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RANT: Governments raise yet another UN threat to ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s transition away from US government oversight is not even a month old and the same old bullshit power struggles and existential threats appear to be in play as strongly as ever.

Governments, via the chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee, last week yet again threatened that they could withdraw from ICANN and seek refuge within the UN’s International Telecommunications Union if they don’t get what they want from the rest of the community.

It’s the kind of thing the IANA transition was supposed to minimize, but just weeks later it appears that little has really changed in the rarefied world of ICANN politicking.

Thomas Schneider, GAC chair, said this on a conference call between the ICANN board and the Generic Names Supporting Organization on Thursday:

I’m just urging you about considering what happens if many governments consider that this system does not work. They go to other institutions. If we are not able to defend public interest in this institution we need to go elsewhere, and this is exactly what is happening currently at the ITU Standardization Assembly.

This is a quite explicit threat — if governments don’t like the decisions ICANN makes, they go to the ITU instead.

It’s the same threat that has been made every year or two for pretty much ICANN’s entire history, but it’s also something that the US government removing its formal oversight of ICANN was supposed to help prevent.

So what’s this “public interest” the GAC wants to defend this time around?

It’s protections for the acronyms of intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) in gTLDs, which we blogged about a few weeks ago.

IGOs are bodies ranging from the relatively well-known, such as the World Health Organization or World Intellectual Property Organization, to the obscure, such as the European Conference of Ministers of Transport or the International Tropical Timber Organization.

According to governments, the public interest would be served if the string “itto”, for example, is reserved in every new gTLD, in other words. It’s not known if any government has passed laws protecting this and other IGO strings in their own ccTLDs, but I suspect it’s very unlikely any have.

There are about 230 such IGOs, all of which have acronyms new gTLD registries are currently temporarily banned from selling as domains.

The multi-stakeholder GNSO community is on the verge of coming up with some policy recommendations that would unblock these acronyms from sale and grant the IGOs access to the UDRP and URS mechanisms, allowing them to reclaim or suspend domains maliciously exploiting their “brands”.

The responsible GNSO working group has been coming up with these recommendations for over two years.

While the GAC and IGOs were invited to participate in the WG, and may have even attended a couple of meetings, they decided they’d have a better shot at getting what they wanted by talking directly to the ICANN board outside of the usual workflow.

The WG chair, Phil Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association, recently described IGO/GAC participation as a “near boycott”.

This reluctance to participate in formal ICANN policy-making led to the creation of the so-called “small group”, a secretive ad hoc committee that has come up with an opposing set of recommendations to tackle the same IGO acronym “problem”.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to call the the small group “secretive”. While the GNSO WG’s every member is publicly identified, their every email publicly archived, their every word transcribed and published, ICANN won’t even say who is in the small group.

I asked ICANN for list of its members a couple of weeks ago and this is what I got:

The group is made up of Board representatives from the New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC), primarily, Chris Disspain; the GAC Chair; and representatives from the IGO coalition that first raised the issue with ICANN and some of whom participated in the original PDP on IGO-INGO-Red Cross-IOC protections – these would include the OECD, the UN, UPU, and WIPO.

With the publication two weeks ago of the small group’s recommendations (pdf) — which conflict with the expect GNSO recommendations — the battle lines were drawn for a fight at ICANN 57, which kicks off this week in Hyderabad, India.

Last Thursday, members of the GNSO Council, including WG chair Corwin, met telephonically with GAC chair Schneider, ICANN chair Steve Crocker and board small group lead Disspain to discuss possible ways forward.

What emerged is what Crocker would probably describe as a “knotty” situation. I’d describe it as a “process clusterfuck”, in which almost all the relevant parties appear to believe their hands are tied.

The GNSO Council feels its hands are tied for various reasons.

Council chair James Bladel explained that the GNSO Council doesn’t have the power to even enter substantive talks.

“[The GNSO Council is] not in a position to, or even authorized to, negotiate or compromise PDP recommendations that have been presented to use by a PDP working group and adopted by Council,” he said.

He went on to say that while the GNSO does have the ability to revisit PDPs, to do so would take years and undermine earlier hard-fought consensus and dissuade volunteers from participating in policy making. He said on the call:

By going back and revisiting PDPs we both undermine the work of the community and potentially could create an environment where folks are reluctant to participate in PDPs and just wait until a PDP is concluded and then get engaged at a later stage when they feel that the recommendations are more likely adopted either by the board or reconciled with GAC advice.

