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ICANN will not attend White House drugs meeting

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has declined an invitation from the Obama administration to attend a meeting tomorrow to discuss ways to crack down on counterfeit drugs web sites.

The meeting, first reported by Brian Krebs, was called with an August 13 invitation to “registries, registrars and ICANN” to meet at the White House to talk about “voluntary protocols to address the illegal sale of counterfeit non-controlled prescription medications on-line.”

The meeting is reportedly part of the administration’s Joint Strategic Plan to Combat Intellectual Property Theft, which was announced in June.

It also follows a series of reports from security firms that called into question domain name registrars’ willingness to block domains that are used to sell fake pharma.

ICANN tells me that, following talks with White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, it was agreed that it would “not be appropriate” for ICANN to attend.

The decision was based on the fact that ICANN’s job is to make policy covering internet names and addresses, and not to regulate the content of web sites.

ICANN’s vice president of government affairs for the Americas, Jamie Hedlund, said the meeting was “outside the scope of our role as the technical coordinator of the Internet’s unique identifiers.”

I suspect it also would not have looked great on the global stage if ICANN appeared to be taking its policy cues directly from the US government rather than through its Governmental Advisory Committee.

Demand Media-owned registrar eNom, which has took the brunt of the recent criticism of registrars, recently signed up to a service that will help it more easily identify and terminate domains used to sell counterfeit medicines.

New TLD guidebook could be finalized in Cartagena

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2010, Domain Policy

I’ve got the official line from ICANN — it’s possible that the final Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain applications could be approved as early as December.

I reported late last night that, following its weekend board retreat, the final version of ICANN’s new TLD rulebook would be published before its public meeting in Cartagena, Colombia.

This morning, based on some reader comments and a closer reading of the board’s latest resolutions, I concluded that there was a pretty good chance I was wrong, so I asked ICANN for clarification.

I essentially asked whether we were looking at another six months of pondering Draft Applicant Guidebook version 5, or whether the next iteration would be the final one.

This is the official ICANN spokesperson line:

The next guidebook to be posted for public comment will be called the “next version” of the applicant guidebook – depending on public comment, the Board will decide whether to approve it as final (with changes) or request another iteration.

As stated above, the Board could consider approving the next version of the Guidebook as early as the Cartagena meeting or set a timeline for approval sometime thereafter.

So, there’s the answer: it depends.

Frankly, given the number and gravity of the unresolved issues on the table, I think Cartagena may be optimistic. But it’s not impossible.

(Cheers to @mneylon and @dot_scot for the constructive criticism.)

Do uncontroversial new TLDs exist?

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee wants ICANN to drastically scale back the first round of new top-level domain applications, limiting it to “uncontroversial” strings.

In a letter last Thursday, interim GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote that ICANN should consider a “road test” or “fast track first round” made up of “relatively straightforward, non-sensitive and uncontroversial gTLD proposals”.

This doesn’t make much sense to me, for a few reasons.

First, Dryden’s letter does not attempt to define what such a TLD would look like, other than noting that they should include “community, cultural and geographical applications”.

Neither does it give ICANN any ideas about how it might separate out uncontroversial applications for special treatment before any applications have actually been received.

The idea might have worked had the Expressions Of Interest plan not been canned in Nairobi, but right now I can’t see an obvious way to do it without actually asking all applicants to file their apps before they have any idea of the rules their applications will be subject to or on what timeline.

It’s a recipe for, if not disaster, then for at least months and months of more delays as ICANN tries to design a parallel pre-approval process for uncontroversial strings.

Second, there’s no category of new TLD that is exclusively “uncontroversial” in nature.

The GAC wants “an initial fast track round for a limited number of non-controversial applications which should include a representative but diverse sample of community, cultural and geographical applications”.

This would seem to suggest that community, cultural and geographical TLDs are somehow less prone to controversy than other categories of application, which is not the case.

On the geoTLD front, you only need look at the large number of contested regional/city domains that we already know about – Berlin, Barcelona and Bayern, without leaving the B’s – to see that controversy is likely.

Even uncontested cityTLDs have potential for conflicts. Take .london, for example. Last time I checked, the one .london applicant we know of made it clear that .london would exclusively represent London in the UK.

If you’re a business in London, Ontario, or any other London, and nobody contests the .london bid, you’re forever excluded from the namespace. That, I would argue, could be controversial.

As for the cultural/ethnic TLDs, are the proposed .kurd, .eus (Basque) and .sic (Székely) TLDs really totally uncontroversial?

I genuinely don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know they are designed to represent peoples largely originating from (relatively recently at least, if not currently) contested territories.

And what of “community” TLDs? It’s almost impossible to argue that this category is by definition less controversial, given that essentially any applicant is eligible to designate itself a “community” TLD.

