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.web auction to go ahead after ICANN denies Donuts/Radix appeal

The new gTLD .web seems set to go to auction next week after ICANN rejected an 11th-hour delay attempt by two applicants.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee said yesterday that there is no evidence that applicant Nu Dot Co has been taken over by a deep-pocketed third party.

The BGC therefore rejected Donuts’ and Radix’s joint attempt to have the July 27 “last resort” auction delayed.

Donuts and Radix had argued in a Request for Reconsideration earlier this week that Nu Dot Co has changed its board of directors since first applying for .web, which would oblige it to change the application.

Its failure to do so meant they auction should be delayed, they said.

They based their beliefs on an email from NDC director Jose Ignacio Rasco, in which he said one originally listed director was no longer involved with the application but that “several others” were.

There’s speculation in the contention set that a legacy gTLD operator such as Verisign or Neustar might now be in control of NDC.

But the BGC said ICANN had already “diligently” investigated these claims:

in response to the Requesters’ allegations, ICANN did diligently investigate the claims regarding potential changes to Nu Dot’s leadership and/or ownership. Indeed, on several occasions, ICANN staff communicated with the primary contact for Nu Dot both through emails and a phone conversation to determine whether there had been any changes to the Nu Dot organization that would require an application change request. On each occasion, Nu Dot confirmed that no such changes had occurred, and ICANN is entitled to rely upon those representations.

ICANN staff had asked Rasco via email and then telephone whether there had been any changes to NDC’s leadership or control, and he said there had not.

He is quoted by he BGC as saying:

[n]either the ownership nor the control of Nu Dotco, LLC has changed since we filed our application. The Managers designated pursuant to the company’s LLC operating agreement (the LLC equivalent of a corporate Board) have not changed. And there have been no changes to the membership of the LLC either.

The RfR has therefore been thrown out.

Unless further legal action is taken, the auction is still scheduled for July 27. The deadline for all eight applicants (seven for .web and one for .webs) to post deposits with ICANN passed on Wednesday.

As it’s a last resort auction, all funds raised will go into an ICANN pot, the purpose of which has yet to be determined. The winning bid will also be publicly disclosed.

Had the contention set been settled privately, all losing applicants would have made millions of dollars of profit from their applications and the price would have remained a secret.

NDC is the only applicant refusing to go to private auction.

The applicants for .web are NDC, Radix, Donuts, Schlund, Afilias, Google and Web.com. Vistaprint’s bid for .webs is also in the auction.

The RfR decision can he read here (pdf).

dotgay loses third .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, July 1, 2016, Domain Services

Death warrant or portent of impending legal action?

dotgay LLC has lost its third attempt to get ICANN to reconsider tossing its application for community priority status in the fight for the .gay gTLD.

According to ICANN, on Sunday its Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s third Request for Reconsideration, an attempt to give the company an unprecedented third go at the Community Priority Evaluation process.

CPEs allow community gTLD applicants to avoid expensive auctions, but dotgay has lost two primarily on the grounds that its definition of community includes people who are not gay.

Its latest RfR was pretty weak, based on a technicality about which staffers at the Economist Intelligence Unit (which carries out the CPEs) were in charge of verifying its letters of community support.

The rationale for the BGC’s determination, which still needs to be rubber-stamped by the full ICANN board, has not been published yet.

But it seems from a blog post that ICANN now expects .gay to go to auction, where there are four competing applicants in total.

ICANN does not usually publish blog posts on RfR decisions, but in the .gay case it has been keen to avoid being accused of any motivation beyond a dogged pursuit of correct procedure.

So will dotgay go quietly? It remains to be seen.

While all new gTLD applicants had to sign a release promising not to sue ICANN, .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica sued earlier this year and managed to get a sympathetic judge who seems bent on allowing the case to go to trial.

“We’re not homophobic!” ICANN pleads as it throws out .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has refused dotgay LLC’s latest appeal against adverse .gay decisions, and has taken the unusual step of preemptively defending itself against probably inevitable accusations from gay rights groups.

