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Trademark protection stalemate follows ICANN 45

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2012, Domain Policy

Trademark interests and new gTLD applicants are at odds about trademark protection — again — following the ICANN meeting in Toronto two weeks ago.

In a welcomed, not-before-time show of cooperation, the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency submitted to ICANN a bulleted list of requests for improved rights protection mechanisms.

The list is, for the most part, not particularly egregious — calling for a permanent Trademark Claims service and a Uniform Rapid Suspension service that meets its cost goals, for example.

But the New TLD Applicants Group (NTAG), an observer component of the Registries Constituency, has dismissed it out of hand, anyway, saying that the time for policy changes is over.

Here’s the IPC/BC list:

1. Extend Sunrise Launch Period from 30 to 60 days with a standardized process.

2. Extend the TMCH and Claims Notices for an indefinite period; ensure the process is easy to use, secure, and stable.

3. Complete the URS as a low cost alternative and improve its usefulness – if necessary, ICANN could underwrite for an initial period.

4. Implement a mechanism for trademark owners to prevent second-level registration of their marks (exact matches, plus character strings previously determined to have been abusively registered or used) across all registries, upon payment of a reasonable fee, with appropriate safeguards for registrants with a legitimate right or interest.

5. Validate contact information for registrants in WHOIS.

6. All registrars active in new gTLD registrations must adhere to an amended RAA for all gTLD registrations they sponsor.

7. Enforce compliance of all registry commitments for Standard applications.

8. Expand TM Claims service to cover at least strings previously found to have been abusively registered or used.

Most of these requests are not entirely new, and some have been rejected by the ICANN policy-development process and its board of directors before.

The NTAG points out as much in a letter to ICANN management last week, which says that new gTLD applicants paid their application fees based on promises in the Applicant Guidebook, which should not be changed.

Many of the BC & IPC proposed policy changes have been considered and rejected in no fewer than four different processes and numerous prior Board decisions. Indeed, many go far beyond the recommendations of the IRT, which was comprised almost exclusively of trademark attorneys. These last-minute policy recommendations amount to just another bite of the same apple that already has been bitten down to its core.

The new gTLD policy development process is over. Applicants relied on the policies in the final Guidebook in making business decisions on whether to apply. At the time that ICANN accepted applications and fees from applicants, ICANN and applicants entered into binding agreements. ICANN should not change these agreements unilaterally without extraordinary reason and especially not when it would materially harm the counterparties to the agreements.

The Applicant Guidebook, as it happens, asks applicants to explicitly acknowledge that ICANN may make “reasonable
updates and changes” to the rules, even after the application has been submitted.

But if applicants reckon changes would create a “material hardship”, ICANN is obliged to “work with Applicant in good faith to attempt to make reasonable accommodations in order to mitigate any negative consequences”

GAC gets its way in new Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is the beneficiary of the biggest changes in the new version of the new gTLD program Applicant Guidebook.

Published late last night, the Guidebook has been revised with mainly cosmetic changes.

The exception is the updated text on GAC Advice on New gTLDs, the mechanism through which the GAC can effectively torpedo any new gTLD application it doesn’t like.

The new text is exactly what the GAC asked for following the ICANN meeting in Dakar last October, rather than the edited version ICANN chose to put in the Guidebook in January.

Basically, the GAC put ICANN staff on the naughty step in Costa Rica this March for failing to insert its advice into the Guidebook verbatim, and this has now been rectified.

The changes don’t mean a heck of a lot for applicants.

Essentially, if the GAC finds a consensus against an application, there’s still a “strong presumption” that the ICANN board should reject it.

If only some governments object, the board is still expected to enter into talks to understand the scope of the concern before making its call.

The new Guidebook has removed two references to the fact that the ICANN board can overrule a GAC advice-objection, but that power still exists in ICANN’s bylaws.

The main reason the text has been removed was that the GAC complained in Costa Rica that it appeared to weaken the consultation process required by the bylaws.

