Cross community discussion: Geographic names at the top level

10 Jul 2017 02:00h

Event report

Two cross community discussion sessions (27 June and 29 June 2017) were organised at ICANN59. The objective of the sessions was to discuss the subject of geographic names at the top-level of the Domain Name System (DNS), an area where there are divergent views amongst the community members.

During the 2012 round of the New gTLD Program, country or territory names as defined in the Applicant Guidebook (AGB), were not permitted. Certain other geographic names, as defined in the guidebook were permitted when accompanied by supporting documentation. There are currently several efforts underway that are separately looking at how geographic names should be handled in the future, focusing on different aspects of the topic. The New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (PDP) Working Group (WG) is seeking to facilitate a community-wide dialogue that allows for the community to collaborate, understand the various needs, and to consider and debate proposals to address geographic names at the top-level in future gTLD procedures. The goal of the session was to work collaboratively with the community to develop a consensus-driven compromise solution.

The first session was moderated by Mr David Fairman (Managing Director, Consensus Building Institute), who initiated the discussion by providing an introduction to geographic names at the top-level. Ms Avri Doria (New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP WG co-chair) shared the brief history of the gTLD process, the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Group, the parallel efforts undertaken to seek and consolidate views of community members, along with the key criteria to be considered. Fairman then provided a summary of issues and stakeholder perspectives, such as concerns for governments to protect national identity, avoid confusion, maintain consent/non objection, avoiding confusion with ccTLDs, geographic TLDs, the availability of geographic names, positive relationships with governments, clear, fair, predictable, and timely decision making, etc.

Mr Jeff Neuman (Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council Chair, PDP WG co-chair) shared the need to arrive at a compromise on the divergent views and the changes in the strawperson proposal. He spoke about the Repository of Geographical names (RGN) and the various scenarios possible.

Mr Thomas Schneider (Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Chair) shared the GAC’s concerns over the new gTLDs and said that geographic names should be avoided unless in agreement with the relevant governments.

Responding to a question on the primary strengths of the stawperson proposal, Neumann responded that GeoPic offers flexibility and certainty, and draws engagement and serves as a good basis for discussion.

There were concerns raised by governments on predictable rules, the need for more clarity around the dispute mechanism, the increased burden on governments, ambiguity and legal uncertainty, the issue of translating national law to international jurisdiction, etc.

Questions were raised on what could be done to make the process more responsive to the full range of interests and concerns, how the PDP process on issues such as having succinct and clear problem statements, distinguishing between geo-categories (country codes, country names, territory names) etc., could maximise the chances for community consensus.

The discussion in the second session was focused on the AGB challenges on geographic names,  the development of guidance on geo names, AGB implementation, the unmet interests regarding the AGB’s rules, and comments from participants regarding the AGB challenges. This was followed by the Cross-Community Leadership elaborating on the process, followed by a discussion on the key geographic name issues to address in the PDP, such as what makes a string a ‘geographic name’? When can a geographic name be applied for or delegated to a particular applicant? If there are simultaneous applications for a geographic name, how should this be resolved? How could ‘geographic use’ be distinguished from ‘generic use’?  How can commitments to restrict a TLD to non-geographic use be monitored and enforced?

There were concerns raised that the GAC and Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) members should have been encouraged to be involved in the process on an equal footing. A respondent also commented that the use of geographic terms should not be restricted to the top-level for an applicant holding the matching trademark, and where there is no conflict with national or international law.

As the next step, Neumann encouraged the community to submit their comments on the open list, underlining the fact that the WG encourages dialogue between all the stakeholder communities, in order to develop a set of recommendations by ICANN61.