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Could this be ICANN’s most important public comment period ever?

Kevin Murphy, April 24, 2013, Domain Policy

How much power should governments have over the domain name industry? Should the industry be held responsible for the actions of its customers? Are domain names the way to stop crime?

These are some of the questions likely to be addressed during ICANN’s latest public comment period, which could prove to be one of the most important consultations it’s ever launched.

ICANN wants comments on governmental advice issued during the Beijing meeting two weeks ago, which sought to impose a broad regulatory environment on new gTLD registries.

According to this morning’s announcement:

[ICANN’s Board New gTLD Committee] has directed staff to solicit comment on how it should address one element of the advice: safeguards applicable to broad categories of New gTLD strings. Accordingly, ICANN seeks public input on how the Board New gTLD Committee should address section IV.1.b and Annex I of the GAC Beijing Communiqué.

Annex 1 of the Beijing communique is the bit in which the GAC told ICANN to impose sweeping new rules on new gTLD registries. It’s only a few pages long, but that’s because it contains a shocking lack of detail.

For all new gTLDs, the GAC wants ICANN to:

  • Apply a set of abuse “safeguards” to all new gTLDs, including mandatory annual Whois accuracy audits. Domain names found to use false Whois would be suspended by the registry.
  • Force all registrants in new gTLDs to provide an abuse point of contact to the registry.
  • Make registries responsible for adjudicating complaints about copyright infringement and counterfeiting, suspending domains if they decide (how, it’s not clear) that laws are being broken.

For the 385 gTLD applications deemed to represent “regulated or professional sectors”, the GAC wants ICANN to:

  • Reject the application unless the applicant partners with an appropriate industry trade association. New gTLDs such as .game, .broadway and .town could only be approved if they had backing from “relevant regulatory, or industry self-­regulatory, bodies” for gaming, theater and towns, for example.
  • Make the registries responsible for policing registrants’ compliance with financial and healthcare data security laws.
  • Force registries to include references to organic farming legislation in their terms of service.

For gTLD strings related to “financial, gambling, professional services, environmental, health and fitness, corporate identifiers, and charity” the GAC wants even more restrictions.

Essentially, it’s told ICANN that a subset of the strings in those categories (it didn’t say which ones) should only be operated as restricted gTLDs, a little like .museum or .post are today.

It probably wouldn’t be possible for a poker hobbyist to register a .poker domain in order to blog about his victories and defeats, for example, unless they had a license from an appropriate gambling regulator.

Attempting to impose last-minute rules on applicants appears to reverse one of the GAC’s longstanding GAC Principles Regarding New gTLDs, dating back to 2007, which states:

All applicants for a new gTLD registry should therefore be evaluated against transparent and predictable criteria, fully available to the applicants prior to the initiation of the process. Normally, therefore, no subsequent addition selection criteria should be used in the selection process.

The Beijing communique also asks ICANN to reconsider allowing singular and plural versions of the same string to coexist, and says “closed generic” or “exclusive access” single-registrant gTLDs must serve a public interest purpose or be rejected.

There’s a lot of stuff to think about in the communique.

But ICANN’s post-Beijing problem isn’t whether it should accept the GAC’s advice, it’s to first figure out what the hell the GAC is actually asking for.

Take this bit, for example:

Registry operators will require that registrants who collect and maintain sensitive health and financial data implement reasonable and appropriate security measures commensurate with the offering of those services, as defined by applicable law and recognized industry standards.

This one paragraph alone raises a whole bunch of extremely difficult questions.

How would registry operators identify which registrants are handling sensitive data? If .book has a million domains, how would the registry know which are used to sell books and which are just reviewing them?

How would the registries “require” adherence to data security laws? Is it just a case of paying lip service in the terms of service, or do they have to be more proactive?

What’s a “reasonable and appropriate security measure”? Should a .doctor site that provides access to healthcare information have the same security as one that merely allows appointments to be booked? What about a .diet site that knows how fat all of its users are? How would a registry differentiate between these use cases?

Which industry standards are applicable here? Which data security laws? From which country? What happens if the laws of different nations conflict with each other?

If a registry receives a complaint about non-compliance, how on earth does the registry figure out if the complaint is valid? Do they have to audit the registrant’s security practices?

What should happen if a registrant does not comply with these laws or industry standards? Does its domain get taken away? One would assume so, but the GAC, for some reason, doesn’t say.

