknown dispute system that could prove dangerous in future.

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ICANN to publish unfinished RAA tomorrow

ICANN will tomorrow publish for public comment a version of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement that accredited registrars have not yet agreed to.

CEO Fadi Chehade told a conference call of registries and new gTLD applicants as much this afternoon, causing the Registrars Stakeholder Group to immediately state that talks have not finished yet.

However, ICANN subsequently confirmed the plan to DI, clarifying that the documents it will publish tomorrow will highlight ongoing points of divergence between ICANN and the RrSG.

The posting will comprise documents with “competing text identified that shows the similarities and differences in position between ICANN and the Registrar [Negotiating Team”, ICANN said.

I believe that the publication has been set for tomorrow to allow ICANN to hit its public comment deadlines for the big Beijing public meeting next month.

The posting was apparently agreed to at a meeting between the registrars and ICANN on Friday.

While the two sides have come to agreement on most of the changes to the RAA, sticking points remain despite now-daily talks.

I understand that a proposed unilateral right of amendment in ICANN’s favor is currently a big barrier to final agreement.

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Nutty DotConnectAfrica gives DI a good kicking

Kevin Murphy, March 2, 2013, Gossip

New gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica is not happy with DI, again.

The nutty .africa applicant took issue with a recent post describing the company as “nutty” and trying to make sense of a rambling conspiracy-laden letter it had sent to the US Congress.

As a reminder, DCA is competing with South Africa’s ccTLD registry operator UniForum, which has the support of African governments and the African Union, for the .africa gTLD.

DCA has been in denial about the fact that its application is doomed for many months, scrabbling for any opportunity to cling to its .africa dream, and DI is its latest windmill.

DCA requested that I publish its lengthy “rejoinder” to our last blog post here, so I have, albeit interspersed with my own commentary.

I apologize in advance for leaving DCA’s formatting intact.

Dear Mr. Kevin Murphy,

Subject: Our Rejoinder to your article on DCA’s Complaint to U.S. Congress

The attention of DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust has been drawn to your recent Blog article with the title: ‘Nutty DCA Complains to US Congress about .Africa’ (http://domainincite.com/11958-nutty-dca-complains-to-us-congress-about-africa).

Even though you have continued to demonstrate your penchant for biased and negative reporting against DCA Trust, we think that the use of the pejorative ‘nutty’ is uncalled for and shows your disrespect and disdain for our organization and we believe you owe us an apology.

I don’t believe an apology is required.

DCA is the laughing stock of the industry, a status it will continue to hold until its .africa bid is killed off a few weeks from now.

“Nutty” is a generous, whimsical way to describe the company’s recent antics, which have included:

  • nuttily wasting >$185,000 on a gTLD application that has no chance of being approved,
  • nuttily applying for the wrong gTLD (.dotafrica),
  • using fake online identities to make it appear that DCA has grass-roots support for its nutty ideas,
  • throwing around nutty allegations of “wholesale illegality” without a) specifying what laws have been broken b) by whom and c) presenting any credible evidence to back up the allegations,
  • overabundant use of bold text, underlined text, colored text and font changes to distract from the fact that its nutty missives lack substance — a tactic favored by online conspiracy theorists since the dawn of the ‘net.

In short, if you think “nutty” is bad, trust me when I say it was the least antagonistic adjective I could come up with.

However, even though we already feel a sense of righteous indignation by your mocking tone and the fact that you have openly engaged in unnecessary name-calling simply to aggravate DCA Trust; we are actually more interested in setting the records straight for the benefit of your readers, and wish only to focus on the substantive issues in this rejoinder.

You cannot write to deliberately misrepresent the facts contained in our letter to the 113th United States Congress. For example, you have stated that “according to information in Bekele’s letter, the AU wanted an experienced, Africa-based registry operator to run the TLD, and UniForum, which runs South Africa’s .za ccTLD, was the only qualified candidate.”

