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For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Two-letter domains to be released in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries will be able to release all two-character strings in their zones, following an ICANN decision last week.

The ICANN board of directors voted on Thursday to instruct ICANN’s executive to

develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement

The procedure will have to take into account the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee issued at the end of last week’s ICANN 51 meeting in Los Angeles.

But that advice merely asks that governments are informed when a registry requests the release of two-character names.

All two-character strings were initially reserved due to the potential for confusion with two-letter ccTLDs.

But the GAC decided in LA that it doesn’t really have a problem with such strings being released, with some governments noting that ccTLD second-levels such as us.com and uk.com haven’t caused a problem to date.

The board’s decision is particularly good news for dot-brand applicants that may want to run domains such as uk.google or de.bmw to service specific regions where they operate.

Registries representing over 200 new gTLDs have already filed Registry Service Evaluation Process requests for the release of some two-character strings (some including ccTLD matches, some not).

It’s not yet clear how ICANN will go about removing the two-character restriction.

It may be more efficient to offer all registries a blanket amendment to the RA rather than process each RSEP request individually as it is today.

However, because the GAC has asked for notification on a case-by-case basis, ICANN may be forced to stick to the something along the lines of the existing procedure.

Bulgaria and Greece win IDN ccTLDs on appeal

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2014, Domain Policy

Campaigns in Bulgaria and Greece to get ICANN to un-reject their Cyrillic and Greek-script ccTLD requests have proven successful.

The first decisions handed down by ICANN’s new Extended Process Similarity Review Panel this week said Bulgaria’s .бг and Greece’s .ελ are not “confusingly similar” to other ccTLDs after all.

However, a third appeal by the European Union over the Greek .ευ was rejected on the grounds that the string is too confusingly similar to .EV and .EY when in upper case.

Confusing strings should not be delegated, under ICANN rules, due to the risk of exacerbating the prevalence of security risks such as phishing attacks.

Bulgaria’s initial request for .бг was turned down in 2010 after a panel found it looks too similar to Brazil’s existing ccTLD, .br.

Greece’s bid for .ελ had been blocked for looking too much like .EA, a non-existent ccTLD that could be delegated to a new country in future.

While the initial panel’s process was pretty opaque, the newly published “extended” reviews appear to have employed a fairly scientific methodology to determine similarity.

Twenty American undergraduate student volunteers were shown pairs of strings briefly on screens designed to simulate web browsing. They then had to pick out which one they’d seen.

The volunteers were also shown pairs of similar-looking Latin-script ccTLDs that already exist, in order to establish a baseline for what should be considered an acceptable level of confusability.

The Greek and Bulgarian strings were both found to be less confusing than existing pairs of Latin-script ccTLDs and were therefore given the thumbs-up. The EU string flunked in upper case.

Under ICANN’s rules, it appears that .бг and .ελ can now proceed to delegation, while .ευ has been forever rejected.

The three reports can be downloaded here.

It will be interesting to see how the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee will react to this.

It was pressure from the GAC — driven by the European Commission and Greece — back in 2012 that forced ICANN into creating the appeals process.

At ICANN’s meeting in Prague that year, the GAC said:

The GAC is of the view that decisions may have erred on the too-conservative side, in effect applying a more stringent test of confusability between Latin and non-Latin scripts than when undertaking a side by side comparison of Latin strings.

Now the EU seems to have been told that it still can’t have its requested ccTLD, and the standard applied was exactly the same standard as applies to Latin ccTLDs.

Will the GAC accept this determination, or stomp its feet?

GAC elects Swiss rep as new chair

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has elected Thomas Schneider of the Swiss government as its new chair.

The unprecedented, one-nation-one-vote secret ballot election at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles today saw Schneider beat Lebanon’s Imad Hoballah by 61 votes to 37.

He will take over from Canadian incumbent Heather Dryden at the end of the week.

Schneider is deputy head of international affairs at the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (Ofcom).

He currently serves as one of the GAC’s three vice chairs.

The election was overseen by the Australian Continuous Improvement Group, which provides the GAC with ICANN-independent secretariat services.

Governments totally cool with two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee does not plan to advise against the release of two-character domain names in new gTLDs.

In fact, judging by a GAC discussion at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles yesterday, the governments of many major nations are totally cool with the idea.

Under the standard Registry Agreement for new gTLD registries, all two-character domains (any combination of letters, numbers) must not be sold or activated in the DNS.

The blanket ban was designed to avoid clashes with two-letter ccTLD codes, both existing and future.

ICANN left the door open for registries to request the release of such names, however, and many companies have formally applied to do so via the Registry Services Evaluation Process.

Some registries want all two-character domains released, others have only asked for permission to sell those strings that do not match allocated ccTLDs.

There seems to have been an underlying assumption that governments may want to protect their geographic turf. That assumption may turn out to be untrue.

Representatives from the United States, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Austria and Iran all said yesterday that the GAC should not issue formal advice against the the two-character proposals.

No governments opposed that apparent consensus view.

“The use of the ‘US’ two-letter country code at the second level has not presented any technical or policy issues for the United States,” US rep Suzanne Radell said.

“We, in fact, do not require any approval for the use of US two-character country codes at the second level in existing gTLDs, and do not propose to require anything for new gTLDs,” she said.

She even highlighted domains such as us.com and us.org — which are marketed by UK-based CentralNic as alternatives to the .us ccTLD — as being just fine and dandy with the US government.

It seems likely that the GAC will instead suggest to ICANN that it is the responsibility of individual governments to challenge the registries’ requests via the RSEP process.

“What we see at the moment is that ICANN is putting these RSEP requests out for public comment and it would be open to any government to use that public comment period if they did feel in some instances that there was a concern,” Australian GACer Peter Nettlefold said.

I’ve not been able to find any government comments to the relevant RSEP requests.

For example, Neustar’s .neustar, which proposes the release of all two-character strings including country codes, has yet to receive a comment from a government.

Many comments in other RSEP fora appear to be from fellow dot-brand registries that want to use two-letter codes to represent the countries where they operate.