ICANN CEO: Registrants Rule! by Philip Corwin, ICA

Internet Commerce Association logoICANN held a briefing in Brussels on Tuesday, June 25th and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade was the leadoff speaker. We’ve reviewed some detailed reports from those in attendance, and the most startling and refreshing statement made by CEO Chehade was that new gTLD applicants will be managed as ICANN’s licensees – that he regards the registrant/user as ICANN’s “customer” and that is the party that ICANN primarily serves. One source quoted him as saying, “”New gTLD Registries are our licensees: our clients are registrants”, while another had it as “Registrants are ICANN’s customers; not registrars, not registries”. Whatever the exact words, the sentiment is clear.

If that mentality permeates through ICANN – that registrants are to be regarded as primary customers, and not the bottom of the food chain — it will indeed be an overdue and very welcome sea change. Every comment letter submitted by ICA to ICANN always starts with an introductory statement that includes these words:

Its [ICA’s] membership is composed of domain name registrants who invest in domain names (DNs) and develop the associated websites, as well as the companies that serve them. Professional domain name registrants are a major source of the fees that support registrars, registries, and ICANN itself. (Emphasis added)

ICA is not the only representative of domain registrants operating within ICANN, but we certainly speak for a significant and important segment.

While CEO Chehade’s words are very welcome, we’ll be waiting and watching to see if they are backed up by real world actions that verify this commitment. And there are near-term actions that can validate that ICANN is truly serving registrants first.

For example, if registrants are truly ICANN’s primary customer, then the existing  statement of Registrants’ Rights and Responsibilities (RRR) should be beefed up to reflect that, as ICA recently urged (internetcommerce.org/Stronger_Registrant_Rights). Likewise, now that the “Trademark + Fifty” component of the “Strawman Solution” has been adopted (an unwise decision that short-circuited proper procedures, in our opinion) the trademark warning provided to prospective registrants must be significantly expanded to include data reflecting the fact that such warnings will be triggered not just by exact matches to high quality trademarks but by multiple variations that were the subject of a negative UDRP or court decision. In order to determine whether proceeding with a new gTLD domain registration may subsequently trigger a potential finding of bad faith registration in a UDRP or URS action, registrants need to be told of such factors as what TLD the violating variation was registered at, how it was being used, whether the UDRP decision was rendered by a single or three member panel, and whether the UDRP finding was subsequently reversed in a court decision..

In his other remarks, CEO Chehade indicated:

  • The new Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) should be finalized within a few days, and the Registry Agreement (RA) for new gTLDs should also be final prior to the start of the upcoming Durban meeting.
  • The first new gTLDs should launch this autumn.
  • The Communique issued by the GAC at the Beijing meeting was “one of the best things that ever happened to the gTLD program” because substantive participation by and advice from governments is a positive sign. The New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) has been meeting weekly to deal with the advice, and will hold two more meetings prior to Durban in order to assure that assimilation of the GAC advice does not delay the new gTLD program.
  • The new Generic Domains Division established within ICANN will focus on operations, implementation, and execution of the new gTLD program.
  • ICANN will “enforce vigorously” against any breach of the commitments made by new gTLD applicants in their Public Interest Commitment Statements (PICS), in line with the view that registry operators are ICANN licensees.

Finally, we were intrigued  by a report that CEO Chehade had emphasized that ICANN was committed to seeing new gTLDs launch by autumn because the program was “cutting oxygen from ICANN and making ICANN sick”. Asked for further explanation, its source responded that the meaning was that ICANN had been all-consumed by the new gTLD program and needed to move on to other important work, such as security and Internet governance. Another source quoted the remarks as, “But we will get this program birthed because if we don’t, then the baby will start getting really sick. This program has been consuming energy and taking resources away from ICANN and preventing us from doing other things that we are also tasked with doing.”

There’s no disputing that the rules for and  launch of the new gTLD program have dominated ICANN discourse since the Paris Board vote in 2008 to authorize the program. We suspect that the launch of the program will bring multiple new challenges that will continue to consume significant ICANN resources – one rationale for creating the new Generic Domains Division may well be to contain that ongoing work within a single part of ICANN, while freeing up staff and other resources for sidetracked projects.

And to the list of items that CEO Chehade wants to move on to, we’d add one more on behalf of the registrants we represent – serious and comprehensive UDRP reform that addresses the many concerns that registrants have about the operation of the current system, and that produces a reliable, impartial, and consistent UDRP system for the approaching world of 1,000-plus gTLDs and additional UDRP arbitration providers.

This article by Philip Corwin from the Internet Commerce Association was sourced with permission from: