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How the GAC could derail new TLDs in Singapore

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2011, Domain Policy

The pieces are moving into place for what could be the final battle over new top-level domains between ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee, in Singapore later this month.

ICANN made few concessions to the GAC’s biggest concerns in the latest Applicant Guidebook, which begs the question of whether the United States will now be asked to play its trump card.

Earlier this week, European Commissioner Neelie Kroes made threatening noises in ICANN’s direction, saying that by approving the controversial .xxx domain over GAC advice, ICANN had showed that it cannot be trusted with new top-level domains.

If the ICANN board chooses to move forward [with .xxx] despite significant governmental concerns, what does this tell us for the next meeting in Singapore, which is widely expected to launch the next batch of TLDs? The concerns of governments in this process are not trivial, ranking from trademark protection to cooperation with law enforcement

The current Guidebook has not accepted (with some good reasons) many of the GAC’s requests on the issues of trademark protection and the governmental right to object to new TLD applications.

In a recorded address at the EuroDIG conference in Serbia this week, before the Guidebook was published, Kroes called for ICANN’s multistakeholder internet governance model to be “amended to better take into account the voice of governments”.

She said she is supported by colleagues in the EU and overseas, presumably referring to Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, with whom she met last month to discuss .xxx and new TLDs.

In her speech, Kroes called for the United States to leverage its unique position of authority over ICANN to influence change at the organization:

The expiry of the IANA contract in September will be a unique opportunity to sharply focus on a set of minimum requirements for whichever organization will be designated to carry out the future IANA functions. Specifically, I feel that the new contract should include specific provisions to improve standards of corporate governance in the organization in charge.

…whichever will be the organization resp for naming and addressing resources, it should be required to demonstrate it has support of global internet community before it makes proposals to add any further top-level domains to the internet.

This is perhaps the most explicit outside call yet for the US to use the IANA contract both to get the GAC a louder voice at the ICANN table and to have the demands of the trademark lobby taken fully into account in the new TLDs program.

The US Trump Card

It’s no secret that the US has an ace up its sleeve, in the form of the soon-to-expire IANA contract.

IANA is responsible for the paperwork when updates are to be made to the DNS root, whether they are redelegating a ccTLD, changing name servers, or adding an entirely new TLD.

When a new TLD is approved, ICANN’s IANA department forwards the request to the NTIA, which reviews it before instructing VeriSign to add the TLD to the A-root.

IANA is currently a no-fee contract between the NTIA and ICANN. Theoretically, the NTIA could award the contract to whichever organization it chooses, after it expires.

This is unlikely to happen. But if it did, ICANN’s powers would be severely curtailed – another entity would be above it in the root’s chain of command.

Alternatively, the NTIA could amend the contract to impose conditions on ICANN, such as making it more accountable to the GAC. This is what Kroes appears to be pushing for.

Strickling himself said a month ago that he has not ruled out the option of using the IANA contract as “as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency” at ICANN.

There is another theory, however, which is currently doing the rounds.

As it currently stands, if ICANN approves the Applicant Guidebook in Singapore on June 20, the expected timetable has it accepting new gTLD applications as early as November.

By that time it would, presumably, have already renewed the IANA deal, and would still have its nominal powers to add new TLDs to the root.

But buried deep within the IANA contract (pdf) is a provision that allows the NTIA to unilaterally extend its term by six months – from September 30, 2011 to March 31, 2012.

If the NTIA were to exercise this option, it could put a serious question mark over ICANN’s ability to start accepting new TLD applications this year.

With no guarantee that its authority to add new TLDs to the root would be renewed, would risk-averse ICANN be happy to go ahead and accept tens of millions of dollars in application fees?

It seems unlikely.

I’ve little doubt that this scenario will have been discussed by the NTIA and its allies. It would look better politically for the US if it had the support of the GAC before making such a play.

Since the GAC seems to want to buy time for further talks on new TLDs before ICANN kicks off the program, the IANA contract extension may appear to be a good way of going about it.

But with ICANN seemingly set to approve a Guidebook that will remain open to significant amendments post-Singapore, does the IANA threat need to be invoked at all?

If negotiations over trademark protection, developing world funding and GAC objections can remain open even after the Guidebook has been “approved”, perhaps there’s scope for a more peaceful resolution.

Clarity for .brands in new Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2011, Domain Policy

Companies planning to apply for a “.brand” top-level domain have had some of their concerns put to rest in the latest version of ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

Potential .brands were worried that ICANN might try to redelegate their trademarked TLDs to a third-party operator in the event that they decided to discontinue the domain.

They were also concerned that the Code of Conduct would require them to offer equitable access to all accredited registrars – a ridiculous situation for a single-registrant TLD.

Both of these problems seem to have been addressed in the new Guidebook, which enables registries to ignore the Code of Conduct and redelegation scenario if they can satisfy three criteria.

They have to show to ICANN’s satisfaction that “all domain name registrations in the TLD are registered to, and maintained by, Registry Operator for its own exclusive use”, that it does not sell to third parties, and that to redelegate the TLD or enforce the Code “is not necessary to protect the public interest”.

These changes make the .brand proposition a lot more realistic, less risky, and may put many concerns to rest.

They do stop short of requests from potential .brands such as Microsoft, which wanted a TLD operator’s express written consent to be required before a redelegation took place, however.

ICANN beefs up new TLD fraudster checks

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has broadened the background checks in its new top-level domains program to ban companies with a history of consumer fraud from applying for a new gTLD.

The new check in the Applicant Guidebook reads as follows:

a final and legally binding decision obtained by a national law enforcement or consumer protection authority finding that the applicant was engaged in fraudulent and deceptive commercial practices as defined in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Guidelines for Protecting Consumers from Fraudulent and Deceptive Commercial Practices Across Borders may cause an application to be rejected. ICANN may also contact the applicant with additional questions based on information obtained in the background screening process.

The OECD guidelines, which define deceptive practices, were suggested by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as a way to keep out the fraudsters.

I speculated last week that implementation of such rules could capture Network Solutions and/or VeriSign, due to their dodgy dealings almost a decade ago.

But it appears that the two companies are safe – the wording is such that it likely does not apply to the settlement NetSol made with the Federal Trade Commission which, while legally binding, was explicitly not a “finding” of fact or law.

The Guidebook also now asks applicants to disclose if they have been “disciplined by any government or industry regulatory body for conduct involving dishonesty or misuse of funds of others”. The “industry regulatory body” text is a new insertion.

The Applicant Guidebook is not finished, but will it be approved?

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has published the seventh version of its Applicant Guidebook – no longer “draft” and no longer “proposed final” – for the new generic top-level domains program.

It’s arguably unfinished in its current state, but it looks like it’s being positioned for approval in just a few weeks, at ICANN’s planned June 20 board of directors meeting in Singapore.

One of ICANN’s stated aims was to provide a gTLD evaluation process that was not only uniform but also predictable. Applicants needed to know what they’re getting into before applying.

On the latter grounds, today’s Guidebook arguably fails.

The most notable change since the April draft is, for my money, the addition of text warning that ICANN may make binding changes to the Guidebook after the application process has started.

The very last paragraph of the document (pdf), the new fourteenth entry in the Terms & Conditions, is worth quoting is in its entirety:

ICANN reserves the right to make reasonable updates and changes to this applicant guidebook and to the application process at any time by posting notice of such updates and changes to the ICANN website, including as the possible result of new policies that might be adopted or advice to ICANN from ICANN advisory committees during the course of the application process. Applicant acknowledges that ICANN may make such updates and changes and agrees that its application will be subject to any such updates and changes. In the event that Applicant has completed and submitted its application prior to such updates or changes and Applicant can demonstrate to ICANN that compliance with such updates or changes would present a material hardship to Applicant, then ICANN will work with Applicant in good faith to attempt to make reasonable accommodations in order to mitigate any negative consequences for Applicant to the extent possible consistent with ICANN’s mission to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet’s unique identifier systems.

My translation: 1) this baby is probably going to get approved before it’s finished, 2) we may spring a new policy on you after you’ve already laid down your $185,000 and 3) if the new policy screws with your application, we may give you special privileges.

Not much predictability there, but ample scope for controversy.

The new version of the Guidebook makes a reasonable attempt at highlighting some areas where it’s not ready, and where new policies may emerge, with placeholder text.

For example, the Guidebook notes that “ICANN may establish a means for providing financial assistance to eligible applicants” but does not say how much, or who will be eligible.

This developing nation support mechanism is currently one of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s biggest concerns, but it looks like it’s destined to be dealt with in a parallel process, possibly after the Guidebook has been approved.

In addition, prices for evaluation procedures such as the Registry Services Review and the Community Priority Evaluation have not yet been set, because contractors have not been selected.

Those two unresolved issues mean that the Guidebook as it stands today does not even inform several categories of applicant how much they can expect to pay to apply.

There’s continued uncertainty over objections procedures, also. The process whereby the GAC can object to applications has not yet been finalized. The Guidebook notes:

The GAC has expressed the intention to create, in discussion with the ICANN Board, “a mutually agreed and understandable formulation for the communication of actionable GAC consensus advice regarding proposed new gTLD strings.”

So if you’re thinking about a potentially sensitive string (.gay, .god), or a gTLD for a regulated industry (.bank, .pharma), the Guidebook currently offers limited visibility into the extent that your fate would be in the hands of national governments.

If you’re a .brand applicant, and you want to use domains such as europe.brand or usa.brand, the Guidebook currently offers no guidance on how those restricted geographic terms can be released for use. It says further policy work is needed.

Given the updated Ts&Cs quoted above, and the new section “1.2.11 Updates to the Applicant Guidebook”, which says pretty much the same thing, it looks like ICANN staff have prepared a document they expect the board to approve just three weeks from now.

The schedule for the Singapore meeting, published overnight, sets aside a 90-minute slot for the board to convene to discuss the Guidebook on June 20. It says:

In this session ICANN Board of directors will evaluate the current status of the New gTLD Program and consider the approval of the Final Applicant Guidebook.

My hunch is that we’re looking at some kind of face-saving “approval with caveats” resolution, leaving the Guidebook in a technically “approved” state but still open to significant amendments.

That’s if the GAC will let it, of course.

The new Guidebook makes a few cosmetic changes to its trademark protection mechanisms, but not much that seems to address the GAC’s specific outstanding concerns. Nor does it accept the GAC’s latest recommendations related to its objections powers.

Whether this is an indication that ICANN has given the GAC as much as it is prepared to, or an indication that changes could still be made, remains to be seen.

Controversial TLD blocking still controversial

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee have yet to reach agreement on when and how governments should be able to block top-level domains deemed too controversial to go live.

In its latest advice to ICANN’s board (pdf), the GAC gets a bit sniffy in response to calls for it to be more transparent about how such objections are raised.

The Applicant Guidebook currently requires ICANN to take GAC objections to TLD applications seriously, but only if the GAC reveals which nation(s) objected and why.

The GAC, predictably, seems to think ICANN is trying to undermine its authority. At the very least, it doesn’t like being told what to do:

The GAC advises the Board that the current text in Module 3 that seemingly dictates to the GAC how to develop consensus advice is problematic and should be deleted, as it is inconsistent with the ICANN Bylaws and the GAC’s Operating Principles.

The GAC has offered to refine its procedures to make “consensus advice” a more meaningful term, such as by adopting the UN’s definition of consensus, however.

Some believe that giving the GAC a carte blanche to file objections from its opaque decision-making black box will lead to back-room horse-trading.

You might find a bloc of theocratic nations, for example, refusing to agree to an objection to .nazi (an improbable application, admittedly) unless other governments agree to object to .gay.

And some observers in the west don’t trust their own governments to stand up for their principles and resist this kind of deal-making, particularly when there’s no transparency into the process.

The GAC, meanwhile, does not think the objections process has been sufficiently squared away for it to agree to it. It wrote:

The GAC strongly believes that further discussions are needed between the GAC and the ICANN Board to find a mutually agreed and understandable formulation for the communication of actionable GAC consensus advice regarding proposed new gTLD strings.

ICANN is due to publish the seventh (and “final”) draft of its Guidebook tonight. Its board is due to meet with the GAC next June 19, one day before it plans to vote on the program.

GAC calls for $44,000 new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, May 28, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has asked for the price of top-level domains to be reduced from $185,000 to $44,000 for applicants from developing nations.

The call came in GAC advice released yesterday, just a few days before ICANN plans to publish the seventh and potentially final version of new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook.

The document (pdf) shows that ICANN’s board and the GAC have made substantial progress towards resolving their differences, but that several outstanding issues remain.

Support for developing nations has arguably become the biggest hurdle to be leaped before the program can launch, as I reported earlier in the week.

The GAC has now asked ICANN’s board of directors to implement a support program for developing nation applicants “as a matter of urgency”.

There’s an unstated concern that a Guidebook that appears to unfairly favor applicants from rich countries may be rolled up and used as a cosh, by certain countries, to bash ICANN’s international legitimacy.

Specifically, the GAC wants cheaper fees for poorer applicants:

For support to developing countries, the GAC is asking for a fee waiver, which corresponds to 76 percent of the US$ 185,000 application fee requirement. Further, there will be instances where additional costs will be required: for example, for auction, objections, and extended evaluation. In such events, the GAC proposes fee reduction and waivers in these processes/instances where additional costs are required. The GAC would further like to propose an additional waiver of the annual US$ 25,000 fee during the first 3 years of operation.

The 76% reduction, which is in line with suggestions made by ICANN’s applicant support working group (JAS), would see fees of $44,400 for qualified applications, a $140,600 discount.

The call for auction fees to be lowered appears, on the face of it, bizarre. Presumably it refers to fees paid to the auction house, rather than the bids themselves.

Either way, it appears that developing nation applicants could get a distinct advantage in cases of contested strings, if the GAC advice is followed.

The GAC acknowledged ICANN’s worry that gaming – bogus proxy applicants springing up in qualifying nations, for example – could prove problematic, and writes:

On gaming, the GAC welcomes the JAS WG’s recommendation to set up a parallel process to determine eligibility based on the guidelines they have provided. The GAC proposes that a review team be established consisting of ICANN stakeholders experienced and knowledgeable in gTLD processes, developing country needs and gaming patterns. Furthermore, consideration should be given to the imposition of penalties on entities found to be attempting to game processes put in place to support developing country applicants.

The idea of an applicant support initiative being developed in parallel with the Applicant Guidebook – so as to not delay its approval – was first proposed by the JAS back in November.

But even the JAS envisaged that the details of the program would have to be squared away before the first round of new TLD applications are accepted.

Even if the Guidebook can be approved in the absence of a finalized support program, I think ICANN could have a hard time launching its four-month international outreach campaign until it is able to answer the basic question: “How much is this going to cost me?”

While the applicant support issue may not be a deal-breaker when it comes to approving the Guidebook – currently penciled in for June 20 – it could still delay the opening of the application window.

We’ll have a clearer picture if and when ICANN publishes the next version of the Guidebook, expected Monday, May 30 (late Pacific time, I expect).

Could VeriSign be banned from new TLDs?

Kevin Murphy, May 28, 2011, Domain Policy

Governments have proposed stricter background checks on new top-level domain operators that could capture some of the industry’s biggest players.

Top-five registrar Network Solutions and .com manager VeriSign may have reason to be concerned by the latest batch of Governmental Advisory Committee recommendations.

The GAC wants checks on new gTLD applicants expanded to include not only criminal convictions and intellectual property violations but also government orders related to consumer fraud.

