DotConnectAfrica leaned on a former employee and used suspected astroturf in an unsuccessful attempt to have the Kenyan government support its .africa bid, newly published documents reveal.
Evidence to the .africa Independent Review Process case published for the first time by ICANN Monday night shows how DCA CEO Sophia Bekele attempted to secure Kenyan backing via a former chair of its own advisory board, who had gone on to be an adviser for Kenya on the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.
Emails suggest that this adviser tried to support DCA, against the wishes of his superiors in the Kenyan government, while they were distracted by a contested presidential election result.
They also show that Bekele on at least two occasions sent “news” stories published on web sites she has links to to another senior Kenyan official.
The full story is not yet on the public record — ICANN is still refusing to un-redact anything that the GAC has deemed confidential, including discussions on the GAC mailing list — but some interesting questions have nevertheless emerged.
Three sets of emails were published.
One was between Bekele and a newly appointed Kenyan GAC adviser, Sammy Buruchara, dating to the ICANN meeting in Beijing, April 2013.
That was the meeting at which the GAC decided, by consensus, to issue advice to the effect that DCA’s .africa application should be trashed.
If Kenya, or any other single government, had disagreed with that proposed GAC advice, it would not be “consensus” advice and would therefore be substantially weakened when the ICANN board came to consider it.
Until his GAC appointment, Buruchara had been chair of DCA’s Strategic Leadership Advisory Board. DCA press released his move in March 2013.
It’s significant that Buruchara was not Kenya’s GAC voting “representative” — that was Michael Katundu — rather merely an “adviser”.
When Bekele (pictured here with Buruchara, March 7, 2013) was cross-examined during the IRP hearings in May this year, she was asked:
Q. Are you and he friends?
Emails show that Buruchara had forwarded the proposed text of the GAC advice to Bekele, who then suggested three paragraphs of text saying the advice was “inappropriate” because the African Union Commission, as backer of the rival ZACR .africa bid, was a GAC member.
That email was dated April 10 — the Wednesday of the Beijing meeting — as the GAC was preparing its communique for submission to the ICANN board the following day.
It’s not clear from the emails published so far what, if anything, Buruchara did in response.
However, the next day, April 11, it seems his Kenyan government superiors were on his case. Buruchara told Bekele:
The matter has been escalated to our Government in Kenya with false information that I am contradicting the AUC.
I have responded accordingly.
Due to the sensitivity of this matter, I wish to leave it at the level of my previous post to the GAC until the matter settles.
Currently I am expecting a call from the President any time.
Expecting a call from the president was a big deal — Uhuru Kenyatta had been inaugurated just two days earlier following a month-long “hanging chads”-style legal challenge to his March 9 presidential election victory.
Buruchara elaborated in a subsequent email:
Someone from AUC called Ndemo and made a lot of noise to the effect that I have contradicted the Heads of State agreement in Abuja, which is obviously lies.
So Ndemo is beside himself with madness owing to the current transition process.
Anyhow I will try and manage the situation as I have not anywhere contradicted AUC’s position.
The “transition” he refers to is Kenyatta’s transition into government, not the ICANN/IANA transition.
“Ndemo” was actually Bitange Ndemo, then the Kenyan permanent secretary for information and communications, somebody Bekele had been simultaneously lobbying for Kenyan government support.
Buruchara was not in Beijing. The actual GAC rep, Katundu, went along with the GAC consensus against DCA.
In fact, Kenya had already issued a GAC Early Warning (pdf) against DCA, so it was significant that Buruchara was expressing support for the company.
In a second email thread, dated July 8, 2013, Buruchara seems to acknowledge that he aided DCA in some way but suggests that was only possible because of political instability in Kenya:
I am glad to note that DCA application passed all the stages except the GNP [Geographic Names Panel].
As you know I stuck my neck out for DCA inspite of lack of Govt support by Ndemo.