The ICANN community could spend five years discussing these questions, trying to build a framework for registries to police security compliance, and not come to any consensus.

The easier answer is of course: it’s none of ICANN’s business.

Is it ICANN’s job to govern how web sites securely store and transmit healthcare data? I sure hope not.

And those are just the questions raised by one paragraph.

The Beijing communique as a whole is a perplexing, frustrating mess of ideas that seems to have been hastily cobbled together from a governmental wish-list of fixes for perceived problems with the internet.

It lacks detail, which suggests it lacks thought, and it’s going to take a long time for the community to discuss, even as many affected new gTLD applicants thought they were entering the home stretch.

Underlying everything, however, is the question of how much weight the GAC’s advice — which is almost always less informed than advice from any other stakeholder group — should carry.

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade and chair Steve Crocker have made many references recently to the “multi-stakeholder model” actually being the “multi-equal-stakeholder model”.

This new comment period is the first opportunity the other stakeholders get to put this to the test.

ICANN starts the clock on new gTLD GAC advice

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2013, Domain Policy

The over 500 new gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice on their bids have 21 days from today to file their responses officially with ICANN.

But there’s still some confusion about who exactly is expected to file responses, given the extraordinary breadth of the advice contained within the GAC’s Beijing communique.

ICANN today put applicants on formal notice of the publication of the Beijing communique, which actually came out a week ago, and said applicants have until May 10 to respond to the ICANN board.

What it didn’t do is say which applicants are affected. Technically, it could be all of them.

The Beijing communique contains six “safeguards” related to things such as abuse and security, which it said “should apply to all new gTLDs”.

On a more granular level, the GAC has called out, we believe, 517 individual applications that should not be approved or that should not be approved unless they do what the GAC says.

The Beijing communique, it could be argued, throws the whole new gTLD program into disarray, and this is the first chance applicants will get to put their views directly in writing to the ICANN board.

GAC Advice on new gTLDs “not the end of the story”

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Governments may want new gTLD registries to become the internet’s police force, but ICANN doesn’t have to take it lying down.

ICANN is set to open up the shock Beijing communique to public comments, CEO Fadi Chehade said Friday, while chair Steve Crocker has already raised the possibility of not following the GAC’s advice.

“Advice from governments carries quite a bit of weight and equally it is not the end of the story,” Crocker said in a post-meeting interview with ICANN PR Brad White.

“We have a carefully constructed multi-stakeholder process,” he said. “We want very much to listen to governments, and we also want to make sure there’s a balance.”

The ICANN bylaws, he reminded us, give ICANN “a preference towards following advice from the GAC, but not an absolute requirement.”

That’s a reference the the part of the bylaws that enables ICANN’s board to overrule GAC advice, as long as it carries out consultation and provides sound reasoning.

It was invoked once before, when ICANN tried to get a handle on the GAC’s concerns about .xxx in 2011.

In this case, I’d be very surprised indeed if the GAC’s advice out of Beijing does not wind up in this bylaws process, if only because the document appears to be internally contradictory in parts.

It’s also vague and broad enough in parts that ICANN is going to need much more detail if it hopes to even begin to implement it.

It looks like at least 517 new gTLD applications will be affected by the GAC’s advice, but in the vast majority of cases it’s not clear what applicants are expected to do about it.

The first part of dissecting the Beijing communique will be a public comment period, Chehade said during the interview Friday. He said:

The community wishes to participate in the discussion about the GAC communique. So, alongside the staff analysis that is starting right now on the GAC communique we have decided to put the GAC communique out for public comment, soliciting the entire community to give us their input to ensure that the GAC communique is taken seriously but also encompasses our response, encompasses the views of the whole community.

Watch the full video below.

Delay not certain as new gTLD contracts reopened

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2013, Domain Policy

The launch window for new gTLDs may have just got pushed back another month or two, following the announcement of a new 42-day comment period on registry and registrar contracts.

But ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said he’s looking at ways to streamline the process to offset the delays.

During the public forum in Beijing yesterday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said that he’d cancelled a scheduled April 20 meeting of its board of directors, during which the new agreements were targeted for approval.

Instead, new versions of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement and new gTLDs base Registry Agreement will be posted for public comment next week.

As these are expected to be the final versions of both documents, they’re also expected to have full comment periods of 42 days — 21 for comments and 21 for replies.

