21 November, 2010

Draft ALAC Statement on ICANN's Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook

Evan Leibovitch, NARALO Chair, has drafted an ALAC Statement on the latest version of the Applicant Guidebook:

"The At-Large Advisory Committee is extremely disappointed by the latest release of the new Draft Applicant Guidebook. In significant ways its changes reflect a deliberate step backwards, away from transparency and accountability, and towards secrecy and arbitrary action. Even more importantly, the new guidebook fails at any more than cosmetic accommodation of critical, Board-mandated policy work undertaken by ICANN's grassroots community.

After the last DAG was released, the Board requested feedback on two important issues: assistance to gTLD applicants in developing economies, and changing the process of dealing with TLD strings that might be considered obscene or objectionable (the so-called "Morality and Public Order" category of objection). Both these issues were immediately take up by cross-community groups, which in unprecedented manner produced specific and concrete changes to the application process that would be consistent with existing mandates while addressing community concerns about these two important issues. In both cases, public comment has been essentially ignored.

As a perfect example, At-Large's long-time opposition to the Morality and Public Order objection has been significantly based on the Staff-designed "Dispute Resolution Service Provider", a processs we consider to be
unethical, opaque and needlessly expensive to both objector and applicant.  In the past few months we have worked intensively, together with members of the GNSO and GAC, to provide a community-wide consensus alternative process to the DRSP that would eliminate our objections. Yet, with a sweeping comment of "we disagree", ICANN staff has essentially shrugged off the community consensus and the DRSP concept remains essentially untouched in the new DAG.

Another cross-community GNSO/ALAC effort -- to determine ways to reduce barriers to would-be applicants from developing and emerging economies -- would help demonstrate ICANN's global relevance and eagerness to expand Internet access worldwide, while closing the technology gap between rich and poor. This group too achieved significant consensus on many important issues, yet none of its recommendations are to be found in the new DAG.

On the matter of the Independent Objector, critical safeguards of the public interest have either been removed or left out. Rather than a mechanism to prevent applicants and objectors to effect outcomes merely by out-spending their opponents, the IO is being re-architected as a tool to allow staff to introduce anonymous, unaccountable objections and to introduce a completely unnecessary element of opaqueness and secrecy. ALAC is strongly of the opinion that if the IO process cannot be *completely, 100%* open and transparent it must not exist at all.

It is unfortunate that the DAG has regressed rather than progressed since its last iteration. Rather than incorporate important and clear cross-community direction, Staff have dismissed it as inconvenient or too much of a change from inertia of its own creation. According to staff's response to community initiative, "risk management" now appears to be a primary policy goal of ICANN -- and, conveniently, a primary obstacle to change.

It is unfortunate that we feel the need to remind our audience of the "Plan for Organization of ICANN Staff" (May 22, 2003) which states clearly that the role of Staff is to "execute the settled policy" -- not to agree or
disagree with it, or indeed affect it at all. Given that the current DAG ignores or repudiates almost all of the significant cross-community consensus presented since the last revision, the At-Large Community has serious concerns about the sincerity of ICANN assertions of being a truly bottom-up process. In ICANN's being judged by actions rather than words, the DAG discredits the ATRT and other claims of increasing accountability.

In this respect, and inasmuch as the At-Large Community believes that significant gTLD growth is necessary to enhance end-user choice and healthy competition in the Internet namespace, we must unfortunately but
uncategorically state that we consider the current DAG to be *unacceptable* as presented. We request that the Board refer its staff to implement the community process rather than be an obstacle to it."

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