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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.

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.

Democrat congressman sides with France on .wine

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2014, Domain Policy

US Representative Anna Eshoo has written to ICANN’s top brass to express “deep concerns” about the .wine and .vin new gTLDs and urge that they be permanently killed off.

In a letter (pdf) to CEO Fadi Chehade, Eshoo wrote:

it’s my understanding that the .wine and .vin gTLDs have been met with fierce opposition from the wine industry, both here in the US and around the world. Given these concerns, coupled with the complexities of reaching agreement on Geographic Indications (GIs), I urge you to advocate for the .wine and .vin gTLDs to be permanently withdrawn from consideration.

Eshoo, a Democrat, is breaking rank with the official position of the Obama administration on this, which is that no special treatment is warranted for the two wine-related gTLDs.

Europe, on the other hand, is vehemently opposed to the introduction of either without strong protection for GIs.

At ICANN 50 in London last week the European Commission and France led the charge against approval of the gTLDs, with the Commission even floating the idea of legal action at one point.

France, meanwhile, seems ready to throw ICANN’s ambitions for independence under a bus in order to get what it wants.

Eshoo is ranking member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which recently passed the DOT-COM Act over her protestations that it was “embarrassing”.

She also represents the Silicon Valley area of northern California, which is known for its wineries.

While a handful of US winemakers do have a decidedly European attitude to GI protections, the US Governmental Advisory Committee delegation last week said that only a few out of “thousands” agree with France.

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.

A million domains taken down by email checks

Over 800,000 domain names have been suspended since the beginning of the year as a result of Whois email verification rules in the new ICANN Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

That’s according to the Registrars Stakeholder Group, which collected suspension data from registrars representing about 75% of all registered gTLD domain names.

The actual number of suspended domains could be closer to a million.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify the email addresses listed in their customers’ Whois records. If they don’t receive the verification, they have to suspend the domain.

The RrSG told the ICANN board in March that these checks were doing more harm than good and today Tucows CEO Elliot Noss presented, as promised, data to back up the claim.

“There have been over 800,000 domains suspended,” Noss said. “We have stories of healthcare sites that have gone down, community groups whose sites have gone down.”

“I think we can safely say millions of internet users,” he said. “Those are real people just trying to use the internet. They are our great unrepresented core constituency.” 

The RrSG wants to see contrasting data from law enforcement agencies and governments — which pushed hard for Whois verification — showing that the RAA requirement has had a demonstrable benefit.

Registrars asked at the Singapore meeting in March that law enforcement agencies (LEA) be put on notice that they can’t ask for more Whois controls until they’ve provided such data and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade said “It shall be done by London.”

Noss implied that the majority of the 800,000 suspended names belong to innocent registrants, such as those who had simply changed email addresses since registering their names.

“What was a lovely political win that we said time and time again in discussion after discussion was impractical and would provide no benefit, has demonstrably has created harm,” Noss said.

He was received with cautious support by ICANN board members.

Chair Steve Crocker wonder aloud how many of the 800,000 suspended domains are owned by bad guys, and he noted that LEA don’t appear to gather data in the way that the registrars are demanding.

“We were subjected, all of us, to heavy-duty pressure from the law enforcement community over a long period of time. We finally said, ‘Okay, we hear you and we’ll help you get this stuff implemented,'”, he added. “That creates an obligation as far as I’m concerned on their part.”

“We’re in a — at least from a moral position — in a strong position to say, ‘You must help us understand this. Otherwise, you’re not doing your part of the job'”, he said.

Chehade also seemed to support the registrars’ position that LEA needs to justify its demands and offered to take their data and concerns to the LEA and the Governmental Advisory Committee.

“They put restrictions on us that are causing harm, according to these numbers,” he said. “Let’s take this back at them and say, hey, you ask for all these things, this is what happened.”

“If you can’t tell me what good this has done, be aware not to come back and ask for more,” he said. “I’m with you on this 100%. I’m saying let’s use the great findings you seem to have a found and well-package them in a case and I will be your advocate.”

Director Mike Silber also spoke in support of the RrSG’s position.

“My view is if what you are saying is correct, the LEA’s have blown their credibility,” he said. “They’re going to have to do a lot of work before we impose similar disproportional requirements on actors that are not proven to be bad actors.”

