BRS Media, one of the four applicants for the .radio generic top-level domain, claims ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has a “direct conflict of interest” over the gTLD.
As DI reported two weeks ago, the European Broadcasting Union, another .radio applicant (the others are Afilias and Donuts), joined the GAC during ICANN’s public meeting in Prague.
While the EBU only has Observer status, and may not vote, it’s still able to participate in discussions. Whether these include discussions about GAC objections to new gTLDs is unclear.
BRS Media, which already runs the radio-themed .fm and .am ccTLDs, is not taking any chances, however. In a letter to GAC chair Heather Dryden, company CEO George Bundy wrote (pdf):
We believe these activities to be a direct Conflict of Interest, by the European Broadcasting Union within the New TLD Application process.
Optimistically, to say the least, BRS requests that the EBU “recuse itself from the New TLD process by withdrawing its applications immediately”.
While I can’t see that happening, it seems to me that the GAC does have to formally address the conflicts issue if it wants to avoid looking like a bunch of hypocrites.
The GAC does not appear to have a formal conflicts of interest policy, even though it pushed hard for similar provisions in the ICANN board.
Now that it has its hard-fought veto rights over new gTLD applications, some sort of safeguards seem appropriate.
The Governmental Advisory Committee has slammed ICANN’s decisions to reject at least three non-Latin ccTLDs because they might pose security risks.
Remarkably, the GAC has also asked ICANN to “urgently reconsider” the rulings, which were made to mitigate the risk of phishing attacks and other types of domain name abuse.
In its official post-Prague communique, published over the weekend, the GAC tells ICANN that the way it decides whether to approve IDN ccTLDs has been “too conservative”.
While the letter does not single out any specific ccTLDs, I understand that the advice was formulated primarily at the behest of the European Union and Greece, which have both had IDN ccTLD applications rejected on the grounds of confusing similarity.
The Prague communique (pdf) states:
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.
It goes on to ask ICANN to publish its criteria for evaluating the similarity of IDN ccTLDs, to create an appeals process, to publish its rationales for rejecting bids, and to revisit old decisions.
The communique states, as formal GAC Advice:
Recently refused IDNs, particularly those nominated by public or national authorities should be urgently re-considered in light of the above considerations.
This request instantly loses the GAC credibility points, in my view, casting it as little more than another special interest group focused on the goals of its members first and internet security second.
To be clear, the GAC is appealing ICANN decisions that were designed to prevent phishing.
Greece’s application for .ελ,was rejected by ICANN last year due to its visual similarity with .EA, a non-existent – but potential future – ccTLD.
While there’s not much on the public record about the European case, I understand Eurid’s bid for a Greek version of .eu was blocked because it looks too much like Estonia’s EE.
Bulgarian IDN supporters have also been very vocal the last couple of years in opposition to ICANN’s decision to forbid .бг due to its alleged resemblance to Brazil’s .br.
While decent arguments can and have been made that some of these rulings were a little on the silly side, it’s hard to argue that they were made without the best of intentions.
The GAC has promised to write to ICANN with “further reflections on the methodology that should be followed when evaluating two character IDNs”.
The GAC as a technical regulator? That letter should make for some interesting reading.
The European Broadcasting Union, which is one of four applicants for the .radio top-level domain, has asked to join ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as an observer.
It is believed that its request is likely to be accepted.
The move, which comes just a couple of weeks after ICANN revealed its list of new gTLD applications, could raise conflict of interest questions.
While several GAC governments and observers are backing new gTLD bids – the UK supports .london, for example – they’re generally geographic in nature and generally not contested.
But .radio has been applied for by Afilias, BRS Media and Donuts in addition to the EBU.
While any organization can file objections against applications, under the rules of the new gTLD program the GAC has the additional right to issue special “GAC Advice on New gTLDs”.
Consensus GAC advice is expected to be enough to kill an application.
Since it’s not entirely clear how the GAC will create its formal Advice, it’s not yet clear whether the EBU will have any input into the process.
According to the GAC’s governing principles, observers do not have voting rights, but they can “participate fully in the GAC and its Committees and Working Groups”.
The EBU’s .radio gTLD would be open to all potential registrants, but it would be subject to post-registration content restrictions: web sites would have to be radio-oriented, according to the application.
It’s also the only Community-designated bid in the contention set, meaning it could attempt a Community Priority Evaluation to resolve the dispute.
The EBU has also applied for .eurovision, the name of its annual singing competition, as an uncontested dot-brand.
One of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee’s ongoing inexplicable obsessions is that the introduction of new top-level domains risks toppling the internet.
