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.XXX debate could test GAC powers

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2010, Domain Policy

The long-running .xxx top-level domain saga has tested ICANN processes to their limits over the last decade, and it looks like it may do so at least one more time.

Digging a little deeper into the board’s decision to consult with its Governmental Advisory Committee before approving the TLD, it looks like the discussion will be quite broad-based.

The .xxx consultation could in fact have consequences for the board/GAC power balance, helping define the parameters of their future interactions.

This PDF, published at the same time as last week’s board resolution on .xxx, outlines three GAC positions that could have a bearing on the matter.

The first is its communiqué from the Wellington meeting in 2007, which noted that several GAC members were “emphatically opposed” to the introduction of .xxx.

The GAC operates on a consensus basis. When it can’t find consensus, its communiqués also reflect minority positions. So ICANN now wants to know whether the Wellington letter constitutes GAC “advice”.

The question remains whether a position taken by “several members of the GAC” can be equated with GAC advice on public policy matters. If it is not GAC advice, then the concern of inconsistency [of the .xxx contract with GAC advice] diminishes.

Some may be surprised to discover that, after over a decade, there’s no broad agreement about when something the GAC says constitutes official “advice” that ICANN, under its bylaws, must consider.

Attendees to the Brussels meeting this June will recall that the joint board-GAC meeting, transcribed here, spent most of its time labouring on this apparent oversight.

In consulting with the GAC on .xxx, there’s an outside chance that some answers with regards the definition of “advice” may be found.

It wouldn’t be the first time ICM Registry’s controversial application has forced ICANN to address shortcomings in its own accountability procedures.

Notably, the Independent Review Process, promised in the bylaws for years, was eventually implemented to allow ICM’s appeal after it had pushed the Reconsideration Request process to its limit.

ICANN’s latest resolution on .xxx also refers to a letter (pdf) GAC chair Heather Dryden sent to the board in August, which expressed a desire that no “controversial” TLDs should be added to the root.

While ostensibly addressing future TLD applications, rather than TLDs applied for under previous rounds, the letter did say that “objection procedures should apply to all pending and future TLDs”, which was widely interpreted as referring directly to .xxx.

Last week’s ICANN board documents say:

If the “pending” TLD refers to .XXX, the approval of the .XXX sTLD Registry Agreement without allowing for these types of objections would be inconsistent with GAC advice.

I’ve reason to believe that the “pending” language may have been inserted quite late into the drafting of the Dryden letter, and may not enjoy the unanimous support of GAC members.

Regardless, the letter implies that whatever “morality and public order” or “Rec6″ objections process winds up in the new TLD Applicant Guidebook should also apply, retroactively, to ICM.

If ICANN were to agree on this point, a precedent would presumably be set that would allow the GAC to issue thirteenth-hour “advice” that moves the goal-posts for future new TLD applicants, removing a significant amount of predictability from the process.

For that reason, I think it’s unlikely that ICM will be told it is subject to the Rec6 process (whatever that may ultimately look like).

The consultation, however, may result in some clarity around where the GAC’s powers of “advice” begin and end, which is probably a good thing.

Will .xxx be approved today?

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Will the adults-only .xxx top-level domain be approved today, or will the hot potato be tossed to governments for a decision?

That’s the question facing ICANN’s board of directors, which is set to discuss the controversial TLD for the umpteenth time today.

The last resolution it passed on .xxx called for a public comment period, followed by a decision on whether the registry contract is compatible with old Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

With the comment period closed, it appears that all that remains is to decide whether a new GAC consultation is required before the contract can be approved or rejected.

Some opponents of .xxx are demanding a GAC consultation.

Diane Duke, director of porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition, wrote to ICANN this week, urging it to refer the application back to the GAC.

As Duke knows, many international governments are opposed to .xxx.

A week ago, Australia’s socially conservative, pro-censorship broadband minister, Stephen Conroy, also asked ICANN for another GAC consultation, expressing his “strong opposition” to the TLD due to its “lack of identified public benefit”.

And Conroy is surely not alone. There can be few governments that would be happy to be seen to endorse pornography, regardless of its legal status in their jurisdictions.

The GAC is firmly of the view that “controversial” TLDs present a risk to the global interoperability of the internet. The fear is that strings such as .xxx could lead to blocking at national borders and ultimately fragmentation of the DNS root.

Whichever decision ICANN makes today, it is sure to cause controversy one way or another.

ICANN rejects porn domain info request

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request from porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition for more information about the .xxx top-level domain application, including a list of its pre-registrations.

The organization sent a letter (pdf) to the FSC’s director Diane Duke last week, saying that the materials it requested about ICM Registry and IFFOR, its sponsorship body, are confidential.

This would make the information exempt from ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.

The FSC had specifically requested:

1. The list of the IFFOR Board members;
2. The list of proposed members of the Policy Council;
3. IFFOR’s Business Plan/Financials;
4. Business Plan/Financials Years 1‐5 utilizing 125,000 Initial Registrations;
5. The list of .XXX sTLD pre-registrants who have been identified to ICANN; and
6. ICM’s Proof of Sponsorship Community Support as submitted to ICANN.

According to ICANN, ICM was asked if it would like to lift the confidentiality restrictions and ICM did not respond.

The FSC believes that many of .xxx’s 180,000+ pre-registrations are defensive in nature, made by pornographers who would really prefer that the TLD is never approved, which ICM disputes.

Christians defeated? No comment on .xxx

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s latest public comment period on the .xxx top-level domain closes today with nary a Christian in sight.

The latest forum is the sixth that ICM Registry has had to endure since it first filed its TLD application, and most of them have been marked by voluminous outcries orchestrated by US-based religious groups.

Organizations such as the Family Research Council have been responsible for tens of thousands of form-letter comments over the years, but this time they’re nowhere to be seen.

Their efforts lobbying the Bush administration were credited by some with killing off the TLD by back-channels a few years ago.

So have they given up, changed tactics, or did somebody just miss a memo? Beats me.

In other .xxx news, today I’ve also reported on recent developments at ICM, including a plan to create several free-to-list directory sites on “super-premium” .xxx domains. To find out more, head over to The Register.

.xxx bigger than .asia

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2010, Domain Registries

It has not and may never be delegated, but the .xxx top-level domain now has more pre-registrations than .asia, the last big gTLD launch, has live domains.

The ICM Registry web site currently counts 180,352 pre-regs. ICM tells me this number counts the unique strings that have been applied for, excluding duplicate applications.

By contrast, DotAsia’s two-year-old namespace had shrunk to 177,872 by the start of September, according to HosterStats.

ICM reported 110,000 pre-registrations at the time it re-entered contract talks with ICANN in late June; media coverage increased that to 162,000 within a couple of weeks.

The company has previously said that only 6,435 pre-regs were self-identified as defensive in nature, although this is disputed by its opponents at the Free Speech Coalition.