He added that contracted parties — registries and registrars — are only obliged to follow consensus policies that have gone through the PDP process.

Crocker and Disspain agreed that the the GAC and the GNSO appear to have their hands tied until the ICANN board makes a decision.

But its hands are also currently tied, because it only has the power to accept or reject GNSO recommendations and/or GAC advice, and it currently has neither before it.

Chair Crocker explained that the board is not able to simply impose any policy it likes — such as the small group recommendations, which have no real legitimacy — it’s limited to either rejecting whatever advice the GAC comes up with, rejecting whatever the GNSO Council approves, or rejecting both.

The GNSO WG hasn’t finished its work, though the GNSO Council is likely to approve it, and the GAC hasn’t considered the small group paper yet, though it is likely to endorse it it.

Crocker suggested that rejecting both might be the best way to get everyone around a table to try to reach consensus.

Indeed, it appears that there is no way, under ICANN’s processes, for these conflicting views to be reconciled formally at this late stage.

WG chair Corwin said that any attempt to start negotiating the issue before the WG has even finished its work should be “rejected out of hand”.

With the GNSO appearing to be putting up complex process barriers to an amicable way forward, GAC chair Schneider repeatedly stated that he was attempting to reach a pragmatic solution to the impasse.

He expressed frustration frequently throughout the call that there does not appear to be a way that the GAC’s wishes can be negotiated into a reality. It’s not even clear who the GAC should be talking to about this, he complained.

He sounds like he’s the sensible one, but remember he’s representing people who stubbornly refused to negotiate in the WG over the last two years.

Finally, he raised the specter of governments running off to the UN/ITU, something that historically has been able to put the willies up those who fully support (and in many cases make their careers out of) the ICANN multistakeholder model.

Here’s a lengthier chunk of what he said, taken from the official meeting transcript:

If it turns out that there’s no way to change something that has come out of the Policy Development Process, because formally this is not possible unless the same people would agree to get together and do the same thing over again, so maybe this is what it takes, that we need to get back or that the same thing needs to be redone with the guidance from the board.

But if then nobody takes responsibility to — in case that everybody agrees that there’s a public interest at stake here that has not been fully, adequately considered, what — so what’s the point of this institution asking governments for advice if there’s no way to actually follow up on that advice in the end?

So I’m asking quite a fundamental question, and I’m just urging you about considering what happens if many governments consider that the system does not work. They go to other institutions. They think we are not able to defend public interest in this institution. We need to go elsewhere. And this is exactly what is happening currently at the ITU Standardization Assembly, where we have discussions about protection of geographic names because — and I’m not saying this is legitimate or not — but because some governments have the feeling that this hasn’t been adequately addressed in the ICANN structure.

I’m really serious about this urge that we all work together to find solutions within ICANN, because the alternative is not necessarily better. And the world is watching what signals we give, and please be aware of that.

The “geographic names” issue that Schneider alludes to here seems to be a proposal (Word .doc) put forward by African countries and under discussion at the ITU’s WTSA 2016 meeting this week.

The proposal calls for governments to get more rights to oppose geographic new gTLD applications more or less arbitrarily.

It emerged not from any failure of ICANN policy — geographic names are already protected at the request of the GAC — but from Africa governments being pissed off that .africa is still on hold because DotConnectAfrica is suing ICANN in a California court and some batty judge granted DCA a restraining order.

It’s not really relevant to the IGO issue, nor especially relevant to the issue of governments failing to influence ICANN policy.

The key takeaway from Schneider’s remarks for me is that, despite assurances that the IANA transition was a way to bring more governments into the ICANN fold rather than seeking solace at the UN, that change of heart is yet to manifest itself.

The “I’m taking my ball and going home” threat seems to be alive and well for now.

If you made it this far but want more, the transcript of the call is here (pdf) and the audio is here (mp3). Good luck.

The IANA transition in a nutshell

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2015, Domain Policy

The US plan to remove itself from its unique DNS oversight role is about creating a coalition of nations to thwart attempts by Russia and other “authoritarian” countries to increase government control of the internet.

That’s according to Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, who delivered a beautifully succinct explanation to confused senators at a hearing in Washington DC this week.

Despite unnecessary diversions into issues such as net neutrality and copyright protection — which I’m sure was not at all due to senators trying to score points with their corporate paymasters — the Commerce Committee hearing was surprising well-informed and not nearly as angry as it could have been.