And it was pissed off that ICANN staff had edited its text without consultation.

Olympics wastes more money on ICANN nonsense

Kevin Murphy, May 14, 2012, Domain Policy

International Olympic Committee lawyers have lodged an official appeal of ICANN’s latest decision to not grant it extra-extra special new gTLD protection.

The [O]Lympic Cafe, close to both DI headquarters and the London 2012(TM) Olympic(TM) Park, which apparently found a novel solution when the IOC's lackeys came knocking.The IOC last week filed a Reconsideration Request asking the ICANN board to rethink an April 10 decision that essentially ignored the latest batch of “.olympic” special pleading.

As previously reported, ICANN’s GNSO Council recently spent a harrowing couple of meetings trying to grant the Olympic and Red Cross trademarks even more protection than they already get.

Among other things, the recommendations would have protected strings confusingly similar to “.olympic” at the top level in the new gTLD program.

But a month ago the ICANN board of directors’ newly created, non-conflicted new gTLD program committee declined to approve the GNSO Council’s recommendations.

The committee pointed out in its rationale that the application window is pretty much closed, making changes to the Applicant Guidebook potentially problematic:

a change of this nature to the Applicant Guidebook nearly three months into the application window – and after the date allowed for registration in the system – could change the basis of the application decisions made by entities interested in the New gTLD Program

It also observed that there was still at that time an open public comment period into the proposed changes, which tended to persuade them to maintain the status quo.

The decision was merely the latest stage of an ongoing farce that I went into much more detail about here.

But apparently not the final stage.

With its Reconsideration Request (pdf), the IOC points out that changes to the Applicant Guidebook have always been predicted, even at this late stage. The Guidebook even has a disclaimer to that effect.

The standard for a Reconsideration Request, which is handled by a board committee, is that the adverse decision was made without full possession of the facts. I can’t see anything in this request that meets this standard.

The IOC reckons the lack of special protections “diverts resources away from the fulfillment of this unique, international humanitarian mission”, stating in its request:

The ICANN Board Committee’s failure to adopt the recommended protection at this time would subject the International Olympic Committee and its National Olympic Committees to costly and burdensome legal proceedings that, as a matter of law, they should not have to rely upon.

Forgive me if I call bullshit.

The Applicant Guidebook already protects the string “.olympic” in over a dozen languages – making it ineligible for delegation – which is more protection than any other organization gets.

But let’s assume for a second that a cybersquatter applies for .olympics (plural) which isn’t specially protected. I’m willing to bet that this isn’t going to happen, but let’s pretend it will.

Let’s also assume that the Governmental Advisory Committee didn’t object to the .olympics application, on the IOC’s behalf, for free. The GAC definitely would object, but let’s pretend it didn’t.

A “costly and burdensome” Legal Rights Objection – which the IOC would easily win – would cost the organization just $2,000, plus the cost of paying a lawyer to write a 20-page complaint.

It has already spent more than this lobbying for special protections that it does not need.

The law firm that has been representing the IOC at ICANN, Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff, sent at least two lawyers to ICANN’s week-long meeting in Costa Rica this March.

Which client(s) paid for this trip? How much did it cost? Did the IOC bear any of the burden?

How much is the IOC paying Bikoff to pursue this Reconsideration Request? How much has it spent lobbying ICANN and national governments these last few years?

What’s the hourly rate for sitting on the GNSO team that spent weeks coming up with the extra special protections that the board rejected?

How much “humanitarian” cash has the IOC already pissed away lining the pockets of lawyers in its relentless pursuit of, at best, a Pyrrhic victory?

ICANN confirms possible new Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2012, Domain Policy

With just a week left before ICANN begins to accept new generic top-level domain applications, the organization has confirmed that it might release a new draft of the Applicant Guidebook.

As you probably know by now, the Guidebook is the Bible for new gTLD applicants. The most-recent version, published back in September last year, was the eighth.

