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TLDH applies for 92 gTLDs, 68 for itself

Top Level Domain Holdings is involved in a grand total of 92 new generic top-level domain applications, many of them already known to be contested.

Sixty-eight applications are being filed on its own behalf, six have been submitted via joint ventures, and 18 more have been submitted on behalf of Minds + Machines clients.

Here’s the list of its own applications:

.abogado (Spanish for .lawyer), .app, .art, .baby, .beauty, .beer, .blog, .book, .casa (Spanish for .home), .cloud, .cooking, .country, .coupon, .cpa, .cricket, .data, .dds, .deals, .design, .dog, .eco, .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .flowers, .free, .garden, .gay, .green, .guide, .home, .horse, .hotel, .immo, .inc, .latino, .law, .lawyer, .llc, .love, .luxe, .pizza, .property, .realestate, .restaurant, .review, .rodeo, .roma, .sale, .school, .science, .site, .soccer, .spa, .store, .style, .surf, .tech, .video, .vip, .vodka, .website, .wedding, .work, .yoga, .zulu, 网址 (.site in Chinese), 购物 (.shopping in Chinese).

There’s a lot to note in that list.

First, it’s interesting to see that TLDH is hedging its bets on the environmental front, applying for both .eco (which we’ve known about for years) and .green.

This puts it into contention with the longstanding Neustar-backed DotGreen bid, and possibly others we don’t yet know about, which should make for some interesting negotiations.

Also, both of TLDH’s previously announced Indian city gTLDs, .mumbai and .bangaluru, seem to have fallen through, as suspected.

Other contention sets TLDH is now confirmed to be involved in include: .blog, .site, .immo, .hotel, .home, .casa, .love, .law, .cloud, .baby, .art, .gay, .style and .store.

The company said in a statement:

During the next six months, TLDH will focus its efforts on marketing and operations for geographic names such as dot London and dot Bayern where it has the exclusive support of the relevant governing authority, as well as any other gTLDs that TLDH has filed for that are confirmed to be uncontested on the Reveal Date. Discussions with other applicants regarding contested names will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

GAC gets more power to block controversial gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2012, Domain Policy

While the new version of ICANN’s new generic top-level domains Applicant Guidebook contains mostly tweaks, there’s a pretty big change for those filing “controversial” applications.

The Guidebook now grants the Governmental Advisory Committee greater powers to block gTLD applications based on minority government views.

ICANN has adopted poorly-written, ambiguous text approved by the GAC at its meeting in Dakar last October, which lowers the threshold required to force the ICANN board to consider GAC advice.

The changes essentially mean that it’s now much easier for the GAC to force the ICANN board to the negotiating table if a small number of governments object to a gTLD application.

In the September Guidebook, a GAC consensus objection was needed to force the ICANN board to manually approve controversial applications. Now, it appears that only a single country needs to object.

This is the relevant text:

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.

Applications for .gay, of which there are expected to be at least two, will almost certainly fall into this category.

If you’re applying for a potentially controversial gTLD, you can thank the GAC for the fact that your road to approval is now considerably less predictable.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the GAC is allowed to file an objection based on any aspect of the application – not just the chosen string.

So, for example, if you’re applying for .bank or .pharma and your application falls short of one government’s expected consumer safeguards, you may also see a GAC “concerns” objection.

In cases where the GAC objects to an application, the ICANN board of directors does have the ability to overrule that objection, if it provides its rationale, much as it did with .xxx.

However, .xxx was a special case, and ICANN today is under a regime much friendlier to the GAC and much more nervous about the international political environment than it was 12 months ago.

Make no mistake: GAC Advice on New gTLDs will carry weight.

This table compares the types of GAC Advice described in the Applicant Guidebook published in September with the one published last night.

September Applicant GuidebookJanuary Applicant Guidebook
I. 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 ICANN that the application should not be approved. In the event that the ICANN Board determines to approve an application despite the consensus advice of the GAC, pursuant to the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC and the ICANN Board will then try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the event the Board determines not to accept the GAC Advice, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.I. 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. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision if it does not follow the GAC
Advice.
II. The GAC provides advice that indicates that some governments are concerned about a particular application. Such advice will be passed on to the applicant but will not create the presumption that the application should be denied, and such advice would not require the Board to undertake the process for attempting to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC should the application be approved. Note that in any case, that the Board will take seriously any other advice that GAC might provide and will consider entering into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of the concerns expressed.II. 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.
II. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed. If there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing government approval), that action may be taken. However, material amendments to applications are generally prohibited and if there is no remediation method available, the application will not go forward and the applicant can re-apply in the second round.III. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed unless there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing the approval of one or more governments), that is implemented by the applicant. If the issue identified by the GAC is not remediated, the ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision if the Board does not follow GAC advice.

