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NTIA fights Big Content’s corner, tells ALL new gTLD applicants to submit PICs

Kevin Murphy, February 26, 2013, Domain Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said today that all new gTLD applicants, even those that have not already been hit by government warnings, should submit Public Interest Commitments to ICANN.

In a rare comment sent to an ICANN public forum today, the NTIA suggested that applicants should use the process to help combat counterfeiting and piracy.

The agency, the part of the US Department of Commerce that oversees ICANN and participates in its Governmental Advisory Committee, said (emphasis in original):

NTIA encourages all applicants for new gTLDs to take advantage of this opportunity to address the concerns expressed by the GAC in its Toronto Communique, the individual early warnings issued by GAC members, and the ICANN public comment process on new gTLDs, as appropriate.

PICs were introduced by ICANN earlier this month as a way for applicants to voluntarily add binding commitments — for example, a promise to restrict their gTLD to a certain user base — to their registry contracts.

The idea is to let applicants craft and agree to stick to special terms they think will help them avoid receiving objections from the GAC, GAC members and others.

NTIA said that applicants should pay special attention in their PICs to helping out the “creative sector”.

Specifically, this would entail “ensuring that WHOIS data is verified, authentic and publicly accessible”.

They should also “consider providing an enforceable guaranty that the domain name will only be used for licensed and legitimate activities”, NTIA said, adding:

NTIA believes that these new tools may help in the fight against online counterfeiting and piracy and is particularly interested in seeing applicants commit to these or similar safeguards.

The PICs idea isn’t going down too well in the applicant community, judging by other submissions this week.

The Registries Stakeholder Group of ICANN, for example, says its members are feeling almost “blackmailed” into submitting PICs, saying the timing is “completely unreasonable”.

As DI noted when PICs was first announced, applicants have been given until just March 5 to submit their commitments, raising serious questions about the timetable for objections and GAC advice.

The RySG has even convened a conference call for March 4 to discuss the proposal, which it says “contains so many serious and fundamental flaws that it should be withdrawn in
its entirety”.

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Trademark Clearinghouse to open March 26

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Domain Policy

The Trademark Clearinghouse is set to open its doors for submissions March 26, ICANN will announce today.

From that date, trademark owners and their agents will be able to start uploading trademark data, enabling them to participate in one or two of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Adding a mark to the TMCH qualifies it for the Trademark Claims service, which notifies both rights-holders and registrants whenever somebody tries to register a domain matching the mark.

Trademark Claims will run for at least the first 60 days after each new gTLD launches, but ICANN may extend that window depending on the outcome of its “strawman” discussions.

Many trademarks will also qualify for Sunrise periods in new gTLDs by being entered into the Clearinghouse.

Submissions start at $150 per mark per year, with discounts available when marks are registered in bulk.

DI PRO subscribers can work out how painful the TMCH will be on their wallets, and how to maximize their discounts, using our Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator.

The TMCH is being managed by Deloitte, with a back-end database run by IBM.

While March 26 is just four weeks before ICANN expects to approve the first new gTLDs, I wouldn’t expect to see the first Sunrise periods for a few months after that.

The TMCH is still subject to some fierce debate, and not only because of the proposed strawman changes.

On the technical side, registries and registrars have been fuming recently about the lack of any hard technical specifications for integration, which will be needed when the new gTLDs launch.

Last night, ICANN finally posted the first spec as an IETF Internet Draft.

The format, “Mark and Signed Mark Objects Mapping” describes an Extensible Provisioning Protocol extension used by the TMCH to exchange data with registries about registered trademarks.

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AIG withdraws new gTLD bid due to rebrand

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Domain Registries

The insurance company American International Group has dropped its application for .chartis, apparently due to a merger-related rebranding.

It’s the 21st gTLD application to be withdrawn. Dot-Nxt did the legwork to figure out that the company has pulled out because the .chartis brand itself is being wound up.

When we asked ICANN last week how many bids were in the withdrawal queue, we were told the magic number was three.

Two of those are expected to be .chevy and .buick, which General Motors has confirmed it is withdrawing in addition to its already-gone .chevrolet, .cadillac and .gmc; .chartis is likely the third.

That doesn’t mean it is is the last, however.

Smart dot-brand applicants that are not completely sold on the new gTLD concept will be waiting for the publication of ICANN’s string similarity evaluation panel’s results, currently expected this Friday, before making their calls.

The string similarity results will go a long way to determine whether certain strings will have potentially lethal problems being applied for in future application rounds.

If .gmc had have been ruled confusingly similar to .gmo, for example, that may have reduced GM’s chances of successfully applying for .gmc in future rounds.

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ICANN to set up “hubs” in Singapore and Istanbul

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2013, Gossip

Fadi Chehade’s internationalization strategy for ICANN will see it open up two “hub” offices, one in Singapore and one in Istanbul, Turkey, according to reports.

The two new offices would be not just regional satellites, judging by reports from JPNIC and ZDNet. Chehade seems to be talking about both hubs taking on roughly equal prominence to its existing LA headquarters.

From ZDNet:

“This is not an office, this will be an actual hub and part of the core fabric of how we run ICANN,” he elaborated, adding the hubs would handle the same operations as that of its current Los Angeles, U.S., headquarters. “In Singapore we may be supporting Asia, but at different times of the day we may be supporting Europe.”

