ICANN publishes applicant responses to government advice

Following the advice received from the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) at ICANN's Beijing meeting held last April, new gTLD applicants have been busy drafting responses to what many felt were a new set of rules forced on them by governments.

Starting from April 18, 2013, applicants had 21 days to react to the GAC advice. With that deadline now passed, ICANN has published all the applicant responses. These are available either as individual, per applicant submissions, or as the full set of responses. The latter is a truly daunting 1891 page PDF document weighing nearly 62 mega bytes!

If some of the initial responses in the document are anything to go by, applicants have not taken the GAC's "directives" to them well at all.

"We find it disconcerting that the GAC chose to step beyond its agreed remit and issue the broad, generic Beijing Advice covering all new gTLD applicants," writes Dot Club LLC in its response drafted for its Dot Fish application. "We believe the provision of the Beijing Advice covering all new gTLD applications constitutes a material change to the scope and purpose of the Advice which was to have been provided".

Applicants are arguing that due to repeated delays in the new gTLD program over which they have no control, they have no choice but to play along with governments.

"To avoid delay, we are being asked to agree to provisions in the Registry Agreement ("RA") that appear at first instance to be both ill-defined and over broad," says Dot Wedding applicant Wedding TLD LLC. "The RA itself now rather resembles a contract of adhesion – we are in the territory of take it or leave it. Faced with such, we have no option but to agree to the Safeguards in part as further described below".

But clearly not all applicants share the feeling that a gun has been put to their heads. Dot Bio applicant Starting Dot seems to think the GAC's new requirements are a good thing. "Starting Dot wishes to thank the GAC (…) for designing additional Safeguards for new gTLDs," writes the applicant. "These newly devised Safeguards seek heightened accountability for those new gTLDs involved for instance with issues of consumer protection and regulated sectors".

The controversy generated by the GAC's advice is set to continue as the spotlight now turns to the ICANN Board. The Board's new gTLD Program Committee is readying its own response to the GAC advice.

The Committee will consider applicant responses and comments from the community on how it should react to the governmental advice. This is because a public comment period was opened by ICANN after it received the GAC advice, an extremely unusual step as governmental advice to the ICANN Board is not usually subject to community input.

The new gTLD Program Committee last met on 18 May 2013. Although addressing the GAC advice was on the agenda, no resolution was taken. This may happen at its next meeting, where some in the community expect the Committee to tell the GAC that its advice is simply too broad and therefore impossible to implement as a complete set of recommendations.

Written by Stéphane Van Gelder (Chairman and Managing Director of Stéphane Van Gelder Consulting Ltd.)

28 May 2013