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Will ICANN punt on .amazon again?

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is piling pressure onto ICANN to finally approve its five-year-old gTLD applications for .amazon, but it seems to me the e-commerce giant will have a while to wait yet.

The company sent a letter to ICANN leadership this week calling on it to act quickly on the July ruling of an Independent Review Process panel that found ICANN had breached its own bylaws when it rejected the .amazon and and Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Amazon’s letter said:

Such action is necessary because there is no sovereign right under international or national law to the name “Amazon,” because there are no well-founded and substantiated public policy reasons to block our Applications, because we are committed to using the TLDs in a respectful manner, and because the Board should respect the IRP accountability mechanism.

ICANN had denied the three applications based on nothing more than the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been swayed by the arguments of primarily Brazil and Peru that there were public policy reasons to keep the gTLD available for possible future use by its own peoples.

The string “Amazon”, among its many uses, is of course the name of a river and a rain forest that covers much of the South American continent.

But the IRP panel decided that the ICANN board should have at least required the GAC to explain its public policy arguments, rather than just accepting its advice as a mandate from on-high.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah had testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets a bar “too high for the Board to say no.”

But the governmental objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the IRP panelists wrote.

The panel, in a 2-to-1 ruling, instructed ICANN to reopen Amazon’s applications.

Since the July ruling, ICANN’s board has not discussed how to proceed, but it seems likely that the matter will come up at its Montevideo, Uruguay retreat later this month.

No agenda for this meeting has yet been published, but there will be an unprecedented public webcast of the full formal board meeting, September 23.

The Amazon letter specifically asks the ICANN board of directors to not refer the .amazon matter back to the GAC for further advice, but I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.

I say this largely because while ICANN’s bylaws specifically allow it to reject GAC advice, it has cravenly avoided such a confrontation for most of its history.

It has on occasion even willfully misinterpreted GAC advice in order to appear that it has accepted it when it has not.

The GAC, compliantly, regularly provides pieces of advice that its leaders have acknowledged are deliberately vague and open to interpretation (for a reason best known to the politicians themselves).

It seems to me the most likely next step in the .amazon case is for the board to ask the GAC to reaffirm or reconsider its objection, giving the committee the chance to save face — and avoid a lengthy mediation process — by providing the board with something less than a consensus objection.

If ICANN were to do this, my feeling is that the GAC at large would probably be minded to stick to its guns.

But it only takes one government to voice opposition to advice for it to lose its “consensus” status, making it politically much easier for ICANN to ignore.

Hypothetically, the US government could return to its somewhat protectionist pre-2014 position of blocking consensus on .amazon, but that might risk fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment.

While the US no longer has its unique role in overseeing ICANN’s IANA function, it still acts as the jurisdictional overlord for the legal organization, which some other governments still hate.

A less confrontational approach might be to abstain and to allow friendly third-party governments to roadblock consensus, perhaps by emphasizing the importance of ICANN being seen to accountable in the post-transition world.

Anyway, this is just my gut premonition on how this could play out, based on the track records of ICANN and the GAC.

If ICANN can be relied on for anything, it’s to never make a decision on something today if it can be put off until tomorrow.

Chehade talks up split from US oversight

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade used his keynote address at the newdomains.org conference this morning to discuss his plans to divorce the organization from US governmental oversight.

With a split from the US recurring theme in his recent speeches, Chehade nevertheless warned that there were risks that such a move could create a dangerous governance vacuum.

“The current ICANN contract that gives the US government a unique role in the root management function is not sustainable,” he said. “It’s just not sustainable.”

That seems to be a reference to the IANA contract, in which the US has essentially a veto on ICANN’s decisions regarding root zone changes such as new gTLD delegations.

“I think we need to think together how we grow from that and how we globalize that contract,” he said. “But we need to be very careful about creating a vacuum or uninteded consequences that would destabilize the root of the internet.”

While Chehade noted that a split from the US has always been envisaged, he said that the revelations about US internet surveillance made by NSA defector Edward Snowden has provided a catalyst to speed it up.

When Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff recently called for a “multilateral” (read: inter-governmental, (read: ITU)) approach to internet governance, Chehade and an ICANN team traveled to Brazil to persuade her to instead focus on the creation of a “multistakeholder” model instead.

