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Minutes | Special Meeting of the ICANN Board

A Special Meeting of the ICANN Board of Directors was held in Paris, France and via telephone on 16 July 2015 at 14:00 local time.

Steve Crocker, Chair, promptly called the meeting to order.

In addition to the Chair, the following Directors participated in all or part of the meeting: Rinalia Abdul Rahim, Cherine Chalaby, Chris Disspain, Asha Hemrajani, Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Markus Kummer, Bruno Lanvin, Erika Mann, Gonzalo Navarro, Ray Plzak, George Sadowsky, Mike Silber, and Bruce Tonkin (Vice Chair).

The following Board Liaisons participated in all or part of the meeting: Ram Mohan (SSAC Liaison), Thomas Schneider (GAC Liaison), Jonne Soininen (IETF Liaison), and Suzanne Woolf (RSSAC Liaison).

Fadi Chehadé (President and CEO) and Kuo-Wei Wu sent apologies.

Secretary: John Jeffrey (General Counsel and Secretary).

The following ICANN Executives and Staff participated in all or part of the meeting: Akram Atallah (President - Global Domains Division); Michelle Bright (Board Support Content Manager); Sally Costerton (Sr. Advisor to the President – Global Stakeholder Engagement; Samantha Eisner (Associate General Counsel); Teresa Elias (Manager, Board Support Operations/Admin.); Allen Grogan (Chief Contract Compliance Officer); Cyrus Namazi (Vice President, DNS Industry Engagement); Olof Nordling (Senior Director, GAC Relations); Erika Randall (Senior Counsel); Amy Stathos (Deputy General Counsel); and Theresa Swinehart (Sr. Advisor to the President on Strategy).

  1. Main Agenda:
    1. DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA) v. ICANN IRP Final Declaration

 

  1. Main Agenda:

    1. DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA) v. ICANN IRP Final Declaration

      The Chair introduced the agenda item. The Chair asked whether any Directors had any conflicts of interest to disclose before voting on the matter, and Mike Silber noted that he did not have a conflict of interest but because of statements made by DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA), he would be abstaining on this agenda item in an abundance of caution, and that he would provide a voting statement.

      The Board engaged in a discussion concerning the final Declaration ("Declaration") in the independent review proceedings (IRP) initiated by DCA, in which DCA sought relief relating to Board action or inaction on its new gTLD application for .AFRICA. The IRP Panel issued its Declaration on 9 July 2015, and as required by the Bylaws the Board is required to consider the Declaration at its next meeting, where feasible.

      The Board discussed the Declaration, and considered what actions to take in response to the Declaration. As part of its discussion, the Board considered engaging with the GAC to ask if the GAC wished to provide the Board with any additional information regarding the consensus advice in the Beijing Communiqué regarding .AFRICA, or otherwise address the concerns raised in the Declaration.

      Rinalia Abdul Rahim and Asha Hemrajani inquired about sensitivities, aside from the Applicant Guidebook, that would potentially limit the Board from directly asking the GAC for its rationale regarding its advice on .AFRICA. Thomas Schneider noted that the rationale for the GAC's consensus advice can be found in the GAC's work in the two years leading up to the issuance of the advice in Beijing, including the scorecard discussion on geographic names and the GAC Early Warnings. Thomas also noted that the GAC has been undertaking efforts to provide rationale for its advice going forward.  

      Some members of the Board inquired about the next steps in the process for the DCA application if the Board took the proposed course of action. The Board also noted that its action was one immediate step in the process to address the Declaration, and that additional discussion would be required at future meetings about other points highlighted in the Declaration noting some areas of concern about the accountability mechanisms.

      The Board also discussed the need for swift communication to the community and concerned parties regarding the matter, and staff reported on the communication plan to provide the community with information as quickly as possible. 

      The Chair also noted that the Board was conscious that portions of the Declaration of the IRP Panel were redacted, which was in accordance with multiple confidentiality requirements and the procedure for handling the IRP's Declaration, which is neither fully public, nor fully confidential. The Chair noted that the Board would look into the redaction process to continue to endeavor to release as much information as possible.

      The Chair moved and Chris Disspain seconded and the Board took the following action:

      Whereas, on 9 July 2015, an independent review panel ("Panel") issued a final Declaration ("Declaration") in the independent review proceedings (IRP) initiated by DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA), in which DCA sought relief relating to Board action or inaction on its application for .AFRICA.