“I believe that putting the last version of RAA for 2013 out for full public comment process is actually strengthening that agreement,” Chedhade said today. “It makes it an agreement of the community.”

For the Registry Agreement, Chehade said talks with registries are going well and that he hopes to have a version ready for public comment agreed with negotiators in less than a week.

Assuming an April 19 start, that puts the earliest possible date for ICANN board approval at May 31, assuming the board waits for the comment period to end before giving it the rubber stamp.

Before the contracts are approved, they can’t be signed by registries and registrars, and before they are signed new gTLD applicants cannot progress to the final pre-launch stages of the delegation process.

But Chehade is weighing an idea put forward during the public forum by Donuts’ Jon Nevett: why not allow applicants to complete pre-delegation technical testing before contract signing?

“We could potentially do something about advancing this step ahead of contracting, finding a way to start pre-delegation testing before contracting is done,” Chehade said.

GAC delivers sweeping advice that will delay scores of new gTLDs by months

Kevin Murphy, April 11, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has issued the kiss of death to two new gTLD applications and sweeping advice that will delay many, many more.

In its Beijing communique, issued this hour, the GAC as expected delivered advice against whole categories of gTLDs and provided a lengthy but “non-exhaustive” list of affected bids.

First, the GAC said that the .africa bid filed by DotConnectAfrica and the .gcc bid filed by GCCIX WLL should be rejected. Those were full consensus objections.

Two gTLDs related to Islam: .islam and .halal, have non-consensus objections, and will now have to be considered by the ICANN board of directors directly.

The GAC also said it needed more time, until ICANN’s meeting in Durban this July, to consider delivering specific advice against 14 more:

the GAC advises the ICANN Board to: not proceed beyond Initial Evaluation with the following strings: .shenzhen (IDN in Chinese), .persiangulf, .guangzhou (IDN in Chinese), .amazon (and IDNs in Japanese and Chinese), .patagonia, .date, .spa, .yun, .thai, .zulu, .wine, .vin

On the issue of plurals versus singulars, the GAC said ICANN should “Reconsider its decision to allow singular and plural versions of the same strings.” This affects about 60 applications.

But it doesn’t end there.

As predicted, the GAC has also issued swathes of advice against scores of proposed gTLDs in 12 categories: children, environmental, health and fitness, financial, gambling, charity, education, intellectual property, professional services, corporate identifiers, generic geographical terms and inherently governmental functions.

A “non-exhaustive” list of applications has been provided for each category, covering well over 100, setting the stage for a fight over inclusion for any application that the GAC forgot about.

If the GAC gets its way, any application that falls into one of these categories will have to have enhanced regulations governing Whois, abuse mitigation, and security.

The GAC also has its say on “closed generics”, which it calls “exclusive registry access” strings. They should only be awarded if they serve a public interest purpose, the GAC said.

In short, the advice is extraordinarily broad and seems to delegate the considerable work of picking through the mess to ICANN.

More analysis later…

Plural gTLDs give ICANN huge credibility risk

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2013, Domain Policy

Can .pet and .pets co-exist peacefully on the internet? Or would they create such confusion among internet users that the whole new gTLD program would look irresponsible and foolish?

That’s the question ICANN is due to face today, as constituents line up at the public forum in Beijing to question its board of directors about the problem of plurals in new gTLDs.

The Governmental Advisory Committee, the Business Constituency, the Intellectual Property Constituency and others have all openly questioned the sanity of allowing plurals in recent days.

Right now there are 59 collisions between singular and plural gTLD applications (in English, at least, according to my analysis), involving 23 unique string pairs.

These are: .accountant(s), .auto(s), career(s), .car(s), .coupon(s), .cruise(s), .deal(s), .fan(s), .game(s), .gift(s), .home(s), .hotel(s), .kid(s), .loan(s), .market(s), .new(s), .pet(s), .photo(s), .review(s), .sport(s), .tour(s), .web(s) and .work(s).

None of these singular/plural clashes are currently in contention sets with each other, meaning there’s nothing to stop them all being delegated by ICANN. We could have a .loan alongside a .loans a year from now.

It seems to be only common sense that these clashes will cause frequent confusion. I doubt many would pass the longstanding “shouted across a crowded bar” test for URL clarity.

