ICANN’s “African Passions”

17.07.2015

ICANN Corporation found itself in the center of very unpleasant scandal connected with delegation of the .AFRICA domain. The destiny of this domain is very dramatic. The first application for it came from DotConnectAfrica (DCA). According to ICANN’s rules, any "geographical" domain can be delegated only with support from the authorities of respective countries and territories. Originally this support was promised to DCA’s application by the African Union Commission (equivalent of the European Commission). However then the Commission unexpectedly reconsidered its decision and agreed with the South African’s ZACR registry which also applied for .AFRICA. As a result, ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee recommended the corporation to reject the DCA’s application, as was done.

However DCA decided to fight to a finish. And this week an independent jury of the International Center for Dispute Resolution of the American Arbitration Association delivered a verdict that puts ICANN in a very awkward position. First of all, the DCA’s appeal was granted. The jury confirmed that Governmental Advisory Committee didn't give any concrete reasons for the DCA’s application to be rejected; therefore ICANN contravened its own regulations and instructions, having rejected the application. Moreover, there are serious suspicions that ICANN defied also the principles of objectivity and impartiality. When the African Union Commission changed its favorite of DCA to ZACR, the fact is it asked for ICANN’s help. As a result, according to The Register, which has obtained a full text of the International Dispute Resolution Center jury decision, one of the ICANN’s leaders, Dai Trang Nguyen, drafted a letter supporting the ZACR’s application. This letter then was signed by the African Union Commission representatives and sent to ICANN. By virtue of it, ICANN supported ZACR’s application. In other words, ICANN itself actually prepared all arguments for support of one of the .AFRICA domain applicants, and then delegated the domain to it, being guided by these arguments.

It is difficult to say in what degree these charges are right. So, a famous domain blogger Kevin Murphy has already managed to obtain and publish the text of the ill-fated letter. According to his assurances, a great part of letter is likely to have been written by the African Union Commission representatives, and those lines, which can be attributed to ICANN’s representatives, exist in manual for participants of new domain program, and could be borrowed from there without any corporation heads’ participation.

Anyway, the situation for ICANN looks extremely unpleasant. The Board of Directors of corporation has already issued a resolution. It confirms ICANN’s readiness to obey a verdict of the International Center for Dispute Resolution. The decision of .AFRICA delegation to ZACR’s registry is suspended, and the DCA’s application is returned for review. Also, ICANN will have to pay very impressive expenses which were demanded by processing of a DCA’s complaint in the International Center for Dispute Resolution. But it is even sadder that ICANN’s objectivity and ability to follow its own rules and instructions are brought into challenge. It is doubly sadder that it is happening at the moment when the destiny of global domain space management principles is being decided, and ICANN claims to be the organization that is ready to formulate these principles in order to control over the DNS root zone was ceded from the U.S. Government to world Internet community.