The New Global Name Grab in Cairo

ICANN's policy for adding new generic TLDs was (sort of) settled in June. Now the staff has come up with a 200-page implementation plan that is being circulated at the Cairo meeting and online. The plan will clearly have to be modified; it is generating massive discontent and controversy. The objections come from four different angles. One is the jaw-dropping size of the fees ICANN is demanding from applicants. The basic threshhold for even playing in this game will be about $1 million. ICANN is starting to look like a cash register. The second is the huge gap between the policy passed by the GNSO, and certain aspects of its implementation by ICANN staff. In essence, nonexpert staff are basically concocting global law based on their own opinions. Robin Gross of the Noncommercial Users Constituency identified some of the problems here.
Third, the so-called “generic” top level domain process is intimately linked to the fate of ICANN's (highly controversial) attempt to hand out multilingual country code TLDs to the incumbent ccTLD monopolies. ICANN has created two completely different processes, using entirely different criteria, for handing out new TLDs, and this will cause lasting problems. Finally, ICANN's management is trying to railroad the plan through quickly, despite the problems noted above. For example, the new gTLD process, which needs badly to be amended, was not even on the Board's agenda.

A few other tidbits about the new gTLD plan that gives you a flavor:
* Recall that the plan censors domain names on grounds of “morality and public order.” Who resolves disputes about freedom of expression rights and morality and public order? Why, the International Chamber of Commerce, of course.
* We have learned that ICANN's staff gets a bonus for completing the process. Interesting in light of the conflicting incentives it creates (get it done versus get it right), and because we have already learned that high-level staff get paid at extraordinary rates, especially the man in charge of the new gTLD process, Kurt Pritz.
* An established policy given to the staff by the GNSO was that the plan would not abrogate existing rights, and specifically noted free expression. And yet, of the 8 factors to consider in a challenge to a TLD proposal, not one of them involve freedom of expression rights.
* In order to participate in the new TLD process you have to sign away your right to any kind of legal recourse. As NCUC member K. Komaitis wrote, “the Terms and Conditions exclude any sort of liability for ICANN, its decision-making processes and the decisions they will ultimately reach. Throughout the Draft words and phrases like 'sole and absolute discretion' are repeated.”

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