Would you want to register a .photo domain if you knew .photos was also available, and vice versa? If you did, wouldn’t you also want to register the .photos equivalent, just in case?

That’s one of the things ICANN’s commercial stakeholders are worried about: 23 extra TLDs means 23 extra defensive registrations for every brand they want to protect.

But there’s also the risk that gTLD registries that are successful in this application round will feel obliged to apply for the plurals of their strings in future rounds for defensive purposes.

The plurals issue also highlights shortcomings in how the new gTLD program was structured.

Why is this happening?

Unless two companies applied for the exact same strings, there are only two ways they could end up in a contention set together.

The first way was if the String Similarity Panel decided that the two strings were too visually similar to be allowed to co-exist, and that didn’t happen in the case of plurals. The panel only decided two things in the end: that I and l are confusingly similar, and that rn and m are confusingly similar.

To date, nobody except the Panel and ICANN knows what the logic behind this decision was, but it appears to be based on a very narrow (though not unreasonable) interpretation of what constitutes visual similarity.

The second way to end up in a contention set was to file a successful String Confusion Objection, or to be on the receiving end of one.

But of the 33 such objections filed, only 11 were filed against plurals, covering only six new gTLD strings in total: .pets, .tours, .webs, .games, .cars, and .kids. There was also an objection to .tvs, due to a clash with the existing ccTLD .tv.

(UPDATE: it appears that only approximately half of the String Similarity Objections filed have actually been revealed to date).

The main reason there weren’t more objections is that only existing registries and new gTLD applicants had standing to file an objection. Nobody else was allowed to.

Applicants were of course disincentivized from filing objections. Winning a String Confusion Objection doesn’t kill off your rival if you’re an applicant, it merely places both applications in a contention set.

Being in a contention set means you’re going to have to pay money to get rid of your competitor, either by negotiating some kind of private deal or by punching it out at auction.

By not filing objections, applicants in singular/plural situations risk looking like they don’t care about user confusion or are blasé about forcing defensive registrations.

(And by defensive registrations, remember here we’re not only talking about trademark owners, we’re talking about every potential future registrant in those gTLDs.)

They do have the slight excuse that they were only given a week or so to file objections after the results of the String Similarity Panel’s deliberations, delayed several times, were revealed.

There’s also the possibility that some of the apparent clashes won’t be as big of a concern in the marketplace due to, for example, registration restrictions.

What happens next?

The GAC is almost certain to issue advice about plurals in the next day or two, having brought the topic up with ICANN’s board of directors earlier this week.

The Business Constituency is also expected to make a few proposals directly to the board during the Public Forum in Beijing, Thursday afternoon local time.

The BC is likely to suggest, for example, that if one String Similarity Objection decision finds that a plural and a singular are confusingly similar, then that ruling should apply to all plural clashes, even if no objection has been filed.

It’s an audacious idea: it would certainly do the trick, but it would require some severe goal-post moving by ICANN at a time when it’s already under fire for pulling last-minute stunts on applicants.

It would also risk capturing fringe cases of strings that look plural but, in the context they are used in everyday language, are not (such as .new and .news).

Without some kind of action, however, ICANN is pretty much guaranteed to attract negative publicity.

Looking like it’s the stooge of the domain name industry, forcing regular registrants to double-buy their domains to the enrichment of registries and registrars, could look bad.

GAC threat looms over ICANN Beijing

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2013, Domain Policy

How the Governmental Advisory Committee handles its advice on new gTLD applications seems to be a big worry at the ICANN public meeting in Beijing this week.

During a session yesterday, new gTLD program vice president Christine Willett was peppered with questions about the approval process going forward, many of which related to the GAC.

There’s also a lot of gossiping about which applications the GAC is thinking about delivering the kiss of death to, and what its advice will mean to the overall program timetable.

DI is not attending the Beijing meeting in person, but here’s what I’ve learned from remote participation and talking to attendees:

Confusion over the GAC Advice standard

Judging by interactions during Willett’s session, there may be a little bit of confusion about whether GAC Advice needs to be “consensus” GAC Advice in order to halt a new gTLD application.

I think the confusion is mainly due to the way some people (Willett and myself included) use phrases such as “non-consensus GAC Advice” as shorthand for a particular paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook.

Here’s the way I understand it:

All GAC Advice — including Advice sent on issues completely unrelated to the new gTLD program — is consensus GAC Advice.

