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Will dotgay’s second ICANN panel give it the domain it seeks?

‘Ordering a complete review gives dotgay unfair advantage,’ competitor objects

Four competing companies are jostling for the .gay top-level domain. Credit: Xtra files

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has agreed to reconsider a gay company’s community application for the proposed .gay top-level domain

ICANN agreed to dotgay’s reconsideration request after learning that the panel that conducted the evaluation “inadvertently” failed to verify 54 letters of support. “Given that established policies and procedures require relevant letters to be verified, reconsideration is warranted,” reads the ruling from ICANN’s board of governance committee (BGC).

In October 2014, ICANN’s community-priority-evaluation panel (CPE) determined that dotgay’s application did not meet the minimum requirements for community-priority status, which would have given the company priority over the three other competing bids. Dotgay subsequently appealed the decision on the grounds that the panel imposed additional criteria or procedural requirements and failed to ask clarifying questions, identify objectors to the application or verify the 54 letters of support. The company also claimed that ICANN failed to forward its evidence of “spurious activity” to the panel.

Though ICANN agreed that reconsideration was warranted because its committee inadvertently neglected to verify the letters of the support, it dismissed dotgay’s other claims and ruled that the panel’s conduct was consistent with ICANN bylaws.

The new ruling, however, provides for the creation of a fresh evaluation with new panel members who will reconsider dotgay’s entire application — not just the portion relevant to the letters. The new review could potentially award dotgay a passing score.

The application is composed of four sections, each worth four points. Dotgay was awarded two points in the criterion concerning the letters of support. Top Level Design, which is competing for ownership of the .gay domain, has urged ICANN to consider only the portion of dotgay’s application relevant to the letters.

In a letter to ICANN, Top Level Design argues that dotgay has already been given “sufficient opportunity” to assert its community status and that a review based on a “harmless error” should not change the outcome of the review.

“The BGC should not order a complete review of the CPE application simply because the EIU inadvertently failed to verify the letters, especially when the verification of the letters would not have materially changed dotgay’s total CPE score,” the letter reads. “Ordering a complete review gives dotgay the unfair advantage of having three ‘bites at the apple,’ beginning with the filing of an objection and now undergoing two separate CPE panel reviews.”

Jamie Baxter, dotgay’s vice-president of marketing, tells Xtra that Top Level’s opposition to a new hearing shows that other .gay applicants don’t think the community should get its “fair chance” at priority status.

“It only makes sense that the other .gay applicants would object to the BGC decision because they depend on dotgay LLC losing CPE in order to keep their applications alive,” Baxter alleges. “Their claim of ‘alleged’ unfairness must always be balanced with the clearly proven unfairness that dotgay LLC was subjected to when the CPE panel did not follow the rules properly.”

The CPE panel is conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a business intelligence firm within the Economist Group, which also owns The Economist magazine. The new panel will be made up of two new individual evaluators from within the EIU.

“All process errors by the CPE panel are relevant, and it is impossible to claim that the error acknowledged by the BGC has in no way affected the overall outcome of the CPE,” Baxter says. “Providing a new CPE is the correct approach forward.”

An ICANN spokesperson tells Xtra that the reevaluation is now underway and  is expected to take three or four months. If the request is unsuccessful, then the domain will be allocated to the highest bidding applicant in an auction sale.

Meanwhile, ICANN awarded .LGBT, the first LGBT-specific top-level domain, to Afilias, a Dublin-based domain registration company on Feb 10. The company’s application was uncontested.

According to its website, Afilias is the service provider for 27 other generic TLDs, including .org and .hiv, as well as nine country-code TLDs.

The first .LGBT domain went to Out Now, an international LGBT diversity specialist that consults with businesses and organizations in more than 20 countries to help them better understand the needs and concerns of the LGBT community. “For our organization, it’s an immense step up in clarity,” says Ian Johnson, Out Now’s founder and CEO. “Out Now is the name we’re known by, and Out Now.LGBT adds an extra level of clarity as to what our organization is all about.”

Johnson notes that LGBT has emerged as a widely recognized acronym to describe the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities; he says he believes that the new domain will help his organization connect with communities. “It’s a valuable piece of online real estate to help underscore the very essence of our organization.”