Governmental Advisory Committee
ICANN relies on certain advisory committees to receive guidance and advice related to the interests and needs of stakeholders who are not able to directly participate in the Supporting Organizations. One of these advisory committees is the Governmental Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives of national governments from all over the world.
The GAC is an advisory committee to ICANN, created under the ICANN ByLaws. It provides advice to ICANN on public policy aspects of ICANN’s responsibilities with regard to the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). One of its most important responsibilities is analyzing ICANN's activities and policies as they might influence governments, especially with regards to the interaction between ICANN's policies and national laws or international agreements.
The GAC is not a decision-making body. It advises ICANN on issues that are within ICANN’s scope. GAC advice has a particular status under the ICANN ByLaws. Its advice must be duly taken into account by the ICANN Board, and where the Board proposes actions inconsistent with GAC advice it must give reasons for doing so and attempt to reach a mutually acceptable solution. The GAC appoints a non-voting liaison to the ICANN Board. This is normally the GAC Chair.
The GAC has the duty to incorporate the diverse opinions and perspective of its members when supplying advice to ICANN, and it's imperative that its members stay informed about new Internet trends and pending policy issues.
The GAC has more than 171 members as well as 35 observers, and three of its important organizational features are:
- A structure consisting of elected officers, a Chair and Vice-chairs which currently include:
- Its independent secretariat - the ACIG GAC Secretariat, financially supported by Norway, the Netherlands, and Brazil. The ACIG reports to the GAC Chair. Members include:
- Its organization at least three meetings on a yearly basis which are held in conjunction with ICANN's meetings.
Other such advisory committees which are important for ICANN are:
- ALAC (At-Large Advisory Committee)
- Root Server System Advisory Committee
- SSAC (Security and Stability Advisory Committee)
- TLG (Technical Liaison Group)
GAC Achievements, Comments, and Advice
Over the years, GAC is proud of accomplishing the following:
- Setting up the principles for ccTLD management and delegation;
- Setting up the principles for public policy for delegation, introduction, and gTLD operation;
- Setting up the principles for public policy of gTLD Whois services;
At ICANN 42 in Dakar, Senegal, GAC raised concern that if the number of new gTLD applications published by ICANN exceeded 500, GAC members may have too little time and resources to offer advice on all applications. ICANN had stated previously that it intended to process applications in batches of 500, and in Senegal, GAC urged for clarification on these procedures, citing that different batch processes may have an impact on competition. Furthermore, GAC stressed the importance of promoting gTLD application rounds in all countries, especially developing countries.
On January 11, 2012, the ninth version of the Applicant Guidebook was released one day prior to the opening window of ICANN's new gTLD program. The new version gave greater power to the GAC in forcing the ICANN Board to manually review any application that the committee found problematic. Exactly how many GAC members it would take to cause this review is vague, but it could be as little as one nation's objection. This is a significant change given that the ICANN Board had no requirement to heed any GAC objection in the previous guidebook; the board is still able to overrule any GAC objection.
In January 2013, there was further clarification regarding the applicants' abilities to respond to GAC advice by submitting change requests to their applications. While official GAC Advice had yet to arrive, the GAC Early Warnings had, and ICANN Chairman, Steve Crocker, signaled that changes to applications to implement GAC recommendations "would in all likelihood be permitted", under the not explicitly defined reasons for acceptable changes contained in the applicant guidebook. While firm policy was not immedietley offered, it was a recognition of an issue that arose following ICANN 45 in Toronto, that is, if and how the applicants could change their applications to satisfy the GAC and if those changes would be binding. The latter issue, turning an applicants' proposed procedures into binding contractual agreements, is another concern for the GAC, which Mr. Crocker noted the board would discuss.
On November 21st, 2012, the GAC publicly issued a number of Early Warnings, wherein national government representatives signaled their potential concerns related to 200 new TLD applications that they considered controversial. This is the precursor to GAC advice, which requires consensus within the GAC, but may serve as a reliable indicator that applications with many Early Warnings will fail to see approval from ICANN.
More than 240 individual GAC warnings were issued in this first instance, with 129 coming from the Australian government, 20 from Germany, and 19 from France, despite the fact that the majority of TLD applicants -- over 80% -- come from North America and Europe. The high number of Australian warnings was due to the fact that its representative, who is also the GAC Chair, Heather Dryden, issued a warning to any company that was seeking a generic word, like "cars" for example, but intending to keep registration closed to their own businesses. 100 of the Early Warnings were related to closed generic string TLD applications. Ms. Dryden also warned a number of applications from applicants such as Donuts when the string in question was related to a regulated market but not enough verification and protection mechanisms were detailed in the application. Other Early Warnings were related to market sectors, most importantly in the financial, health, and charity sectors. Specific companies were also recipients of Early Warnings, including:
- Amazon, an applicant for 76 new TLDs, received 27 GAC Early Warnings
- Google, an applicant for 98 new TLDs, received 5 GAC Early Warnings
- DotConnectAfrica, an applicant for .africa, received 17 Early Warnings whereas UniForum SA received none for their .africa application
The body will offer its 'GAC advice' on the applications in April 2013. The warnings are nto definitive, to not represent GAC consensus, and do not mean that any TLD that wasn't warned will not receive GAC Advice.
PICs & GAC Advice
Public Interest Commitments (PICs) as related to new gTLD applicants and the Registry Agreement they are to sign, is a term and creation directly from ICANN, first suggested on February 5th, 2013, in ICANN's revised new registry agreement that it opened for public comments.
PICs are voluntary amendments that applicants can create, sign, and undertake along with the general registry agreement in order to hold their registry operations to certain standards. They seem to originally have been developed as a way to allow applicants to appease GAC members that may be concerned about how their application stands as is, or how ICANN will be able to ensure a potential registry remains compliant with its aspirations and mandate as it defined in its summary of its proposed operations in the TLD application. As is, prior to PICs, there was no clear way of defining operating procedures when moving from the long form essays in the TLD application to the Registry Agreement.
For example, if an applicant expresses a desire to restrict registration to a certain group of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, etc., the applicant can create a PIC to underline this and hold their future registry to that standard. If the applicant did not originally intend to create such restrictions as defined in its TLD application, but it has received communication from the GAC that the supporting organization intends to oppose their application to the ICANN Board without such language, then the PIC can be added as an appeal to those governments.
It is a controversial topic that many applicants think was created quickly, with no outside input, and is presented in such a way that they feel compelled to make a decision without fully understanding the proposal. It seems to apply to a small subset of applicants, as only 145 of 1,409 strings were flagged by GAC Early Warnings, the primary target for PICs. The dispute resolution procedure, the Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Process or PICDRP, has yet to be defined. Applicants were given one month, until March 5th, to submit their PICs. It seemed to conflict with other deadlines, such as the end of objection filling just a week later, so, "potential objectors would have to decide whether to file their objections based on PICs that have been published for just one week and that could be amended post-deadline."
ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé noted around the imminent closing of the PIC submission date that this issue has the potential for pushing back the receipt of GAC advice and therefore the entire TLD implementation schedule, which is tightly fixed and aiming to recommend the first TLDs for delegation by April 23rd. ICANN will not recommend TLDs for implementation without the GAC's final advice, and the GAC seems to be placing a great import on the submission of PICs, to which the applicants remain wary.
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