Wrong – Not DCA’s View to say Uniforum is Only qualified candidate

First, this is not our view, therefore you cannot put words into our mouth, and we do not agree that UniForum was the only qualified candidate to run .Africa. This is not the viewpoint conveyed in our letter to the United States Congress. We only attempted to re-state what is contained in a draft unpublished report on the ‘unofficial history’ of DotAfrica that was written by Ms. Rebecca Wanjiku, a Kenyan journalist and member of the DotAfrica Registry Project Team under the contrived ‘Africainonespace’ structure (http://www.africainonespace.org/); who had purportedly interviewed Mr. Vika Mpisane, then Chairperson of the AfTLD.

My blog post, as DCA accurately quotes, said “according to information in Bekele’s letter”. The “information in Bekele’s letter” is the text she quoted from Wanjiku’s “draft unpublished report”.

I would have cited the report itself but, as DCA says, it’s unpublished.

In a nutshell, Wanjiku reported that the AU endorsed UniForum because it “wanted African ccTLDs to play a crucial role in implementing .Africa” and that UniForum was the only African ccTLD with an EPP registry.

This interview revealed to us that no tender process actually took place, because the name of UniForum was simply put forward by the AfTLD, and this was accepted by the African Union Commission (AUC). This peculiar transaction as recorded in Rebecca Wanjiku’s account apparently contradicts the official AUC position that there was an open and transparent tender process which “attracted both local and international registries interested in managing dotAfrica gTLD.”

Only a nutty reading of the Wanjiku extract suggests that “no tender process actually took place”.

The existence of the African Union’s November 2011 .africa RFP is not open to question. It’s a matter of public record.

You can still download it here.

DCA is on record acknowledging the RFP at the time it was published, ranting: “DCA has decided not to participate in this sham RFP process and also urges prospective bidders to also avoid the RFP.”

And now DCA is openly questioning whether the tender process even happened? Nutty, nutty, nutty.

Therefore, our contention is that UniForum ZA Central Registry, the other competing applicant for .Africa gTLD is the beneficiary of wholesale illegality in the process of winning the endorsement of the African Union (AU) Commission for the .Africa geographic Top-Level Domain name. This is clearly spelt out in our letter to the U.S. Congress and it does not need any further elaboration or an extra-ordinary effort on the part of any educated person to read it several times to understand what DCA Trust is saying.

Everything DCA produces reads like it was written by Google Translate, run through an overenthusiastic thesaurus, then published by a computer science undergraduate in 1995. In my opinion.

I finished reading its letter to Congress wondering: who did the illegal stuff? What was the illegal stuff they did? What laws were broken? Where? When? Is it worth my time even asking?

Given that DCA wants Congressional intervention, one would expect it to state what the alleged illegal acts were, but it doesn’t. It just says “wholesale illegality” and leaves it at that.

It’s my view that the real reason DCA is pissed off is that, having failed to win the support of African ccTLDs, the AU’s 2011 RFP pretty much excluded DCA from getting the AU’s endorsement.

The company lacked the expertise, experience and the support of African ccTLD operators that the RFP specifically asked for and weighted in its scoring criteria.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in African procurement law, but I’d guess that the AU would be unlikely to publish such criteria in an open RFP document if such criteria were illegal.

That’s why, in my view, DCA throws around terms like “wholesale illegality” without getting into specifics. As soon as one look at specifics, its argument melts away like warm Nutella.

It may have been unfair, from DCA’s perspective, for the AU to require a competent partner for .africa, but if the alternative was a company that would do something nutty like, I dunno, apply for the wrong string…

Deliberately Obfuscating to confuse your readers

After reading your report, we believe that you have deliberately tried to obfuscate the matter to either confuse your readers or intentionally divert the attention of the global public from understanding the full import and main implications of our letter to the U.S. Congress. You cannot report that “the AU Commission, at the conclusion of its tender process, decided to support the UniForum proposal” when the available evidence profoundly suggests otherwise; that indeed, there was really no tender process. We have always challenged the AU Commission to publish the report of that Tender Process for the entire world to see. We also maintained this in our official response to the ICANN GAC Early Warning that was issued against our .Africa application.

DI has nothing to gain from obfuscating facts or confusing readers. The entire raison d’etre of the site is to do exactly the opposite.

The best way to avoid confusing readers would be to simply no longer report on DCA’s nutty pronouncements. Believe me, nothing would give me greater pleasure.

Only ICANN can determine a qualified candidate to operate .africa

Second, our fixed position is that only the ICANN can determine the “qualified candidate” to operate .Africa based on the outcome of the new gTLD program. This is not for the AfTLD or the AU to decide contrary to the dictates of the new gTLD program and the sacrosanct stipulations contained in the new gTLD Applicant’s Guidebook. By attempting to decide, as a fait accompli, the registry operator for the new .Africa gTLD, the AU acted ultra vires, and this is a clear usurpation, and an inexcusable violation, of ICANN’s roles, responsibilities, privileges and authority under the officially sanctioned new gTLD program. This is a viewpoint that we have already communicated officially to ICANN and also in our public comments posted against the .Africa new gTLD application submitted by UniForum ZA Central Registry.

Has DCA read the Guidebook?

ICANN makes it abundantly clear throughout that it will defer to governments on geographic gTLDs.

It won’t approve any geographic gTLDs that don’t have the support of the relevant government. For regions such as Africa, that support has to come from 60% of the region’s governments.

DCA presumably knows all this, and yet it nuttily applied for .africa (.dotafrica) without that government support, dooming its $185,000 application to certain failure.

UniForum, on the other hand, does have that governmental support, giving it a shot at being approved.

Does DCA honestly believe that ICANN’s board of directors will favor DCA over UniForum, ignoring the wishes of the governments of Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, D.R.Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Moroco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the African Union itself?

Good luck with that.

Even if all of Uniforum’s support were to evaporate tomorrow, DCA’s application would still be rejected under ICANN’s “sacrosanct” rules, because DCA doesn’t have government support and is unlikely to get it having spent the last year randomly accusing all those concerned of corruption and law-breaking.

Third, we have always maintained that if UniForum had been endorsed to apply on behalf of the African Community, then it should have submitted an application on behalf of the African Community and acknowledged the same community in its .Africa new gTLD bid to ICANN. We believe that UniForum, after using the African Community as ‘an excuse’ to obtain an important endorsement from the AUC, deliberately failed to acknowledge the same African Community in its bid based on the answers that it provided (or failed to provide by indicating ‘blank’) to ICANN Evaluation Question Nos. 19 and 20 in its .Africa new gTLD application. In DCA’s estimation, this is deceitful and fraudulent. If you obtain an endorsement under the pretext that you intend to, or have agreed to run and operate a geographic TLD on behalf of the African Community, then you should actually apply on behalf of this named community, to wit, the African Community.

UNIFORUM Application is Not on behalf of African Community

For further emphasis, it is necessary for one to refer to the published parts of UniForum’s application and their answers to Evaluation Question Numbers 19 and 20 to indeed verify that UniForum deliberately failed to acknowledge any Community in their official answers to ICANN. In their answer to Question No. 19 (“Is the application for a Community based TLD?”), they unequivocally stated “No”. The question No. 20 (a) – (e) which immediately follows: “(a) Provide the name and full description of the community that the applicant is committing serve”; UniForum intentionally left it blank, thus indicating that they have not actually named any community that they claim to be committing to serve in their new gTLD application for .Africa.

Your redefinition of “Community” against the rule book specifications to support UNIORUM is frivolous and mischievous

Therefore, your attempt to define ‘Big-C’ and ‘small-c’ is quite irrelevant and an unnecessary exercise in frivolity at a time that analytical and professional seriousness are called for. The AU Communiqué published in March 2012 clearly states that “the AU Commission selected UniForum SA (the ZA Central Registry Operator or ZACR), to administer and operate dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African community”; which you also previously acknowledged in your report of July 2012. As a matter of fact, we are actually compelled to believe that your statement that “no applicant was obliged to submit a big-C Community application under ICANN’s rules” is not only flippant but also quite mischievous.

Does DCA really not understand the difference between a “community” and a “Community gTLD application”?

I’ve attempted to explain it before and I’m not sure how to better phrase it than this: one’s a type of gTLD application and the other isn’t.