It should also be noted that since Dakar the GAC has defined consensus as “the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection”.

In other words, if some GAC members push for a GAC consensus objection against a given gTLD, other GAC members would have to formally object to that proposed objection in order to prevent the minority view becoming consensus.

It’s a pretty low threshold. The .gay applicants, among others, are going to have a nerve-wracking time.

How ICANN overruled governments on .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2011, Domain Registries

In approving the .xxx top-level domain, ICANN has for the first time explicitly overruled the wishes of international governments, as represented by its Governmental Advisory Committee.

In its rationale (pdf) for the decision, ICANN explains why it chose to disregard the GAC’s views.

There are two pieces of GAC advice that have been quite important. One was delivered in Wellington in 2007, the other was delivered yesterday

The Wellington GAC Communique noted that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”

That was repeated during a terse, 10-minute “bylaws consultation” on .xxx yesterday, during which the the GAC also said “there is no active support of the GAC for the introduction of a .xxx TLD”.

ICANN chose to reject (kinda) both of those pieces of advice, on the basis of a quite literal interpretation — that GAC support was unnecessary and the advice was not specific enough:

There is no contradiction with GAC advice on this item. Active support of the GAC is not a required criteria in the 2004 sTLD round. Further, this is not advice from the GAC either to delegate .XXX or to not delegate .XXX, and therefore the decision to delegate .XXX is not inconsistent with this advice.

Unfortunately, this gives pretty much no clue to how the board will treat minority GAC positions in future, such as when some governments object to new gTLDs.

But companies planning to apply for potentially controversial TLDs can take heart from other parts of the rationale.

For example, the board did not buy the notion that .xxx should be rejected because some countries are likely to block it.

Saudi Arabia has already said it intends to filter out .xxx domains.

The GAC was worried that this kind of TLD blocking would lead to a fragmented root and competing national naming systems, but ICANN wasn’t so sure. The rationale reads:

The issue of governments (or any other entity) blocking or filtering access to a specific TLD is not unique to the issue of the .XXX sTLD. Such blocking and filtering exists today. While we agree that blocking of TLDs is generally undesirable, if some blocking of the .XXX sTLD does occur there’s no evidence the result will be different from the blocking that already occurs.

It’s been noted that some Muslim countries, for example, block access to Israel’s .il domain.

One director, George Sadowsky, dissented from the majority view, as is his wont. In a lengthy statement, he named stability as one reason he voted against .xxx.

He said “the future of the unified DNS could be at stake” and “could encourage moves to break the cohesiveness and uniqueness of the DNS”.

He drew a distinction between the filtering that goes on already and filtering that would come about as a direct result of an ICANN board action.

He was, however, in the minority, which makes proposed TLDs such a .gay seem likely to get less of a rough ride in future.

Is .gay now safe from government blocking?

Kevin Murphy, March 6, 2011, Domain Policy

What are the chances of a .gay top-level domain being added to the internet, given the current state of play in the talks between ICANN and governments?

I think they’re looking pretty good.

While the details have yet to be ironed out, it’s looking like ICANN’s favored method for handling government objections to so-called “sensitive strings” would probably let a .gay slip through.

As you may recall, the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee had proposed a mechanism for objecting to TLD strings that said in part:

Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. The GAC will consider any objection raised by a GAC member or members, and agree on advice to forward to the ICANN Board.

The ICANN board would then be able to treat this advice in the same way its bylaws allow it to treat any GAC advice – it would be free to disregard it, if it had a good reason.

ICANN has seemingly agreed that this process is fair, but has added its own caveats. This is what chair Peter Dengate Thrush just forwarded to GAC chair Heather Dryden (pdf):

A procedure for GAC review will be incorporated into the new gTLD process. The GAC may review the posted applications and provide advice to the ICANN Board. As discussed with the GAC, such advice would be provided within the 45-day period after posting of applications, with documentation according to accountability and transparency principles including whether the advice from the GAC is supported by a consensus of GAC members (which should include identification of the governments raising/supporting the objection).

While it’s certainly a concession to the GAC’s request to be allowed to provide advice about potentially objectionable strings, I think the addition of “transparency principles” is important.

The GAC’s original proposal would have maintained the black-box approach to advice-making that currently characterizes its role in ICANN. It reaches consensus in private.