The GAC advised ICANN, with my emphasis:

The GAC believes that the categories of law violations that will be considered in the background screening process must be broadened to include court or administrative orders for consumer protection law violations. If an applicant has been subject to a civil court or administrative order for defrauding consumers, it should not be permitted to operate a new gTLD.

This is not new – the GAC has proposed similar provisions before – but it seems to be the only GAC advice on applicant screening that ICANN has not yet adopted, and the GAC is still pushing for it.

Why could VeriSign and NetSol be worried by this?

One reason that springs to mind is that, back in 2003, NetSol was officially barred by the US Federal Trade Commission from the practice known as “domain slamming”.

Domain slamming, you may recall, was one of the dirtiest “marketing” tactics employed by the registrar sector during the early days of competition.

Registrars would send fake invoices with titles such as “Renewal and Transfer Notice” to the addresses of their rivals’ customers, mined from Whois data.

The letters were basically tricks designed to persuade customers ignorant of the domain name lifecycle to transfer their business to the slamming registrar.

Respectable registrars have nothing to do with such practices nowadays, but a decade ago companies including NetSol and Register.com, the two largest registrars at the time, were all over it.

At the time NetSol was carrying out its slamming campaign, it was part of VeriSign. It was spun off into a separate company earlier in 2003, before the FTC entered its order.

The order (pdf) was approved by a DC judge as part of a deal that settled an FTC civil lawsuit, alleging deceptive practices, against the company.

NetSol was not fined and did not admit liability, but it did agree to be permanently enjoined from any further slamming, and had to file compliance notices for some time afterward.

It seems plausible that this could fall into the definition of a “civil court or administrative order for defrauding consumers” that the GAC wants added to the Applicant Guidebook’s background checks.

Whether the GAC’s advice, if implemented by ICANN, would capture NetSol and/or VeriSign is of course a matter of pure speculation at the moment.

I think it’s highly unlikely that ICANN would put something in the Guidebook that banned VeriSign, its single largest source of funding (over a quarter of its revenue) from the new gTLD program.

Sadly, I think I may also be unfairly singling out these two firms here – I’d be surprised if they’re the only companies in the domain name industry with this kind of black mark against their names.

Existing background checks in the Applicant Guidebook governing cybersquatting are already thought to pose potential problems for registrars including eNom and Go Daddy.

UPDATE: It looks like NSI and VeriSign are probably safe.

Can ICANN make a trademark deal with the GAC?

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2011, Domain Policy

The ICANN board and its Governmental Advisory Committee have yet to reach agreement on how to protect trademarks in new top-level domains, following their Friday teleconference.

The two parties are still stuck on at least four trademark protect issues, according to sources familiar with the talks, and the GAC is due to provide updated written advice to ICANN tomorrow.

Two of the areas still outstanding were previously marked “1A” in ICANN documents, meaning ICANN’s board believed the GAC’s concerns had already been resolved.

Trademark Claims

Details of the proposed Trademark Clearinghouse database and the related Trademark Claims service are still the subject of debate.

Trademark Claims provides an alert to a trademark holder if somebody tries to register their trademark in a new gTLD. The would-be registrant also gets a warning that they may be infringing rights.

As the Applicant Guidebook stands today, new gTLD managers will have to operate the service for the first 60 days of general availability, but the IP lobby and the GAC believe it should be permanent.

The sticking point for ICANN, as I understand it, is that there’s already a commercial market for brand protection services that have some overlap with Trademark Claims.

Several companies, such as MarkMonitor, CSC and Melbourne IT, offer services that alert customers when somebody appears to infringe their brand in a domain name.

If Trademark Claims ever made it into com and other gTLDs, it could effectively monopolize the brand watch services market. The Clearinghouse(s) will be ICANN contractors, after all.

Remember what happened when VeriSign announced its Wait List Service, which promised to effectively take over the existing domain back-order services market? It wasn’t pleasant.