So what does this all mean for registrants?

I don’t think there’s any ongoing process right now to get the Whois verification requirements overturned — that would require a renegotiation of the RAA — but it does seem to mean demands from governments and police are going to have to be much more substantiated in future.

Noss attempted to link the problem to the recommendations of the Whois Expert Working Group (EWG), which propose a completely revamped, centralized Whois system with much more verification and not much to benefit registrants.

To paraphrase: if email verification causes so much harm, what harms could be caused by the EWG proposal?

The EWG was not stuffed with LEA or governments, however, so it couldn’t really be characterized as another set of unreasonable demands from the same entities.

No mention of .london at ICANN London

The forthcoming .london gTLD didn’t get a look in during the opening ceremony of ICANN 50, held this morning in London.

The host city gTLD’s complete absence from the two-hour event — it wasn’t mentioned once — would have escaped notice had it not been for the abundance of plugs for .wales and .cymru attendees received instead.

.cymru is the Welsh name for Wales. The gTLDs are to be launched simultaneously.

Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones was given stage time to announce, in between anti-English quips, that the Welsh government is to dump .gov.uk in favor of the two new Welsh gTLDs.

Later, a Welsh male voice choir (presumably a famous one) took to the stage to sing a couple of songs and announce that they too are planning to use .wales and .cymru for their web sites.

Nominet chair Rennie Fritchie also plugged the upcoming launches during her five-minute slot.

You’d have been forgiven for wondering if you’d accidentally got off the plane in Cardiff.

Where was .london?

Did Dot London Domains seriously drop the ball here?

Or did .london’s absence have something to do with the fact that the host ccTLD and meeting sponsor, Nominet, is the registry for .wales and .cymru but was beaten to the .london back-end contract by Minds + Machines?

ICANN overturns new gTLD objection decision!

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has overturned a Community Objection decision, allowing a .med new gTLD applicant back into the game, after a Request for Reconsideration from the applicant.

It’s the first time ICANN has overruled an objection panel during the new gTLD program and the first time in over a decade any RfR of substance has been accepted by the ICANN board of directors.

Medistry lost a CO filed by the program’s Independent Objector, Alain Pellet, back in January.

Under program rules, that should have killed off its application for .med completely.

But the company filed an RfR — ICANN’s first and cheapest appeals mechanism — claiming that Pellet acted outside his jurisdiction by filing the objection when there was not at least one informal objection from a community member on the public record.

Its case, as outlined in its RfR, was quite compelling, as I outlined in a piece in March.

Medistry argued that the International Chamber of Commerce’s panelist, Fabian von Schlabrendorff, had cited two non-existent informal community objections in his decision.

One of them literally did not exist — and von Schlabrendorff went so far as to infer its existence from its absence — while the other was “advisory” in nature and was not intended as an objection.

In March, ICANN’s Board Governance Committee accepted Medistry’s RfR on a preliminary basis, to give it more time to consider whether the IO had acted outside of the new gTLD program’s rules.

Yesterday, the BGC came to its final decision (pdf):

The BGC concludes that, based on information submitted with this Request, there is substantial and relevant evidence indicating that the Objection was inconsistent with ICANN procedures, despite the diligence and best efforts of the IO and staff. Specifically, the Requester [Medistry] has provided the BGC with uncontroverted information demonstrating that the public comments on which the Objection was based were not, in fact, in opposition to the Requester’s application. Accordingly, the BGC concludes that ICANN not consider the Expert Determination at issue and that the Requester’s Application for .MED is therefore permitted to proceed to the next stage of process in the New gTLD Program.

In other words: 1) Pellet inadvertently acted outside of his remit 2) the ICC’s ruling on the objection is simply cast aside and 3) Medistry’s application is back in the .med contention set.

The main reason this RfR succeeded while all others to date have failed is that Medistry managed to provide new information, in the form of clarifying letters from the two non-existent informal objectors, that was not originally available.

The large majority of previous RfR’s have failed because the requester has failed to bring any new evidence to the table.

The public comments from [National Association of Boards of Pharmacies] and [American Hospital Association] that were the basis for the Objection were vague and open to a number of interpretations. Given that there is substantial and uncontroverted evidence from the authors of those public comments, indicating what NABP and AHA intended, the BGC cannot ignore this information in assessing the Request or reaching its determination.