      Whereas, in the Declaration, the Panel set forth the following:

      148. Based on the foregoing, after having carefully reviewed the Parties' written submissions, listened to the testimony of the three witness [sic], listened to the oral submissions of the Parties in various telephone conference calls and at the in-person hearing of this IRP in Washington D.C. on 22 and 23 May 2015, and finally after much deliberation, pursuant to Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 11 (c) of ICANN's Bylaws, the Panel declares that both the actions and inactions of the Board with respect to the application of DCA Trust relating to the .AFRICA gTLD were inconsistent with the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws of ICANN.

      149. Furthermore, pursuant to Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 11 (d) of ICANN's Bylaws, the Panel recommends that ICANN continue to refrain from delegating the .AFRICA gTLD and permit DCA Trust's application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process.

      150. The Panel declares DCA trust to be the prevailing party in this IRP and further declares that ICANN is to bear, pursuant to Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 18 of the Bylaws, Article 11 of the Supplementary Procedures and Article 31 of the ICDR Rules, the totality of the costs of this IRP and the totality of the costs of the IRP Provider as follows:

      a) the fees and expenses of the panelists;

      b) the fees and expenses of the administrator, the ICDR;

      c) the fees and expenses of the emergency panelist incurred in connection with the application for interim emergency relief sought pursuant to the Supplementary Procedures and the ICDR Rules; and

      d) the fees and expenses of the reporter associated with the hearing on 22 and 23 May 2015 in Washington D.C.

      e) As a result of the above, the administrative fees of the ICDR totalling US$4,600 and Panelists' compensation and expenses totalling US$403,467.08 shall be born entirely by ICANN, therefore, ICANN shall reimburse DCA Trust the sum of US$198,046.04.

      151. As per the last sentence of Article IV, Section 3, paragraph 18 of the Bylaws, DCA Trust and ICANN shall each bear their own expenses. The parties shall also each bear their own legal representation fees.

      Whereas, the independent review process is an integral ICANN accountability mechanism that helps support ICANN's multistakeholder model, and the Board thanks the Panel for its efforts in this IRP, and would like to specifically honor the memory of former panelist Hon. Richard C. Neal, who passed away during the proceedings.

      Whereas, in addition to the Declaration, the Board must also take into account other relevant information, including but not limited to: (i) that ICANN received and accepted GAC consensus advice that DCA's application for .AFRICA should not proceed; and (ii) that ICANN has a signed Registry Agreement with ZA Central Registry ("ZACR") to operate the .AFRICA top-level domain.

      Whereas, pursuant to Article IV, Section 3.21 of the Board considered the Declaration at the Board's next meeting, which the Board specifically scheduled in order to take action on this matter as quickly as possible.

      Resolved (2015.07.16.01), the Board has considered the entire Declaration, and has determined to take the following actions based on that consideration:

      1. ICANN shall continue to refrain from delegating the .AFRICA gTLD;
      2. ICANN shall permit DCA's application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process as set out below; and
      3. ICANN shall reimburse DCA for the costs of the IRP as set forth in paragraph 150 of the Declaration.

      Resolved (2015.07.16.02), since the Board is not making a final determination at this time as to whether DCA's application for .AFRICA should proceed to contracting or delegation, the Board does not consider that resuming evaluation of DCA's application is action that is inconsistent with GAC advice.

      Resolved (2015.07.16.03), the Board directs the President and CEO, or his designee(s), to take all steps necessary to resume the evaluation of DCA's application for .AFRICA and to ensure that such evaluation proceeds in accordance with the established process(es) as quickly as possible (see Applicant Guidebook at http://newgtlds.icann.org/en/applicants/agb for established processes).

      Resolved (2015.07.16.04), with respect to the GAC's consensus advice in the Beijing Communiqué that DCA's application for .AFRICA should not proceed, which was confirmed in the London Communiqué, the Board will ask the GAC if it wishes to refine that advice and/or provide the Board with further information regarding that advice and/or otherwise address the concerns raised in the Declaration.

      Resolved (2015.07.16.05), in the event that DCA's application for .AFRICA successfully passes the remainder of the evaluation process, at that time or before, the Board will consider any further advice or information received from the GAC, and proceed as necessary, balancing all of the relevant material information and circumstances. Should the Board undertake any action that may be inconsistent with the GAC's advice, the Board will follow the established process set out in the Bylaws (see ICANN Bylaws, Article XI, Section 2.1).

