The Belgian government is blocking approval of Donuts’ bid for the new gTLD .spa until the company agrees to hand over up to 25% of its .spa profits to the community of the city of Spa.
It emerged in a letter from Spa published by ICANN this weekend that the city is also demanding a role in managing the TLD at the registry operator’s expense.
The gTLD has been applied for by Donuts and the Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council.
Not only does the string .spa match the name of the city, but also the English dictionary word “spa” is actually named after Spa, which has been known for centuries for its “healing” springs.
Despite this, Spa is not a capital city — it has roughly 10,000 inhabitants — so it does not qualify as a protected geographic string under the rules of ICANN’s new gTLD program.
Spa nevertheless wants a role in the TLD’s management, in order to protect the interests of itself and its local community, and wants some of the profits to benefit its local businesses.
According to the letter (pdf) from Spa outside attorney Phillippe Laurent, ASWPC has already signed a memorandum of understanding with the city. That MoU, published with the letter, states:
The turnover generated by the exploitation of the .SPA registry will be used in priority to defray reasonable out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the City as a result of its participation in the SPARC or any other of its activity related to the management and governance of the .SPA extension.
Additionally, 25% of the net profit generated by the domain names registered in the .SPA registry by any Belgian, Dutch, Luxembourgish, French or German person or entity will be earmarks to be contributed towards Internet and spa & wellness activities development in and for the City of Spa and its region, especially as related to the scope of the “.SPA” TLD, to be directed by the City of Spa.
The deal would also see ASWPC reserve 200 .spa domain names (included potential premiums such as poker.spa and golf.spa) for the city to do with as it pleases.
Donuts has refused to sign the MoU, saying it’s inconsistent with the Applicant Guidebook and sets a “bad precedent”. Spa has therefore refused to endorse its application.
The city has its national government on its side. In the April 2013 Beijing communique of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee, the GAC listed .spa as one of several bids needing “further consideration”.
This was reiterated in its Durban and Buenos communiques, with the GAC noting that “discussions” between “relevant parties” were “ongoing”.
Essentially, the GAC is delaying .spa from approval while Spa tries to get Donuts to agree to hand over part of its of .spa profits.
There was a somewhat testy exchange at the Buenos Aires meeting in November, after an ICANN director asked the GAC if it was appropriate for a governmental entity to try to get a financial benefit from an applicant.
The Belgian GAC representative responded later that “no money will flow to the city of Spa”, conceding that “a very small part of the profits of the registry will go to the community served by .spa”.
That now seems to be not entirely accurate.
The MoU sees Spa getting reimbursed for its self-imposed cost of inserting itself into the management of the registry, so some money will flow to it. But it will presumably be revenue-neutral to the city.
The issue of the 25% profit cut is a bit ambiguous though.
While the money would not flow directly into city coffers, the city would get the ability to direct how it was spent. Presumably, it could be spent on projects that Spa locals would otherwise look to the city to pay for.
With Donuts and Spa apparently at an impasse, ICANN recently told the GAC that it won’t sign contracts with either applicant, yet, but that it wants “a timeline for final consideration of the string”.
It also wants the GAC to “identify the ‘interested parties’ noted in the GAC advice.”
With Laurent’s letter and the MoU seemingly spelling out exactly what Spa wants and why, perhaps ICANN can move the issue closer to resolution at the Singapore meeting next week.
Is it a shakedown? Is it appropriate behavior for the GAC to hold an application hostage while it tries to obtain financial benefit for its local businesses? Or is Donuts unreasonably trying to exploit a city’s centuries-old cultural heritage for its own economic gain?
Or should that be Barzakh?
Rather than making the tricky decision on whether to approve .islam and .halal new gTLD applications, ICANN seems to have place both bids into permanent limbo.
It’s also put off calls on applications for .spa, .amazon, .wine and .vin, due to objections from the Governmental Advisory Committee.
On .islam and .halal, ICANN chair Steve Crocker wrote to Turkish applicant Asia Green IT System to say that the New gTLD Program Committee will not address the bids until AGIT has worked out its differences with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation.
He noted that AGIT has expressed a willingness in the past to work with the OIC, but that the OIC has formally decided to object to the two applications. Crocker wrote:
There seems to be a conflict between the commitments made in your letters and the concerns raised in letters to ICANN urging ICANN not to delegate the strings. Given these circumstances, the NGPC will not address the applications further until such time as the noted conflicts have been resolved.