Senators, mostly Republicans, reiterated their concerns that for the US to give up its role in the IANA functions contract could invite a takeover of ICANN by unfriendly nations such as China and Russia, thereby harming internet freedom.

At one point, Strickling was asked by a senator: “If there’s not a problem, what are we trying to fix here?”

His answer was one the best explanations of the political back-story of the transition that I’ve heard, so I’m going to quote it in full here.

There has been a problem, sir. At the end of 2012 when the world’s governments got together in Dubai for the ITU WCIT — World Conference on International Telecommunications — you had around 80 countries who voted to say the ITU needs to be more involved in internet governance. These were largely countries in the developing world siding with the more authoritarian regimes.

Part of the impetus for this was the continued irritation that many governments have, that has been exploited by authoritarian countries, that the United States with its special role with ICANN is in a position to control the internet in these developing counties and to turn it off in these countries and to otherwise interfere with the ability of countries to manage their own affairs with respect to the internet.

After this [IANA transition] announcement was made the next two large international meetings at which governments came together you saw a major change in position among the developing countries. We didn’t see any change in position from the authoritarian countries — and you’re not, they’re not going to change their views on this. But the key to succeeding in this on the global stage is to bring the rest of the world along with us, and that’s what we saw at the NETmundial conference in Brazil last April where the only countries who spoke out against the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance were Russia and Cuba.

We then flash forward to the ITU plenipotentiary conference in Busan last November and again you had Russia with the same proposals it’s been making for 10 years: that these functions ought to be transferred to the ITU and managed by governments. And that was beaten back by a coalition of developed and developing countries. So we’ve seen immediate results, or significant results, by the basis of our having been able to take this issue off the table for these countries, to get them to look at what’s really best for them without this overhang of a US role that was unique among governments and which was a source of irritation to governments and was being exploited to our detriment by foreign governments.

The fact of the matter is that the role we play with respect of the IANA functions is a clerical role. It’s truly stewardship. As I said before, we don’t provide any oversight of the policy judgments that ICANN and the multi-stakeholder community make. We participate as a government in the Governmental Advisory Committee, and we will continue to do that in future and will be vigorous advocates for a free and open internet.

The special role we play with respect of the IANA functions is totally administrative and clerical, yet it has been exploited by other governments — authoritarian governments — to our detriment. We’ve taken that off to the table by announcing this transition and as we complete it we will continue to see the benefits of that through the continued adoption and support for this model by the developing world.

His views were echoed by ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade more than once during the hearing, talking about how the transition process is designed to bring on board the “middle countries”, rather than already-allied nations or the fringe, minority authoritarian countries.

He cited Brazil as the key example of a government once in favor of more ITU control of the internet that is now, largely due to Chehade’s outreach and its key role in the NETmundial conference, firmly in the multi-stakeholder model camp.

The entire archived hearing can be viewed here.

ITU says numeric .tel domains “may be confusing”

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2013, Domain Registries

The International Telecommunication Union has warned ICANN that numeric .tel domain names, due to be released by Telnic tomorrow, “may confuse customers or cause undue conflicts”.

In a letter to ICANN, Malcolm Johnson, director of the ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, said that there’s a risk that numbers-only .tel name could be confused with the E.164 numbering plan.

Johnson asked ICANN to explain how these numbers will be allocated and used:

ITU must express its concern about TELNIC’s recent announcement launching an “all numeric .tel domains” service from 15 October 2013. This raises a number of policy, legal, and practical implications on the potential usage of all-digit strings, not only under .TEL domain, but also under any future telephony-related new gTLDs

We are seeking this clarification as the digit strings appear similar to telephone numbers and could be used in a manner similar to telephone numbers, which may confuse customers or cause undue conflicts arising from their use.

E.164 is the standard for phone numbers worldwide. The ITU has been angsty about the potential for clashes ever since .tel was first proposed back in 2000.

Indeed, Telnic promised when it applied in 2003 not to allow numbers in .tel, precisely in order to calm these fears.

But when it asked for this self-imposed ban to be lifted in 2010, the ITU didn’t have anything to say (at least, it did not respond to ICANN’s public comment period).

Read Johnson’s letter here (pdf).

ITU chief offers hand of friendship to ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 3, 2012, Domain Policy

Are ICANN and the International Telecommunications Union going to start playing nicely?

That’s the message coming out of the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications in Dubai this morning, when ITU secretary general Hamadoun Toure said the two organizations are “complementary”.