      All members of the Board present voted in favor of Resolutions 2015.07.16.01 – 2015.07.16.05. Mike Silber member abstained from the vote. Fadi Chehadé and Kuo-Wei Wu were unavailable to vote on the Resolutions. The Resolutions carried.

      Rationale for Resolutions 2015.07.16.01 – 2015.07.16.05

      On 24 October 2013, DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA) initiated an independent review proceeding (IRP) against ICANN, and filed a notice of independent review with the International Centre for Dispute Resolution (ICDR), ICANN's chosen IRP provider. In the IRP proceedings, DCA challenged the 4 June 2013 decision of the ICANN Board New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC), which was delegated authority from the Board to make decisions regarding the New gTLD Program. In that decision, the NGPC accepted advice from ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) that DCA's application for .AFRICA should not proceed. 

      On 9 July 2015, the IRP Panel (Panel) issued its Final Declaration (Declaration or Decl.). The Panel cited two main concerns relating to the GAC's advice on DCA's application: (1) the Panel was concerned that the GAC did not include, and that ICANN did not request, a rationale on the GAC's advice; and (2) the Panel expressed concern that ICANN took action on the GAC's advice without conducting diligence on the level of transparency and the manner in which the advice was developed by the GAC. The Panel found that ICANN's conduct was inconsistent with the ICANN Articles and Bylaws because of certain actions and inactions of the ICANN Board.

      As provided in Article IV, Section 3 of the Bylaws, any person materially affected by a decision or action by the Board that he or she asserts is inconsistent with the Articles of Incorporation or Bylaws may submit a request for independent review of that decision or action. The Panel is charged with comparing the contested Board actions to the Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws, and declaring whether the Board acted consistently with the provisions of those Articles of Incorporation and Bylaws. The Panel must apply a defined standard of review to the IRP request focusing on:

      1. did the Board act without conflict of interest in taking its decision?;
      2. did the Board exercise due diligence and care in having a reasonable amount of facts in front of them?; and
      3. did the Board members exercise independent judgment in taking the decision, believed to be in the best interests of the company?

      After the Panel issues its final Declaration, the Board is then required to consider the Declaration at its next meeting (where feasible). Pursuant to Article IV, Section 3.21 of the ICANN Bylaws, the Board has considered and discussed the Declaration and is taking action to: (1) continue to refrain from delegating the .AFRICA gTLD; (2) permit DCA's application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process; and (3) reimburse DCA for the costs of the IRP as set forth in paragraph 150 of the Declaration. 

      Additionally, the Board will communicate with the GAC and attempt to ascertain whether the GAC wishes to refine its advice concerning DCA's application for .AFRICA and/or provide the Board with further information regarding that advice and/or otherwise address the concerns raised in the Declaration. The Board will consider any response the GAC may choose to provide, and proceed as necessary, balancing all of the relevant material information and circumstances. Should the Board undertake any action that may be inconsistent with the GAC's advice, the Board will follow the established processes set out in the Bylaws. As required by the Bylaws, if the Board decides to take an action that is not consistent with the GAC advice, it must inform the GAC and state the reasons why it decided not to follow the advice. The Board and the GAC will then try in good faith to find a mutually acceptable solution. If no solution can be found, the Board will state in its final decision why the GAC advice was not followed.

      The Board's action represents a careful balance, weighing the opinion of the Panel, as well as other significant factors discussed in this rationale. In taking this action today, each of the Board members exercised independent judgment, was not conflicted on this matter, and believes that this decision is in the best interests of the ICANN. The Board considered several significant factors as part of its consideration of the Declaration and had to balance its consideration with other factors. Among the factors the Board considered to be significant are the following:

      1. The IRP is an integral ICANN accountability mechanism that helps support ICANN's multistakeholder model. The Board considers the principles found in ICANN's accountability mechanisms to be fundamental safeguards in ensuring that ICANN's bottom-up, multistakeholder model remains effective, and ICANN achieves its accountability and transparency mandate. The Board has carefully considered the Declaration, and in taking its action the Board, as did the Panel, takes specific note of the following regarding the independent review process and its obligations for accountability and transparency:

        • ICANN is bound by its own Articles of Incorporation to act fairly, neutrally, non-discriminatorily and to enable competition. (Decl. 94.)