But ICANN has not ruled out a ninth version, presumably the final draft before applications start rolling into Marina del Rey on January 12.

Senior vice president Kurt Pritz said in an emailed statement:

Since its opening, our customer service center has received a number of questions requesting clarifications on some Guidebook points. These clarifications have been made through the responses by the customer service.

We will summarize those clarifications in one document – that might be an Advisory or in the form of an updated Guidebook. In either case, the positions of applicants will not be affected as the information will repeat that in previously answered questions.

Pritz also added that a new draft of the separate guidebook for the recently developed Applicant Support program may be released after public comments close later this month.

It’s unlikely that a revised Guidebook will contain any big surprises, if it only contains clarifications of text already found in the current version.

I’ve been trawling ICANN’s new gTLD customer service center knowledge base for interesting facts for weeks and come up pretty much empty — most answers to applicants’ questions merely refer back to the Guidebook.

(Hat tip to new gTLD consultancy Fairwinds, which first noticed the possibility of a new Guidebook.)

GAC new gTLD veto refuses to die

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee seems to be trying yet again to resurrect the government right of veto over controversial new top-level domain applications.

The GAC has proposed changes to the new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook that – at least on the face of it – would remove ICANN’s power to overrule GAC objections.

The changes would also make it much more likely that a gTLD application could be killed off due to the objections of a single nation.

If adopted, they would also make the already unpredictable process of anticipating the result of GAC objections considerably more ambiguous.

The supposedly “complete” Guidebook published by ICANN last month currently includes a warning that the GAC is working on its objecting rules, and that these will be included in future.

The GAC Communique (pdf) issued at the ICANN meeting in Dakar on Friday includes these proposed rules as an annex, and they’re not great if you’re a likely new gTLD applicant.

Consensus objections

If the GAC issues a consensus objection to an application, the Guidebook currently states that a “strong presumption” would be created that the application should fail.

But ICANN’s board would be able to overrule it with a so-called “Bylaws consultation”, the same process it used to approve .xxx earlier this year.

In its proposed revisions, the GAC inexplicably wants to delete the references to the Bylaws consultation.

My understanding is that the GAC is not proposing a change to the Bylaws, so the right of the board to initiate a consultation and overrule a GAC objection would still exist.

But the GAC seems to be asking for applicants to be given far less information about that process than they need, making its own powers appear greater than they are.

This could raise the psychological barrier to initiating a Bylaws consultation and create the perception that a consensus GAC objection always kills an application, which may not be the case.

The Dakar communique defines GAC consensus as “the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection”, which creates its own set of worries.

Non-consensus objections

A much bigger change is proposed to the way ICANN handles GAC “concerns” about an application.

This is GAC code for a non-consensus objection, where one or more governments has a problem with an application but the GAC as a whole cannot agree to object.

This is the objection mechanism that will very likely capture applications for gTLDs such as .gay, but it could basically cover any string for any reason.

Using the Guidebook’s current wording, there would be no presumption that this kind of application should be rejected. It would be in ICANN’s discretion to initiate a Bylaws consultation.

But the GAC wants something that sounds rather a lot like a Bylaws consultation made mandatory.

“The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns,” it says. “The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.”

This basically means that an application for .gay that was objected to by just two or three governments would have to undergo the pretty much the same level of scrutiny as .xxx did.

The political pressure on ICANN to kill the application would be much more intense than it would under the Guidebook’s current rules.

Here’s a table of the GAC’s proposed changes.