I suspect DCA does “get it” because its own application for .africa (.dotafrica) states:

DCA believes that DotAfrica does not qualify as a community-based application for two main reasons:

a) There is no clearly delineated, organized and pre-existing community that is targeted by the DotAfrica gTLD.

b) It is difficult to clearly identify who are the ‘members’ of the community, since a ‘community-definition’ of DotAfrica will restrict its use and functionality. Since ‘DotAfrica’ does not necessarily mean a TLD for ‘Africans’, it is difficult to determine the persons or entities that are considered to form the community, and the number of people or entities that make up the community.

In other words, while DCA believes .africa should not be a Community application under ICANN’s rules, it also believes that UniForum had an obligation to submit a Community application anyway? Nutty.

The actual bone of contention is that an endorsement was sought and obtained under the pretext that a Community TLD application would be submitted on behalf of the African Community. The basis cannot change after one has obtained the endorsement. DCA Trust believes that it is not your responsibility to explain why UniForum willfully reneged on the commitment that was implicit in the endorsement that it had received from the African Union Commission.

Nowhere in the African Union’s RFP for .africa does it say that the applicant must submit a Community application.

I’m not aware of any statements from UniForum to the effect that it would submit a Community application.

DCA has never provided any evidence that the AU wanted a Community application nor that UniForum promised one.

Its only tenuous scrap of evidence appears to be a press release (pdf) from the AU that announces UniForum was selected to “operate dotAfrica gTLD on behalf of the African community.”

To read that sentence as “UniForum will submit a Community application” is quite, quite nutty.

Incidentally, if UniForum did lie to the AU and other governments about submitting a Community application, it’s within the governments’ power to withdraw their endorsements at any time.

Uniforum’s Endorsement should be legally invalidated

Our position is that if UniForum has reneged in its commitment, that this fundamental issue must be forced so as to hold it accountable in order to prevent the perpetration of any acts of illegality and outright fraud over the issue of .Africa; and if this is process of accountability is not established by the African Internet Community, the African Union (and its African government member states) or ICANN, then the matter should be rightfully escalated for adjudication to the powerful United States Congress as the highest over-sighting institution of the United States Federal Government. We contend that if UniForum has been fraudulent in its application, this should legally invalidate the endorsement that it has received from the African Union Commission. This determination must be made officially by some authoritative body in order for the cause of justice to be served.

United States Congress has complete jurisdiction over the entire new gTLD program by ICANN

Our understanding is that the .Africa new gTLD is an Internet resource to be delegated by ICANN, and the same ICANN is under U.S. Federal Government Oversight by virtue of its mandate as a federal contractor handling the Internet Technical Management Functions (such as domain names and unique Internet address numbering and assignment) under the IANA Contract. It is therefore our contention that the United States Congress has complete jurisdiction over the entire new gTLD program of ICANN and this cannot be challenged (or scoffed at) by anybody without drawing the ire of Congress. DCA Trust has therefore acted correctly by recognizing the overarching authority of Congress over the entire ICANN new gTLD process and deciding on its own to undertake a necessary due process escalation of this matter to Congress. It is really not our fault if Mr. Kevin Murphy as the Domainincite Blogger lacks the intellectual acuity and analytical acumen to see this matter the same way we see it.

A Dishonest Analysis: Not even ICANN will agree with your opinion – Coomunity applications are not just “a technicality.”.

Furthermore, your explanation that “there’s no need to take advantage of the mechanism if you’re applying for a geographic string and have the necessary government support” is patently dishonest. DCA’s demand for accountability is actually pivoted on this particular point: how the government support was obtained, because the ‘community’ pretext was used by UniForum to obtain the government support from the AUC. Therefore, we believe that it is not your position to justify anything or create new definitions of what ‘community’ is about. Not even ICANN will agree with your opinion that “Community applications are just a technicality of the ICANN program, designed to give advantages to applicants that truly do have the support of a community.”

Community applications are not just “a technicality”. If UniForum claims to have both community support from the African Internet Community, and the support of African Governments, and has been selected to administer and operate a geographic TLD for the benefit of the African Community (whichever way this community is defined), then why did it not acknowledge this ‘African Community’ in its application? What is UniForum afraid of? We believe that if there is a proper accountability mechanism, then the truth regarding the actual intentions of UniForum can be fully established.