If the GAC sends written Advice to the ICANN board, it means the GAC has reached consensus to send that Advice, even if the Advice itself reflects a lack of consensus on the specifics.

Confusion in the community is arising now because the Applicant Guidebook also talks about three types of “GAC Advice on New gTLDs”, the first of which is:

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.

That’s describing a situation where the GAC has reached a consensus that an application should be rejected. It’s going to sound the death knell for several applications, without doubt.

The second type of GAC Advice on New gTLDs in the Guidebook is:

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.

The language was written by the GAC, using its consensus model, which is why it’s so badly worded.

What it means is that the GAC could not find consensus to kill off an application — some governments want it killed off, some don’t — but that the GAC as a whole reached consensus to tell ICANN that some governments do want it killed off.

So when people talk about “non-consensus” Advice, we’re referring to this second form of GAC Advice on New gTLDs, where the GAC could reached consensus to alert ICANN about “concerns” but could not reach consensus that the application should be taken outside and shot.

Which applications are going to get Advice?

The GAC stated last week that 20 applications had been put forward for specific review at the Beijing meeting.

From what I’ve been able to piece together from the GAC’s public hints, its Early Warnings, and sources in Beijing, I think I’ve identified many of these applications.

I’m pretty certain that DotConnectAfrica’s application for .africa is going to get killer Advice.

I’m not picking on DCA (disclosure: DCA accused me of being part of a racist conspiracy) but it is the only remaining applicant to comprehensively ignore ICANN’s rules on geographic names.

It’s also well-known that Amazon’s application for .amazon (and translations), and Patagonia Inc’s application for .patagonia, both of which were not captured by ICANN’s rules on geography, are unloved by Latin American governments.

The Montevideo Declaration, signed by government ministers from the continent last week, specifically condemns any new gTLDs related to Amazonia and Patagonia.

It’s difficult to see how the GAC could ignore the strength of this position, but it’s always possible that some members may have been lobbied into submission by applicants, therefore spoiling consensus.

Other geographic strings that ICANN’s rules did not identify as geographic may also face Advice.

It’s known that .persiangulf, for example, is racially/culturally divisive because the same body of water is also known as the Arabian Gulf by Arab states in the region.

The Japanese government’s Early Warning against .date (issued because there are two cities in Japan that, when translated into Latin characters, are called Date) is also believed to have been put forward for formal GAC Advice.

Outside of geographic names, I hear that .basketball and .rugby are also on the GAC’s shortlist.

These are interesting cases because the governments with the beef (Greece and the UK) are not concerned about the strings themselves. Rather, they want to make sure their preferred applicant wins.

Both gTLDs are contested, and each contention set has one applicant backed by the official world authority for the sport concerned.

If the GAC issues Advice on either, it’s putting itself in the position of picking winners and losers, which could make for some frenetic lobbying in future application rounds.

The application for .uno is believed to be under discussion in the GAC because it clashes with the acronym of an intergovernmental organization.

It also seems pretty certain that Demand Media’s applications for .navy, .army and .airforce are going to get Advice in one form or another. The US, I gather, is adamant that these bids should be rejected at all costs.

How GAC Advice affects the timetable

Willett said yesterday that ICANN expects to receive the GAC’s Advice this week, which should come as some relief to applicants given that the timing has always been a bit vague.

But it’s still not clear what form the Advice will take.

Sure, there’s bound to be some bits of Advice that call out specific applications for death-by-board, but there may also be Advice that addresses certain “categories” of application.

If that happens, and the GAC does not explicitly state which applications fall into which category, there’s the potential for mass confusion following the Beijing meeting.

I raised this specter last week, and it cropped up again during Willett’s session in Beijing yesterday.

What I forgot about last week, and what Willett was quizzed about yesterday, is that the Guidebook gives applicants with GAC Advice 21 days to respond to it before the ICANN board acts.

“I’m concerned that whereby the GAC Advice is such that it is all-encompassing and non-exhaustive that therefore all applicants must respond and all applicants are waiting another 21 days,” ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis asked. “No applicant can proceed, because they’re all impacted.”

“If that hypothetical situation occurs, I think that’s possible,” Willett responded.

I other words, if the GAC delivers broad advice this week that does not name specific applications, it’s possible that every applicant would have 21 days to tell ICANN’s board why they’re not affected.

