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GACmail? Belgium denies .spa gTLD shakedown

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2013, Domain Registries

The Belgian government has denied claims that the city of Spa tried to shake down new gTLD applicants for money in exchange for not objecting to their .spa applications.

The Belgian Governmental Advisory Committee representative said this afternoon that Belgium was “extremely unhappy” that the “disrespectful allusions” got an airing during a meeting with the ICANN board.

He was responding directly to a question asked during a Sunday session by ICANN director Chris Disspain, who, to be fair, didn’t name either the government or the gTLD. He had said:

I understand there is at least one application, possibly more, where a government or part a government is negotiating with the applicant in respect to receive a financial benefit from the applicant. I’m concerned about that and I wondered if the GAC had a view as to whether such matters were appropriate.

While nobody would talk on the record, asking around the ICANN 48 meeting here in Buenos Aires it became clear that Disspain was referring to Belgium and .spa.

It was not clear whether he was referring to Donuts or to Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, which have both applied for the string.

The string “spa” was not protected by ICANN’s rules on geographic names, but the GAC in April advised ICANN not to approve the applications until governments had more time to reach a decision.

My inference from Disspain’s question was that Belgium was planning to press for a GAC objection to .spa unless its city got paid, which could be perceived as an abuse of power.

Nobody from the GAC answered the question on Sunday, but Belgium today denied that anything inappropriate was going on, saying Disspain’s assertion was “factually incorrect”.

There is a contract between Spa and an applicant, he confirmed, but he said that “no money will flow to the city of Spa”.

“A very small part of the profits of the registry will go to the community served by .spa,” he said.

This side-deal does not appear to be a public document, but the Belgian rep said that it has been circulated to GAC members for transparency purposes.

There are several applicants whose strings appeared on ICANN’s protected geo names list that have been required to get letters of non-objection from various countries.

Tata Group, for example, needed permission from Morocco for .tata, while TUI had to go to Burkina Faso for .tui. Both are the names of provinces in those countries.

It’s not publicly known how these letters of non-objection were obtained, and whether any financial benefit accrued to the government as a result.

Will ICANN be forced to reject Islamic gTLDs?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2013, Domain Policy

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation has condemned applications for .islam and .halal gTLDs filed by a Turkish company, despite the applicant recently fighting off an OIC-backed objection.

Claiming to represent the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, the OIC expressed in a November 4 letter to ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee:

official opposition of the Member States of the OIC towards probable authorization by the GAC allowing use of these new gTLDs .Islam and .Halal by any entity not representing the collective voice of the Muslim people.

The letter seems to have been sent in response to the GAC’s current stalemate on these two TLDs, which were applied for, uncontested, by Istanbul-based Asia Green IT System.

At the ICANN meeting in Beijing six months ago, the GAC was unable to reach a consensus to object to .islam and .halal, instead merely noting:

Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.

As a non-consensus objection, there’s no presumption that the ICANN board of directors should reject the applications.

And it seems that the New gTLD Program Committee, which carries board powers, has been deliberately ignoring the controversy pending the resolution of two formal Community Objections.

The objections were filed by the United Arab Emirates’ Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, the UAE’s ccTLD registry operator, with backing (it claimed) from the OIC.

But the TRA lost both objections, partly because the wishy-washy government-speak OIC letter it submitted in evidence failed to convince International Chamber of Commerce adjudicator Bernardo Cremades that it really did have that OIC support.

Whether the OIC really does object to Asia Green’s bids now seems beyond dispute.

In fact, the organization says it intends to pass a formal resolution containing its position on Islamic gTLDs during its Council of Foreign Ministers meeting in early December.

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has now asked the GAC to provide further guidance before it decides whether to accept or reject the two bids.

Given that a single governmental hold-out in the GAC would be enough to kill any chance of consensus, the OIC may be right to presuppose that the GAC will not fully object.

That would leave ICANN in the tricky position, for the first time in this application round, of having to decide the fate of a gTLD without the cover of a uniform international objection.

Would it reject .islam, opening the door for other gTLDs to be killed off by minority government concerns? Or would it approve the controversial strings, potentially pissing off the Muslim world?

I expect there’s at least one NGPC member — Lebanese-born Christian ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade — who would certainly not relish having to cast a vote on such a resolution.

ICANN rejects third new gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has formally rejected .thai, only the third new gTLD application to suffer this fate.

