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New TLD rulebook unlikely to get March nod

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook is unlikely to get its final approval at ICANN’s March meeting, according to the senior staffer responsible for the program.

Senior vice president of stakeholder relations Kurt Pritz, who gave the keynote at today’s .nxt conference, later told me the Guidebook “probably won’t be approved in San Francisco”.

But impatient new TLD applicants may not have to wait too long afterward for the Guidebook to get the nod and the program to launch.

Pritz said that the Guidebook, currently in a “Proposed Final” version, will likely be revised following ICANN’s upcoming talks with its Governmental Advisory Committee.

But whatever emerges from the GAC consultation will not necessarily be opened for public comment, which would add a month or two of delay to the process. That will be for the board to decide.

Pritz indicated that the community needs to understand that one day ICANN will produce a version of the Guidebook that will be for voting, not commenting.

That’s likely to come sooner rather than later.

It seems to me to be quite likely that a version of the Guidebook emerging in the weeks following San Francisco will be submitted straight to the ICANN board of directors for approval.

During his keynote, which he gave following ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom’s unexpected eleventh-hour cancellation, Pritz said he wanted “to reset expectations and what I think our job is going forward”.

“Public discussion needs to turn to: should we launch the new gTLD process or should we not?” he said during his remarks.

The keynote was upbeat, talking about the Guidebook being a “road map”, not a series of “road blocks”.

Referring to the recently relaunched .me and .co country-code TLDs, which have been successfully marketed as generic TLDs, Pritz said:

To a certain extent new TLDs are already off and running. There’s a first mover advantage there, so the rest of us need to catch up.

Four more ICANN 40 sponsors revealed

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2011, Domain Policy

Iron Mountain, IronDNS, RegistryPro and the Public Interest Registry have added their names to the list of companies prepared to fork out big bucks to sponsor ICANN’s San Francisco meeting.

That brings the total number of ICANN 40 sponsors revealed so far to five, after VeriSign’s unprecedented $500,000 “Diamond” deal.

The new sponsors have splashed out more modest fees. Of the six tiers of sponsorship available, all four have opted for least expensive two.

Iron Mountain, IronDNS and RegistryPro have all chosen the same tiers as they have before, but they are likely paying more since ICANN has doubled its list prices since last year.

Meanwhile, .org manager PIR has downgraded to a $25,000 “Silver” package, having been a “Gold” sponsor at the Cartagena meeting.

The deadline for signing sponsorship deals and handing over artwork is February 15.

ICANN chair expects more new TLDs delay

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s new top-level domains program is unlikely to be approved at its San Francisco meeting next month, according to chairman Peter Dengate Thrush.

“We don’t think we’ll be able to approve the final applicant guidebook in March,” he said in a new interview with World Trademark Review.

This confirms my suspicion that changes to the Guidebook made following the upcoming meeting between ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee may be too extensive for ICANN to rubber-stamp without first consulting the community.

The ICANN board and the GAC are due to meet in Brussels, February 28 and March 1, to discuss the GAC’s outstanding concerns.

Chief among these concerns is trademark protection, where the GAC is pretty much aligned with the interests of the intellectual property constituency.

Brussels will also cover matters such as geographic names protection and procedures for dealing with controversial strings that governments may want to object to.

While ICANN is under no obligation to adopt the GAC’s suggestions wholesale, if it makes substantial concessions its bylaws will likely demand more public comment on the changes.

ICANN’s board indicated last week that it plans to tell the GAC where it disagrees with its advice at a consultation March 17, one day before its San Francisco meeting.

It also said that it plans to approve a Guidebook “as close as practically possible to the form as set out in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook” published in November.

UPDATE: I had an opportunity to put Dengate Thrush’s comments to ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom this afternoon. He said: “I’m not going to forecast when the final Applicant Guidebook will be approved.”

Details of ICANN’s government showdown emerge

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2011, Domain Registries

Eight governments will face off against nine ICANN directors and an outside lawyer at the Governmental Advisory Committee showdown in Brussels at the end of the month.

That’s according to a draft agenda for the two-day bilateral meeting on new top-level domains, posted to an ICANN mailing list over the weekend.

The GAC’s 12 remaining concerns appear to have lumped together into eight thematic sessions, each of which is assigned one or more GAC reps, ICANN directors and staffers to “lead” the discussions.

The lead governments are: the US, UK, European Commission, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sri Lanka and Kenya. The US will lead or jointly lead three of the eight sessions.

Bruce Tonkin of Melbourne IT has been assigned the unenviable task of representing the ICANN board on the “morality and public order objections” issue, which the US government is currently trying to recast as a governmental right of veto over new TLDs.

Tonkin recently told ICANN’s GNSO Council that he believes Brussels will be focused on trying to understand the GAC’s current objections to new TLDs and help the GAC understand where ICANN has tried to take its previous advice into account.

If the GAC still does not believe that their advice has been heeded, the Board and GAC may discuss how the GAC advice could be taken into account in such a way that the interests of the overall ICANN community continue to be balanced.

He added that any “significant changes” proposed post-Brussels will likely be taken to the rest of the ICANN community for discussion at the San Francisco meeting, March 13.

Any changes proposed by the GAC would have to be “mutually agreeable between the GAC and the rest of the ICANN community”, he wrote.

The trademark protection discussion, likely to be one of the livelier sessions, will be led by the US, UK and Sri Lanka, with Rita Rodin Johnston, Ram Mohan and Gonzalo Navarro representing the board.

ICANN also plans to lawyer up. According to the document, the sole board lead on registry-registrar separation is Joe Sims, ICANN’s long-time outside counsel, a partner with the law firm Jones Day.

Porn set to steal the show in San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry’s .xxx top-level domain looks set to grab the headlines at ICANN’s meeting in San Francisco, due to government-forced delays.

While ICANN is hoping to approve its new top-level domains program in March, that decision may wind up receiving less media attention than the final approval of the porn-only domain.

ICANN last month said that it wanted to hold a final consultation to resolve its differences with the Governmental Advisory Committee – which broadly objects to .xxx – in February 2011.

This referred to a proposed meeting between the GAC and the board, which has now been officially scheduled for February 28 in Brussels.

But a resolution carried by ICANN this week has pushed the consultation back to “no later than Thursday 17 March, 2011”, the day before its San Francisco meeting.

That would put the sign-off of ICM’s contract on the same billing as the planned final approval of the new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook and the launch of the new TLDs program.

San Francisco is set to be the focus of unprecedented media attention, due to its location and the likely presence of Bill Clinton. We’re probably looking at tighter stage management than usual.

With that in mind, I expect ICANN bosses won’t be too happy that porn-friendly .xxx is likely to steal away many column inches they would prefer devoted to new TLDs.

Porn in headlines gets clicks. Readers understand it, and you generally don’t need to explain to an editor what a TLD is. I know which story would be easier for me to sell.

Had ICANN put .xxx on the agenda for Brussels – which does not appear to have been ruled out yet – it could have wrapped up the ICM saga with a resolution quite quickly afterward.

That would have given ICM a week or so of undiluted media coverage, and the new TLDs program would not have had to share the spotlight with porn come San Francisco.

The question is: why is .xxx apparently not on the agenda for Brussels? Given ICANN’s previous decision to hold the meeting in February, responsibility seems to lie with the GAC.

Rumor has it that there’s a bit of a power struggle going on behind the scenes, with some elements of the GAC resistant to make Brussels the official final .xxx consultation.

Time will tell whether this position is firm or flexible.