Going forward, I would certainly be ready to support DCA so long as the Kenya Govt is behind me as I do not think I will have the same chances as I had last time which was because the govt was in transition
In these July emails, which came less than a week after DCA’s application was rejected by the ICANN board, Bekele encourages Buruchara to file a challenge on behalf of Kenya, and to try to recruit other friendly governments to its cause.
Nothing ever came of that.
Buruchara’s alleged actions were one of the controversial points argued over in the DCA Independent Review Process case.
Many pages of the relevant evidence and argument related to Buruchara’s actions (or lack thereof) are still redacted by ICANN as “GAC Confidential”, so we don’t have all the facts.
However, the IRP proceedings revealed that Buruchara had emailed the GAC mailing list just before Beijing kicked off with reference to .africa.
According to DCA, Buruchara “explained that Kenya supported the AUC’s application for .AFRICA but did not think it was appropriate for the AUC to utilize the GAC to eliminate competition”.
Complicating matters further, there was a third Kenyan GAC “representative” in the mix, Alice Munyua.
She had been the Kenyan GAC rep, but according to DCA had left the position prior to Beijing. She was also involved in the ZACR application and the AUC .africa project.
The record shows that she spoke strongly against DCA’s application, as Kenyan GAC rep, during a meeting between the ICANN board and GAC in Beijing, April 9.
Buruchara, according to DCA, had told the GAC mailing list that Munyua was no longer a GAC rep and that the Kenyan government did not agree with her position. He was then evidently talked out of his position by other GAC members.
It’s not clear from the record whether Munyua was an authorized Kenyan GAC rep in Beijing or not. Archive.org shows her listed on the GAC’s member list in January 2013 but not May 2013.
It’s all very confusing, in other words.
What we seem to have in Beijing, at the least, is a Kenyan GAC delegation deeply divided and the possibility that one or more delegates tried to capitalize on political distractions back home.
With a partial record, it’s difficult to tell for sure.
.africa belongs to America
What’s more clear from the emails published by ICANN this week is that despite her claims to represent the African people, Bekele on at least two occasions told Kenyan officials that African governments had no right to .africa.
In one email to Ndemo, Bekele asserts that the US, rather than African governments, “owns” .africa. She wrote:
we do not believe that it is the place of African Presidents to give AU any sort of mandate for custodianship over a .africa resource that is owned by ICANN or US… the AU cannot do an RFP that is parallel to the ICANN process to appoint a registry on behalf of Africa as if they “own the resource”, which belongs to ICANN
This is in tune with Bekele’s repeated outreach to the US Congress to intervene in the .africa controversy.
While DCA is based in Mauritius, Bekele has stated in interviews that she’s lived in California for the better part of two decades.
The newly published emails also show Bekele unsuccessfully lobbying Ndemo for Kenyan government support, in part by sending him links to purportedly independent domain “news” blogs that are widely believed to be under her own control.
In February 2013, Bekele sent Ndemo links to articles published on domainnewsafrica.com and domainingafrica.com.
These two domains were originally registered by Bekele, at her California business address, on November 21, 2011.
Both web sites take strongly pro-DCA views in matters relating to .africa and ICANN. Neither covers African domain name news except to the extent it relates to DCA or .africa.
Given that Bekele has a admitted history of using bogus identities to fake support for DCA, it’s my view that the sites are nothing more than astroturf/sock-puppetry.
domainingafrica.com is the site that accused me of being part of a racial conspiracy.
It’s worrying that this site was also being used to lobby government officials.
It’s perhaps fitting that Bekele’s email signature, in the newly unredacted emails, is “Nobody believes the official spokesman… but everybody trusts an unidentified source.”
All documents in the IRP case of DCA v ICANN, many still significantly redacted, can be found here.
The future of the .food gTLD is up in the air after single-registrant applicant Lifestyle Domain Holdings won its contention set.
The applicant, a subsidiary of Scripps Networks, is the sole remaining .food applicant after withdrawals from Donuts and Dot Food LLC.