DCA cannot help with your Confusion, but we do not expect Congress NOT to be confused

Again, you have attempted to obfuscate the issues by stating in your Blog that DCA seems to deliberately confuse the process AfTLD used to back UniForum and the process the AU Commission used to select UniForum. We cannot help your confusion, since if you are confused you cannot assist your readers to properly dissect and understand what the pertinent issues are.

We do not expect Congress to be confused. Our understanding is that the process which the AfTLD used to back UniForum clearly caused the ‘No Tender Process’ that was used by the AU to select UNiForum.

For us, there is no confusion since the one connected chain remains evident for anyone to see. Our letter to Congress clearly alludes to the “illegal subversion of what was supposed to be an open and competitive tender process.”

The UNIFORUm Proposal is the same as the failed ARC, which you refereed as ‘Cuckoo Business Model’

We may recall that the African Registry Consortium (ARC) that was formed by the directors of UniForum SA sometime in 2011 had tried to solicit an expression of interest from the AfTLD: “For the provision of a domain name registry solution to the African Top Level Domain Organization (aftld) for purposes of preparing, submitting, funding and promoting a successful bid to ICANN for the dotafrica new gTLD.” (See http://africanregistry.net/index.php#endorse).

The ARC proposal had failed after DCA Trust campaigned vigorously against it as a potential Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) scam and for its ‘carpetbag opportunism’. It is the same proposal of the ARC that was pushed in the name of UniForum, and as you have also acknowledged in your write-up, “the AfTLD bid morphed into the UniForum bid.” The connection is therefore quite unmistakable, and we are not fooled. DCA Trust has always warned the African Union Commission and UniForum ZA Central Registry to beware of any irregularities over .Africa new gTLD and our position has not shifted. We are fully convinced that illegality has occurred and that an accountability mechanism must be established by the United States Congress to look into this.

Your deviation from the Truth, Professionalism and Journalistic integrity

Those who have been following the Domainincite Blog (http://www.domainincite.com) may also recall that Kevin Murphy had written about the ‘Cuckoo Business Model’ which he now thinks does not (or should not) apply in the case of UniForum.

The “Cuckoo Business Model” I once discussed referred to the practice of applying for a new gTLD that you know another company is also going to apply for, not in order to actually operate it but rather to extort money from other applicants in your contention set before withdrawing.

It obviously doesn’t apply to .africa — UniForum has no intention of dropping its application and actually wants to run the .africa registry,

DCA, on the other hand, has no chance whatsoever of getting its .africa bid approved and its best-case-scenario outcome here is getting a pay-off from UniForum.

If anything, DCA would be the cuckoo.

It sucks for DCA, which was pimping the .africa brand long before UniForum, but that’s the risk it took when it broadcast its plans to the world before it knew what the rules were going to be.

Therefore, it is our opinion that you have already deviated from the path of truth, professionalism and journalistic integrity; and by engaging in unbalanced and biased reporting against DCA Trust, you have also become quite neglectful of your scared responsibilities to the global public.

As much as I hate to make ad hominem arguments, I can’t help but point out that this is coming from the company that has been creating unconvincing fake online identities to support its nutty positioning.

Truth ain’t DCA’s strong point.

Downplaying DCA’s request for US congress intervention in serious issues

Finally, we believe that you have been rather disingenuous in your attempts to down-play the reason for DCA’s request for the intervention of the U.S. Congress. We have recommended and clearly stated in our letter that Congress should:

  • appoint a new gTLD Ombudsman that would report directly to Congress
  • should give the necessary approval and official impetus for the establishment of a new gTLD Program Ombudsman that would handle and look into different forms of grievances reported by new gTLD applicants
  • and investigate any forms of alleged irregularities and acts of illegality committed by applicants, especially of the sort that DCA Trust has outlined against its direct competitor for the .Africa gTLD, UniForum ZA Central Registry.
  • the new gTLD Ombudsman will be authorized by Congress with the powers of an Independent Counsel to investigate and adjudicate on issues of illegality that have been reported regarding new gTLD matters.

This is what we are asking Congress to do, and you cannot downplay the precedence-setting significance of this recommendation by stating whimsically that ICANN already has an Ombudsman. ICANN’s Ombudsman has no mandate to investigate alleged irregularities and acts of illegality that have been committed by new gTLD applicants.