Applicant GuidebookGAC Proposed Text
I. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for ICANN that the application should not be approved. In the event that the ICANN Board determines to approve an application despite the consensus advice of the GAC,
pursuant to the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC and the ICANN Board will then try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the event the Board determines not to accept the GAC Advice, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.
l. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that the application should not be approved.
II. The GAC provides advice that indicates that some governments are concerned about a particular application. Such advice will be passed on to the applicant but will not create the presumption that the application should be denied, and such advice would not require the Board to undertake the process for attempting to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC should the application be approved. Note that in any case, that the Board will take seriously any other advice that GAC might provide and will consider
entering into dialogue with the GAC to understand the
scope of the concerns expressed.
ll. The GAC advises ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application "dot-example". The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.
II. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed. If there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing government approval), that action may be taken. However, material amendments to applications are generally prohibited and if there is no remediation method available, the application will not go forward and the applicant can re-apply in the second round.lll. The GAC advises ICANN that a particular application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed unless there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing one or more government’s approval) that is implemented by the applicant.

In summary, the GAC wants to give more weight to fringe objections and to make the whole process potentially much more confusing for applicants.

I can’t see ICANN sensibly adding the GAC’s text to the Guidebook without at the very least some edits for clarity.

There’s a new new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook and it’s quite boring

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has released the eighth version of the Applicant Guidebook for the new generic top-level domains program as promised, and as expected it’s rather dull.

Here it is.

By far the most important change appears to be the firm inclusion of a new deadline: March 29, 2012.

If you’re a new gTLD applicant, and you have not registered with ICANN’s TLD Application System by 2359 UTC, March 29, 2012, you’re done – your application fails at the starting blocks.

Apart from that, there does not appear to be much to get excited about.

The long gap since the program was approved by the ICANN board on June 20 had some people scratching their heads, wondering whether major changes were in store.

But what’s been published tonight appears to differ very little from the draft published in May, and most of the edits are those specifically envisaged by the June resolution.

It has, for example, been updated to reflect some of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s requests that ICANN’s board of directors acceded to in Singapore.

There’s no longer a requirement for the GAC to reach consensus in a transparent way when it deliberates about new gTLD objections.

There’s also almost 40 new strings – variants of the Olympic, Olympiad, Red Cross and Red Crescent trademarks – that are now explicitly banned from the first round of gTLD applications. These are being called “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”, rather than “Reserved” strings.

(As an aside, while it’s easy to understand the GAC’s rationale for this, does it strike anyone else as a completely pointless move? The gTLD .olympic may be now banned, but the far better and more obvious squat, .olympics, is not.)

No redline version of the Guidebook – in which all the edits are highlighted – has yet been published, but ICANN has released a non-exhaustive document summarizing the changes here.

Not included in that summary is ICANN president Rod Beckstrom’s new introduction, which addresses the latest batch of criticisms leveled at the program (such as the perceived lack of publicity since June and the unfinished applicant support policy).

It also drops the “Dear Prospective Applicant” salutation found in previous versions of the Guidebook, which probably doesn’t mean anything.

The disclaimer that the Guidebook has not been approved has also disappeared. While the document could be considered a production copy, it by no means presents a full picture of the program

Some of the items of unfinished business I outlined in this article last month remain unfinished.

The aforementioned applicant support program, for example, is not likely to be approved until the ICANN board’s meeting in Dakar, October 28.

The new Guidebook explicitly punts this, now saying it will be handled “through a process independent of this Guidebook”.

The Singapore promise that ICANN would continue discussing the US and EU government concerns about cross ownership between registrars and registries does not appear to have led to any edits either, but that does not necessarily mean it’s settled law.

Also, the process the GAC will use internally to decide whether to raise objections to gTLD applications is still not known.

In summary, it appears that we have an Applicant Guidebook that is “approved”, but is unlikely to be the “final” version.

Final gTLD Applicant Guidebook expected this week

Kevin Murphy, July 25, 2011, Domain Policy

It’s been over a month since ICANN approved its new top-level domains program, but we still don’t have a final-final version of the Applicant Guidebook.

The resolution approving the program ICANN passed in Singapore called for a number of amendments to be made to the 352-page tome.

The current draft was published May 30, and so far ICANN has not said when the next version – likely to be the version used in the first round of applications – will be released.

I inquired, and now word has come from on high that ICANN’s new gTLD team hopes to have the English version of the new Guidebook published by the end of July – this coming weekend.

