ICANN has long upheld the stance that its role, though critical to the everyday functions of the Internet as we know it, is very limited. In fact, on the Frequently Asked Questions page of ICANN’s website, it says the following:
“ICANN’s role is very limited, and it is not responsible for many issues associated with the Internet, such as financial transactions, Internet content control, spam (unsolicited commercial email), Internet gambling, or data protection and privacy.”
This delineation of what exactly it is that ICANN is responsible for and what it is not was stated again by its interim CEO Akram Atallah in a recent Reuters article about the deluge of public comments ICANN has received over who should operate certain religious gTLDs that were applied for as part of the New gTLD Program, namely .BIBLE, .ISLAM and others. While certain comments implore ICANN to make sure that these names do not fall into the “wrong” hands, Atallah told Reuters, “We don’t look into whether the Vatican has the right to the .CATHOLIC name. Hopefully, the process will get to a conclusion that is satisfying to the majority.”
In other words, ICANN isn’t in the business of evaluating whether an applicant is “worthy” of operating a specific gTLD, but rather in evaluating whether or not that applicant sufficiently met all of the evaluation criteria laid out in the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook.
Regardless of what that means for the communities who are concerned about the operation of gTLDs with religious significance, this policy has interesting implications for companies that applied for generic-term gTLDs. The new gTLD evaluation process is not meant to determine whether Google has the “right” to operate .SEARCH or if Fidelity “should” operate .RETIREMENT, for example. ICANN does not have the power to subjectively make those decisions.
So at the end of the day, who gets to operate .HEALTH will come down to who is most successful at navigating ICANN’s evaluation process and Contention Set procedures. And for those terms for which only one application was filed, like .WORK, for example, the decision over whether to give the applicant control over the gTLD will have to do with its capabilities as expressed in its application, rather than a subjective measure of worthiness.
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