This is not a formal rejection of the applications, but ICANN seems to have placed them in a limbo that will only be resolved when AGIT withdraws from the program or secures OIC support.
There’s also delaying treatment for .wine and .vin, which have become the subject of a raging row between Europe on the one hand and the US, Canada and Australia on the other.
Europe wants these two wine-related gTLDs to be subject to strict rules on who can register domains containing geographic indicators, such as “Champagne”. The others don’t.
ICANN in response has commissioned a third-party study on GIs, which it expects to be able to consider at its Singapore public meeting next month. Again, a decision has been avoided.
The two applicants for .spa don’t have any closure either.
Spa is the name of a town in Belgium, whereas the two applicants — Donuts and Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council — intend to use the string in its English dictionary sense.
There was a bit of a scandal during the Buenos Aires meeting last November when it was suggested that Belgium was using its position on the GAC to shake down the applicants for money.
Belgium denied this, saying the city of Spa didn’t stand to gain financially from the deals that it was trying to make with applicants. Some money would go to “the community served by .spa”, Belgium said, without elaboration.
ICANN has now decided to put .spa on hold, but wants to know more about these talks:
ICANN will not enter into registry agreements with applicants for the identified string at this time. The NGPC notes concern about concluding the discussions with the applicants and will request the GAC to (1) provide a timeline for final consideration of the string, and (2) identify the “interested parties” noted in the GAC advice.
Finally, ICANN has yet again delayed making a call on Amazon’s application for .amazon — until at least Singapore — out of an abundance of legal caution.
The GAC recommended that ICANN should reject .amazon because a few Latin American states claim ownership of the string due to it being the same as the Amazon region they share.
Amazon and others claim that it would be in violation of international law that prevents governments interfering with the use of trademarks for the GAC to block .amazon.
ICANN’s NGPC said:
ICANN has commissioned an independent, third-party expert to provide additional analysis on the specific issues of application of law at issue, which may focus on legal norms or treaty conventions relied on by Amazon or governments. The analysis is expected to be completed in time for the ICANN Singapore meeting so that the NGPC can consider it in Singapore.
In my view, the .amazon issue is the one most likely to bring a lawsuit to ICANN’s doorstep, so the organization clearly wants to get its legal position straight before making a call one way or the other.
No sooner had we reported on the US government’s complaint about ICANN’s reinterpretation of GAC advice on new gTLDs than it emerged that ICANN has already approved the plan.
The ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution on how to implement the so-called Category 1 advice the Governmental Advisory Committee came up with in Beijing last April. The resolution was published today.
The Category 1 advice calls for stronger regulation — stuff like forcing registrants to provide industry credentials at point of sale — in scores of new gTLDs the GAC considers particularly sensitive.
Despite US Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling calling for more talks after ICANN substantially diluted some of the GAC’s Beijing communique, the NGPC has now formally approved its watered-down action plan.
Under the plan, registrants in gTLDs such as .lawyer and .doctor will have to “represent” that they are credentialed professionals in those verticals when they register a domain.
That’s as opposed to actually providing those credentials at point of registration, which, as Strickling reiterated in his letter, is what the GAC asked for in its Beijing communique.
The full list of eight approved “safeguards” (as interpreted from GAC advice by ICANN) along with the list of the gTLDs that they will apply to, can be found in this PDF.
The US government is not pleased with ICANN’s rather liberal interpretation of Governmental Advisory Committee advice on new gTLDs and wants more talks about “safeguards”.
Not only that, but it wants to start talking to ICANN about extending safeguards applicable to new gTLDs to old gTLDs, presumably including the likes of .com, too.
A letter to ICANN from Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling, obtained by DI today, calls for more talks before ICANN finalizes its handling of the GAC’s Beijing communique.
Strickling notes, as DI has previously, that ICANN softened the meaning of the advice in order to smooth its implementation.
as can be the case when translating GAC Advice to contractual provisions, the NGPC [the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee] made adjustments to the GAC Advice that the United States believes could cause enforcement problems and as such merits further discussion. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), on behalf of the United States, is planning to raise these concerns for discussion at the March GAC meeting in Singapore and requests that ICANN take this fact into account before moving forward with applications for strings impacted by the relevant portions of GAC advice
The New gTLD Applicants Group had urged the NGPC to finally put the GAC Advice to rest, highlighting the “heavy burden that the delay in the implementation of GAC Category 1 Advice has imposed upon affected applicants” in a letter last week.