One or more GAC members have raised the topic of DNS root zone scalability at pretty much every meeting the GAC has had with ICANN’s board of directors for the last couple of years.
It’s the reason why ICANN has committed to delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs – a fairly arbitrarily chosen number – to the root per year.
I’m not entirely sure where the GAC’s concerns originated, but they’ve been dismissed as red herrings on multiple occasions by ICANN and third-party technical experts.
And now ICANN has published yet another report – this one written by its own IANA staff – making the point that the risk to root stability is query volume, not database size.
Here’s the gist:
Having twice as many TLDs does not mean that the average Internet user visits twice as many web pages, or writes twice as many emails. Rather, Internet usage is driven by growth in overall Internet adoption. Having more TLDs available does not directly incur increased usage of the DNS; rather it will exchange a subset of their query load from existing TLDs to new TLDs.
You can download the full report here.
If you think you’ll be able to launch your new generic top level domain in the first quarter of 2013, you can pretty much forget it.
The Governmental Advisory Committee told ICANN yesterday that it does not think it will be able to provide advice on new gTLD applications until April 2013 at the earliest.
It’s also told ICANN to seriously reconsider its controversial digital archery program and the whole gTLD application batching concept.
The current timetable calls for GAC Early Warnings – the “headsup” stage for applicants – to be submitted concurrently with the public comment period, which runs through August 12.
The more substantial GAC Advice on New gTLDs period is meant to track with the regular objection window, which is expected to close about seven months from now, in January 2013.
Now the GAC says it won’t be able to meet either of those deadlines.
In a letter to ICANN chairman Steve Crocker, GAC chair Heather Dryden gave applicants several excellent reasons to believe that the Applicant Guidebook’s timetable will not be met:
the GAC has identified several benefits from having a single Early Warning period in relation to all applications (these relate to efficiency, consistency, and timeliness). On this basis, the GAC advises the Board that it is planning to issue any Early Warnings shortly after the Toronto ICANN meeting, in October 2012.
Given the delays to the gTLD application process, the timing of upcoming ICANN meetings, and the amount of work involved, the GAC advises the Board that it will not be in a position to offer any advice on new gTLD applications in 2012. For this reason, the GAC is considering the implications of providing any GAC advice on gTLD applications. These considerations are not expected to be finalised before the Asia-Pacific meeting in April 2013.
The bold text was in the original, indicating that this is official GAC advice that should not be ignored.
Given the bigger picture, with the looming threat of the ITU’s big summit in December, ICANN is likely to be extra receptive to governmental advice.
Readers will notice that Dryden isn’t saying that the GAC will provide its objections before April 2013, merely that it won’t have finished thinking about the “implications” of such advice before April 2013.
What this means for the gTLD evaluation timeline is anyone’s guess. I expect more clarity will be requested during ICANN’s public meeting in Prague next week.
These two pieces of timing advice have the effect of focusing ICANN’s mind on the more immediate problem of application batching.
The GAC seems to be backing calls from registries and intellectual property interests to scrap the batching concept and the ramshackle “digital archery” system.
Dryden wrote (pdf):
the GAC is concerned that the potential risks associated with the digital archery and batching mechanisms may outweigh the benefits. In light of ICANN’s decision to initiate digital archery on 8 June 2012, the GAC advises the Board to consult with the community as a matter of urgency to consider ways to improve its assessment and delegation processes in order to minimise the downside risks and uncertainty for applicants.
In line with the concerns raised by the community, this should include a focus on competition and fairness with delegation timing.
Far be it from me to suggest that the GAC picked its revised advice deadlines strategically, but they do seem to fit quite nicely into a batchless Initial Evaluation period that lasts about a year, as some community members have recently proposed.
Those who were paying attention during the panel discussion portion of Reveal Day last week will have noticed me and a couple of audience members putting Cherine Chalaby, chair of ICANN’s board new gTLDs committtee, on the spot about batching.
Chalaby confirmed that the committee – which has the powers of the board when it comes to new gTLDs – wants to hear from the community about batching during the Prague meeting.
The trick, he indicated, is to be able to reconsider batching without simply relocating it to the pre-delegation phase of the program, which will probably be next year.
“We will listen to alternatives and we will think about it, there’s no doubt, you have to be open minded about it,” he said.
My sense is that if opponents of batching want to have a shot at getting it killed off, they’re going to have to present a strong case – with a fully considered alternative – during their face-to-face with the ICANN board of directors on Monday.
Moaning and whining isn’t going to cut it this time, ICANN is going to want to see dates, delegation models, the works.