That would completely balls up ICANN’s plan to sign its first registry agreements on April 23.

Six big reasons we won’t see any new gTLD launches until Q3

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s announcement of a big media bash in New York on April 23, to announce the launch of new gTLDs, has gotten many people thinking the first launches are imminent.

Wrong.

We’re not going to see any new gTLD domains on sale until the third quarter at the earliest, in my view, and here are a few good reasons why.

April 23 is just a PR thing

ICANN has said that April 23 is primarily about awareness-raising.

Not only does it hope to garner plenty of column inches talking about new gTLDs — helping the marketing efforts of their registries — it also hopes to ceremonially sign the first Registry Agreements.

I think CEO Fadi Chehade’s push to make the industry look more respectable will also play a part, with the promotion of the Registrant Rights and Responsibilities document.

But there’s never been any suggestion that any strings will be delegated at that time, much less go live.

The contracts are still hugely controversial

If ICANN wants to sign a Registry Agreement on April 23, it’s going to need a Registry Agreement to sign.

Right now, applicants are up in arms about ICANN’s demand for greater powers to amend the contract in future.

While ICANN has toned down its proposals, they may still be unacceptable to many registries and gTLD applicants.

Applicants have some impetus to reach agreement quickly — because they want to launch and start making money as soon as possible.

But ICANN wants the same powers added to the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement, and registrars are generally less worried about the speedy approval of new gTLDs.

ICANN has tied the approval of the RA and the RAA together — only registrars on the new RAA will be able to sell domains in new gTLDs.

Chehade has also made it clear that agreement on the new RAA is a gating issue for new gTLD launches.

If registries, registrars and ICANN can’t settle these issues in Beijing, it’s hard to see how any contracts could be signed April 23. The first launch would be delayed accordingly.

GAC Advice might not be what we’re expecting

GAC Advice on New gTLDs is, in my view, the biggest gating issue applicants are facing right now.

GAC Advice is an integral part of the approval process outlined in the Applicant Guidebook and ICANN has said many times that it cannot and will not sign any contracts until the GAC has spoken.

But what does that mean from a process and timing point of view?

According to the Applicant Guidebook, if an application receives GAC Advice, it gets shunted from the main evaluation track to the ICANN board of directors for consideration.

It’s the only time the ICANN board has to get directly involved with the approval process, according to the Guidebook’s rather complex flow-charts.

GAC Advice is not an automatic death sentence, but any application the GAC is unanimously opposed to stands a very slim chance of getting approved by the board.

Given that ICANN is has said it will not sign contracts until it has received GAC Advice, and given that it has said it wants to sign the first contract April 23, it’s clearly expecting to know which applications are problematic and which are not during the next three weeks.

But I don’t think that’s necessarily going to happen. The GAC moves slowly and it has a track record of missing ICANN-imposed deadlines, which it often seems to regard as irksome.

Neither ICANN nor the GAC have ever said GAC Advice on New gTLDs will be issued during next week’s public meeting in Beijing. If a time is given it’s usually “after” or “following” Beijing.

And I don’t think the GAC, which decided against holding an inter-sessional meeting between Toronto and Beijing, is remotely close to providing a full list of specific applications of concern.

I do think a small number of slam-dunk bad applications – such as DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid – will get Advised against during or after the Beijing meeting.

But I also think the GAC is likely to issue Advice that is much broader, and which may not provide the detail ICANN needs to carry the process forward for many applicants.

The GAC, in its most recent (delayed) update, is still talking about “categories” of concern – such as “consumer protection” and “geographical names” – some of which are very broad indeed.

Given the limited amount of time available to it in Beijing, I think it’s quite likely that the GAC is going to produce advice about categories as well as about individual applications.

And, crucially, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to give ICANN a comprehensive list of which specific applications fall into which categories.

If the GAC decides to issue Advice under the banner of “consumer protection”, for example, somebody is going to have to decide which applications are captured by that advice.

Is that just strings that relate to regulated industries such as pharmaceuticals or banking? Or is it any string that relates to selling stuff? What about .shop and .car? Shops and cars are “regulated” by consumer protection and safety laws in most countries.

Deciding which Advice covered which applications would not be an easy task, nor would it be a quick one. I don’t think the GAC has done this work yet, nor do I think it will in Beijing.

