Proposed Action Plan on .info Country Names
9 October 2001
In resolution 01.93 (adopted 10 September 2001), the ICANN Board directed the ICANN President to propose to the Board, within the next 30 days, an action plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee's concerns about use of geographic and geopolitical terms in domain names. This proposed action plan is submitted in response to that resolution.
For many months, the topic of geographical and geopolitical terms in the domain name system has been a subject of ongoing discussions by the international Internet community, including the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). In June 2000, 19 countries and distinct economies, which participate in the GAC and are WIPO Member States, requested WIPO to develop, through a consultative process, recommendations on the use of geographical indications, geographical terms, or indications of source in domain names. This resulted in WIPO's Second Report, "The Recognition of Rights and the Use of Names in the Internet Domain Name System," of 3 September 2001 (known as the "WIPO-2 Report"), which has prompted ongoing discussion within WIPO and other international fora.
While realizing that the topic of geographical and geopolitical concepts in the domain name system is part of the ongoing WIPO-2 Report discussions, GAC participants became concerned over the more immediate situation of the registration of many country names during the .info "sunrise period." The topic was discussed at the GAC's September 2001 meeting in Montevideo. In response to GAC concerns, representatives of Afilias, the operator of the .info registry, met with the GAC in Montevideo. At these meetings, the GAC discussed its concerns with Afilias, requesting that Afilias permit governments of countries and distinct economies to register their respective names in the .info TLD. Afilias, recognizing the concerns, expressed interest in this request, provided that it was done in a way that was consistent with Afilias' policies and registry agreement with ICANN, it would not affect legitimate registrants who had properly claimed country and/or distinct economy names in the .info TLD, and ICANN coordinated the efforts under Afilias' registry agreement with ICANN.
At the conclusion of its Montevideo meeting, the GAC issued its 9 September 2001 communiqué, stating that an interim "ad hoc measure should be taken by ICANN and the Registries to prevent avoidable conflicts in .info" due to the "very special nature of .info" as it relates to names of countries and distinct economies, as recognized in international fora. Given Afilias' agreement to provide governments with .info domain names for official governmental websites, the GAC recommended reservation of country names contained on the ISO 3166 Part 1 list by the .info Registry, contemplating their future assignment "to the corresponding governments and public authorities, at their request, for use."
On 10 September, the ICANN Board discussed the GAC recommendation, with several Board members expressing concern over the technical feasibility and practicality of responding through the reservation of specific domain names, while also noting that it was appropriate to take steps to temporarily prevent registration of country and distinct economy names in order to allow for the community to discuss and consider whether any policy should be adopted on the issue. To maintain the then-current situation, the Board adopted resolution 01.93, instructing the General Counsel to "take appropriate action to preserve the Board's ability to take action with respect to the registration in .info of names of countries and distinct economies contained in the ISO 3166-1 list."
To move the issue toward a solution, the ICANN Board also resolved that the President propose to the Board an "action plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC." This paper outlines the implementation of the ICANN Board resolution, and sets forth the President's proposed action plan.
On 9 September 2001, the GAC in its Montevideo Communiqué conveyed to ICANN its recommendation on geographical and geopolitical concepts in .info. The recommendation reflected the GAC's recognition of the unique role governments have in providing information about their jurisdictions, and the GAC's concern over the inappropriate pre-registration of many country names in the .info "sunrise period." Given the special nature of .info as it relates to country and distinct economy names the GAC suggested that an interim ad hoc measure should be taken to assign names of countries and distinct economies within .info to the respective governments or public authorities.
At its Montevideo meeting, the GAC discussed with Afilias representatives the possible means that could be followed to achieve this goal. In these discussions, Afilias and the GAC agreed on arrangements to address the GAC concerns, provided this could be done in a manner consistent with Afilias' contractual obligations to ICANN. To pursue these arrangements, in the Montevideo Communiqué, the GAC recommended:
"that the names of countries and distinct economies, particularly those contained in the ISO 3166-1 standard, as applied by ICANN in identifying ccTLDs, should be reserved by the .info Registry, (or if registered in the Sunrise Period challenged by the Registry and, if successful, then reserved) in Latin characters in their official languages(s) and in English and assigned to the corresponding governments and public authorities, at their request, for use. These names in other IDN character sets should be reserved in the same way as soon as they become available."
The GAC Montevideo Communiqué recognized that there were also discussions over other geographic names, including administrative subdivisions, and brought those to the ICANN community's attention, without requesting any special reservation or assignment of those names:
"The GAC also draws the attention of ICANN and the Registries to the fact that a large number of other names, including administrative sub-divisions of countries and distinct economies as recognized in international fora, may give rise to contested registrations. Accordingly the GAC recommends that Registrars and eventual Registrants should be made aware of this."
Separately, GAC members are engaged as WIPO Member States in discussions on the use of geopolitical concepts, particularly as second level identifiers, in the DNS, in response to the WIPO-2 Report. The recommendation regarding geographical and geopolitical concepts in .info was stated to be an interim short-term measure not intended to affect a more comprehensive solution that might be implemented through the WIPO-2 process.