On Monday, the Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s Request for Reconsideration, in which the company had asked for a third crack at the Community Priority Evaluation process that could have seen it win .gay without paying at auction.

Today, BGC chair Chris Disspain published a blog post that’s basically a defense against accusations that ICANN is somehow intolerant or ignorant of gay issues.

The post explains the RfR process, explains that the latest decision doesn’t mean there won’t be a .gay or that dotgay won’t win the contention set, winding up:

I want to make clear that the denial of the Request for Reconsideration is not a statement about the validity of dotgay LLC’s application or dotgay LLC’s supporters. The decision means that the BGC did not find that the CPE process for dotgay, LLC’s .GAY application violated any ICANN policies or procedures.

It is ICANN’s responsibility to support the community-developed process and provide equitable treatment to all impacted parties. We understand that this outcome will be disappointing to supporters of the dotgay LLC application. We appreciate the amount of interest that this topic has generated within the ICANN community, and we encourage all interested parties to participate in the multistakeholder process to help shape how future application rounds are defined.

dotgay’s two CPEs, which were evaluated by the Economist Intelligence Unit, failed because the company defined its “community” too broadly, to include people who aren’t gay.

The company says that it’s “common sense” that “gay” is an umbrella term not only for lesbian and bisexual people, but also for people with non-standard gender identities and straight people who support equal rights.

(As an aside, I recently learned that former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, the UK’s poster girl for transgender issues, disagrees with same-sex couples raising kids and once called for gay pride marches to be banned. I wonder how she fits under this umbrella.)

But the second EIU panel “determined that the applied-for string does not sufficiently identify some members of the applicant’s defined community, in particular transgender, intersex, and ally individuals”.

The CPE application fell apart on that basis. It scored 10 of the available 16 points, four points shy of a winner.

Due to the sensitive nature of this kind of thing, and the fact that dotgay does have a truckload of genuine support from prominent campaigning members of its community, ICANN and the EIU have come in for criticism.

Some of that criticism has implied that ICANN, the EIU, the process or all three are in some way homophobic or at least ignorant.

An article on gay news website The Gayly this week said: “The EIU’s actions contradict all common sense and are being interpreted as the outcome of a hostile environment.”

dotgay encouraged supporters to tweet: “Say NO to unfair & unequal treatment of the gay community at the hands of @TheEIU #Yes2dotgay”.

I’ve seen some tweets from supporters that use stronger language, which I’m guessing is what the BGC is trying to preempt today.

Now that it has exhausted the RfR process without success, expect dotgay to file an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, delaying the .gay contention set resolution for a year or more.

Odd-couple coalition wants URS deleted from legacy gTLD contracts

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2015, Domain Registries

Commercial and non-commercial interests within ICANN have formed a rare alliance in order to oppose the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy in three new legacy gTLD contracts.

The groups want ICANN to delete URS from the .travel, .cat and .pro Registry Agreements, which were all renewed for 10-year terms last week.

The Business Constituency and the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group put their names to a Request for Reconsideration filed with ICANN yesterday.

The Internet Commerce Association, a member of the BC, filed a separate RfR asking for the same thing yesterday too.

These groups believe that ICANN contracting staff are trying to create consensus policy by the back door, from the top down, by imposing URS on gTLDs that were delegated before the 2012 application round.

URS was created specifically for the new gTLD program and therefore should not apply to legacy gTLDs, they say. The BC/NCSG request states:

Our joint concern… is that a unilateral decision by ICANN contractual staff within the [Global Domains Division] to take the new gTLD registry agreement as the starting point for renewal RAs for legacy gTLDs has the effect of transforming the PDDRP [Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Process] and the URS into de facto Consensus Policies without following the procedures laid out in ICANN’s Bylaws for their creation. To be clear, we take no objection to a registry voluntarily agreeing to adopt RPMs in their contractual negotiations with ICANN.

The ICA has the same objections. It’s primarily concerned that the new contracts set a precedent that will ultimately force URS into the .com space, when Verisign’s contract comes up for renewal.

Both RfRs ask ICANN to delete the URS requirements from the just-signed .pro, .travel and .cat registry agreements.