The Singapore resolution called for changes to the government Early Warning and Advice processes, added protection for Olympic and Red Cross trademarks, and a modification of the Uniform Rapid Suspension cybersquatting policy.

One has to wonder if the changes outlined in the resolution are the only changes that we’ll see – a month seems like a long time to make just a few fairly minor edits.

The resolution said the board “authorizes staff to make further updates and changes to the Applicant Guidebook as necessary and appropriate”.

The first round of new gTLD applications is set to open January 12.

Why we won’t see dotless domain names

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2011, Domain Tech

Will http://google ever work?

Will any of the hundreds of .brand gTLDs expected to be approved by ICANN in its first round of new top-level domains resolve without dots?

Will users be able to simply type in the name of the brand they’re looking for into their browser’s address bar and have it resolve to the company’s official site?

Probably not, according to the experts.

ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook answers this question, but you need to know where to look, and to know a little about DNS records, to figure it out what it actually says.

Section 2.2.3.3 of the Guidebook (page 75 of the May 30 PDF) provides a list of the permissible contents of a new gTLD zone.

Specifically not allowed are A and AAAA records, which browsers need in order to find web sites using IPv4 and IPv6 respectively.

“To facilitate a dotless domain, you would need to place an A or a AAAA record in the zone, and these are not on the list of permitted record types,” said Kim Davies, root zone manager at IANA. “The net result is a default prohibition on dotless domains.”

Applicants may be able to obtain A/AAAA records if they specifically ask for them, but this is very likely to trigger an Extended Evaluation and a Registry Services Review, according to Davies and the Guidebook.

There’s an additional $50,000 fee for a Registry Services Review, with no guarantee of success. It will also add potentially months to the application’s processing time.

(Incidentally, ICANN has also banned DNS “wildcards”. You cannot have an infinite SiteFinder-style catch-all at the second level, you need to allocate domain names individually.)

Applicants that successfully obtain A/AAAA records, enabling dotless domains, would face a far greater problem than ICANN’s rules – endpoint software probably won’t support them.

“As it stands, most common software does not support the concept,” Davies said. “There is a common assumption that fully qualified domain names will have at least one dot in them.”

You can type IP addresses, host names, domain names or search terms into browser address bars, and dots are one of the ways the software figures out you’re looking for a domain.

You can test this today. There are already a handful of top-level domains, probably fewer than 20 and all ccTLDs, that have implemented an A record at the TLD level.

On some platforms, you may be able to get URLs such as http://io and http://ac to work.

They don’t revolve on any Windows 7 browser I’ve tested (Firefox/IE/Chrome), but I’d be interested in hearing your experiences, if you’d be so good as to leave a comment below.

Given the lack of software support, it may be a poor use of time and resources to fight ICANN for a dotless gTLD that most internet users won’t even be able to resolve.

According to a recent CircleID article by Paul Vixie, chairman of the Internet Systems Consortium, many browsers treat domains without dots as local resources.

Only if the browser’s “DNS search list” cannot find a local resource matching the dotless TLD will it then go out to the internet to look for it.

In some organizations, a local resource may have been configured which matches a new gTLD. There may be a local server called “mail” for example, which could clash with a .mail gTLD.

A recent article in The Register quoted security people fretting about what would happen if a malicious hacker somehow persuaded ICANN to approve a string such as .localhost or .lan.

These worries appear to be largely reliant on an erroneous belief that getting your hands on a gTLD is going to be as simple as registering a domain name.

In reality, there’s going to be months of technical evaluation – conducted in a fish-bowl, subject to public comment, applicant background checks and, in the case of a request for A records, the aforementioned Registry Services Review – before a gTLD is approved.

If everything works according to plan, security problems will be highlighted by this process and any gTLDs that would break the internet will be caught and rejected.

So it seems very unlikely that we’re going to see domains without dots hitting the web any time soon.

Domain names are designed to help people find you. Dotless domains today will not do that, even if ICANN does approve them.