Addressing his “good friend”, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, during the WCIT opening ceremony, Toure said:

I have invited Fadi to recognize here the impact of ICANN on the development of Internet, and I’ve said this, this morning in our heads of delegations meeting that I believe we should be reaching out and them accepting here means that they are on the same road.

I think if you help us, we can walk the talk and I believe I can count on you and the words that I received when I heard of the acceptance of Fadi Chehade’ to this meeting was a testimony of everyone here, believing that it’s time to start working together to be complementary and to work together. And I believe we have started the first step of that.

Chehade himself addressed delegates during the opening ceremony too, speaking partly in Arabic, his first language.

WCIT was widely feared by certain countries — notably the US — due to concerns that some governments would try to assert authority over ICANN’s internet governance functions.

That fear seems to have been calmed in recent weeks, but the substantive policy work at WCIT, which runs until December 13, will be the real test of the ITU’s relationship with ICANN.

Unsnubbed? ICANN brass get tickets to ITU curtain-raiser

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s chairman and CEO have been invited to the World Conference on International Telecommunications next week, as “special guests” of the International Telecommunications Union.

It’s a token gesture of friendship at best, with the invitation only good for the opening ceremony, rather than any substantive policy discussions.

But it’s a contrast to the ITU’s treatment of former ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, who was snubbed when he asked for observer status for an ITU Plenipotentiary in 2010.

This year’s invitation is not, however, a reversal of that policy. ICANN’s not technically going to be an observer this time either.

WCIT, which begins on Monday in Dubai, will see the ITU’s member governments convene to redraft their governing International Telecommunications Regulations.

There’s been a bit of a commotion in the US over the last several months over the potential for a power grab by the ITU. Some governments would sooner the ITU handled ICANN’s functions.

But the conventional wisdom at the moment — supported by ITU chief Hamadoun Toure’s strenuous denials — is that ICANN is probably safe.

ITU conferences are notoriously opaque. You can’t even download policy proposals unless you’re a member, and getting an invitation to attend in person has some political value.

That’s why anyone interested in knowing what’s likely to go down at WCIT could do worse than check out .nxt, where Kieren McCarthy earned huge kudos this week by publishing over 200 previously secret documents.

China proposes to split up the DNS

Kevin Murphy, June 18, 2012, Domain Policy

A trio of Chinese techies have proposed a new IETF standard to enable governments to break up the Domain Name System along national borders.

Named “DNS Extension for Autonomous Internet (AIP)”, the spec describes a way to operate alternate DNS root servers within national boundaries using gateways for translation.

For internet users subscribed to one of these “AIP” networks, DNS requests would carry an extra TLD, such as .a or .b, to flag the fact that the requests are headed for an alternate root:

Domain node “www.yahoo.com” in network B is expressed as “www.yahoo.com.B” for its external domain name.

Written in broken English, the Internet Draft is a poorly masked description of a way to install government censorship via officially sanctioned domain name system Balkanization.

It appears to be designed to enable governments to cut ICANN and the authoritative DNS root out of the picture entirely in favor of a national peering system more akin to traditional telecoms networks.

The paper reads:

In order to realize the transition from Internet to Autonomous Internet, each partition of current Internet should first realize possible self-government and gradually reduce its dependence on the foreign domain names, such as COM, NET et al.

It is not likely the whole Internet can be transformed synchronally in one time. In order not to affect existing domain name resolution before the Internet core part transforms into an AIP network, any country can set up an AIP DNS independently and connect to the Internet through the original link; or any two countries in agreement can set up their AIP networks and connect to each others.

The paper was written by Yuping Diao of Guangdong Commercial College, Yongping Diao of China Telecom and Ming Liao of China Mobile.

It’s just an Internet Draft at this stage, and probably nothing to get too worked up about, but it does reflect the Bigger Picture framing the ICANN expansion of the DNS.

During the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications this December, backwards governments are expected to proposed a greater degree of government control over the internet.

NTIA says ICANN “does not meet the requirements” for IANA renewal

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2012, Domain Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has dealt a stunning blow to ICANN in its bid to carry on running the internet’s critical IANA functions.

The NTIA said this hour that it has canceled the RFP for the new IANA contract “because we received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community”

NTIA thinks that ICANN’s bid was unsatisfactory, in other words.

The NTIA said:

Based on the input received from stakeholders around the world, NTIA added new requirements to the IANA functions’ statement of work, including the need for structural separation of policymaking from implementation, a robust companywide conflict of interest policy, provisions reflecting heightened respect for local country laws, and a series of consultation and reporting requirements to increase transparency and accountability to the international community.