Proof of Use

ICANN has already dropped its requirement for “substantive review”, but it still requires trademark holders to provide “proof of use” before they can add their marks to the Clearinghouse.

Without proof of use, companies will not be able to file Uniform Rapid Suspension complaints or defensively register their brands during new gTLD Sunrise periods.

The IP lobby and the GAC want this requirement scrapped. Any trademark of national effect should be enforceable using these rights protections mechanisms, they say.

One of the justifications is that some trademarks are obtained before the owner actually launches the product or service they pertain to.

If ICANN were to make these changes, there’s a good chance that bulk-registering bogus trademarks in loose jurisdictions may become an effective strategy for gaming the second level in new TLDs.

This has happened before, such as in .eu, and that wasn’t pleasant either.

Brand+Keyword

The current draft of the Applicant Guidebook only allows exact trademark matches into the Trademark Claims and Sunrise mechanisms.

But the the IP crowd (and, again, the GAC) thinks non-exact matches should be allowed in. In the .com space, the majority of cybersquatting nowadays is of course either a brand+keyword or a typo.

Millions are being needlessly spent on UDRP complaints over typos and brand+keyword domains, and the trademark lobby don’t want to risk having to spend even more.

But there could be implementation problems. Both types of variant could throw up lots of false positives during the Claims service, for example, creating conflicts where there aren’t any.

An automated system designed to scare off typosquatters could catch the generic domain goggles.tld as an infringement of Google’s trademark, to use an obvious example.

If brand+keyword Sunrise claims were allowed, holders of trademarks in generic terms could find themselves with a lucrative payday.

Any company that has a trademark on words such as “free”, “live”, “sexy” or anything that could act as a cool prefix, could have a field day during a Sunrise period.

Uniform Rapid Suspension

I understand a sticking point here continues to be the burden of proof required to make a URS case stick.

It’s currently “clear and convincing evidence”, but the IP lobby and the GAC want it reduced to “preponderance of evidence”, a lower burden.

To non-lawyers, the difference may seem trivial. Both standards are used in civil cases in many countries, but one’s a bit strong than the other.

“Preponderance of evidence” basically means “more likely true than not”, whereas “clear and convincing”… well, it’s a bit stronger than that.

The choice of burdens will have repercussions for years to come. Registrants in new gTLDs will know what they’re getting into, but if URS ever makes it into .com…

The Road to Singapore

It’s less than a month before ICANN’s next major meeting, and only a week until it plans to publish the next version of the Applicant Guidebook.

The ICANN board is due to meet face-to-face (and presumably in public) with the GAC on the first day of the meeting, June 19, but it seems that talks will be ongoing behind the scenes until then.

A great deal of progress has been made, but with complex issues still apparently unsettled (and there are more unresolved issues unrelated to trademarks) it’s little wonder that some are now wondering whether ICANN is as confident as it once was that June 20 is Guidebook Approval Day.

Poor nation support crucial to new TLD talks

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2011, Domain Policy

Whether to provide discounts for new top-level domain applicants from poor countries has become a critical obstacle in the process of getting ICANN’s new gTLD program approved.

Not only are its policy-making bodies going through a bout of infighting over proposals to help developing nations, but it is also being seen as a “major political risk” to ICANN’s global credibility.

Sources say that the Governmental Advisory Committee is increasingly concerned that a lack of support for poorer nations could used to bash the gTLD program and discredit ICANN itself.

There are fears that the Group of 77 could use the perception that ICANN works primarily for the benefit of the developed world to push for more UN-based governmental control of the internet.

These concerns were apparently raised during the ICANN Board-GAC teleconference on Friday, and will continue to be discussed in the run-up to the Singapore meeting.

Merely applying for a new gTLD will cost a minimum of $185,000 in direct ICANN fees, potentially rising dramatically in the case of complex or contested applications.

That sum also excludes the many more hundreds of thousands of dollars required to create an application that meets ICANN’s stringent financial and technical stability demands.

