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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently released an update on the New gTLD Program Committee’s (NGPC) discussion about how and when it would address the Governmental Advisory Committee’s (GAC) advice from Beijing.

ICANN has stated that the NGPC’s goal is “to carefully consider GAC advice and community input and to make decisions that will allow the greatest number of new gTLD applications to move forward as soon as possible.” This may be difficult given that the GAC advice, if accepted, could significantly delay gTLD applications.

In its update, ICANN restates that the NGPC’s discussion was structured around the GAC Advice Framework to organize and prioritize individual advice items. ICANN is developing a scorecard to do just that.

The update also reveals that the NGPC has begun discussing the GAC Advice on Safeguards. ICANN is seeking input on this topic via an open Public Comment Forum, which closes on June 4, 2013.

ICANN also reminds us that over the next few weeks, the NGPC will be holding a series of calls “to discuss applicant responses to the GAC advice, the Safeguard advice and related public comment, and other matters including the GAC’s advice on singular and plural strings, its questions in Annex 2 [of its Advice], and its requests for briefing papers.”

ICANN recently held an Applicant Update Webinar led by Christine Willett, VP of Operations, as part of a series intended to provide information on the evaluation progress, program developments, and other topics of interest to new gTLD applicants. While the webinar didn’t produce any groundbreaking news, applicants should take note of key dates for ICANN auctions and Community Priority Evaluations.

New gTLD applicants in Contention Sets can request an ICANN auction after publication of Initial Evaluation results. Completion of the Initial Evaluation stage is expected by August, with ICANN planning to begin auction proceedings in September; this is likely because private auction providers have previously announced their intentions to begin their own auction processes in the coming weeks.

ICANN also announced that community-based new gTLD applicants can request Community Priority Evaluations (CPEs) starting in June. The CPE is a process by which to resolve string contention, which may be elected by a community-based applicant. CPE evaluations are then scheduled to take place in September.

Other important ICANN updates include:

  • The last set of Financial, Technical, and Registry Services Clarifying Questions (CQs) will be released on May 22, 2013
  • ICANN will be holding a Contracting Webinar Session in early June to inform applicants on material information needed for an executable Registry Agreement
  • ICANN has launched a new Contracting & Registry Agreement microsite
  • Pre-Delegation Beta Testing has begun and ICANN has clarified that applicants will need to have signed their Registry Agreement prior to Pre-Delegation Testing
  • Thanks to implementation of the Strawman Model, 50 domain labels found to have been previously abused have been added to existing verified TMCH records
  • ICANN will release a timeline for the earliest theoretical launch of new gTLDs

Much remains and will remain unknown until the ICANN Board decides how to proceed on the Registry Agreement, the latest draft of which is now open for public comment, and on the GAC Advice, which the board is now reviewing.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Washington DC Chapter of the Internet Society recently co-hosted a panel discussion on the dicey topic of “The Geopolitics of Internet Governance.”

Panelists addressed the questions of how to devise a more inclusive Internet Governance structure to replace the U.S.-centric one developed in the 1990s. The trick will be how to satisfy non-western states’ desire for a larger role and still maintain essential democratic principles such as the free flow of information and human rights.

The panel featured:

  • Phil Verveer, Former US Coordinator, International Communications and Information Policy, US Department of State
  • Veni Markovski, ICANN, Vice President for Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe
  • Jane Coffin, Director, Development Strategy, The Internet Society
  • Bill Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, Technology Evangelist, PayPal
  • Laura DeNardis, Associate Professor in the School of Communication, American University

Phil Verveer said that since the multi-stakeholder process creates inherent challenges, we need a better definition of “multi-stakeholder” to determine who participates and in what way. Among the considerations, he said, are that the U.S. created the Internet; the economic, social, political, and cultural influences the Internet has on the world; the dominance of U.S. sensibilities about content, which are not universally shared; and the threat of cybersecurity and the uncertainty of how to address it.

Veni Markovski, who lived in Bulgaria for 28 years, praised that country’s approach to the Internet. Hundreds of Internet providers are available to Bulgarians. And when the government tried to take control, the people sued and won. Markovski said education and development are key in the geopolitics of Internet governance. Different countries view the Internet in different ways, he said, and they all have different views of what it entails.

Jane Coffin agreed that education is essential to effective participation in Internet governance, noting that discussion is difficult when some languages, Russian, for example, don’t have a word for or an understanding of the concept of “multi-stakeholder.” Coffin felt strongly that the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) must play a role. She urged that the debate be broadened to include and listen to developing countries around the world.

Bill Smith observed that the agenda for almost every meeting on Internet governance over the past few years has been based on the Tunis agenda, and since the ITU is the only group mentioned in the agenda, it has tried to assert itself as the intergovernmental agency charged with defining Internet governance. Smith was critical of the ITU, doubting its ability to address important governance issues such as cybersecurity, spam, use and misuse of the Internet, privacy and personal data, and protection from abuse and exploitation.

Laura DeNardis observed that Internet governance debates can be “proxies” for debates over economic and political power, in part because it is entangled with national security, given its role in modern warfare. DeNardis described the complexity of Internet governance as a mosaic: complicated beyond the management abilities of any one entity.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the New gTLD Program issues were not raised until the Q&A session and, even then, were only touched upon lightly.

DeNardis said there is no technical need for new gTLDs and that they will create problems for trademark holders. On the other hand, she said businesses will find advantages in a larger domain name space and new possibilities for marketing innovations.

Markovski defended ICANN against a complaint that the New gTLD Program was implemented without diverse input, arguing that many governments around the globe participated via the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Jamie Hedlund, VP, Stakeholder Engagement – North America, for ICANN – was in the audience. He said ICANN is the only multi-stakeholder institution with a role for governments and that 124 governments are members of the GAC. He said ICANN believes the GAC was highly effective and influential in shaping the New gTLD Program.

Hedlund emphasized that the GAC Communiqué, drafted at the ICANN 46 meeting in Beijing, will be taken seriously by the ICANN board. ICANN’s credibility hinges on the effective contributions of governments, he said, echoing GAC Chair Heather Dryden’s comments in her recent video interview.

ICANN has posted a “Proposed Final New gTLD Registry Agreement” for public comment, and it’s no surprise many gTLD applicants are not satisfied.

This latest version of the Registry Agreement (RA) “is the result of several months of negotiations, formal community feedback during a public comment forum initiated on 5 February 2013, and meetings with various stakeholders and communities,” ICANN states.

Despite the work that went into it, many applicants hope that this version will not be the last.

The RA features a number of updates and changes – including revisions to the amendment process, a new confidentiality provision, and revisions to registry owners’ rights and obligations on reserved names.

But much work remains.

ICANN’s process for amending the RA – after registries sign it – is still the object of intense debate. Many argue this top-down approach is antithetical to ICANN’s consensus-building, multi-stakeholder process, but ICANN has shown little to no inclination to budge on this point. Brand stakeholders also remain concerned about insufficient trademark protections in the event a registry fails.

The Registry Agreement Negotiating Team (RA-NT) – an informal group with no decisional authority that nevertheless worked with ICANN on the redraft – issued a statement making clear it expects additional changes upon closure of the public comment period, over a month away.

For now, we eagerly anticipate reaction from the ICANN community and the ICANN board and wonder whether the board will accept the community’s feedback before final terms are approved.

FairWinds CEO Nao Matsukata is advocating for ICANN to offer an alternative draft Registry Agreement (RA) for Internal Registries, whose needs are uniquely different from those of new gTLD Registries who plan to sell second-level domain names to the public.

Matsukata’s recommendation – made in a letter to ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé dated March 27 – is based on extensive experience. FairWinds associates prepared 150 applications for over 50 corporations, have held numerous client discussions about the new gTLD process, and carefully reviewed the Public Comments.

A separate, specific contract could shorten the negotiation process for Internal Registry applicants, thereby freeing up ICANN’s resources to process applications for public gTLDs. Matsukata believes that this type of substantive change will result in real process improvements for all applicants.

He is also confident that ICANN can modify its current process before gTLD delegations begin.

As Bloomberg BNA reported last week,“Though the turnaround time on new contracts at ICANN is typically not quick, it might be possible for ICANN to publish a new contract in keeping with its current timelines, Matsukata remarked.”

On March 22, ICANN announced the first 27 applications for new gTLDs that passed Initial Evaluation.

The 27 applications that passed and that do not face any objections or string contentions will be able to proceed to the contracting phase. These applicants can execute their contract with ICANN “as early as 23 April 2013″.

ICANN is planning on releasing Initial Evaluation results each week, 30 strings at a time, and the organization is hoping to increase the release to 100 strings per week.  The status of the three applications that would have rounded out the first 30 – application 7, 18, and 29 in terms of priority rank – is still unknown for “one or more possible reasons”, according to ICANN., and the reasons could range from “pending change requests, clarifying questions, or follow-up with applicants regarding missing information.”

ICANN’s current plan is to have all Initial Evaluations results posted by the end of August 2013.

Buzzer Beaters

FairWinds Partners —  March 12, 2013

The clock is winding down to the close of ICANN’s period to file objections against new gTLD applications. With the deadline of tomorrow, March 13 at 8:00 pm EDT looming, only one objection has been publicly posted on ICANN’s website. But will we see the floodgates open in the eleventh hour? Continue Reading…