The government may cancel any solicitation that does not meet the requirements. Accordingly, we are cancelling this RFP because we received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community. The Department intends to reissue the RFP at a future date to be determined (TBD) so that the requirements of the global internet community can be served.

However, it has extended ICANN’s current IANA contract until September 30, 2012.

This means ICANN still has its IANA powers over the DNS root zone, at least for another six months.

While the NTIA has not yet revealed where ICANN’s bid for the contract fell short, it is known that the NTIA and ICANN’s senior management did not exactly see eye to eye on certain issues.

One of the key sticking points is the NTIA’s demand that the IANA contractor – ICANN – must document that all new gTLD delegations are in “the global public interest”.

This demand is a way to prevent another controversy such as the approval of .xxx a year ago, which the Governmental Advisory Committee objected to on the grounds that it was not the “the global public interest”.

Coupled with newly strengthened Applicant Guidebook powers for the GAC to object to new gTLD application, the IANA language could be described as “if the GAC objects, you must reject”.

If the GAC were to declare .gay or .catholic “not in the global public interest”, it would be pretty tough for ICANN to prove otherwise.

But ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has previously stated that he believed such rules imposed by the US government would undermine the multistakeholder process.

He told the NTIA last June that the draft IANA contract language stood to “rewrite” ICANN’s own process when it came to approving new gTLDs.

The IANA functions contract should not be used to rewrite the policy and implementation process adopted through the bottom-up decision-making process. Not only would this undermine the very principle of the multi-stakeholder model, it would be inconsistent with the objective of more clearly distinguishing policy development from operational implementation by the IANA functions operator.

Since then, language requiring ICANN to prove “consensus” on new gTLD delegations was removed, but language requiring it to demonstrate the “global public interest” remains.

The game is bigger than petty squabbling about new gTLDs, however.

The US government is worried about International Telecommunications Union treaty talks later this year, which many countries want to use to push for government-led internet governance.

A strong GAC, backed by an enforceable IANA contract, is one way to field concerns that ICANN is not responsive enough to government interests.

It’s tempting to view the deferral of the IANA renewal as an attempt to wait out Beckstrom’s tenure as CEO – he’s set to leave at the end of June – and deal with a more compliant replacement instead.

Strickling says ICANN needs a stronger bottom

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2012, Domain Policy

National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Larry Strickling has called for ICANN to strengthen its decision-making processes.

In a speech at the University of Colorado earlier this month, Strickling called out ICANN’s board of directors in particular, for its habit of choosing between competing views when the ICANN community fails to reach consensus via the multi-stakeholder process.

The speech went over ground covered in other recent addresses – namely, how ICANN fits into the wider international political picture.

The US is worried about moves by some nations within the Internet Governance Forum and the International Telecommunications Union that threaten to make the internet an exclusively government-run enterprise.

Developing nations in particular are likely to support such moves, as the internet is causing them to lose the revenue they make by terminating international phone calls.

An ICANN that makes decisions without true bottom-up stakeholder consensus plays into the hands of those who would replace it with a new treaty organization, Strickling suggested.

According to his prepared remarks, he said:

Organizations that convene or manage multistakeholder processes have to be vigilant to make sure they do not inadvertently interfere with the effort to reach consensus.

the ICANN Board increasingly finds itself forced to pick winners and losers because its policy development process does not always yield true consensus-based policy making. This is not healthy for the organization.

If stakeholders understand that they can appeal directly to the Board to advocate for their particular policy position, they have less incentive to engage in the tough discussions to reach true consensus with all stakeholders during the policy-development process.

Ironically, ICANN’s current public comment period into defensive new gTLD applications – which could lead to changes to its trademark protection mechanisms – was opened precisely because Strickling himself, under pressure from Congress, appealed directly to the board.

But I suspect he was actually referring to the Association of National Advertisers, which scarcely participated in the development of the new gTLD program before it was finalized but has been loudly threatening ICANN about it ever since.

As well as calling for more participation from industry, Strickling also stressed the need for more governments to get involved in ICANN, “finding a way to bring them willingly, if not enthusiastically, into the tent of multistakeholder policy-making”.

But what would an ICANN that waits for true stakeholder consensus before the board makes a decision look like?

Strickling did not offer a solution in his address, but he did refer to the Governmental Advisory Committee’s new formal definition of consensus.