Many have estimated that an application for a new gTLD could require an first-year outlay of easily over $1 million.

Unsurprisingly, this may exclude applicants from poorer nations, particularly non-profit and community-based initiatives.

There’s a worry that if support mechanisms are not in place for the first round of applications, culturally or commercially valuable IDN gTLDs will get snapped up by wealthy western companies.

Warning: More Acronyms Ahead

To come up with solutions to this problem, ICANN in April 2010 asked for what is now called the “Joint SO/AC Working Group on New gTLD Applicant Support” – JAS for short.

JAS was chartered by, and comprised of members of, the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the At Large Advisory Committee, two of ICANN’s policy bodies.

Earlier this month, JAS submitted its draft second milestone report (pdf) was submitted to the ICANN board. It’s more of a collection of ideas than a structured framework for applicant support.

It calls for, among other things, fees and financial commitments reduced by as much as three quarters for applicants from about 50 poor nations, if they can show they are (essentially) worthy and needy.

It also suggests that such applicants could have their requirements to support the new DNSSEC and IPv6 technologies from day one – which would raise start-up costs – eliminated.

Unfortunately, the GNSO and ALAC apparently had quite different expectations about what the JAS would produce, and since January the group has been working under a split charter.

Registries and registrars were (and are) worried that JAS was going too far when it recommended, for example, discounted application fees.

Because ICANN has priced applications on a cost-recovery basis, there’s a real concern that discounts for poor applicants will translate into higher fees for wealthier applicants.

Broadly, it’s an example of the usual tensions between commercial domain name industry stakeholders and other groups playing out through quite arcane due process/jurisdictional arguments.

For the last couple of weeks, this has manifested itself as a row about the fact that JAS submitted its report the report was submitted to the ICANN board before it was approved by the GNSO.

Mind The GAC

If it’s the case, as sources say, that the GAC is urgently pressing for applicant support measures to be available in the first round of new gTLD applications, this puts another question mark over ICANN’s ability to approve the Applicant Guidebook in Singapore a month from now.

The GAC “scorecard” of problematic issues has since November stated that ICANN should adopt the findings of the JAS.

But today the JAS is nowhere near producing a comprehensive solution to the problem. Its recommendations as they stand are also unlikely to attract broad support from registry/registrar stakeholders.

Many of its current suggestions are also highly complex, calling for ICANN to establish special funds, staggered payment or repayment programs and additional applicant background checks.

They would take time to implement.

There’s been some talk about the idea that ICANN could approve the Applicant Guidebook before the JAS work is complete, but I’m not sure how realistic that is or whether it would receive the GAC blessing.

If the GAC is worried that ICANN’s very legitimacy could be at risk if it goes ahead with the program before the developing world is catered for, we could be looking at another big roadblock.

VeriSign drops $150,000 on ICANN Singapore

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2011, Gossip

VeriSign, which signed up for an unprecedented $500,000 sponsorship package for ICANN’s meeting in San Francisco, has spent a rather more modest amount for the June meeting.

The company is currently listed as a Platinum Elite sponsor for the Singapore meeting, which kicks off June 19. This tier has a list price of $150,000, though I believe ICANN’s prices are negotiable.

VeriSign’s two main registry services competitors, Neustar and Afilias, had already signed up for cheaper sponsorship tiers, with lower visibility.

It would be my guess that the company waited for its rivals to show their hands before deciding to how much it needed to spend to trump them.

The Singapore meeting may see the approval of the Applicant Guidebook for the new top-level domains program.

(UPDATE: Thanks to the reader who pointed out that ICANN will almost certainly vote to approve the renewal of VeriSign’s .net contract in Singapore.)

There are 19 sponsors for Singapore so far, but currently no takers for the two available top-tier Diamond packages, which are listed at $250,000.

The amount VeriSign coughed up for San Francisco is believed to have largely contributed to the speaking fees of former US president Bill Clinton.

ICANN expects to make about $1.2 million from its three fiscal 2011 meetings, which is less than the cost of a single meeting.