Last week, “Vibrant” Beijing, as described by the always empathic Fadi Chehade, ICANN President and CEO, received more than 2200 participants for the biggest ICANN meeting ever held.
In the opening session of the meeting Mr. Chehade underlined the recent opening of the first two ICANN hubs (Singapore and Turkey) and announced the launching of the first ICANN Engagement Centre in Beijing. Country Strategies in Brazil, Russia and China are being developed as part of his internationalization strategy.
In his speech he described his first months in ICANN as a “New Season” for the organization, not only in terms of internationalization but also characterized by its increasing transparency. To this end, ICANN very soon will give public access to all its projects, strategies, budget and process through myicann.org.
Mr. Chehade also announced an increased ICANN engagement in other international organizations such as IGF and ITU and expressed his intention to participate in the WTPF next May.
Among the topics discussed at the meeting, we can highlight the following:
1. Update of the status of the New gTLD Program:
After the last minute release of the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) Advice, the Board has 21 days to answer. For a good number of candidatures the GAC Advice will most probably mean a big delay. For those “clean” candidatures, contracting process was envisaged to begin from 23 April, but due to the unclosed negotiations on the contracts between ICANN and both Registries and Registrars, it seems that they will also suffer some delay.
Regarding the system for trade mark protection (Trade Mark Clearing House), it was launched on March 26 and will be operative in August although there are still problems in its definition and is not yet prepared. The TMCH is a data base where any brand owner can submit its trademark data to get protection prior to and during the launch of new gTLDs.
The TMCH offers ways to TM holders to register domain names that match their trademarks during the so-called “Sunrise Period”, a period of 30 days before domain names are offered to the general public. TMCH also includes an automatic notification service for both domain name registrants and trademark holders of possible infringements. This is expected to speed up the resolution of possible conflicts in the new gTLDs system. The system has already received around 450 requests for trade mark protection.
Also related to the gTLD program is the letter sent by Google where they declare they will open their candidatures .blog, .cloud, .search and .app. The move from Google shows their fast adaptability to the changing conditions of the new gTLDs program.
2. The GAC Advice:
One of the most awaited information was the GAC Advice on the new gTLD program, especially regarding the candidatures, something that arrived during the Public Forum. It includes several advices to the Board, namely:
- To reject the candidature .africa.
- To delay the process for the candidatures .patagonia and .amazon (following the ideas expressed along the Montevideo Declaration released after the recently held 4th Ministerial Conference on Information Society in LATAM and the Caribe), .shenzhen, .persiangulf, .guangzhou, .date, .spa, .yun, .thai, .zulu, .wine, .vin.
- To reconsider .islam and .halal, something where consensus has not been reached in the GAC.
- The GAC has also sent a long list of criteria that applications in a set of categories (children, environmental, health and fitness, financial, gambling, charity, education, intellectual property, professional services, corporate identifiers, generic geographical terms and inherently governmental functions) must fulfill and a number of obligations for registries and registrars which, in the end, would make these companies something like enforcement agencies for those domains they handle. Under these categories fall a big number of applications (and even more could be included in the future as the list is “non-exhaustive”, something that will introduce further delays in the new gTLDs process.
- To extend protection in any new gTLD for IGOs acronyms.
- To reconsider de decision to admit candidatures coexisting in their singular and plural forms, something that could be misleading for users and that could force trade mark owners to increase their defensive actions and thus their costs.
All this long list of advices to the Board poses a real threat to the ICANN policy system, to the credibility of all Applicant Guidebook and to the predictability of all ICANN programs, as it seems they could be always subject to unexpected changes. ICANN Board has decided to put the GAC Advice for public comment, perhaps in an attempt to gain community support to oppose, at least, some parts of it.
3. Internet Governance:
The session on Internet Governance, moderated by Peter Major, CSTD WG on Enhanced Cooperation Chair, didn’t add anything new to the debate. It was very much focused on the last session of the MAG and on the WSIS meeting of Paris. The idea of elaborating a unique and acceptable by all parties list of Internet Principles was mentioned again. As already known, a MAG WG on Internet Principles is already in charge of creating a compendium of all the different declarations on Internet Principles.
The only new information presented during this session was the calendar and organization of work of the CSTD WG on EhC given by Peter Major. This WG, composed by 42 members (22 member states, 5 business representatives, 5 from civil society, 5 from the academic world and 5 from international organizations) will have its first meeting on next 30/05. This will be followed by 3 or 4 more this year and one at the beginning of 2014. Work will be carried out in mutual trust and consensus. Meetings will be open to observers under ECOSOC rules and according to space availability.
Consultations are already ongoing to develop an agenda and a draft questionnaire for an open consultation during July. Its results will be compiled and made public in September. It will be the basis for the rest of the meetings.
Other interesting ideas heard during the very short debate held were the concept of a future Internet Cooperation Forum, as a catalyst of Internet Governance + Enhanced Cooperation, and the need for enhanced communication between stakeholders as tool to discover new areas of collaboration and coordination.
As last remark, Wolfgang Kleinwechter warned the audience on the possibility that some member states will try to introduce changes in the ITU Constitution and Treaty during the next Plenipot 2014, to get more control on the Internet following the lines already made public during the last WCIT. He finally advised the ITU to find its place in the existent Internet ecosystem rather to trying to create a new one.
4. ICANN contracts with Registries and Registrars:
It seems that negotiations to close new conditions on the contracts between ICANN and both Registries and Registrars are almost finished and an agreement is going to be found. The new contracts will include more strict conditions to allow a more effective impact on cybercrime (as has been asked by the representatives of Interpol, for example) and a very controversial right for ICANN to unilaterally amend the contracts at any time if they consider it necessary to preserve the public interest against possible future situations where interests from a group could dominate the policy.
Contracts will also include the possibility for Registrars based in places such as Europe, which has stronger data protection laws than the US, to opt out of the WHOIS data retention and verification rules in order to comply with the EU regulation. ICANN is also trying to impose with the new contracts with Registries the possibility for them to sell directly to the general public new extensions, allowing in this way a vertical integration against the interests of Registrars.
As these new contracts are needed for the first set of signatures of delegation contracts with those new gTLDs candidates already cleared for this purpose, something that according to ICANN could happen during a press conference on next 23 April, the organization wants to close negotiations during the next few days. This has been received by Registries with hunger as they consider they have had few time to prepare their negotiation position. Later at the Public Forum Fadi Chehade announced that they will publish a new draft contract for Registries with 21 days for comments plus other period of 21 days for Board response, something that cancels the foreseen 20 April date for its approval.
Another fact that will impose some further delays is the lack of accreditation by ICANN of the three backup providers, or EBEROs, the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), Neustar, Inc. and Nominet, which will be responsible for guarantying to resolve names within a new gTLD in the event of its failure to do so.