For example, all we know about the GAC’s opposition to the .xxx TLD application is that “several governments” object to it. We don’t (officially, at least) know which governments.

Complicating matters, the GAC believes that referring to this minority position in one of its official Communiques makes it consensus “advice” on .xxx that ICANN must consider.

If ICANN’s new transparency requirements had been applied to the .xxx application, it would make the call it has to make next week – whether to reject the GAC advice and approve .xxx – much more well-informed.

Returning to .gay, if the GAC is going to be obliged to name (and, depending on your perspective, shame) the governments that officially object to the string, it leaves a lot less room for back-room horse-trading leading to amorphous “consensus” positions.

Let’s say, for example, that Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates (three countries where the death penalty still applies to active homosexuals) were to object to the string.

How much support would that move receive from governments in less repressive parts of the world?

Which relatively liberal Western governments would be willing to put their names to a document that essentially implements homophobia in the DNS? Very few, I would imagine.

For such an objection to gather broader support there would have to be a real risk of “root fragmentation” – the threat that the Saudis et al could decide that, rather than blocking .gay, it would be easier to divorce themselves from ICANN entirely and set up their own competing DNS root.

But let’s remember that by the time .gay is live and available to block, there’s a good chance that .xxx – equally opposed by several nations – will have been in the root for a couple of years. The practice of gTLD blocking at the national level may well be the norm by that point.

So, let’s now say that the GAC’s advice, stating an objection to .gay and naming the limited number of objectors, is forwarded to the ICANN board. What happens then?

Absent some kind of objective scoring system, directors would each have to make a subjective decision. Do I want to give TLD veto power to a narrow, homogeneous subset of nations? Do I want lowest common denominator morality to dictate global internet policy?

I’d like to think that, faced with such a choice, most ICANN directors would vote with their consciences. I hope I’m not being naïve.

This is a scenario I’m exploring hypothetically here, of course, but these are the kinds of decisions that may have to be made for real over the coming few years.

Government domain veto watered down

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2011, Domain Registries

A US proposal to grant governments the right of veto over new top-level domains has been watered down by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Instead of giving the GAC the ability to block any TLD application on public policy grounds, the GAC’s official position would now allow the ICANN board of directors to make the final decision.

The move means the chances of a .gay application being blocked, to use the most obvious example, are much lower.

The original US position, which was was leaked last month, read:

Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. If it is the consensus position of the GAC not to oppose objection raised by a GAC member or members, ICANN shall reject the application.

If this policy had been adopted, all potentially controversial TLDs could have found themselves pawns of the GAC’s back-room negotiations.

A petition against the US proposal has so far attracted almost 300 signatures.

The newly published official GAC position is based on the language in the US document, but it has been tempered substantially. It now reads:

Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. The GAC will consider any objection raised by a GAC member or members, and agree on advice to forward to the ICANN Board.

GAC advice could also suggest measures to mitigate GAC concerns. For example, the GAC could advise that additional scrutiny and conditions should apply to strings that could impact on public trust (e.g. ‘.bank’).

In the event the Board determines to take an action that is not consistent with GAC advice pursuant to Article XI Section 2.1 j and k, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.

This still gives the GAC a key role in deciding the fate of TLD applications, but it’s one that can be overruled by the ICANN board.

To use the .gay example, the GAC could still advise ICANN that the string has been objected to by a handful of backward nations, but it would be up to the ICANN board to decide whether homophobia is a useful policy to embrace in the DNS.

The GAC proposals, which you can read here, are not policy yet, however.

ICANN and the GAC will meet in Brussels next week to figure out what GAC advice is worth implementing in the new TLDs program.

UPDATE: via @gTLDNews, I’ve discovered that US Department of Commerce assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling recently addressed this topic in a speech.

He seems to believe that ICANN “would have little choice but to reject the application” if the GAC raised a consensus objection. According to his prepared remarks, he said:

We have proposed that the ICANN Board use the already-existing GAC process to allow governments collectively to submit objections to individual applications to top level domains. The GAC already operates on a consensus basis. If the GAC reaches a consensus view to object to a particular application, that view would be submitted to the Board.

The Board, in its role to determine if there is consensus support for a given application (as it is expected to do for all matters coming before it), would have little choice but to reject the application.

Does he have a point?

ICANN has never explicitly rejected GAC advice; the forthcoming San Francisco meeting is probably going to be the first time it does so.

My reading of the ICANN bylaws is that the board is able to reject GAC advice whenever it wants, as long as it provides its rationale for doing so.