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For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Governments totally cool with two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee does not plan to advise against the release of two-character domain names in new gTLDs.

In fact, judging by a GAC discussion at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles yesterday, the governments of many major nations are totally cool with the idea.

Under the standard Registry Agreement for new gTLD registries, all two-character domains (any combination of letters, numbers) must not be sold or activated in the DNS.

The blanket ban was designed to avoid clashes with two-letter ccTLD codes, both existing and future.

ICANN left the door open for registries to request the release of such names, however, and many companies have formally applied to do so via the Registry Services Evaluation Process.

Some registries want all two-character domains released, others have only asked for permission to sell those strings that do not match allocated ccTLDs.

There seems to have been an underlying assumption that governments may want to protect their geographic turf. That assumption may turn out to be untrue.

Representatives from the United States, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Austria and Iran all said yesterday that the GAC should not issue formal advice against the the two-character proposals.

No governments opposed that apparent consensus view.

“The use of the ‘US’ two-letter country code at the second level has not presented any technical or policy issues for the United States,” US rep Suzanne Radell said.

“We, in fact, do not require any approval for the use of US two-character country codes at the second level in existing gTLDs, and do not propose to require anything for new gTLDs,” she said.

She even highlighted domains such as us.com and us.org — which are marketed by UK-based CentralNic as alternatives to the .us ccTLD — as being just fine and dandy with the US government.

It seems likely that the GAC will instead suggest to ICANN that it is the responsibility of individual governments to challenge the registries’ requests via the RSEP process.

“What we see at the moment is that ICANN is putting these RSEP requests out for public comment and it would be open to any government to use that public comment period if they did feel in some instances that there was a concern,” Australian GACer Peter Nettlefold said.

I’ve not been able to find any government comments to the relevant RSEP requests.

For example, Neustar’s .neustar, which proposes the release of all two-character strings including country codes, has yet to receive a comment from a government.

Many comments in other RSEP fora appear to be from fellow dot-brand registries that want to use two-letter codes to represent the countries where they operate.

Governments to get more power at ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2014, Domain Policy

Governments are to get more power to influence ICANN’s board of directors.

Under a proposal launched late Friday, ICANN plans to make it harder for the board to reject the often-controversial advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Today, the board is able to reject GAC advice with a simple majority vote, which triggers a consultation and reconciliation process.

Following the proposed changes to the ICANN bylaws, the threshold would be increased to a two-thirds majority.

The change is to be made following the recommendations of the Board-GAC Recommendations Implementation Working Group, made up of members of the board and the GAC.

The new rule would bring the GAC into line with the multistakeholder Generic Names Supporting Organization. The ICANN board also needs a two-thirds vote to reject a formal GNSO recommendation.

The differences between the GAC and the GNSO include the lack of detailed industry awareness GAC members regularly demonstrate during their public meetings, and the fact that GAC advice regularly comprises deliberately vague negotiated language that ICANN’s board has a hard time interpreting.

That disconnect may improve in future due to the recent creation of a GAC-GNSO liaison position, designed to keep the GAC up to date with policy goings-on between the thrice-yearly ICANN meetings.

The proposed bylaws change is open for public comment, but appears to be a fait accompli; the board has already said it will use the higher voting threshold if called to make a decision on GAC advice prior to its formal adoption.

US winemakers rebel against their government

Kevin Murphy, July 3, 2014, Domain Policy

Groups representing thousands of US winemakers have come out against .wine and .vin, bringing their government’s position on the two proposed new gTLDs into question.

Seven regional associations, representing close to 2,000 wineries, issued a statement last night raising “strong objections” to the gTLDs with “non-existent to grossly insufficient safeguards”.

The joint statement says:

If granted to unscrupulous bidders, second-level domain names such as napavalley.wine or wallawalla.wine could be held in perpetuity by a company or individual that has never seen a vineyard, cultivated fine wine grapes or made a single bottle of wine.

It’s the first mass objection from US winemakers, but they join colleagues from France, Spain and other European Union nations in their opposition to a .wine that does not respect geographic indicators (GIs).

It also makes the US delegation to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee look rather out of touch with the very companies it professes to be looking out for.