It’s been flagged as “Not Approved”, following an objection from a consensus of the Governmental Advisory Committee led by an outcry from Thailand and Thai nationals.

Only DotConnectAfrica’s .africa and GCC’s .gcc have the same designation. Both also were killed off by GAC advice.

Better Living Management Company had applied for .thai, promising to restrict it to people and organizations with a local presence.

Thailand already has the ccTLD .th, of course, as well as the IDN equivalent, .ไทย, which means “Thailand”.

ICANN has not yet rejected any applications that lost crippling objections filed by non-governmental actors.

ICANN makes GAC’s Category 1 new gTLD advice less stupid

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2013, Domain Policy

After six months, ICANN is finally giving its Governmental Advisory Committee what it wants. Kinda.

The New gTLD Program Committee has quietly sent its plan to implement the GAC’s so-called “Category 1″ advice on new gTLDs, which called for regulated gTLDs where applicants had applied for open namespaces.

But it’s rewritten the advice in such a way that it’s unlikely to win many fans in either camp, causing headaches for applicants while also falling short of giving the GAC everything it wanted.

In a letter to GAC chair Heather Dryden, ICANN chair Steve Crocker laid out the NGPC’s plan.

The Category 1 advice, which comprised eight “safeguards” applicable to at least 386 gTLD applications for 174 unique strings, has been rewritten, making it a little more palatable to the majority of applicants.

The list of strings has also been cut in two, with the 42 strings considered most often linked to highly regulated industries taking the brunt of the regulation.

These 42 may or may not find their business models killed off, but are certainly facing more friction as a result of the NGPC’s decision:

.abogado, .attorney, .autoinsurance, .bank, .banque, .bet, .bingo, .carinsurance, .casino, .charity (and Chinese IDN), .corp, .cpa, .creditcard, .creditunion, .dds, .dentist, .gmbh, .hospital, .inc, .insurance, .ira, .lawyer., .lifeinsurance, .llc, .llp, .lotto, .ltd, .ltda, .medical, .mutualfunds, .mutuelle, .pharmacy, .poker, .sal, .sarl, .spreadbetting, .srl, .surgery, .university, .vermogensberater, .versicherung

Each of these registries is going to have to sign up to eight new mandatory Public Interest Commitments, obliging them to engage with the industries associated with their strings, among other things.

And while the GAC wanted these strings to be limited to credential-holding members of those industries, ICANN seems to be giving the applicants much more implementation wiggle room.

The GAC had originally called for all 386 Category 1 registries to:

Establish a working relationship with the relevant regulatory, or industry self-regulatory, bodies, including developing a strategy to mitigate as much as possible the risks of fraudulent, and other illegal, activities.

But ICANN has reinterpreted the advice to make it a bit less onerous on applicants. It will also only affect 42 strings. The advice, now rewritten as a PIC, reads:

Registry operators will proactively create a clear pathway for the creation of a working relationship with the relevant regulatory or industry self-regulatory bodies by publicizing a point of contact and inviting such bodies to establish a channel of communication, including for the purpose of facilitating the development of a strategy to mitigate the risks of fraudulent and other illegal activities.

Does that PIC mean registries will actually be obliged to listen to or give policy-making power to the relevant industries on a formal basis? It’s ambiguous enough that the answer might easily be no.

The GAC had also called for some Category 1 gTLDs to become restricted to card-carrying members of the industry or industries the strings relate to, saying 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.

ICANN has basically rejected that advice, replacing it instead with the much more agreeable (to registries) text:

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.

You’ll notice that the ICANN version does not require credentials to be provided at the point of registration. In fact, the PIC seems to require nothing more than a check-box that the registrant must click.

This is obviously tolerably good news for applicants that had proposed unrestricted policies for their gTLDs — they no longer face the kiss of death in the registrar channel that the GAC’s version would have created — but let’s not pretend it’s what the GAC had asked for.

Again, it only applies to the 42 strings ICANN has identified as particularly broadly regulated.

These registries are not getting an easy ride, however. They will have to enforce a post-registration regime of verifying credentials in response to complaints. The new ICANN PIC reads:

If a Registry Operator receives a complaint expressing doubt with regard to the authenticity of licenses or credentials, Registry Operators should consult with relevant national supervisory authorities, or their equivalents regarding the authenticity.

It’s implied, but not stated, that uncredentialed registrants should lose their domains. Again, the ICANN version of the GAC advice may be less of a nightmare to implement, but it’s still very vague indeed.