It’s also a recalcitrant “closed generic” applicant, which continues to insist it has the right to exclude all third-party registrants from the .food namespace.
The company seems to have won .food at auction, even though ICANN recently slapped a ban on closed generics in the current application round.
Scripps will not be able to launch .food any time soon, unless it changes its planned registration policies.
The company may have essentially just paid to have .food placed on hold until the next new gTLD round.
Scripps runs a cable TV station in the US called Food Network, which it says is famous. It also runs Food.com, which it describes as “the third largest food site on the web”.
The current version of its application states:
Applicant intends to function in such a way that all domain name registrations in the TLD shall be registered to and maintained by Applicant and Applicant will not sell, distribute or transfer control of domain name registrations to any party that is not an Affiliate of Applicant
When ICANN asked applicants if they would like to revise their closed generic applications to allow third-party registrants, due to adverse Governmental Advisory Committee advice, Scripps was one of half a dozen applicants to decline.
Audaciously, the company told ICANN that an open registration policy for .food would hurt its brand:
To open the top level domain means that anyone could register a domain for a small annual amount of money and exploit, confuse and infringe upon the brand equity and goodwill of the famous FOOD, FOOD NETWORK and FOOD.COM brands established by Scripps with more than twenty years and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
Yes, Scripps thinks that when people think of “food”, they automatically think of the “third largest food web site” or a cable TV network that gets a 0.21% audience share in the UK.
A nonsense position, in other words.
So will Scripps get to run .food as a closed dot-brand? Probably not.
In June, ICANN ruled that the remaining closed generics applications (.food, .hotels, .grocery, .dvr, .data, and .phone) had the choice of either withdrawing, dropping their exclusivity plans, or carrying their applications over to the next gTLD application round.
Having just paid its competing applicants to go away, one assumes that Scripps’ withdrawal is off the cards.
A report by security company Blue Coat Systems today denounced new gTLDs as “shady” and recommended organizations think about blocking the “shadiest” ones entirely.
The study classified “tens of millions” of domains requested by users of its censorware service according to whether they had content that posed a security risk.
It found that nine new gTLDs and one ccTLD scored over 95% — that is, 95% of the domains in those TLDs requested by its customers were potentially unsafe.
But its numbers, I believe, are bollocks.
My main reason for this belief? Blue Coat has ranked .zip as “100% shady”.
This means that, according to the company, every single .zip domain its customers have visited is either spam, malware, a scam, a botnet, suspicious, phishing or potentially unwanted software.
The problem is that the entire .zip zone file currently consists of precisely one (1) domain.
That domain is nic.zip, and it belongs to Google Registry. This is a pre-launch TLD.
As far as I can tell, Google Registry is not involved in distributing malware, spam, phishing, etc.
Nevertheless, Blue Coat said network administrators should “consider blocking traffic” to .zip and other “shady” TLDs.
The top 10 list of the worst TLDs includes .country, .kim, .cricket, .science, .work, .party, .gq (Equatorial Guinea) and .link.
That’s a mixture of Afilias, Minds + Machines, Famous Four and Uniregistry. The common factor is the low cost of registration.
The full Blue Coat report, which can be downloaded here, does not give any of the real underlying numbers for its assertions.
For example, it ranks .review, one of Famous Four Media’s portfolio, as “100% shady” but does not reveal how many domains that relates to.
If its customers have only visited 10 .review domains, and all of those were dodgy, that would equate to a 100% score, even though .review has over 45,000 domains in its zone.
At the other end of the table, .london’s score of 1.85% could have been positively affected by Blue Coat customers visiting a broader selection of .london domains.
The company claims that the report is based on “tens of millions” of domains, but I’d hazard a guess that most of those are in .com and other more established TLDs.
That’s not to say that there’s no truth in Blue Coat’s broader assertion that a lot of new gTLDs are full of garbage — do a Google search for .review sites and see if you can find anything worth looking at — but I don’t think its numbers are worth the pixels they’re written with.