Fair point.

Asking Congress for an independent Ombudsman was quite interesting, no matter how self-serving and unjustified the request, and perhaps I should have reported the idea in a little more detail.

We hope that you will publish this rejoinder in your Blog and give it proper visibility to ensure that your readers also have the opportunity to read our response to your article.

Sure thing.

We thank you in anticipation of your cooperation.

Yours sincerely,
DCA Public Communications Team
Nairobi, Kenya

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ICANN to reveal Registrant Rights & Responsibilities (and here’s a draft copy)

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN is set to publish and start promoting a new Registrant Rights & Responsibilities charter at some point over the next couple of days, we hear.

The one-page document is set to become an important part of CEO Fadi Chehade’s plan to make the domain name industry appear more trustworthy and likable in the eyes of the internet-using public.

He first revealed the idea during a meeting with registries and registrars in Amsterdam last month.

An ICANN-commissioned study showed that people have a very low opinion of the industry, he told them.

The new document is designed to address some of those concerns.

While the charter may be presented as originating in the industry, it was first drafted by ICANN and we hear that some registrars have been somewhat reluctant to agree to it.

“It’s like when you’re a kid and your dad gives you a birthday card to sign for your mom,” one registrar told us.

The legalese-stricken document that ICANN originally presented to them over-stretched and could have carried legal exposure, they added.

DI has been sent of copy of what we’re told is a close-to-final draft of the document, which we understand is more agreeable to most registrars. We’ve pasted it below in full.

Registrants’ Rights and Responsibilities

Domain Name Registrants’ Rights:

  1. Your domain name registration and any privacy services you may use in conjunction with it must be subject to a Registration Agreement with an ICANN Accredited Registrar.
    • You are entitled to review this Registration Agreement at any time, and download a copy for your records.
  2. You are entitled to accurate and accessible information about:
    • The identity of your ICANN Accredited Registrar;
    • The identity of any privacy service provider affiliated with your Registrar;
    • Your Registrar’s terms and conditions, including pricing information, applicable to domain name registrations;
    • The terms and conditions, including pricing information, applicable to any privacy services offered by your Registrar;
    • The customer support services offered by your Registrar and the privacy services provider, and how to access them;
    • How to raise concerns and resolve disputes with your Registrar and any privacy services offered by them; and
    • Instructions that explain your Registrar’s processes for registering, managing, transferring, renewing, and restoring your domain name registrations, including through any privacy services made available by your Registrar.
  3. You shall not be subject to false advertising or deceptive practices by your Registrar or though any privacy services made available by your Registrar. This includes deceptive notices, hidden fees, and any practices that are illegal under the consumer protection law of your residence.

Domain Name Registrants’ Responsibilities:

  1. You must comply with the terms and conditions posted by your Registrar, including applicable policies from your Registrar, the Registry and ICANN.
  2. You must review your Registrar’s current Registration Agreement, along with any updates.
  3. You will assume sole responsibility for the registration and use of your domain name.
  4. You must provide accurate information for publication in directories such as WHOIS, and promptly update this to reflect any changes.
  5. You must respond to inquiries from your Registrar within fifteen (15) days, and keep your Registrar account data current. If you choose to have your domain name registration renew automatically, you must also keep your payment information current.

It draws on changes ICANN and registrars have agreed to in the 2013 (hopefully) Registrar Accreditation Agreement, such as registrar commitments to provide basic information about themselves.

As for the 2013 RAA itself, we hear that ICANN wants to present a final version to its board of directors for approval during its public meeting in Beijing in early April.

That would mean opening it up for public comment next week, but registrars and ICANN have not yet agreed to a final draft for publication, despite now-daily negotiation meetings.

The major sticking point, we gather, is an amendment that would give ICANN a unilateral right to change the contract in future — similar to the proposed gTLD Registry Agreement provision currently causing a shitstorm in the new gTLD applicant community.

There’s also controversy about the fact that ICANN wants to restrict new gTLDs to only registrars that sign the new RAA, which is designed to be a carrot to get them to sign up even if their 2009/2001 RAAs are still active.

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