At the ICANN 50 meeting in London last week, US rep Suzanne Radell told the GAC:

The three U.S. wineries that our colleagues in Europe have cited as being privy to the exchanges between the European wine industries and the applicants are, in fact, just three U.S. wineries. If I may emphasize, the United States has thousands and thousands of wineries who are quite interested in this matter and do not support the European model of GI protection. So let’s just please put that to bed.

The US winery groups now objecting comprise almost 2,000 wineries. According to Wikipedia, the US has fewer than 3,000 wineries.

We’re looking at a two-thirds majority objection from the US wine-making industry here.

“The coalition of American quality wine regions representing nearly 2,000 U.S. wineries clearly contradicts Radell’s testimony in London on June 22,” the groups said.

The groups also have Californian congresspeople Anna Eshoo and Mike Thompson on their side. As we reported yesterday, Eshoo has already written to ICANN to urge it to kill off .wine.

The big questions are: will this be enough to change the position the US takes to the GAC in future, and will that help the GAC find consensus on anti-.wine advice?

Australia and Canada have also been vocal opponents of the European demands in the past. They’d need to change their minds too, in order for the GAC to find a new consensus.

Without a GAC consensus, the .wine and .vin applicants have little to worry about.

France slams ICANN after GAC rejects special treatment for .wine

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2014, Domain Policy

France says that “ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance” after it failed to win support from other governments for special protections in .wine and .vin gTLDs.

The government came to ICANN 50 in London this week apparently determined to secure a Governmental Advisory Committee consensus that .wine should have protection for geographic indicators.

GIs are protected geographic terms such as “Champagne”, “Parma” and “Cheddar” that link a product to the region in which it is traditionally produced. France has a lot of wine-related GIs.

But the GAC — as I think everyone, including France, expected — failed to come to an agreement.

The GAC’s London communique (pdf) reads:

There was further discussion on the issue of .wine/.vin, but no agreement was reached because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The matter of .wine and .vin was raised at the High Level Governmental Meeting, where some members expressed concerns in terms of ICANN’s accountability and public policy. These concerns are not shared by all members.

In the absence of a consensus GAC objection, the most likely outcome is ICANN pushing the competing .vin/.wine applicants along the contention resolution process to auction.

France has won a lot of media coverage this week, throwing out allegations such as the idea that ICANN is “opaque”, and questioning ICANN’s ability to do its job properly.

Quizzed about France’s statements at a press conference on Monday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade pointed out that studies have show ICANN is extremely transparent and wondered aloud whether France’s position is the one where you “scream that everything’s broken when you don’t get what you want”.

Today’s French statement is a little, but not much, more relaxed. Translated, it partially reads:

Current procedures at ICANN highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of States and to ensure common resource management in the direction of respect for cultural diversity and balance of interests in economic sectors that its decisions affect.

Accordingly, it will propose to its European partners and all other stakeholders to reflect on the future of Internet governance based on transparency, accountability, and equal stakeholders. Commission also believes that ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance.

The government did, however, reiterate its support for the notion of multi-stakeholder internet governance.

French wine producers were less diplomatic. We received a statement from ANEV, the Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du vin, this afternoon that called upon the French government and European Union to block all domain names that use GIs in violation of local law.

Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

During an ICANN session on Monday, the French GAC rep used the .wine controversy to call for the creation of a “General Assembly” at ICANN.

I’m working from the transcript, which has been translated by ICANN into English, and some media reports, but it seems that France is thinking along the lines of an ITU-style, voting-based rather than consensus-based, approach to generating GAC advice. I may be wrong.

During Monday’s press conference, Chehade did not oppose France’s suggestions, though he was careful to point out that it would have to be approved by the whole ICANN community first (implicitly a tall order).

A vote-based GAC could well favor European Union countries, given the make-up of the GAC right now.

On the .wine issue, it’s mainly a few Anglophone nations such as the US, Canada and Australia that oppose extra GI protections.

These nations point out that the GI issue is not settled international law and is best dealt with in venues such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

France actually says the same thing.

But while France says that ICANN’s refusal to act on .wine jeopardizes GI talks in other fora, its opponents claim that if ICANN were to act it would jeopardize the same talks.

Chehade said during the Monday press conference that France had not yet run out of ways to challenge ICANN’s position on this, so the story probably isn’t over yet.