The Category 1 advice, you may recall, comprised eight “safeguards” mandating policies such as industry engagement and registrant authentication, applicable to at least 386 gTLD applications.
Back in November, ICANN announced how it planned to handle this advice, but changed its meaning to make it more palatable to ICANN and applicants.
Those changes are what Strickling is not happy with.
He’s particularly unhappy with changes made to the GAC’s demand for many gTLDs to be restricted to only card-carrying members of the industries the strings seem to represent.
The GAC said in Beijing:
At the time of registration, the registry operator must verify and validate the registrants’ authorisations, charters, licenses and/or other related credentials for participation in that sector.
In other words, you’d have to provide your doctor license before you could register a .doctor domain.
But ICANN proposed to implement it like this:
Registry operators will include a provision in their Registry-Registrar Agreements that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision requiring a representation that the Registrant possesses any necessary authorisations, charters, licenses and/or other related credentials for participation in the sector associated with the Registry TLD string.
The doctor under this policy would only require the doctor to check a box confirming she’s a doctor. As Strickling said:
The NGPC has changed the GAC-coveyed concept of “verification and validation” to “representation”
Requirements for registries to mandate adherence to government regulations on the protection of financial and healthcare data are also his targets for further discussion.
What all this boils down to is that, assuming ICANN paid heed to Strickling’s letter, it seems unlikely that NTAG will get closure it so desperately wants until the Singapore meeting in late March — a year after the original Beijing communique — at the earliest.
In other words, lots of new gTLD applicants are probably going to be in limbo for a bit longer yet.
But Strickling also has another bombshell to drop in the final sentence of the letter, writing:
In addition, we will recommend that cross community discussion begin in earnest on how the safeguards that are being applied to new gTLDs can be applied to existing gTLDs.
So it seems the GAC is likely to start pressing to retroactively apply its new gTLDs advice to legacy gTLDs too.
Registrant verification in .com? Stricter Whois checks and enforcement? That conversation has now started, it seems.
If ICANN decides to reject Asia Green IT’s applications for .islam and .halal it would “be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility”, according to AGIT.
The two potential new gTLDs are currently in limbo, awaiting a decision by the ICANN’s board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee, following stalemate within the Governmental Advisory Committee.
The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has objected to the applications, saying it represents 1.6 billion Muslims and that it’s “concerned” about the potential “misuse” of the names.
Mehdi Abbasnia, managing director of the Turkey-based company, recently wrote to ICANN too (pdf) to ask that ICANN speedily approve its applications, given that two formal OIC-backed Community Objections have already failed.
Abbasnia also wrote to DI on Friday (pdf) to reiterate many of the same points.
The two gTLDs are among only a handful originating it the Muslim world, he said, and the idea is to spur adoption of domain names among all Muslims.
Muslim communities the world over have a lot to gain from seeing their members empowered through namespaces that are better suited to their specific needs, easier for them to relate to and use and respectful of their culture and laws.
As Muslims ourselves, this is what we felt we could bring to our community when we first heard of the new gTLD program: our expertise as a technical enabler of TLDs by Muslims, for Muslims. We are looking to fuel the engine, not drive the car.
He added that AGIT prevailed in the objections filed against it, and the GAC failed to reach a consensus to object.
Some in ICANN circles have used the phrase “taking a second bite at the apple” to characterize attempts to overturn decisions and derail processes. In the case of our applications for .Halal and .Islam, the apple’s been eaten to the core!
The ball is now in the ICANN Board’s court. If it bows to the OIC’s pressure and blocks our TLD applications, not only will Muslims the world over be prevented from claiming their very own space on the Internet, but I believe it will also be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility, and to the credibility of ICANN as a multi-stakeholder governance organization.
While I have no opinion on whether the two applications should be approved or not, I disagree with the apple metaphor.
AGIT is in receipt of formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” explaining a non-consensus objection. That’s clearly envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, and there a process for dealing with it: ICANN’s board talks to the GAC to understand the extent of its members’ concerns and then explains itself after it makes a decision one way or the other.
There doesn’t seem to be an abuse of process by the OIC or GAC here, just a very tricky question for the ICANN board to answer.