For the GAC to reach consensus advice against specific applications will in some cases require GAC representatives to return to their capitals for guidance, which would add delay.

There is, in my view, a very real possibility of more discussions being needed following Beijing, just in order to make sense of what the GAC comes up with.

The new gTLD approval process needs the GAC to provide a list of specific applications or strings with which it has concerns, and we may not see that before April 23.

ICANN may get a short list of applications that definitely do have Advice by then, but it won’t necessarily know which applications do not, which may complicate the contract-signing process.

The Trademark Clearinghouse still needs testing

The Trademark Clearinghouse is already, in one sense, open for business. Trademark owners have been able to submit their marks for validation for a couple of weeks now.

But the hard integration work has not been done yet, because the technical specifications the registries and registrars need to interface with IBM’s TMCH database have not all been finalized.

When the specs are done (it seems likely this will happen in the next few weeks), registries and registrars will need to finish writing their software and start production testing.

ICANN’s working timetable has the TMCH going live July 1, but companies that know much more than me about the technical issues at play here say it’s unlikely that they’ll be ready to go live with Sunrise and Trademark Claims services before August.

It’s in everyone’s interests to get all the bugs ironed out before launch.

For new gTLD registries, a failure of the centralized TMCH database could mean embarrassing bugs and downtime during their critical launch periods.

Trademark owners and domain registrants may also be concerned about the potential for loopholes.

For example, it’s still not clear to some how Trademark Claims – which notifies registrants when there’s a clash between a trademark and a domain they want – will interact with landrush periods.

Does the registrant only get a warning when they apply for the domain, which could be some weeks before a landrush auction? If so, what happens if a mark is submitted to the TMCH between the application and the auction and ultimate registration?

Is that a loophole to bypass Trademark Claims? Could a registrant get hit by a Claim after they’ve just spent thousands to register a domain?

These are the kinds of things that will need to be ironed out before the TMCH goes fully live.

There’s a sunrise notice period

The sunrise period is the first stage of launch in which customers get to register domain names.

Lest we forget, ICANN recently decided to implement a mandatory 30-day notice period for every new gTLD sunrise period. This adds a month to every registry’s go-live runway.

Because gTLD sunrise periods from now on all have to use the TMCH, registries may have to wait until the Clearinghouse is operational before announcing their sunrise dates.

If the TMCH goes live in July, this would push the first launch dates out until August.

Super-eager registries may of course announce their sunrise period as soon as they are able, and then delay it as necessary to accommodate the TMCH, but this might carry public relations risks.

Verisign’s security scare

It’s still not clear how Verisign’s warning about the security risks of launching new gTLDs on the current timetable will be received in Beijing.

If the GAC reckons Verisign’s “concerns” are valid, particularly on the issue of root zone stability, ICANN will have to do a lot of reassuring to avoid being advised to delay its schedule.

Could ICANN offer to finish off its work of root zone automation, for example, before delegating new gTLDs? To do so would add months to the roll-out timetable.

Governments expand gTLD objection shortlist

Kevin Murphy, April 2, 2013, Domain Policy

With the start of its meetings in Beijing just a couple of days away, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has handed out clues as to which new gTLDs it might object to.

The GAC says that 20 specific bids have already been put forward by one government as potential recipients of GAC Advice, but that there are nine broad categories of concern.

Some of the categories seem to obviously apply to certain narrow types of gTLD, while others are broad enough to catch almost any bid the GAC doesn’t like the look of.

Any application that receives adverse GAC Advice at the end of the Beijing meeting faces, at the very least, a prolonged approval process along the lines of what .xxx had to endure.

The worst-case scenario is rejection of the bid by the ICANN board of directors.

These are the GAC’s categories, along with some educated guesses about which strings they could apply to:

  • “Consumer protection” — could apply to anything, depending on how well-lobbied the GAC has been by a particular interest group. Any gTLD that could implausibly be argued to increase the risk of counterfeiting may show up here. A liberal interpretation could well capture .music or sports-related strings.
  • “Strings that are linked to regulated market sectors, such as the financial, health and charity sectors” — Dozens of applications, such as those for .lawyer, .doctor, .health .bank, and .charity — will fall into this category.
  • “Competition issues” — This most likely applies to applications for category-killer dictionary words where the applicant is already a dominant player in the relevant market, such as Google’s bid for .search or Amazon’s for .book.
  • “Strings that have broad or multiple uses or meanings, and where one entity is seeking exclusive use” — Again, this could apply to the many controversial “closed” gTLD applications.
  • “Religious terms where the applicant has no, or limited, support from the relevant religious organisations or the religious community” — I suspect that the the Vatican’s application for .catholic is less at risk than a Turkish company’s bid for .islam. Any Islam-related domains are likely to fail the “support” test, given the lack of centralized control over the religion.
  • “Minimising the need for defensive registrations” — A category that seems to have been specially created for .sucks.
  • “Protection of geographic names” — Most probably will be used to kill off DotConnectAfrica’s application for .africa and Patagonia Inc’s application for .patagonia. But will Amazon’s dot-brand bid also fall foul?
  • “Intellectual property rights particularly in relation to strings aimed at the distribution of music, video and other digital material” — If the GAC buys into the lobbying and believes that an unrestricted .music or .movie gTLD would increase piracy, expect objections to some of those bids. The GAC doesn’t have to provide a shred of evidence to support its Advice at first, remember, so this is not as ludicrous a possibility as it sounds.
  • “Support for applications submitted by global authorities” — This is a newly added category. If the GAC is proposing to submit advice in support of one application in a contention set, there’s no mechanism ICANN can use to ensure that he supported applicant wins the set. The Advice may turn out to be useless. Certain sports-related applications are among those with “global authority” backing.
  • “Corporate Identifier gTLDs” — Not, as this post originally speculated, dot-brands. Rather, this applies to the likes of .inc, .corp, .llc and so on.
  • “Strings that represent inherent government functions and/or activities” — Expect military-themed gTLDs such as .army and .navy to feature prominently here. Could also cover education and healthcare, depending on the government.

The GAC also plans to consider at least 20 specific applications that have been put forward as problematic by one or more governments, as follows:

Community name where the applicant does not have support from the community or the government: 1

Consumer protection: 2

Name of an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO): 1

Protection of geographic names: 9

Religious terms: 2

Strings applied for that represent inherent government functions and/or activities: 3

Support for applications submitted by global authorities: 2

ICANN plans to formally approve the first batch of new gTLDs, with much ceremony, at an event in New York on April 23, but has said it will not approve any until it has received the GAC’s Advice.

The GAC is on the clock, in other words.

While it’s been discussing the new gTLDs on private mailing lists since last year’s Toronto meeting, it’s already missed at least self-imposed deadline. The information released today was due to be published in February.

While the ICANN Beijing meeting does not officially begin until next Monday, and the rest of the community starts its pre-meeting sessions at the weekend, the GAC starts its closed-session meetings this Thursday.

Chehade sets out 12-point plan for next six months

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has set out his goals for ICANN over the next six months in an open letter to the community.

The ambitious 12-point to-do list includes finishing off the next Registrar Accreditation Agreement, finalizing the Trademark Clearinghouse, and launching “a community effort” to address the Whois debate.

The document was described by Chehade at the close of the Toronto meeting last month as his “scorecard” for “what I plan to prioritize and do between now and Beijing”.

The next big ICANN meeting is in Beijing next April.

The letter states that “operational excellence”, something the organization was frequently criticized for its lack of under its previous leadership, is ICANN’s “highest priority”.

The new gTLD program is naturally a big part of that. Chehade said that ICANN plans to:

Deliver on every aspect of the new gTLD program launch next year, meeting obligations and securing the necessary resources and personnel to lead the transition from what has been a policy-driven effort to implementation of a responsive and reliable operation. As a first step, we are working to advance the dialogue on implementation of the Trademark Clearing House. We must also execute the prioritization draw, evaluations, and pre-delegation tests flawlessly.

As part of that effort, a new gTLD services department will be created. Part of its task will be to monitor policy work to make sure the policies being created are “implementable”.

Chehade said that the divisive Whois issue, which he controversially referred to as an “easy” problem to solve during remarks in Toronto, will be subject to a new review:

To strengthen our commitment to the public interest, we will launch a community effort addressing the WHOIS debate in a strategic way, to resolve the longstanding open items in this area.

On the RAA, Chehade said that ICANN “will plan to reach consensus on a solid and enforceable Registrar Accreditation Agreement that is fair and balanced.”

The full letter, which also sets out goals for internationalization and the evolution of the multi-stakeholder model, can be downloaded here.