There’s now a “coalition” of the “I*” groups (ICANN, IETF, etc), big-name companies such as Disney, and governments such as Brazil, focused on creating multistakeholder solutions to problems — such as spam and cyber-bullying — that are not in ICANN’s purview Chehade said.

There’s a multistakeholder meeting planned for April or May next year (I’ve heard both dates), to be hosted by Brazil, that will look at internet governance post-Snowden.

This meeting is about “allowing ICANN to not expand its remit”, according to Chehade. He said: “We don’t want to expand our remit.”

What we seem to be looking at here is the creation for a new organization, of which ICANN could be a member, that will allow stakeholders to coordinate responses to tricky cross-border internet problems.

While ICANN seems to be taking the leading role in its creation, it doesn’t sound like ICANN is trying to get into issues beyond naming and addressing, judging by Chehade’s speech this morning

Chehade also talked up ICANN’s support for the domain name industry.

He admitted that ICANN has caused a lot of problems for new gTLD applicants over the course of the gTLD program, but promised that this will change, with ICANN taking a more “background” role.

“You need less risk and more stability from the ICANN side,” he said. “You have suffered for a long time from a lot of instability, a lot of unknowns.”

Increased automation, internationlization and professionalism from ICANN will serve this goal, he said.

ICANN’s compliance department, he added, should “not be the policeman for the industry but be customer service for the registrants”, he said.

Bulgaria to file ICANN reconsideration appeal over rejected IDN ccTLD

Bulgaria is to appeal ICANN’s rejection of .бг, the Cyrillic version of its existing country code top-level domain, .bg.

Technology minister Alexander Tsvetkov said that the Bulgarian government will file a reconsideration request with ICANN, according to a DarikNews.bg interview.

The requested IDN ccTLD .бг was rejected because it looks quite a bit like Brazil’s existing ASCII ccTLD, .br, which could create confusion for Brazilians.

ICANN/IANA does not talk openly about ccTLD delegation issues. As far as I know, .бг is the only IDN ccTLD on the current fast-track program to be rejected on string-similarity grounds.

The Darik News interview, via Google Translate, reports Tsvetkov saying he “believes that this domain is the best way for Bulgaria” and that the government “will ask for reconsideration”.

Asked about the clash with Brazil, he said Bulgaria “will not quit” in its pursuit of its first-choice ccTLD.

Brazil has not been silent on the issue.

During the meeting on Tuesday between the ICANN board and its Governmental Advisory Committee, Brazil’s representative praised ICANN for rejecting .бг:

Brazil would like to express its support to the recent board’s decision about avoiding graphic similitude between new country codes and current country codes in Latin. This is particularly important inasmuch as any graphic confusion might facilitate phishing practices and all the problems related to it.

Many thanks to the Bulgarian reader who referred me to this Darik News interview.

For any other Bulgarians reading this, the interview also appears to contain lots of other really juicy information not related to domain names. Check it out.

ICANN’s Sword algorithm fails Bulgarian IDN test

ICANN has released version 4 of its new TLD Draft Applicant Guidebook (more on that later) and it still contains references to the controversial “Sword” algorithm.

As I’ve previously reported, this algorithm is designed to compare two strings for visual similarity to help prevent potentially confusing new TLDs being added to the root.

The DAG v4 contains the new text:

The algorithm supports the common characters in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and Latin scripts. It can also compare strings in different scripts to each other.

So I thought I’d check how highly the internationalized domain name .бг, the Cyrillic version of Bulgaria’s .bg ccTLD, scores.

As you may recall, .бг was rejected by ICANN two weeks ago due to its visual similarity to .br, Brazil’s ccTLD. As far as I know, it’s the only TLD to date that has been rejected on these grounds.

Plugging “бг” into Sword returns 24 strings that score over 30 out of 100 for similarity. Some, such as “bf” and “bt”, score over 70.

Brazil’s .br is not one of them.

Using the tool to compare “бг” directly to “br” returns a score of 26. That’s a lower score than strings such as “biz” and “org”.

I should note that the Sword web page is ambiguous about whether it is capable of comparing Cyrillic strings to Latin strings, but the new language in the DAG certainly suggests that it is.