ICANN has decided to call off its big New York City new gTLD launch “party”, DI has learned.
The high-profile media event, scheduled for April 23, was set to feature an appearance from mayor Michael Bloomberg and was expected to be a coming-out party for new gTLDs.
The original plan was for ICANN to sign the first registry agreements with new gTLD applicants during the event, but that notion was later scrapped due to ongoing contract talks.
However, during the public forum at the ICANN Beijing meeting last week, CEO Fadi Chehade said that the event was still going ahead.
That, according to an ICANN email sent to registries and registrars today, appears to be no longer the case. The email cited “current timelines” as the reason for delaying the event.
The Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement still under discussion between ICANN and contracted parties, and there are other factors in play such as the Governmental Advisory Committee’s wide-ranging advice from Beijing and continued uncertainties about the Trademark Clearinghouse.
With so much up in the air, a public awareness-raising event for the program may have been seen as premature.
A second, private set of meetings between ICANN and domain name companies, also scheduled for April 23 in New York, is still going ahead, according to the ICANN email.
Following on from discussions held over the last few months, the New York talks will focus on improving the image and professionalism of the domain name industry, one of Chehade’s pet projects.
Talks will cover items such as: forming a DNS industry trade association, a possible trust-mark scheme, conferences and media/analyst outreach.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.