Without explicitly endorsing the model, he described it like this:

if the group reaches a position to which members do not object, it becomes the consensus view even though some members may not affirmatively support the position.

I’m finding it difficult to imagine ICANN continuing to function if its board of directors also had to observe this kind of “consensus” among stakeholders before making a decision.

Trademark owners and registrars not objecting to each other’s stuff?

What would I write about?

IGOs plead for special new gTLD protections

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2011, Domain Policy

Twenty-eight intergovernmental organizations, including the UN, ITU and WIPO, have asked ICANN for special protection for their acronyms in the new top-level domains program.

A letter sent to ICANN earlier this week and obtained by DI, reads:

we formally request ICANN to make provision for a targeted exclusion of third party registrations of the names and acronyms of IGOs both at the top and second level, at least during ICANN’s first application round and until further appropriate policy could be developed.

It goes on to claim that fighting abusive domain registrations and enforcing rights diverts funds from causes such as famine relief, scientific research and children’s rights.

For the sake of brevity, this is the list of the letter’s signatories in acronym form only: AfDB, EBRD, ESO, CERN, ESA, IADB, IAEA, IFAD, ILO, IMO, IMF, IOM, ITU, NIB, NATO, OECD, OPCW, UN, UNESCO, UNIDO, UPU, WB, WHO, WIPO, WMO, UNWTO, and WTO.

The letter justifies its request by citing the rights given to IGO names under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

It’s a pretty flimsy argument. The Paris convention does not give IGOs exclusive rights to strings. It may protect the World Bank abbreviation WB, for example, but not to the extent that Warner Brothers can’t also use it to market movies.

The letter also cites ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which called for IGOs to be protected in its March 2007 GAC Principles regarding New gTLDs advice.

The Principles, however, talk about IGOs in the same breath as regular trademark owners, which is exactly how the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook treats them today.

There is some ICANN precedent for giving in to this kind of special pleading, however.

The latest Guidebook makes several dozen trademarks relating to the Red Cross, Red Crescent and Olympic movements “ineligible for delegation” as gTLDs, but offers them no second-level protection.

It was noted at the time the decision was made – at the behest of the GAC – that giving the Olympics special treatment would create a slippery slope to a full-blown Globally Protected Marks List, a concept ICANN has already rejected.

The UN et al only really have a shot at getting what they want if they can get the GAC on side, and several influential GAC members have already stated that the Olympic/Red Cross case was unique.

I think the response from ICANN will be a letter from president Rod Beckstrom politely declining the request and inviting its signatories to participate in the ICANN community.

Wiki to shake up the new gTLD market

Tens of thousands of dollars worth of registry secret sauce is set to be released under a Creative Commons license on a new wiki, courtesy of the International Telecommunications Union.

Applying for a new generic top-level domain could be about to get a whole lot cheaper.

Before October, the ITU plans to publish template answers to all 22 of the questions about registry technical operations demanded by ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

Because they will be published under a Creative Commons license, new gTLD applicants will be able to copy and paste the whole lot into their applications for free.

And because they will be on a wiki, approved contributors will be able to fine-tune the templates to increase their chances of passing ICANN’s technical evaluation.

Currently, gTLD applicants are generally paying registry back-end providers to take care of this part of their applications, paying $10,000 and up for the privilege.

I think the word that applies here is “disruptive”.

Consultant and former ICANN board member Michael Palage, who has worked on a number of previous TLD launches, is coordinating the creation of the templates with input from registries and engineers.

The resulting “best in class” material will also be used by the ITU and the League of Arab States in their bid for .arab and its Arabic equivalent, .عرب.

According to the Guidebook, applicants do not need hands-on experience running a registry in order to have their application approved. ICANN is trying to enable competition, after all.

But there is a period of pre-delegation testing that each successful applicant must endure before their new gTLD is added to the root, so a simple copy-paste of the ITU’s templates will not suffice.

I doubt this project will take a great deal of money out of the pockets of the incumbent registries – well-funded applicants will presumably be happy to pay the extra money for certainty – but it will provide a bit of flexibility for applicants not already in bed with a back-end.

It could also help open up the new gTLD market to companies that may not have otherwise considered it, such as those in the developing world.

Indeed, part of the rationale for the Creative Commons publication is to aid with “capacity building” in these nations, according to an ITU presentation delivered in Cairo this week.

We’ve already seen pricing competition hit the registry services market in the wake of the approval of the new gTLD program, now it appears we’re seeing the dawn of “free”.

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