One of the only two companies to receive formal, consensus, kiss-of-death Governmental Advisory Committee advice last month has called on ICANN to reject it as “untimely”.
GCCIX WLL of Bahrain applied for .gcc to be an open gTLD for residents of the Persian/Arabian Gulf region.
It was a ballsy application. The intended meaning of the string was Gulf Cooperation Council — the six-state regional political union — but the applicant by its own admission had no support from local governments or the GCC itself.
It would be a little like applying for .eu, to represent Europe, with no support from the European Union.
Naturally enough, local governments balked. GCCIX received an Early Warning signed by Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, followed by a legal rights objection from the GCC itself.
And in Beijing, the GAC said by consensus that the application for .gcc should be rejected.
The only other application that received the same level of advice was DotConnectAfrica’s equally unsupported application for .africa which, unlike .gcc, ICANN recognizes as “geographic”.
Now, GCCIX CEO Fahad AlShirawi has written to ICANN to ask it to reject the GAC’s advice and let the legal rights objection process play out before making a decision.
Of note, AlShirawi points out that the GAC advice was received in April, a month later than the deadline outlined in the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook.
ICANN should therefore reject the GAC advice as “untimely”, he wrote.
That’s not going to happen, of course.
The GAC is allowed to provide advice to ICANN at any time, no matter what the Guidebook says. If ICANN were to ignore it based on timing, it may as well sign its own death sentence at the same time.
Top Level Domain Holdings is the latest portfolio applicant to slate the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice on new gTLDs, calling it “troubling in principle” and “terrifying in practice”.
The company, which applied directly for 70 gTLDs and is involved in several others, filed its comments on the “safeguard advice” in the GAC’s Beijing communique with ICANN today.
The comments focus mainly on the overarching issues of governmental power and process, rather than delve into the nitty-gritty implementation problems presented by the advice.
TLDH CEO Antony Van Couvering wrote:
The Communiqué’s prescriptions define the opposite of a well-regulated sector. Instead of a clear process in which all concerns are weighed, the Communiqué sets up an ad-hoc GAC process from which the views of applicants are excluded.
Instead of clear rules to which industry players must adhere, ill-defined categories have been set up that applicants have a hard time even to understand.
Instead of a clear authority on who will determine policy, the ICANN community must now wonder who is in charge.
The comment points to the fact that the GAC’s 2007 principles on new gTLDs state that applicants should have a clear, objective process to follow, and that Beijing undermines that principle.
It also puts forth the view that the GAC appears to be trying to create policy unilaterally, and in a top-down manner that doesn’t give the Generic Names Supporting Organization a role.
The GAC Beijing Communiqué as enunciated in Section IV.1.b [the safeguard advice] unilaterally expands the role of the GAC from an advisory committee, with a remit of providing advice on policy originating in the GNSO, into a policy-making body from which other members of the ICANN community are excluded.
TLDH also notes that some parts of the advice are “not in themselves bad ideas” and that the company has offered to adopt some of them already in the Public Interest Commitments appended to its applications.
It comments follow those from rival Demand Media, which questioned the feasibility of implementing the GAC’s advice, last week.
Separately, over the weekend, Medicus Mundi International Network — an organization of healthcare non-governmental organizations — filed comments saying that the GAC advice does not go far enough.
Rather, it said, ICANN should delay the introduction of .health until a “broad-based consultation of the health community” can be carried out and a “multi-stakeholder” governance model for it created.
Directi appears to be the last man standing in the three-way tie-up for .online, following the latest new gTLD withdrawals.
Namecheap has dropped its .online application, closely following Tucows, which dropped its bid a couple of weeks ago.
The three companies announced a deal in March to see them cooperate to win the contested TLD, but at the time it wasn’t clear which applicants would pull out.
Directi’s bid (filed by DotOnline Inc under the Radix brand) remains. It has already passed Initial Evaluation, which may be part of the reason its application was chosen as the “winner”.
The gTLD is still contested, however. Directi is competing with Donuts, I-Registry and Dot Online LLC.
Separately today, a curious two-way dot-brand battle seems to have had its final twist, with Guardian Life Insurance’s withdrawal of its application for .guardianlife.
The insurance company and newspaper publisher Guardian News and Media had both applied for gTLDs containing the string “guardian”. There were originally five, but only two remain.
It now looks like Guardian News will get .theguardian, having previously conceded .guardian to its brand rival and dropping its bid for .guardianmedia.
It appears that there’s been more than a bit of strategic applying, and maybe some deal-making, here.
Neither remaining application is contested, and neither have objections. It’s likely that .guardian is captured by the Governmental Advisory Committee’s advice against “closed generics”, however.
New gTLD applicants affected by Governmental Advisory Committee advice may be about to find that their launch runway is quite a bit longer than they hoped.
That’s the message that seems to be coming through subtly from ICANN and the GAC itself — via last week’s applicant update webinar and GAC chair Heather Dryden — right now.
Dryden made it clear in an official ICANN interview, recorded early last week, that the GAC expects its Beijing communique to be “fully taken into account”, lest governments abandon ICANN altogether.
But at the same time she seemed to suggest that the rest of the community may have misunderstood the GAC’s intentions, due in part to the fact that its deliberations were held in private.