ICANN has finally published the letter it controversially drafted for the African Union Commission in order to help it express support for ZA Central Registry’s .africa bid.
Having now read the draft letter for the first time, on balance I’d have to say my previous opinions on its contents were more wrong than right.
The letter was central to claims by rival .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica that ICANN treated ZACR preferentially during the evaluation of both applications.
It was drafted by ICANN staffer Trang Nguyen around June 25, 2013, and sent to ZACR.
It was then edited by ZACR and the AUC, signed by the AUC, and returned to ICANN, whereupon it was forwarded to the new gTLD’s program’s Geographic Names Panel at InterConnect Communications.
The GNP took the letter as an official endorsement of ZACR’s bid, enabling it to pass the Geographic Names Review and proceed to the next stage of the program.
Having seen (and published) the signed AUC letter, I opined here in July that it looked like it had been mostly been written by ZACR and/or the AUC.
I no longer believe that.
It’s now proven that the AUC redraft goes far beyond the “minor edits” that have been claimed by DCA and others — for starters, it’s 40% longer — but a lot of the text that I believed to be ZACR’s work turns out in fact to have come from ICANN.
I’ve put the two letters into a single document (pdf), so you can do a side-by-side comparison if you wish.
There’s still no question that ZACR had African government support for its bid and DCA did not. The dispute centers entirely on whether InterConnect had received expressions of support in the correct format.
An Independent Review Process panel declined to issue an opinion on whether ICANN did anything wrong by drafting the letter, though it is mentioned in its final declaration.
ICANN itself says that it did nothing wrong by drafting the letter, and had DCA had any governmental support it would have done exactly the same thing for it.
The draft letter was among hundreds of pages of documents published last night by ICANN following a Documentary Information Disclosure Process request filed by DI a little over a month ago.
Having just finished the most-successful new gTLD launch day to date, Radix Registry reckons it can get .online to seven figures in two to three years.
“We’re at 37,170 names as of an hour ago,” Radix CEO Bhavin Turakhia told DI at about 1000 UTC this morning.
That represents less than a full day of general availability. The company said last night that 28,000 names were registered in the first 30 minutes.
UPDATE: At the 24-hour mark, Radix tweeted this:
— Radix (@RadixRegistry) August 27, 2015
That beats .club’s 25,000-ish, which was Radix’s publicly stated goal, but it also tops .berlin’s 31,000 first-day names.
The CEOs of both these rival registries had publicly predicted their positions would be toppled and actively encouraged Radix to claim the crown.
Turakhia said that the majority of names registered came from pre-orders, largely at 1&1.
“Fourteen thousand names came from 1&1, 6,000 from Go Daddy, 2,700 from United Domains, 1,900 from Name.com and 1,400 from Tucows,” he said, partially breaking down the 37,170 figure by registrar.
He said the goal is to have a .online zone measured in the millions of names.
“I estimate that we should be able to get to a million names in a period of two to three years,” he said. “That’s on a conservative basis.”
Depending on how you count domains, .xyz may have already been the first to hit one million. Its zone never got as high as a million names, but it may have briefly crossed a million in terms of domains under management earlier this year.
At auction, .online sold for what is believed to be an eight-figure sum, originally to a joint venture of Radix, Tucows and Namecheap.
Radix bought out its partners earlier this year.
That was an increase in risk exposure Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani said made him nervous. He said launch day’s numbers show .online’s potential.
Turahkhia said that there are 680,000 names in the .com zone that end in “online” today, and a million that have “online” somewhere in the second level, showing that the string is desirable to registrants.
Radix said last night that its Early Access Period — during which names are sold for a higher price — ended with 1,130 sales.
Turahkhia said that of these, about 1,000 were registered in the last three days, during which time the price was $100. Regular .online pricing is around the same as .com ($14.99 at 1&1 and Go Daddy), but some registrars are selling for as much at $50.