I think ICANN is going easy on the ICC and von Schlabrendorff (how can something that does not exist be “open to a number of interpretations”?) but it seems that the RfR process has in this case nevertheless been a bit of a success, overturning an extremely dodgy decision.

The .med contention set also contains HEXAP and Google.

Euro govs livid as ICANN takes .wine off ice

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2014, Domain Policy

The new gTLD applications for .wine and .vin are now live again, raising the ire of European governments.

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has written to the European Commission, along with the governments of France, Spain and the US that the three applications are once again being processed.

That’s after a 60-day temporary freeze, ostensibly in order to give the governments more time to push applicants for geographic indicator protections, expired earlier this month.

Geographic indicators are terms such as “Champagne” and “Bordeaux” which are protected under European law — they have to be produced in those regions — but not in the US and other non-EU countries.

France is expected to point to the .wine controversy as evidence of how ICANN is deficient as an organization.

“The problem is it is totally opaque, there is no transparency at all in the process,” Axelle Lemaire, minister for digital affairs, told the Financial Times today.

France also reckons ICANN’s decision will impact transatlantic trade negotiations unrelated to the domain name industry, the FT reported.

Lemaire’s comments about transparency are odd, given that pretty much the entire debate — whether in person at ICANN meetings or through correspondence — has been put on to the public record by ICANN.

The issue seems to be rather than the ICANN process does not give national governments a means to push their agendas onto the industry unless all participating governments agree.

The Governmental Advisory Committee was unable to come to a consensus on .wine and .vin — EU states wanted strong protection for GIs, but the US, Canada and Australia disagreed.

Lacking GAC consensus, ICANN had no mandate to act on requests for individual government requests.

But when its board decided to move ahead on the new gTLDs in March, the GAC noted that its process for making the decision may have broken its bylaws.

The EC, UK, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Luxembourg and Switzerland then filed formal Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN, asking for the decision to be overturned.

Those RfRs were rejected by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee a month ago.

Last week Crocker wrote to governments on both sides of the debate to confirm that, with the 60 days expired and no outstanding GAC advice, .wine and .vin will proceed to contention resolution and contracting as normal.

The letters are all pretty much the same, with Crocker explaining the process to date and suggesting again that ICANN be not be the best forum for governments to hash our their disagreements over GI protections.

Crocker told (pdf) EC vice president Neelie Kroes:

should the GAC be in a position to provide any additional advice on this issue, we would welcome it. Similarly, should governments succeed in resolving these issues in other global trade fora such as the WTO [World Trade Organization] that, too, will be taken into account.

Expect the debate to continue this week at ICANN 50, the public meeting that kicked off in London yesterday.

The EU and its most-affected member states are not going to let this die.

London meeting already ICANN’s second-biggest

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2014, Domain Policy

Over 2,200 people have already registered for ICANN 50, which kicks off this coming weekend in London.

According to ICANN, that puts the upcoming meeting second only to last year’s one in Beijing, which had 3,141 pre-registrations and 2,532 eventual attendees.

London’s a pretty convenient “hub” city to fly to, but I suspect a lot of the interest might be related to the IANA transition process, which has put a new spotlight on ICANN in recent months.

ICANN has already laid on overflow viewing rooms for discussions related to the IANA topic.

The meeting officially starts with the welcome ceremony on Monday, but the work begins as usual on Saturday, when the various constituencies gather to decide what they want to moan about this time.

As usual, you don’t have to actually be in London to “attend” the meeting — there’s a full schedule of remote participation opportunities if your diary, bandwidth and time zone permits.

It’s a packed schedule as usual, and it could look overwhelming to a newbie.

A good trick is to simply follow the board of directors around on the Tuesday, when it invites each constituency into the room in turn for some passive-aggressive feedback sessions.

You’ll get a relatively concise breakdown of the top three or four issues on the mind of ICANN participants in that way, but probably not a great deal of insight into the board’s thought process.

The public forum on Thursday is also a highlight. Anyone can take to the mic to say or ask anything (relevant) they please. Comments and questions can also be submitted remotely.

For ICANN 50 the forum has actually been shortened to two hours to accommodate discussions of the IANA process, causing some in the community to question whether ICANN is trying to stifle the crazy.