PALM BEACH, FL – On October 9, 2019, ICANN, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a nonprofit corporation that sets policy for the global Domain Name System (DNS), updated its “policy guidelines” for how it collects and takes into considering feedback from the ICANN community or the general public. The update was posted on the organizations website by David Olive, Senior Vice President of Policy Development Support.
The ICANN site states the following regarding Public Comment Opportunities:
Public Comment is a mechanism that gives the ICANN community and other stakeholders an opportunity to provide input and feedback. Public Comment is a key part of the policy development process (PDP), allowing for refinement of recommendations before further consideration and potential adoption. Public Comment is also used to guide implementation work, reviews, and operational activities of the ICANN organization.https://www.icann.org/public-comments
Some in the industry have questioned the timing and purpose for a such a change, since there has been no discussion “on changing the ICANN bylaws or how Comment Periods work” according to the publisher of a highly visited domain news site by author Konstantinos Zournas, who operates OnlineDomain.com,
There was not obvious reason for David to write this post now as no discussion has been made on changing the ICANN bylaws or how Comment Periods work.
The organizations policies and practices related to the commenting period came under industry criticism in and around June 2019, by several domain space insiders when the organization voted to ignore thousands of comments regarding price increases for the “.org” domain name extension where nearly 3,200 comments were submitted to reconsider the proposal.
The Internet Commerce Association, a non-profit trade organization for the domain name space responded with the following statement saying that ICANN stakeholders were met with “total disregard” considering the near “unprecedented public outcry” from stakeholders.
The Internet Commerce Association (ICA) is profoundly disturbed by ICANN’s decision to remove price caps on .org domain names despite the groundswell of opposition from stakeholders. On June 30, 2019, ICANN advised that it had executed a renewal agreement with Public Interest Registry and the renewal agreement. This was despite a nearly unprecedented public outcry from stakeholders and from .org registrants in particular, where over 3200 public comments were submitted to ICANN. The outcry came from registrants, nonprofits, community leaders, academics, charities, religious groups, community organizations, and many others. Apparently the ICANN Board allowed ICANN Staff to proceed to execute the renewal agreement without any concern over registrant interests, despite the ICA bringing this issue directly to its attention. The decision to ignore ICANN stakeholders in apparent total disregard for its self-professed “bottom-up multi-stakeholder model” is of great concern and calls into question ICANN’s ability to govern the domain name system in the public interest.https://www.internetcommerce.org/icann-ignores-stakeholders-and-removes-price-caps-on-org-domain-names/
ICA later in July wrote a letter to ICANN formally requesting an explanation of .org decision. ICANN responded by saying in a return letter that the organization gave “appropriate consideration and oversight” to the public comment process, however, “made the decision to continue with renewal agreements as proposed, using the Base gTLD Registry Agreement.”
On July 12, 2019, in a letter submitted to ICANN by NameCheap.com, a well-known domain registrar, similar disagreement rang true where a formal reconsideration request was filed with the ICANN Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee (BAMC); the body of ICANN that is responsible for receiving “requests for reconsideration” from any person or entity that has, or anticipates to be, adversely affected by policy changes.
Namecheap is submitting this reconsideration request to protect the rights and interests of Namecheap’s customers and the entire Internet community. Price caps for legacy TLDs have been an integral longstanding foundation for the domain name marketplace, and removing them will result in uncertainty and confusion at a minimum, and in the worst case, increased costs for domain name registrants worldwide. ICANN requested public comment regarding the changes to the .org registry agreement, and the response was overwhelmingly against removing price caps. Comments came from small non-profits, international organizations, government agencies, members of government, individuals, families, businesses, entrepreneurs, and people from lesser developed regions and those underrepresented in the ICANN community. ICANN rejected over 3,500 comments against removing price caps by stating registrants could use other TLDs, renew for 10 years if a price increases were excessive, and claiming (without evidence) that market competition would keep the prices for the third largest TLD from rising compared to other TLDs (ignoring the significant differences between .org and new gTLDs raised by commenters). The decision to ignore public comments to keep price caps in legacy TLDs is contrary to ICANN’s Commitments and Core Values, and ICANN should reverse this decision for the public good.https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/reconsideration-19-2-namecheap-request-redacted-12jul19-en.pdf
ICANN responded to the reconsideration request, in short, by suggesting that “many of the [3200+] comments are, in actuality, more akin to spam” and suggested that pre-formatted comments, those which are pre-written and then reused by persons who support [or oppose] a position but prefer not to write out their own position were “identical, with only the email address of the comment submitter changing.”
ICANN should take note that similar processes are used to support or suggest opposition in numerous voting processes, as well as in “formed letters” in support [or opposition] to varying legislation; such letters are generally acceptable in practice. Although a single, well-supported comment may carry more weight than a thousand form letters, form letters should still indicate interest in the issue as many organizations often encourage their members to submit pre-formatted letters designed to address issues common to their membership.
The update on October 9, 2019 regarding proposed changes to ICANN’s public comment guidelines has again re-ignited a new firestorm of criticism of ICANN with at least one domain news and commentary site calling out the organizations change to the commending period as an “attempt to do away with or “kill” the public commenting period all together.
Such concerns, at least seem, to be potentially misplaced or inaccurate based on DomainIncite.com, another widely visited domain name news publication which is based in the United Kingdom. Today, Kevin Murphy published an article that he requested and received clarification, on specifically, if public comments are going away and if this was the “correct inference” to the update at the ICANN site in which Cyrus Namazi, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, replied:
No, that is not correct. All Registry contract amendments will continue to be posted for public comment same as before.http://domainincite.com/24837-after-org-price-outrage-icann-says-it-has-not-scrapped-public-comments
Murphy further wrote and described the exact verbiage used in the policy update regarding what is considered to actually require comment periods such as changes to “base” agreements, something he said is the single part of the update which raised what was likely the majority of eyebrows of some who read the post:
With this apparently specific reference to “base” agreements coming so soon thereafter, it’s easy to see how we could have assumed ICANN had decided to cut off public comment on these contentious issues altogether, but that appears to not be the case. What this seems to mean is that when .com next comes up for renewal, it will be open for comment.http://domainincite.com/24837-after-org-price-outrage-icann-says-it-has-not-scrapped-public-comments
Time will certainly tell how exactly public commenting periods will change, if any, or improve as policy is made, but what’s certain is that there are many eyes – or ‘eye-brows’ ready to take note on ICANN processes when it comes to policy updates and changes that effect the hundreds of thousands of players in the domain name space, and even the slightest wording surrounding those updates and changes are under close scrutiny.
About The Author: John Colascione is Chief Executive Officer of Internet Marketing Services Inc. He specializes in Website Monetization, is a Google AdWords Certified Professional, authored a ‘how to’ book called ”Mastering Your Website‘, and is a key player in several Internet related businesses through his search engine strategy brand Searchen Networks®