What GAC's 'Early Warning' Notices Really Mean

By Doug Isenberg ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) has just issued "Early Warning" notices on nearly 250 gTLD applications, from .accountant to .zulu. Although the notices do not prevent the applications from moving forward, they could have a significant impact on the gTLD program.

As stated in the Applicant Guidebook, an Early Warning Notice is an indication that an application "is seen as potentially sensitive or problematic by one or more governments," but:

It is not a formal objection, nor does it directly lead to a process that can result in rejection of the application. However, a GAC Early Warning should be taken seriously as it raises the likelihood that the application could be the subject of GAC Advice on New gTLDs... or of a formal objection... at a later stage in the process.

The notices, filed by numerous countries, address various concerns. For example:

  • The United States government filed notices on applications for .army, .airforce and .navy, stating for each: "The string is confusingly similar to the name of a specific government agency."
  • India filed a notice for an application on .bible, in which it said, "There is no plan in the application to address the specific needs of the approximately 27 million Christians in India."
  • And 21 notices were filed on the various applications for .hotel (and variations thereof), including by France, which touted its role as "the first world tourism destination" and said that "[e]ach hotel business should have the right, guaranteed by ICANN, to use the term 'hotel' as generic top level domain... for promoting its commercial market strategy, and this right should be only reserved to the suppliers of hotel services."

(Disclosure: I represent the Hotel Consumer Protection Coalition, which filed public comments on the .hotel applications and variations.)

So, what now?

Any applicant that has received an Early Warning notice may elect to withdraw its application within 21 days of the date of the notice and, if it does so, would be entitled to a refund of 80% of the filing fee, that is, US$148,000. This would not be unprecedented, especially given that six applications already have been withdrawn (for reasons unrelated to the GAC Early Warning notices).

Or, applicants may respond to the Early Warning notices and proceed with their applications, although applicants would face the possibility of "GAC Advice" later (that is, notice to the ICANN board that could result in disapproval of an application) or a formal objection.  (Interestingly, both GAC Advice and formal objections are possible with respect to all of the applications, not just those that received Early Warning notices.)

Thus, in the short term, the GAC Early Warning notices could result in some applications being withdrawn; and, in the long term, they could indirectly lead to fewer approved applications. And, for anyone considering filing a formal objection of their own, the notices may provide additional support for their arguments.