Here’s a slice of the interview with Brad White, ICANN’s media relations chief:
WHITE: Suppose the [ICANN] board in the end says “thank you very much for the advice, we’ve looked at it, but we’re moving on” and basically ignores a lot of that advice?
DRYDEN: I think it would be a very immediate reaction, questioning the value of participating in the Governmental Advisory Committee. If it is going to be the place for governments to come and raise their concern and influence the decision making that occurs at ICANN then we have to be able to demonstrate that the advice generated is fully taken into account or to the maximum extent appropriate taken in and in this way governments understand that the GAC is useful mechanism for them.
WHITE: What you seem to be saying is there is concern about whether or not some governments might pull out from that multi-stakeholder model?
DRYDEN: Right, right why would they come? How would they justify coming to the GAC meetings? Why would they support this model if in fact it’s there aren’t channels available to them and appropriate to their role and perspective as a government?
Under ICANN’s bylaws, the board of directors does not have to adopt GAC advice wholesale.
It is able to disagree with, and essentially overrule, the GAC, but only after they’ve tried “in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution”.
The only time this has happened before was in February 2011, when discussions covered the final details of the new gTLD program and the imminent approval of the .xxx gTLD.
Then, the ICANN board and the GAC gathered in Brussels for two days of intense face-to-face discussions, which was followed by multiple “scorecard” drafts and follow-up talks.
It seems very likely that we’re going to see something similar for the Beijing advice, if for no other reason than the communique is vague enough that ICANN will need a lot of clarification before it acts.
So does this mean delay for new gTLD applicants? Probably.
Dryden, asked about the GAC’s agenda for the ICANN public meeting in Durban this July, said:
There may well also be aspects of safeguard advice that we would discuss further with the board or with the community or would need to, particularly the implementation aspects of some of the new safeguards that the GAC identified.
The “safeguard” advice is the large section of the Beijing communique that attempts to impose broad new obligations on over 500 new gTLDs in “regulated or professional sectors”.
Dryden appeared to acknowledge the criticism that much of the advice appears unworkable to many, saying:
The intent behind this was to provide a reminder or to reinforce the importance of preexisting obligations and the applicability of national laws and really not to impose new burdens on applicants or registrants.
However, there are measures proposed in that safeguard advice where there are real implementation questions and so we think this is a very good focus for discussions now in the community with the GAC and with the board around that particular aspect of the advice.
White put to Dryden DI’s criticism that the communique was a “perplexing, frustrating mess” aimed at using the DNS to solve wider problems with the internet.
For example, the GAC appears to want to use ICANN contracts use introduce new ways to enforce copyrights and data security regulations, something perhaps better addressed by legislation.
It’s really not intended to impose a new global regulatory regime. It is intended to be consistent with ICANN’s existing role and serve as a reminder to those that have applied of what is really involved with implementing if they are successful a string globally as well as really wanting to emphasize that some of those strings raise particular sensitivities for governments
So have we misunderstood the GAC’s intentions? That seems to be the message.
Watch the whole Dryden interview here:
Based on current evidence, I’d say that any applicant covered by the Beijing communique that still believes they have a chance of signing a contract before July is kidding itself.
The ICANN board’s new gTLD program committee met on Wednesday to discuss its response to the Beijing communique. The results of this meeting should be published in the next few days.
But there’s little doubt in my mind that ICANN doesn’t have enough time before Durban to pick through the advice, consult with the GAC, and come up with a mutually acceptable solution.
Quite apart from the complexity of and lack of detail in the GAC’s requests, there’s the simple matter of logistics.
Getting a representative quorum of GAC members in the same room as the ICANN board for a day or two at some point in the next 60 days would be challenging, based on past performance.
I think it’s much more likely that a day or two will be added to the Durban meeting (before its official start) to give the board and GAC the kind of time they need to thrash this stuff out.
ICANN’s latest program timetable, discussed during a webinar on Thursday night, extended the deadline for the ICANN board’s response to the GAC from the first week of June to the end of June.
On the call, program manager Christine Willett confirmed that this date assumes the board adopts all of the advice — it does not take into account so-called “bylaws consultations”.
While it seems clear that all 518 applications (or more) affected by the “safeguards” advice won’t be signing anything before Durban, it’s less clear whether the remaining applicants will feel an impact too.
ICANN’s evaluators have passed 56 more new gTLD applications through Initial Evaluation.
The latest weekly batch of published results cover bids for the following strings:
.aig, .airforce, .art, .axa, .baby, .basketball, .bid, .business, .bzh, .cal, .center, .ceo, .cisco, .cloud, .coach, .codes, .contractors, .cpa, .dell, .diet, .docomo, .duns, .durban, .esurance, .film, .forex, .goo, .got, .guide, .hgtv, .hotels, .itau, .mattel, .mcd, .mcdonalds, .melbourne, .mobile, .mobily, .monash, .nowtv, .onl, .paris, .passagens, .plumbing, .poker, .property, .red, .safety, .silk, .study, .talk, .travelguard, .webcam, .weibo, .wolterskluwer and موبايلي. (Arabic for “Mobily”)
There are now exactly 300 applications with passing scores on IE, one that failed, and 49 that despite their prioritization numbers have yet to receive an answer one way or the other.