ICANN59 Report: Geographic Names and New gTLDs in the center of internet policymaking

ICANN59 Report: Geographic Names and New gTLDs in the center of internet policymaking

ICANN59 was held in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 26-29th of June 2017 and was my second opportunity of attending an ICANN meeting after ICANN 58. Thanks to the NCUC Fellowship Program I had the chance to attend the meeting and also the  NCUC outreach also held in Johannesburg, on the 23rd and 24th of June.

NCUC fellows have to select a theme to work and, consequently,  brief the constituency on. My subject of preference was Geographic Names which resulted on my enrollment at the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group as a member. As a preparation for the meeting I have also volunteered to draft NCSG input to GNSO Community Comment 2 (CC2) on New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process.

Geographic Names at the Top Level 

The use of Country, territory or place names and references to language or people descriptions as a generic Top-level Domain name is known as Geographic Names.

Country Code Top-Level Domain Names, or ccTLDs, were acknowledged by IETF on the RFCs 920, 1033 and 1591 based on the ISO 3166-1 list. While first one described the initial set of top-level domains and ccTLDS based on the ISO list (three-letter codes for Countries), the second one when issuing the Domain Administrators Guide maintained the status quo stated by RFC 920. Last but not least, the RFC 1591 reinforced the importance of the ISO list given that IETF considered that the decision of what is a country was not under the scope of the IANA functions. As far as it comes to three-letter codes there is no RFC on this subject, RFC 1591 implicitly considers 3-letters as any other gTLD).

In 2007, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) edited a document containing a set  of public policy principles related to the introduction, delegation and operation of the New gTLDs that stated that (a) new gTLD names should respect the sensitivities regarding national, cultural, geographic and religious significance, (b) Icann should avoid Country, territory or place names, and country, territory or regional language or people descriptions, unless in agreement with the relevant governments or public authorities and (c) new gTLDs should not be confusingly similar to existing ones and, therefore, to avoid confusion with ccTLDs, no two-letter gTLD should be introduced.

Prior to the first round of applications of the New gTLD Programme, the Applicant Guidebook (AGB), a document that provides step-by-step information on the application process for new applicants was issued.  In its published version (2012), the AGB states that a country or territory name is:

(a) an alpha-3 code listed in ISO 3166

(b) long-form and small-form name or a translation of it in any language

(c) a short or long-form name with any association with a code that has been defined as exceptionally reserved

(d) separable component of a country name designated on the “Separable Country Names List,” or is a translation of a name appearing on the list

(e) a permutation of any of the mentioned names or

(f) a name under which a country is known by an intergovernmental or treaty organization.

Country and territory names ended up being excluded from the first round of New gTLDs program, and the use of other geographic names can only be permitted under demonstrated support from the appropriate governments. 

Geographic Names topic in recent ICANN Meetings

The subject of use of country codes and territory names under the new gTLDs programme has been one of the highest points of the Hyderabad Meeting. During ICANN 57, the CCWG-UTCN held public sessions in order to develop a group of recommendations to guide the next rounds of the new gTLD programme on the use of three-letter country codes and the full names of countries. Regarding the two-letter codes, after Hyderabad, ICANNs Board issued a resolution whenever there is interest on the use of a country code on the second level the government of the country whose code is related to must be notified in order to see if there’s any opposition.

After the adoption of the ICANN Board’s resolution that instated the (Countries) consent of two-letter country codes on the second level of the new gTLDs, ICANN 58  resumed the discussions around use of three-letter country codes and full names of countries and territories at the first level of the generic domains for the next rounds of the new gTLD program. In february 9th the CCWG-UTCN issued a report on the matter and placed it under a Public Comment period. In the report, the ccwg points out the difficulty of creating a harmonized and agreed framework to address the issue and seeked for recommendations from the ICANN Community.

Before ICANN59, the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group held a webinar in order to collect input on the subject of Geographic Names at the top Level on April 25th with an open invitation to all community members to submit and present positions.  The webinar received ten presentations of which four presented solutions such as:

(a) Repository of Names of Geographical Relevance, database into which governments could place names with geographical relevance and where future applicants should research to check for possible clashes with any Term of Geographical Significance and seek for permission from the country who inserted the term before applying for the TLD.

(b) Geographic Public Interest Commitment , meaning that applicants for a term that might conflict with a Geographical Name protected under national law adds to the Registry Agreement a binding rule that would prevent the use of the registry in a way that might confuse the or mislead internet users into thinking the registry has any connection with a National Government or Geographical feature.

(c) All the names being used to indicate geographic, linguistic or cultural origin should be submitted to a Governmental evaluation in order to obtain a support or non-objection and that Geographic TLDs should have preference in contention cases.

(d) Allow the utilization of the ISO 3166-1 alpha-3 codes as gTLDs, provided there is governmental support/non-objection and the exclusive use of 2-characters for ccTLDs.

During ICANN59, the leadership of the Subsequent Procedures PDP WG organized two cross-community sessions focused on the treatment of geographic names at the top level. The goal was to work through the proposals from the community and find a path forward for policy development with respect to the use of geographic terms at the top level considering International Laws and granting that the solution does not prevent anyone from applying or affects the rights of others.

Both cross-community sessions were moderated by external facilitator, David Fairman, from an independent nonprofit based in the United States called Consensus Building Institute that facilitates dialogue on complicated public and organizational issues. The first of the two cross-community sessions showcased and asked for feedback on the strawperson, a document drafted with the solutions presented by the community during april’s webinar. The document has no status and was presented as a tool to stimulate discussion.

The second session was directed at discussing the feedback obtained through the face-to-face sessions held between the cross-community ones. Another highlight of the second session was the proposal of Work Track 5, a new work track within the Subsequent Procedures PDP WG that will deal exclusively with geographic names at the top level. The proposal of a new work track with the participation of representatives from each Advisory Committee and Supporting Organization was well received by the community even though some GAC members expressed their concerns with the fact that this discussion is happening under the scope of gNSO (instead of ccNSO).

Next steps

Despite of all the achievements made during ICANN59 regarding the use of Geographic terms at the top level the conclusion is that we still have a long way to go. The PDP WG issued invitation letters to the GNSO, GAC, ALAC, and ccNSO Chairs looking for appointments of co-leaders to Work Track 5 and, after the decision on the co-leaders has been reached the next step is to invite community members who are interested on the subject and are willing to participate in the new work track so that the WG can evolve this debate.

Join the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP WG if you’re interested at the whole new gTLD PDP and also the Geographic Names subjects.  This WG will be determining if the existing new gTLD policy recommendations and implementation guidance should be amended, as well as if new policy recommendations are needed!

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On the appreciation note, I would like to thank NCUC Chair Farzaneh Badii and NCUC Executive Committee, for selecting me for this fellowship, without this opportunity I would not be able to attend ICANN59 and continue my learning process on ICANN and the DNS System. Also, a huge thank you to Avri Doria, my mentor, who kindly directed me to the right sources on the theme and was very accessible whenever I reached out to her and also Renata Aquino Ribeiro, who took me under her wings as an ad-hoc mentee. Last but not least, I would like to highlight the hospitality of my fellow NCUC members, Ayden Férdeline, Ines Hfaiedh, Stephanie Perrin and others who were all very kind and attentive to my presentation on Geonames at the NCUC policy session held in Johannesburg.      

I also would love to hear some input and feedback my fellow NCUCers who were involved in the new gTLD discussion feedback !

Thank you very much and follow me on Twitter: @boomartins!!

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