Hot topics for ICANN Singapore

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s 41st public meeting kicks off in Singapore on Monday, and as usual there are a whole array of controversial topics set to be debated.

As is becoming customary, the US government has filed its eleventh-hour saber-rattling surprises, undermining ICANN’s authority before its delegates’ feet have even touched the tarmac.

Here’s a high-level overview of what’s going down.

The new gTLD program

ICANN and the Governmental Advisory Committee are meeting on Sunday to see if they can reach some kind of agreement on the stickiest parts of the Applicant Guidebook.

They will fail to do so, and ICANN’s board will be forced into discussing an unfinished Guidebook, which does not have full GAC backing, during its Monday-morning special meeting.

It’s Peter Dengate Thrush’s final meeting as chairman, and many observers believe he will push through some kind of new gTLDs resolution to act as his “legacy”, as well as to fulfill the promise he made in San Francisco of a big party in Singapore.

My guess is that the resolution will approve the program in general, lay down some kind of timetable for its launch, and acknowledge that the Guidebook needs more work before it is rubber-stamped.

I think it’s likely that the days of seemingly endless cycles of redrafting and comment are over for good, however, which will come as a relief to many.

Developing nations

A big sticking point for the GAC is the price that new gTLD applicants from developing nations will have to pay – it wants eligible, needy applicants to get a 76% discount, from $185,000 to $44,000.

The GAC has called this issue something that needs sorting out “as a matter of urgency”, but ICANN’s policy is currently a flimsy draft in desperate need of work.

The so-called JAS working group, tasked with creating the policy, currently wants governmental entities excluded from the support program, which has made the GAC, predictably, unhappy.

The JAS has proven controversial in other quarters too, particularly the GNSO Council.

Most recently, ICANN director Katim Touray, who’s from Gambia, said the Council had been “rather slow” to approve the JAS’s latest milestone report, which, he said:

might well be construed by many as an effort by the GNSO to scuttle the entire process of seeking ways and means to provide support to needy new gTLD applicants

This irked Council chair Stephane Van Gelder, who rattled off a response pointing out that the GNSO had painstakingly followed its procedures as required under the ICANN bylaws.

Watch out for friction there.

Simply, there’s no way this matter can be put to bed in Singapore, but it will be the topic of intense discussions because the new gTLD program cannot sensibly launch without it.

The IANA contract

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration wants to beef up the IANA contract to make ICANN more accountable to the NTIA and, implicitly, the GAC.

Basically, IANA is being leveraged as a way to make sure that .porn and .gay (and any other TLD not acceptable to the world’s most miserable regimes) never make it onto the internet.

If at least one person does not stand up during the public forum on Thursday to complain that ICANN is nothing more than a lackey of the United States, I’d be surprised. My money’s on Khaled Fattal.

Vertical integration

The eleventh hour surprise I referred to earlier.

The US Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, informed ICANN this week that its plan to allow gTLD registries such as VeriSign, Neustar and Afilias to own affiliated registrars was “misguided”.

I found the letter (pdf) utterly baffling. It seems to say that the DoJ would not be able to advise ICANN on competition matters, despite the fact that the letter itself contains a whole bunch of such advice.

The letter has basically scuppered VeriSign’s chances of ever buying a registrar, but I don’t think anybody thought that would happen anyway.

Neustar is likely to be the most publicly annoyed by this, given how vocally it has pursued its vertical integration plans, but I expect Afilias and others will be bugged by this development too.

The DoJ’s position is likely to be backed up by Europe, now that the NTIA’s Larry Strickling and European Commissioner Neelie Kroes are BFFs.

Cybercrime

Cybercrime is huge at the moment, what with governments arming themselves with legions of hackers and groups such as LulzSec and Anonymous knocking down sites like dominoes.

The DNS abuse forum during ICANN meetings, slated for Monday, is usually populated by pissed-off cops demanding stricter enforcement of Whois accuracy.