The ICANN Board, recognizing the complexity of the GAC Montevideo Communiqué's recommendation on geographic and geopolitical names in .info, discussed the technical feasibility and practicality of responding to the recommendation by making reservations of specific domain names. While expressing serious concern over the practicality of the proposed solution in the long run, the Board also recognized that "without some action to maintain the status quo ante, the 'ongoing international discussion' referenced in the GAC communication could be preempted by developments in the registration of .info names." To maintain the then-current situation the ICANN Board resolved that
"the General Counsel is directed to take appropriate action to preserve the Board's ability to take action with respect to the registration in .info of names of countries and distinct economies contained in the ISO 3166-1 list, including exercising ICANN's contractual power to instruct the Registry Operator for .info to maintain the registration of such names that have not yet been registered during the Sunrise Period, and any other such names that are returned to the database following a successful challenge by the Registry Operator, for a period to extend through ICANN's March 2002 meeting, unless that period is shortened or extended by further Board action."
The Board noted in its resolution that it would require further analysis by the stakeholders with regards to whether the temporarily reserved names should be "assigned to the corresponding governments and public authorities, at their request, for use." To address this, the Board therefore resolved that:
"the President is directed to propose to the Board, within the next 30 days, an action plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC."
On 21 September 2001, ICANN's General Counsel, Louis Touton, sent Afilias a letter. The letter requested that Afilias register all 3166-1 names that had not been registered during the "sunrise period" in the name of ICANN. The letter continued that should any existing "sunrise" registrations of a name on the list be successfully challenged and cancelled, Afilias should register all such names to ICANN as well for safekeeping, pending consideration by the ICANN community of a longer-range disposition of these names. Attached to the communication was a list of 327 names at issue, to be put on reserve until discussions could proceed regarding whether ICANN should allow the agreed arrangements to proceed or to preclude them. The letter cited subsection 3.6.3 of .info Registry Agreement, which allows the Registry operator to "maintain the registration of up to 5000 domain names within the domain of the Registry TLD for use by ICANN and other organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet's infrastructure."
The list provided to Afilias contained both English-language country and distinct economy names, as listed on the ISO 3166-1 standard, and their equivalents in "official" languages. (The name of the "European Union" was also added in light of the Board resolution 00.74.) A series of rules was employed to translate this list of names to a form consistent with the "host names" format used in domain names.
Afilias carried out the requested temporary registration with respect to the names that had not previously been registered in the "sunrise" period. Approximately 130 names were registered in this way. Additionally, as requested by ICANN, any cancellations of registrations that result from successful challenges to country names registered in the "sunrise" period will also be temporarily registered in ICANN's name.
The Board's resolution 01.93 directed the President to propose an action plan for rapid analysis of the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC. The following plan is proposed pursuant to that resolution:
1. To allow discussion of the issues raised by the GAC request concerning .info names, maintain reservation of the 327 .info names.
The interim reservation of country and distinct economy names in .info enables the ICANN community to evaluate the technical and other issues related to the concerns raised by the GAC, and whether the temporarily reserved names in .info should be made available to governments and distinct economies at their request, as requested by the GAC and agreed to by Afilias. The reservation should be maintained until the March 2002 ICANN meeting in Accra.
2. Convene a discussion group to explore appropriate ways of addressing the short-term issue of the disposition of the 327 .info names.
The GAC communiqué and ICANN Board resolutions in Montevideo show a divergence of opinions regarding the GAC's recommendations concerning country names within .info. To help resolve this divergence, a discussion group should be convened consisting of members of the ICANN Board and the GAC. In addition, representatives of Afilias and WIPO should be invited to join the group. The discussion group should invite input to the specific issue of assignment of these 327 names from the DNSO and other interested parties within the Internet community.
The discussion group should address at least the following issues as part of its analysis. It should be emphasized that there is now a precise proposed list available that has been derived from ISO-3166 and that this list has been endorsed by GAC, that is, the technical problems of which country lists to select has been superseded by the pragmatic acceptance of a precise list of names.
a) Should ICANN prohibit the agreed arrangements for the assignment of up to the 327 of the temporarily "frozen" .info names to governments for use to support official informational websites? Are there considerations that require prohibiting the agreed arrangements?
b) Would assignment of these .info country names impede future discussions regarding the general policy for country or distinct economy names in other TLDs?
c) Would allowing the agreed arrangement for the .info country names create a precedent that could lead to similar requirements for other TLDs? Is the GAC willing to commit that reservations of country distinct economy names will not be sought in other TLDs at least until the outcome of the WIPO-2 discussions?
The discussion group's conclusions should be provided to the ICANN Board before the Accra meeting in March 2002.
3. Encourage the Domain Name Supporting Organization to evaluate possible approaches for longer-term arrangements concerning use of geographic names within the DNS, including having the matter addressed in other fora such as the WIPO-2 process.
In addition to addressing the short-term issue of .info names as described above, attention should be given to the longer-term issue of how country names should be treated in other TLDs. This longer-term issue was raised in the November 2000 GAC communiqué and is also the subject of discussion within the WIPO-2 process and other intergovernmental fora.
The Domain Name Supporting Organization should be encouraged to consider this long-term issue. It should include in its consideration whether the issue is better addressed outside the ICANN process, such as the WIPO-2 process and other intergovernmental fora.