Both cities are often considered “gateways” to their respective regions.

Singapore has its attractive western-style business environment and widespread use of English, and Istanbul has a close cultural and geographic proximity to both Europe and the Middle-East.

ICANN has visited Singapore twice before — it held its inaugural meeting there in 1998 and approved the new gTLD program there in 2011 — and is to return in 2014.

Other satellite offices, for example in Tokyo and/or Beijing, could follow, Chehade reportedly said.

Channel Islands ccTLD manager Nigel Roberts is also reporting that ICANN staff currently based in LA may be offered the chance to relocate to one of the new hubs.

The new moves follow the recent closure of the Sydney, Australia office.

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Nutty DCA complains to US Congress about .africa

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2013, Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrica’s increasingly unhinged campaign for the .africa gTLD has seen it take the unusual step of complaining to the US Congress about “wholesale illegality” in the contest.

The company also appears to be running an astroturf campaign on Twitter and bogus blogs to advance its case.

In a rambling nine-page letter (pdf) to the chairs of the House and Senate telecommunications committees this week, DCA chief Sophia Bekele outlines a series of “corruption” claims against rival .africa applicant UniForum.

DCA and UniForum are both applying for .africa. UniForum, per ICANN rules, has the support of the African Union and over 60% of the national governments in Africa. DCA has no support.

As far as I can tell, DCA thinks the way the African Union went about picking a favored applicant for .africa was “corrupt” but the letter needs to be read several times in order to even begin to figure out what the allegations are.

The allegations seem to stretch back to 2011, when the AU publicly stated that it did not support DCA‘s claims to .africa, and that it had opened up an Expressions of Interest process to pick a preferred registry.

At the time, an organization called AfTLD, which represents African ccTLD operators, said it was preparing a bid for .africa. This bid later morphed into the UniForum bid.

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.

DCA goes on to say that Vika Mpisane, who was both chair of AfTLD and CEO of .za policy overseer ZADNA, worked within AfTLD to have UniForum put forward as its preferred applicant for .africa.

The AU Commission, at the conclusion of its tender process, decided to support the UniForum proposal.

So what’s DCA’s beef?

Where exactly is the alleged corruption, according to DCA?

It’s almost impossible to tell from Bekele’s letter, which seems to deliberately confuse the process AfTLD used to back UniForum and the process the AU Commission used to select UniForum.

By DCA’s maddening logic, if Mpisane used his influence as chair of AfTLD to push for AfTLD to support UniForum’s bid, that means the AU Commission’s subsequent tender process was somehow corrupt.

It makes no sense to me, and I doubt it will make any sense to the dozens of US Congressmen DCA has carbon-copied on the letter.

My understanding is that DCA didn’t even bother to respond to the AU Commission’s tender anyway.

The second main prong of DCA’s new attack concerns the fact that UniForum’s bid for .africa is not a “Community” application, as defined under ICANN’s rules.

Again, DCA attempts to confuse the reader by conflating the normal everyday use of the word “community” with the special meaning of “Community” in the new gTLD program.

Bekele writes (emphasis removed):

UniForum contrived to obtain a highly valuable endorsement for a geographic name string under the pretext that it would be submitting an application on behalf of the African Community, but after obtaining the endorsement from the African Union Commission, not only failed to prepare and submit a Community TLD application for .Africa, but also failed, rather deliberately, to acknowledge the same African Community in its application that was submitted to ICANN for the .Africa gTLD name. DCA Trust believes that this was a very serious infraction on the part of UniForum ZA Central Registry.

Of course no applicant was obliged to submit a big-C Community application under ICANN’s rules, even if their gTLD purports to represent a small-c community.

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. There’s no need to take advantage of the mechanism if you’re applying for a geographic string and have the necessary government support.

Note also that DCA did not apply as a Community applicant either.

What does DCA want from Congress?

DCA is based in Mauritius. It appears to be complaining to the US Congress due to the US’ special oversight relationship with ICANN, and because its complaints to African governments have fallen on deaf ears.

It wants Congressional oversight of the new gTLD program, through the appointment of a special Ombudsman.

The letter says (again, emphasis removed):

We are hereby appealing directly to the United States Senate as the Upper House of the United States Congress, its Judiciary Committee, and other important Congressional committees that have a relevant stake in a successful outcome of the new gTLD process; to 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.

ICANN already has an Ombudsman, of course, Chris LaHatte. DCA complained to him late last year about two perceived conflicts of interest on the ICANN board of directors.

The complaint was dismissed last December because DCA was unable to provide LaHatte with any information about any improper actions.

LaHatte did however ask Bekele to simmer down the tone of her attacks, which she “readily agreed to”.

More fake identities?

Almost as an aside, I noticed today that a lot of similar-looking Twitter accounts (pictured) have been tweeting links with the hashtag #dotafrica this week.

The accounts all appear to have been created on Monday, using silhouette-based avatars, and have tweeted the same stuff at roughly the same time.

Is this more DCA astroturfing?

Bekele was caught out using a fake identity on the AfrICANN mailing list a few months ago.

Two of the “news blogs” these Twitter accounts have been linking to, domainingafrica.com and domainnewsafrica.com, were originally registered on November 21 2011, before disappearing behind Whois privacy last June.

The original registrant of both? Why, it’s Sophia Bekele.

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