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New Registry Agreement, All Good?

Stéphane Van Gelder

In the run-up to the launch of new gTLDs, ICANN has been negotiating both of its main supplier contracts. The registrar contract (Registrar Accreditation Agreement or RAA) negotiations are now all but complete. A new contract draft has been posted for public comment and it now seems likely that in little over a month, this will become the official new 2013 RAA.

The registry contract (Registry Agreement or RA) negotiations have been going on for much less time and really only picked up in earnest after several registries made outspoken, sometimes angry, comments at the way they felt ICANN was handling the negotiations.

Subsequently, a registry negotiating team was set up to work with ICANN in a similar fashion to the registrars (who have been locked in negotiations with ICANN for getting on to almost 2 years now). For ICANN and new gTLD applicants, time is of the essence as the program obviously cannot launch without proper contracts in place to cover the whole domain name registration, management and distribution chain.

This impacts registries as well of course, as many of them are either applicants themselves, or working for applicants.

On April 29, ICANN's VP for DNS Industry Engagement Cyrus Namazi posted an upbeat report on the negotiations on the ICANN blog. "I am delighted to report that we have now posted a proposed final draft of the New gTLD Registry Agreement," Namazi wrote. "Similar to the proposed 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) that was posted for public comment on 22 April 2013, the ICANN community is now able to review and comment on this final draft before it is approved and adopted."

Namazi's comments are clearly drafted to get the message across that all is well and that the registries and ICANN left the negotiating room as BFFs. "A new and highly spirited sense of mutual trust has catapulted us into a fresh atmosphere of collaboration," he added. "The spirit of teamwork, productive dialogue and partnership that has underpinned this negotiation process is tremendously heartwarming, as it has allowed us to bring to fruition a robust contractual framework for the New gTLD Program."

Really? In a letter sent to ICANN, senior managers at Verisign, the most powerful registry by market share, are extremely critical of the way ICANN has handled the negotiations and of the end result.

Issues appear to center around a clause which would give the ICANN Board a unilateral right to amend the contract. This has been strongly criticized by both registries and registrars, and Verisign is not happy with what it sees as a tool to allow ICANN to change the rules of engagement for its contracted parties at will.

The letter is a strongly worded as Namazi's post is lovey-dovey. So who is right? The proposed new RA was posted for public comment on April 29 for 42 days. Comments will then be collated and summarised for the ICANN Board, so that it can decide whether to approve the contract or not.

This is a major test for today's ICANN. On the one hand, it needs to show that it can control its supplier chain and provide Internet users with a safe and stable environment. But it also needs to show that it can provide the businesses in the domain industry with such an environment, especially with an expected 1,200 new TLDs coming online in the next few years. And lastly, ICANN needs to show that the bottom-up policy development process that gives it its unique position in the world of Internet governance is sacrosanct. Right now, the registries seem to think that ICANN is ready to throw the model under the bus whenever it suits its own devises.

By Stéphane Van Gelder, Consultant
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Chuck Gomes' (Verisign) comments on ICANN's handling of the RA... Stéphane Van Gelder  –  May 03, 2013 3:02 PM PDT

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