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What New gTLD Applicants Need Is a Quick, Lightweight Answer to the World's Governments. Here It Is.

Kieren McCarthy

It's safe to say that with just a week to go before ICANN intended to sign the first contract for a new gTLD, the last thing anyone wanted was a 12-page document from the world's governments with 16 new "safeguards", six of which it wants to see applied to every new extension.

But what the industry shouldn't overlook, especially in the face of the expected critical responses this week and next, is that the Governmental Advisory Committee's (GAC's) formal advice from the ICANN Beijing meeting represents an opportunity for the domain name industry to lock-in self-regulation at a critical point in its evolution.

IFFOR has been focused for some time on the question of what registries will need to do in a world where domain names can end in any word. As such, we see the GAC advice as a simple reflection of genuine, and understandable, concerns from a body whose main job is to identify public policy issues.

It is also nothing new: IFFOR went through this exact process to find policy solutions to questions raised by GAC over the dot-xxx top-level domain. Many of the same issues are present in this most recent advice — something we highlighted at the beginning of the year.

So here is the good news: it is perfectly possible to find a simple, effective and lightweight solution that will meet the concerns of governments — including that it be contractually binding — while keeping ICANN firmly out of content regulation.

It is also possible to do it right now without compromising business plans, redrawing financial projections, or seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in new investment.

So what is this solution?

As part of the process for reaching agreement with both ICANN and the GAC over the dot-xxx top-level domain, a set of "baseline policies" was created (by IFFOR) to demonstrate a clear commitment to resolving concerns.

Those baseline policies covered issues such as:

  • Scanning domains for malware, spam and phishing
  • Audit and compliance systems
  • Enhanced trademark protections
  • Handling complaints
  • Registrant verification
  • Tackling child abuse images
  • Disqualifying applicants that consistently break the policies

The implementation of those policies was then left up to the registry operator — ICM Registry — and IFFOR was also given the role of auditing the subsequent systems.

In response to the GAC advice in Beijing, IFFOR is close to completing a new set of "Safeguard Policies" designed specifically to encompass the six most broad safeguards that the GAC wishes to see apply to all new gTLDs.

In so doing, we have drawn on our original "baseline policies" to develop policies for the gTLD market as a whole, and have used our experience as a registry policy body to ensure all six GAC safeguards are fully addressed.

In an effort to make this work as widely accessible as possible, we plan to simply license these policies for a low annual fee. As well as the right to use, publish and reference the Safeguard Policies, each license will come complete with documentation to help registries implement each policy in the way most suited to their circumstances. We will also extend IFFOR's internal information service that provides ongoing information on related policy and regulatory topics to all licensees. Again, for one, low annual fee.

We believe this approach solves a number of issues:

  • It provides applicants with a simple, swift and low-cost answer to government concerns
  • It answers government calls for new safeguards
  • It builds on a contractual solution that has already been shown to work within the ICANN system
  • It removes the need and cost for applicants to develop their own policies
  • It keeps the new gTLD program on track

Perhaps most importantly, adopting such an approach will give the industry a chance to demonstrate that it is committed to be a good actor while retaining the flexibility to develop the right systems for the right markets in the right way.

The mark of a self-regulated market is how well it responds to issues identified by a third party. With the right mix of creative pragmatism, the GAC safeguard advice can act as a catalyst for this industry.

If you are interested in learning more about IFFOR's Safeguard Policies, please visit our website at http://iffor.org/safeguard.

By Kieren McCarthy, Executive Director at IFFOR; CEO at .Nxt. More blog posts from Kieren McCarthy can also be read here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, Registry Services, ICANN, Internet Governance, Regional Registries, Top-Level Domains, Whois

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Comments

This approach will work for many of the TLD's Thomas Barrett  –  May 10, 2013 5:27 PM PST

Kieren,

I agree that the approach you've described might be appropriate for many of the TLD's that feel the GAC safeguards might apply to them.

While some applicants are digging in and resisting any changes to their applications, agreeing to a compromise such as this to address the GAC's concerns may well be the path of least resistance.

The industry has a lot of experience in providing registrant verification and enhanced trademark protections.  This experience can be used to provide more efficient methods than has been used in the past.

If followed, it certainly will translate into some extra work and costs that many applicants were hoping to avoid in their business plans.  But it could mean the difference between launching in 2013 versus 2014 or even later.  As you say, it could well be the pragmatic approach for many to take.

best regards,

Tom Barrett
EnCirca

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