For any Category 1 applicant that is not on the sub-list of 42 sensitive strings, there will be three new PICs to adopt.

These all instruct the registry to require registrars to get registrants to agree to abide by “all applicable laws”. It’s the kind of stuff that you usually find in registration agreements anyway, and doesn’t appear at first look to present any hugely problems for registries or registrars.

Overall, ICANN seems to have done a pretty good job of making the Category 1 advice less onerous, and applicable to fewer applicants, than the GAC originally wanted.

But applicants for the 42 strings most heavily affected still face some vague contractual language and the very real possibility of industry complaints in future.

Hundreds of new gTLD applicants still in GAC limbo

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2013, Domain Policy

A little over five months after the Governmental Advisory Committee issued its controversial Beijing communique, demanding strict controls over hundreds of new gTLDs, ICANN has still not taken any action.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee “accepted” a bunch of the GAC’s advice on new gTLDs during its meeting last week, but yet again punted the most crucial issue — how to handle the so-called “Category 1″ strings.

In a resolution last Tuesday, published on Friday, the NGPC addressed 21 pieces of GAC advice from the July Durban meeting but took no action on the April Beijing advice.

One application was killed off as a result — Better Living Management’s bid for .thai — on geographic grounds.

Applications for .spa, .yun, .广州 (.guangzhou), and .深圳 (.shenzhen), which are all geographic strings, have been put on hold “until the agreements between the relevant parties are reached”.

Amazon’s applications for its brand in Latin and other scripts are also on hold again pending ICANN’s review of its lengthy response to the GAC’s decision to object to them in Durban.

Two applications — .date and .persiangulf — which had raised geographic concerns in Beijing have been given leave to proceed after the GAC decided not to object in Durban.

Applications for .wine, .vin, .ram and .indians appear to be safe, but it’s not 100% clear based on the NGPC’s resolution.

Category 1 strings

“Category 1″ strings were those strings that the GAC deemed applicable to “Consumer Protection, Sensitive Strings, and Regulated Markets”.

The GAC wants these gTLDs, if approved, to be subject to oversight by regulatory or self-regulatory bodies and to implement strict security controls.

The Category 1 advice has been criticized by many, including members of the NGPC, for being too vague to implement and for unfairly moving the goalposts on applicants at the last minute.

In Durban, the NGPC had indicated that it was very unhappy with the Category 1 advice.

Last week, it chose to essentially ignore the Beijing communique in which the Category 1 advice was delivered, and instead “accept” the Category 1 advice from Durban, which simply stated:

The GAC will continue the dialogue with the NGPC on this issue.

The NGPC in response stated in an annex to its resolution:

The NGPC accepts this advice. The NGPC looks forward to continuing the dialogue with the GAC on this issue.

So the 500-odd applications captured by Category 1 are still in limbo, unable to sign registry contracts with ICANN, pending the outcome of these GAC-NGPC negotiations.

On the upside, it looks like ICANN is keen to get the issue resolved before ICANN’s next public meeting, which takes place in Buenos Aires in November. ICANN said:

The NGPC and staff are working with the GAC to identify a time and place for further dialogue on these items.

Community support

The NGPC also addressed the GAC’s demands relating to community support for applications. In doing so, it again deployed its tactic of “accepting” the letter of the GAC’s advice whilst plainly rejecting it in spirit.

The GAC had said in Durban:

the GAC advises the ICANN Board to consider to take better account of community views, and improve outcomes for communities, within the existing framework, independent of whether those communities have utilized ICANN’s formal community processes to date.

The GAC was basically worried about the new gTLD program not giving sufficient weight to informal objections from organizations that could be affected by applied-for strings.

The NGPC responded:

The NGPC accepts this advice. The NGPC will consider taking better account of community views and improving outcomes for communities, within the existing framework, independent of whether those communities have utilized ICANN’s formal community processes to date. The NGPC notes that in general it may not be possible to improve any outcomes for communities beyond what may result from the utilization of the AGB’s community processes while at the same time remaining within the existing framework.

In other words, due to the inclusion of the phrase “within the existing framework”, ICANN can do absolutely nothing else to address the GAC’s concerns and can still say it “accepted” the advice.

The NGPC had previously used the same tactic to avoid dealing with the GAC’s Beijing advice on giving “communities” the ability to kill off applications without going through the proper channels.