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ICANN: Proposal for the Use of Mandatory Policy Advisory Boards for Regulated Industry Sector and Consumer-Trust-Sensitive New gTLD Strings

ICANN new generic Top Level Domains logoPurpose (Brief): A collaboration between diverse members of the ICANN community proposes the use of mandatory Policy Advisory Boards (PABs) for a subset of new Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) which are targeted at regulated industry sectors and other consumer-trust-sensitive fields. These ICANN community members assert that PABs are able to address what are perceived to be substantial public-interest deficiencies in the current implementation of ICANN‘s gTLD expansion program.

The purpose of this public comment period is to obtain feedback and collect broader community input into the further development of the PAB model, and to which TLD strings it may best apply.

Current Status: The document was approved by the ALAC during their meeting of 25 February 2014. An edited and final version was submitted to ALAC staff on Monday, 17 March 2014 with a request to post for public comment.

Next Steps: After the public comment period is complete, the ALAC will analyze the results, and – in collaboration with other community members – determine subsequent actions.

 

Detailed Information
Section I: Description, Explanation, and Purpose:

Purpose:

A collaboration between diverse members of the ICANN community proposes the use of mandatory Policy Advisory Boards (PABs) for a subset of new Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) which are targeted at regulated industry sectors and other consumer-trust-sensitive fields. These ICANN community members assert that PABs are able to address what are perceived to be substantial public-interest deficiencies in the current implementation of ICANN‘s gTLD expansion program.

The purpose of this public comment period is to obtain feedback and collect broader community input into the further development of the PAB model, and to which TLD strings it may best apply.

Rationale:

While it is agreed amongst the proposers that ICANN itself is not – and should not be – involved in the content regulation of domains within these new TLDs, the original design of the program did not allow for any special external oversight over TLDs related to regulated industries or otherwise using trust-sensitive strings. In response to requests from the GAC and other stakeholders (but without consulting them on the response), ICANN instituted a mechanism called Public Interest Commitments (PICs). While the PIC program superficially provided a mechanism that enabled TLD applicants to demonstrate a set of self-imposed rules intended to satisfy the GAC advice, upon further review PICs are revealed to provide little or no actual public interest benefit:

  • They can include wording that allows the TLD applicant/Registry to arbitrarily change or even revoke all of its PICs. At any time, once a Registry’s PIC becomes problematic it has the option to change or even revoke its PICs at whim. For example, an applicant has published the following statement at the end of its PIC: “These  PICs  shall  be  subject  to  review  by Registry Operator  starting  in  January  2016,  and Registry Operator,  in  its sole  discretion, may  elect at  that  time to  modify  or  discontinue  any  of  the  PICs  herein in  the  case  of  a  substantial and  compelling  business  need”. This type of unilateral invalidation of PICs has met no opposition from within ICANN‘s processes.
  • Even for PICs that are allowed to remain in force, complaints that they have been breached can only be made by parties that can demonstrate direct harm as a result. (That eliminates governments, consumer groups, whistle-blowers, news media or other third parties). Reporting an abrogated PIC requires a lengthy, expensive, adversarial process that appears biased against the complainant, subcontracted by ICANN to a Dispute Resolution Provider with no required grounding in the specifics of the relevant trust, regulatory or other special circumstances related to the string. In current proceedings, subcontracted dispute resolution processes have ruled against the At-Large Community, challenging even its ability to speak as a “recognized community” during its objections to certain high-trust TLD applications.
  • In the unlikely event that a PIC is not arbitrarily changed and a complaint against it succeeds, the remedies offered do not necessarily help the complainant. The TLD operator’s contract may be ultimately revoked but there is no accommodation for financial redress or an obligation to revoke the offending sub-domains.

To many stakeholders – especially those stakeholders who provide and use services and products over the Internet – this is not a sufficient infrastructure on which to base trust in the new gTLDs, particularly those related to regulated or sensitive industries. This dissatisfaction was echoed by the GAC in its Beijing Communiqué [PDF, 156 KB]. In response, a February 10 letter from the ICANN Board to the GAC [PDF, 1.12 MB] claims to address its concerns, however in a manner that uses PICs. The PAB proponents find this response to be completely unsatisfactory and against the public interest.

Outside the world of domain names, most countries have found good reason to regulate professional designations in medicine, engineering, and other fields that are sensitive to – and depend upon – maintaining high levels of public trust. The Internet Domain Name System cannot be immune from this societal need. The PAB model addresses this need using an open, multi-stakeholder process that maintains heightened public trust while reducing need for legislative action. For ICANN to fail to adequately provide for such protection of public trust is considered to be, to many in the community, an act of negligence. The PIC model, as currently designed and as a standalone model, is wholly inadequate to this function.

The ALAC joins other members of the ICANN community in supporting the Policy Advisory Board model as described in the model presented to be used for regulated fields and trust-sensitive strings (such the strings listed as “Category 1” in the GAC Communiqué) – as an effective, implementable and necessary solution to many of the trust issues that have been raised related to new gTLDs.

Section II: Background:

In September 2013, Ron Andruff submitted a proposal to the ICANN Board’s New gTLD Policy Committee [PDF, 149 KB] suggesting the concept of Policy Advisory Boards (PABs) as a way to address what are perceived to be substantial public-interest deficiencies in the new gTLD expansion program. The ALAC was asked for comments at the time, and at the Buenos Aires ICANN meeting, two members of the Business Community acting in their individual capacity – Ron Andruff and Marilyn Cade – met with Olivier Crepin-Leblond, Alan Greenberg and Evan Leibovitch from ALAC to further discuss the PAB model.

On January 27, 2014, the five individuals listed above sent a letter to the ICANN New gTLD Program Committee [PDF, 142 KB] requesting it hold a Public Comment Period regarding the use of PABs to address these concerns. Responses dated February 4 [PDF, 611 KB] from ICANN staff and subsequently February 20 [PDF, 448 KB] from the ICANN Board have rejected this proposal, prompting the ALAC to consider holding its own Public Comment Process.

The matter was raised and discussed within the At-Large new gTLD Working Group, in which multiple participants expressed support for the PAB proposal. At its meeting of February 14, 2014, the At-Large Leadership Team assigned Vice-Chair Evan Leibovitch to prepare a proposal for an ALAC-initiated Public Comment Period, on the issue of PABs, to be submitted to the full ALAC for approval. On February 25, 2014, the ALAC approved a motion to submit the document for public Comment. On March 17, 2014, a final edited version was sent to At-Large staff to post for Public Comment

Comment / Reply Periods (*)

  • Comment Open Date: 21 March 2014
  • Comment Close Date: 16 April 2014 – 23:59 UTC
  • Reply Open Date: 17 April 2014
  • Reply Close Date: 7 May 2014 – 23:59 UTC

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