There’s a pretty decent chance that one or more .gay bids will be a community-backed application. And I strongly suspect that the GAC doesn’t like the prospect of that TLD one little bit.

Third, ICANN has already executed two limited new TLD rounds.

The whole point of the 2000 round of new TLDs was to create a “test-bed”. Similarly, a key reason the 2003 round was limited to “sponsored” TLDs was to increase the TLD pool in an orderly fashion.

The reason the GAC says wants a limited launch this time is to help ICANN in “collecting relevant information” relating to the “economic impacts of a large number of new gTLD strings”.

There’s an assumption here that the behavior of registrants, such as trademark holders, will be the same when a small number of TLDs are released as when a large number are released, or that one can extrapolate the latter from the former, which may not be the case.

If ICANN wants a limited launch in order to measure the economic impact, it has two previous such rounds to study already. But if it wants empirical data on a large number of TLDs being launched, there’s unfortunately only one way to get it.

Personally, I think the GAC’s talk of “economic analysis” and “uncontroversial strings” is more likely a smokescreen for its real concerns about nations unilaterally blocking strings they don’t like at their borders, potentially leading to root fragmentation.

Anti-terror rule dropped from new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN will cut references to terrorism from its Draft Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains, after criticism from some Arab stakeholders.

The ICANN board of directors decided on Saturday at its retreat in Trondheim that it will revise its policy of doing background checks on new TLD applicants:

The background check should be clarified to provide detail and specificity in response to comment. The specific reference to terrorism will be removed (and the background check criteria will be revised).

The reference to “terrorism” first showed up in DAGv4, the latest draft. It caused a bit of a stir, with at least two Arab community members harshly criticizing ICANN for its inclusion.

Khaled Fattal of the Multilingual Internet Group told ICANN it would “be seen by millions of Muslims and Arabs as racist, prejudicial and profiling” while Abdulaziz Al-Zoman of SaudiNIC observed that’s it’s not globally accepted “who is a terrorist and who is a freedom fighter”.

It appears that their complaints have been heard.

ICANN to publish final new TLD rulebook before December

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2010, Domain Registries

The ICANN board of directors said it will publish the final Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains before the public meeting in Cartagena this December.

(UPDATE: that statement is not 100% accurate. See this post for an update.)

The decision came at the end of its two-day retreat in Trondheim, Norway yesterday, which seems to have left a number of important issues as yet unresolved.

The matters of registry-registrar cross ownership and morality and public order objections are both still unfinished business, while the intellectual property lobby has at least one bone thrown its way.

On the morality or “MOPO” problem, now known as the “Rec6” problem, the board had this to say:

The Board will accept the Rec6 CWG recommendations that are not inconsistent with the existing process, as this can be achieved before the opening of the first gTLD application round, and will work to resolve any inconsistencies.

The Rec6 working group had recommended a re-framing of the issue that would eliminate the possibility of any one government blocking a new TLD application based on its own laws and interests.

So the board resolution sounds like progress, until you realize that every decision on new TLDs made at the retreat is going to be re-evaluated in light of a shamefully eleventh hour wish-list submitted by the Governmental Advisory Committee on Thursday.

Having failed to get what it wanted through cooperation with the Rec6 working group, the GAC essentially went over the heads of the GNSO, taking its demands directly to the board.

So much for bottom-up policy making.

Resolved (2010.09.25.02), staff is directed to determine if the directions indicated by the Board below are consistent with GAC comments, and recommend any appropriate further action in light of the GAC’s comments.

In other words, the board may only accept the parts of the Rec6 recommendations that the GAC agrees with, and the GAC, judging from its latest missive, wants the first round of applications limited to purely “non-controversial” strings, whatever those may be.

The board also made no firm decision of the issue of registry vertical integration and cross-ownership. This is the entirety of what it said on VI:

The Board will send a letter to the GNSO requesting that the GNSO send to the Board, by no later than 8 October 2010, a letter (a) indicating that no consensus on vertical integration issues has been reached to date, or (b) indicating its documented consensus position. If no response is received by 8 October 2010, then the Board will deem lack of consensus and make determinations around these issues as necessary. At the time a policy conclusion is reached by the GNSO, it can be included in the applicant guidebook for future application rounds.

That’s actually borderline amusing, given that the GNSO working group on VI has recently been waiting for hints from the board about what it intends to do, rather than actually getting on with the job of attempting to create a consensus policy.

The bone I mentioned for the trademark crowd amounts to knocking a week off the length of time it takes to resolve a complaint under the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

The Trondheim resolutions also make it clear that the ICANN board will only be required to vote on a new TLD application in limited circumstances, such as when an objection is filed.

For all other applications, a staff mechanism for rapidly signing contracts and adding TLDs to the root will be created.