        • ICANN is also bound by its own Bylaws to act and make decisions "neutrally and objectively, with integrity and fairness." (Decl. 95.)

        • As set out in Article IV (Accountability and Review) of ICANN's Bylaws, in carrying out its mission as set out in its Bylaws, ICANN should be accountable to the community for operating in a manner that is consistent with these Bylaws and with due regard for the core values set forth in Article I of the Bylaws. (Decl. 97.)

      2. ICANN has a signed Registry Agreement with ZA Central Registry NPC trading as Registry.Africa (ZACR) under which ZACR is authorized to operate the .AFRICA top-level domain. Parties affected by these resolutions have had, and may continue to have, the ability to challenge or otherwise question DCA's application through the evaluation and other processes.

      3. The Board considered the community-developed processes in the New gTLD Program Applicant Guidebook (Guidebook). According to Section 3.1 of the Guidebook, the GAC may provide public policy advice to the ICANN Board on any application, which the Board must consider. When the GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed, it "will create a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that the application should not be approved." In its 11 April 2013 Beijing Communiqué, the GAC stated it had reached consensus on GAC Objection Advice for .AFRICA application number 1-1165-42560, thereby creating a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that this application should not proceed through the program. Additionally, in its 25 June 2014 London Communiqué, the GAC stated that "Consistent with the new gTLD applicant guidebook, the GAC provided consensus advice articulated in the April 11 2013 communiqué that the DotConnectAfrica (DCA) application number 1-1165-42560 for dot Africa should not proceed. The GAC welcomes the June 2013 decision by the New gTLD Program Committee to accept GAC advice on this application."

        The Guidebook does not require the Board to engage the GAC in a dialogue about its advice when consensus has been reached, or question the GAC how such consensus was reached. The acceptance of the GAC advice on this matter was fully consistent with the Guidebook. Notably, however, the Board has requested additional information from the GAC when the Board thought it needed more information before taking a decision, both before and during the New gTLD Program. Here, the NGPC did not think it required additional information from the GAC. Further, in addition to the GAC advice, the Board also had DCA's response to that advice, which the NGPC considered before accepting the GAC advice. Notwithstanding the Guidebook, the Panel has suggested that, ". . . the GAC made its decision without providing any rationale . . ." (Decl. ¶ 104), and ". . . the Panel would have expected the ICANN Board to, at a minimum, investigate the matter further before rejecting DCA Trust's application." (Decl. ¶ 113).

      4. The Board considered Section 5.1 of the Guidebook, which provides that, "ICANN's Board of Directors has ultimate responsibility for the New gTLD Program. The Board reserves the right to individually consider an application for a new gTLD to determine whether approval would be in the best interest of the Internet community. Under exceptional circumstances, the Board may individually consider a gTLD application. For example, the Board might individually consider an application as a result of GAC Advice on New gTLDs or of the use of an ICANN accountability mechanism."

      On balance, the Board has determined that permitting DCA's application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application evaluation process is the best course of action at this time. Doing so helps promote ICANN's ability to make a decision concerning DCA's application for .AFRICA by applying documented procedures in the most transparent, neutral and objective manner possible, while also recognizing the importance of ICANN's accountability mechanisms. Completion of the application evaluation would allow DCA's application to undergo the same review processes as other gTLD applicants, and is not inconsistent with the GAC's advice. Further, completing the evaluation will provide additional relevant information for ICANN to consider as part of any final determination as to whether DCA's application for .AFRICA should proceed beyond initial evaluation. 

      There will be a financial impact on ICANN in taking this decision in that resuming the evaluation process for DCA's application for .AFRICA will result in additional cost, but that cost was anticipated in the application fee already received. The Board directs the President and CEO to re-engage the evaluation processes for DCA's application as quickly as possible, and to strongly encourage any third-party providers charged with performing the relevant New gTLD Program evaluations and analysis also to act as quickly as possible in concluding their evaluations in accordance with the established processes and procedures in the Guidebook.

      There may also be additional costs to ICANN the extent any party challenges this decision. This action will have no impact on the security, stability or resiliency of the domain name system.

      The significant materials related to the matters at issue in the Determination include, but are not limited to the following:

      This is an Organizational Administrative function that does not require public comment.

The Chair called the meeting to a close.

Published on 29 September 2015

Domain Name System
Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as""icann.org"" is not an IDN."