They’ve been getting louder during recent meetings, a trend I expect to continue until somebody listens.

This is known as “engaging”.

Geek stuff

IPv6, DNSSEC and Internationalized Domain Names, in other words. There are sessions on all three of these important topics, but they rarely gather much attention from the policy wonks.

With IPv6 and DNSSEC, we’re basically looking at problems of adoption. With IDNs, there’s impenetrably technical stuff to discuss relating to code tables and variant strings.

The DNSSEC session is usually worth a listen if you’re into that kind of thing.

The board meeting

Unusually, the board’s discussion of the Guidebook has been bounced to Monday, leading to a Friday board meeting with not very much to excite.

VeriSign will get its .net contract renewed, no doubt.

The report from the GAC-board joint working group, which may reveal how the two can work together less painfully in future, also could be interesting.

Anyway…

Enough of this blather, I’ve got a plane to catch.

US resurrects the controversial new TLDs veto

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government intends to give itself greater oversight powers over ICANN’s new top-level domains program, according to a partial draft of the next IANA contract.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has proposed what amounts to a Governmental Advisory Committee veto over controversial new TLDs.

The agency last night published a Further Notice Of Inquiry (pdf), which includes a proposed Statement Of Work that would form part of ICANN’s next IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which is up for renewal September 30, gives ICANN many of its key powers over the domain name system’s root database.

The new documents seem to fulfill NTIA assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling’s promise to use the IANA contract “as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency” at ICANN.

If the new draft provisions are finalized, ICANN would be contractually obliged to hold new gTLD applicants to a higher standard than currently envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook.

The FNOI notes that the US believes (my emphasis):

there is a need to address how all stakeholders, including governments collectively, can operate within the paradigm of a multi-stakeholder environment and be satisfied that their interests are being adequately addressed

The Statement Of Work, under the heading “Responsibility and Respect for Stakeholders” includes new text that addresses this perceived need:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

The current Applicant Guidebook does not require “consensus support from relevant stakeholders” before a new gTLD is approved.

It gives applicants the opportunity to show support from self-defined communities, and it gives communities the right to object to any application, but it does not require consensus.

Earlier this year, the GAC asked ICANN to beef up the Guidebook to make community support or non-objection a proactive requirement for applicants, but ICANN declined to make the change.

The .xxx Factor

The NTIA’s proposed “respect rule” alludes to the approval of .xxx, which the US and other governments believe was both not in the global public interest and unsupported by the porn industry.

Had the rule been applicable in March, ICANN could very well have found itself in breach of the IANA contract, and the NTIA could have been within its rights to block the TLD.

One way to look at this is as a US government safeguard against ICANN’s board of directors overruling GAC objections to new TLDs in future.

The Guidebook currently gives the GAC the right to object to any application for any reason, such as if it believed a proposed string was not supported by a community it purported to represent.

But the Guidebook, reflecting ICANN’s bylaws, also gives ICANN the ability to disagree with GAC advice (including its new TLD objections) and essentially overrule it.

Under the NTIA’s proposed IANA contract language, if ICANN were to overrule a GAC objection to a controversial application, the NTIA would be able to claim that the gTLD was approved without stakeholder consensus, in violation of the IANA contract.

The new gTLD program would have, in essence, a backdoor GAC veto.

While these changes are being made unilaterally by the US, they are certain to be supported by the European Commission and probably other members of the GAC.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes urged Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke to block or delay .xxx back in April, and subsequently met with Strickling to discuss their mutual opposition to the TLD.

Kroes and Strickling seem to agree agree that ICANN should not have signed the .xxx registry contract over the (weak, non-consensus) objection of the GAC.

The FNOI will shortly open for 45 days of public comment, so we’re not likely to know precisely how this is going to play out in the new IANA contract until August.

ICANN is now in the tricky position of trying to figure out how to incorporate this mess into the Guidebook, which it has indicated it plans to approve just over a week from now.

Singapore is going to be very interesting indeed.