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Will ICANN punt on .amazon again?

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is piling pressure onto ICANN to finally approve its five-year-old gTLD applications for .amazon, but it seems to me the e-commerce giant will have a while to wait yet.

The company sent a letter to ICANN leadership this week calling on it to act quickly on the July ruling of an Independent Review Process panel that found ICANN had breached its own bylaws when it rejected the .amazon and and Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Amazon’s letter said:

Such action is necessary because there is no sovereign right under international or national law to the name “Amazon,” because there are no well-founded and substantiated public policy reasons to block our Applications, because we are committed to using the TLDs in a respectful manner, and because the Board should respect the IRP accountability mechanism.

ICANN had denied the three applications based on nothing more than the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been swayed by the arguments of primarily Brazil and Peru that there were public policy reasons to keep the gTLD available for possible future use by its own peoples.

The string “Amazon”, among its many uses, is of course the name of a river and a rain forest that covers much of the South American continent.

But the IRP panel decided that the ICANN board should have at least required the GAC to explain its public policy arguments, rather than just accepting its advice as a mandate from on-high.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah had testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets a bar “too high for the Board to say no.”

But the governmental objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the IRP panelists wrote.

The panel, in a 2-to-1 ruling, instructed ICANN to reopen Amazon’s applications.

Since the July ruling, ICANN’s board has not discussed how to proceed, but it seems likely that the matter will come up at its Montevideo, Uruguay retreat later this month.

No agenda for this meeting has yet been published, but there will be an unprecedented public webcast of the full formal board meeting, September 23.

The Amazon letter specifically asks the ICANN board of directors to not refer the .amazon matter back to the GAC for further advice, but I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.

I say this largely because while ICANN’s bylaws specifically allow it to reject GAC advice, it has cravenly avoided such a confrontation for most of its history.

It has on occasion even willfully misinterpreted GAC advice in order to appear that it has accepted it when it has not.

The GAC, compliantly, regularly provides pieces of advice that its leaders have acknowledged are deliberately vague and open to interpretation (for a reason best known to the politicians themselves).

It seems to me the most likely next step in the .amazon case is for the board to ask the GAC to reaffirm or reconsider its objection, giving the committee the chance to save face — and avoid a lengthy mediation process — by providing the board with something less than a consensus objection.

If ICANN were to do this, my feeling is that the GAC at large would probably be minded to stick to its guns.

But it only takes one government to voice opposition to advice for it to lose its “consensus” status, making it politically much easier for ICANN to ignore.

Hypothetically, the US government could return to its somewhat protectionist pre-2014 position of blocking consensus on .amazon, but that might risk fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment.

While the US no longer has its unique role in overseeing ICANN’s IANA function, it still acts as the jurisdictional overlord for the legal organization, which some other governments still hate.

A less confrontational approach might be to abstain and to allow friendly third-party governments to roadblock consensus, perhaps by emphasizing the importance of ICANN being seen to accountable in the post-transition world.

Anyway, this is just my gut premonition on how this could play out, based on the track records of ICANN and the GAC.

If ICANN can be relied on for anything, it’s to never make a decision on something today if it can be put off until tomorrow.

Governments mull greater geo gTLD powers

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2016, Domain Policy

Governments are toying with the idea of asking ICANN for greater powers over gTLDs that match their geographic features.

The names of rivers, mountains, forests and towns could be protected under ideas bandied around at the ICANN 57 meeting in India today.

The Governmental Advisory Committee held a session this morning to discuss expanding the list of strings that already enjoy extra ICANN protections on grounds of geography.

In the 2012 application round, gTLDs matching the names or ISO acronyms of countries were banned outright.

For capital city names and non-capital names where the gTLD was meant to represent the city in question, government approval was required.

For regions on the ISO 3166 list, formal government non-objection was required whether or not the gTLD was intended to represent the region.

That led to gTLDs such as .tata, a dot-brand for Tata Group, being held up indefinitely because it matches the name of a small region of Morocco.

One applicant wound up agreeing to fund a school to the tune of $100,000 in order to get Montenegro’s support for .bar.

But other names were not protected.

Notably, the string “Amazon” was not on any of the protected lists, largely because while it’s a river and a forest it doesn’t match the name of a formal administrative region of any country.

While GAC objections ultimately killed off Amazon’s bid for .amazon (at least for now), the GAC wants to close the Amazon loophole in time for the next new gTLD application round.

The GAC basically is thinking about the power to write its own list of protected terms. It would build on the existing list to also encompass names of “geographic significance”.

GAC members would be able to submit names to the list; applicants for those names would then require non-objection letters from the relevant government(s).

Some governments, including the UK and Peru, expressed concern that “geographic significance” is a little vague.

Truly, without a narrow definition of “significance” it could turn out to be a bloody big list. The UK alone has over 48,000 towns, not to mention all the named forests, rivers and such.

Peru, one of the nations that had beef with Amazon, said it intended to send ICANN a list of all the geographic names it wants protecting, regardless of whether the GAC decides to create a new list.

Other GAC members, including Iran and Denmark, pressed how important it was for the GAC to coordinate with other parts of the ICANN community, mainly the GNSO, on geo names, to avoid overlap and conflict further down the line.

The GAC has a working group looking at the issue. It hopes to have something to recommend to the ICANN board by the Copenhagen meeting next March.

DCA fails .africa evaluation

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2016, Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrice application for the .africa gTLD has, as expected, failed its ICANN evaluation for want of government support.