The requesters suspect that rather than including URS as “the result of even-handed ‘bilateral negotiations'”, it was “staff insistence that the registries accept it to achieve timely registry agreement renewal.”

They want the ICANN board to demand to see the emails that were exchanged during negotiations in order to determine whether the registries were strong-armed into signing up for URS.

The BC/NCSG request is here. The ICA request is here.

Booking.com uses .africa precedent to challenge .hotels ruling

Kevin Murphy, July 21, 2015, Domain Policy

Booking.com has become the first new gTLD applicant to publicly cite the recent .africa Independent Review Process ruling in an attempt to overturn an adverse ICANN decision.

The challenge relates to the decision by ICANN, under the rules of the new gTLD program, to place applications for .hotels and .hoteis into a contention set due to their potential for visual confusion.

The two strings are heading to auction, where the winner will likely have to fork out millions.

In a missive to ICANN (pdf) last week, Booking.com outside attorney Flip Petillion said that the .africa IRP ruling shows that ICANN has to revisit its decision-making over .hotels.

The letter highlights a wider issue — how can ICANN follow community-established rules whilst sticking to its rather less well-defined Bylaws commitment to be “fair”?

Petillion wrote:

ICANN — and the BGC — has maintained the position 1) that the fact the process established by ICANN was followed is sufficient reason to reject that challenge and 2) that the fact that the process allowed neither for Booking.com to be heard nor for a review of the decision by the ICANN Board is of no relevance.

In the interim, IRP panels have confirmed that this process-focussed position is unsustainable. The ICANN Board has an overriding responsibility for making fair, reasoned and non-discriminatory decisions under conditions of full transparency.

He cites the .africa IRP decision to support this assertion.

Booking.com is the applicant for .hotels, while a different company, Travel Reservations (formerly Despegar Online), has applied for .hoteis, the Portuguese translation.

While both applicants are happy for the two gTLDs to co-exist on the internet, ICANN’s third-party String Similarity Review panel, part of the new gTLD evaluation process, ruled that they cannot.

They’re just too similar — in standard browser sans-serif fonts they can be indistinguishable — and would likely lead to user confusion, the panel decided in February 2013.

Booking.com challenged this decision with a Request for Reconsideration, which was dismissed.

It then filed an IRP, but that concluded this March with the panel awarding a grudging win to ICANN, which it orders should split the costs of the case.

In April, the ICANN board adopted the IRP panel’s findings, saying that the two applicants should remain in the contention set.

Booking.com, along with Travel Reservations, filed a second RfR, challenging the board’s decision, but this was rejected by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee in June.

The ICANN board has not yet formally adopted the BGC’s recommendations — I expect it to consider them at its next scheduled meeting, July 28 — hence Booking.com’s last-ditch attempt to get ICANN to change its mind.

Petillion wrote:

Simply following the processes and procedures developed by ICANN cannot alone be sufficient grounds for declining to review a decision. If the requirements of fairness, reasoned decision making, non-discrimination and transparency have not been met in the implementation of the process and procedures, the ICANN Board must, when invited to, conduct a meaningful review.

In the .africa case, the IRP panel ruled that ICANN should have asked the Governmental Advisory Committee for its rationale for objecting to DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid, even though there’s nothing in the new gTLD rules or ICANN Bylaws specifically requiring it to do so.

However, in the Booking.com case, the IRP panel raised serious questions about whether the String Similarity Review rules were consistent with the Bylaws, but said that the time to challenge such rules had “long since passed”.

In both cases, ICANN followed the rules. Where the two panels’ declarations diverge is on whether you can win an IRP challenging the implementation of those rules — for DotConnectAfrica the answer was yes, for Booking.com the answer was no.

In a new gTLD program that has produced long lists of inconsistencies; IRP panel decisions appear to be but the latest example.

The question now is how the ICANN board will deal with the BGC recommendation to reject Booking.com’s latest RfR.

If it summarily approves the BGC’s resolution, without doing some extra due diligence, will it be breaking its Bylaws?