The official decision (pdf) was handed down overnight.

According to the Extended Evaluation panel, DCA’s “required documentation of support or non-objection was either not provided or did not meet the criteria”.

In other words, DCA did not have a shred of support for its controversial application.

For gTLDs representing multinational regions, support or non-objection is required from 60% of the governments in that region.

In addition, there cannot be more than one objection from a government in that region.

Not only did DCA not have any support, it also had over a dozen governmental objections.

The company had relied on support letters from the African Union Commission and the UN Economic Commission for Africa, both of which have been retracted.

The AU and most African governments support rival, successful applicant ZACR.

ZACR signed its .africa registry contract with ICANN in March 2014, but its bid has been kept in limbo while DCA has exploited ICANN appeals processes to delay delegation.

Most recently, DCA sued ICANN, despite signing away its right to sue when it applied.

DCA was originally rejected due to Governmental Advisory Committee advice, before it had completed evaluation.

But the company won an Independent Review Process ruling stating that ICANN erred by accepting the advice with no explanation, compelling ICANN to put the DCA application back into evaluation.

After a six-month review, the Geographic Names Panel has now concluded that, duh, nobody supports DCA’s bid.

ICANN has now changed the status of DCA’s application from “Not Approved” to “Will Not Proceed”.

Oddly, and possibly incorrectly, this status cites the GAC advice as the reason for the failure, rather than the fact that DCA failed its evaluation.

Per ICANN practice, no application is truly dead until the applicant withdraws.

Tata’s bid for .tata gTLD scuppered by Morocco

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2015, Domain Registries

Tata Group, the humongous Indian conglomerate, has been told its flagship application for a dot-brand gTLD has been refused.

ICANN on Friday changed the status of the application for .tata from “On Hold” to “Will Not Proceed”, a limbo state that is usually expected to lead to the application being withdrawn.

It is believed that Tata’s row with Morocco is to blame.

While Tata Group is a 150-year-old, $100 billion-a-year company, Tata is also a province of Morocco with a population of about 120,000.

Under the rules of the ICANN new gTLD program, the string “tata” is therefore a protected geographic name, for which the applicant needs to show the unequivocal support or non-objection of the relevant government.

Tata was the last applicant to pass its ICANN evaluation, when in July 2014 it finally managed to pass its Geographic Names Review on the basis of a letter from a Moroccan official.

However, in September last year the Moroccan’s government’s digital economy minister denied that the letter indicated support for .tata.

This February, ICANN threw Tata back into a Geographic Names Review, where the onus was on the company to prove that it really did have support.

That support has evidently not been forthcoming.

Morocco has indicated in letters to ICANN that it may want the .tata gTLD itself in future.

Tata unit Tata Motors has already been delegated the dot-brand gTLD .tatamotors.

Africa hands coffin nails to DotConnectAfrica evaluators

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2015, Domain Policy

The African Union and a United Nations commission have formally told ICANN that they don’t support DotConnectAfrica’s bid for .africa.

When it comes to showing governmental support, a necessity under ICANN’s rules for a geographic gTLD applications, the UN Economic Commission for Africa was DCA’s only prayer.

Company CEO Sophia Bekele had managed to get somebody at UNECA to write a letter supporting .africa back in 2008, and DCA has continued to pretend that the letter was relevant even after the entire continent came out in support of rival applicant ZA Central Registry.

During its Independent Review Process appeal, DCA begged the IRP panel to declare that the 2008 letter showed it had the support of the 60% of African governments that it requires to be approved by ICANN.

The panel naturally declined to take this view.

Now UNECA has said in a letter to the African Union Commission (pdf) dated July 20, which has since been forwarded to ICANN:

ECA as United Nations entity is neither a government nor a public authority and therefore is not qualified to issue a letter of support for a prospective applicant in support of their application. In addition, ECA does not have a mandate represent the views or convey the support or otherwise of African governments in matters relating to application for delegation of the gTLD.

It is ECA’s position that the August 2008 letter to Ms Bekele cannot be properly considered as a “letter of support or endorsement” with the context of ICANN’s requirements and cannot be used as such.

The AUC itself has also now confirmed for the umpteenth time, in a September 29 letter (pdf), that it doesn’t support the DCA bid either. It said:

Any reliance by DCA in its application… proclaiming support or endorsement by the AUC, must be dismissed. The AUC does not support the DCA application and, if any such support was initially provided, it has subsequently been withdrawn with the full knowledge of DCA even prior to the commencement of ICANN’s new gTLD application process.

The AUC went on to say that if DCA is claiming support from any individual African government, such claims should be treated “with the utmost caution and sensitivity”.

That’s because a few years ago African Union member states all signed up to a declaration handing authority over .africa to the AUC.

The AUC ran an open process to find a registry operator. DCA consciously decided to not participate, proclaiming the process corrupt, and ZACR won.

The new letters are relevant because DCA is currently being evaluated for the second time by ICANN’s independent Geographic Names Panel, which has to decide whether DCA has the support of 60% of African governments.

ZACR passed its GNP review largely due to a letter of support from the AUC.

If DCA does not have the same level of support, its application will fail for the second time.

The 2008 UNECA letter was the only thing DCA had left showing any kind of support from any governmental authority.

Now that’s gone, does this mean the DCA application is dead?

No. DCA has a track record of operating irrationally and throwing good money after bad. There’s every chance that when it fails the Geographic Names Review it will simply file another Request for Reconsideration and then another IRP, delaying the delegation of .africa for another year or so.