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Everyone hates Verisign’s new .net deal

Kevin Murphy, May 26, 2023, Domain Policy

The public has commented: Verisign’s .net registry contract should not be renewed in its currently proposed form.

ICANN’s public comment period for the renewal closed yesterday and attracted 57 submissions, most of which either complained about Verisign being allowed to raise its prices or expressed fears about domains being seized by governments.

The proposed contract retains the current pricing structure, in which Verisign is allowed to raise the price of a .net domain by 10% a year. They currently cost $9.92, meaning they could reach $17.57 by the time the contract ends.

The Internet Commerce Association, some of its supporters, Namecheap, the Registrars Stakeholder Group, the Cross-Community Working Party on ICANN and Human Rights (CCWP-HR), and TurnCommerce all oppose the price increases.

The RrSG said the price provisions “are without sufficient justification or an analysis of its potentially substantial impact on the DNS”.

These commenters and others who did not directly oppose the increases, including the At-Large Advisory Committee and consultant Michael Palage, called for ICANN to conduct an economic analysis of the domain name market.

The Business Constituency was the only commenter to openly support the increases, though its comment noted that it is opposed in principle to ICANN capping prices at all.

The Intellectual Property Constituency did not express a view on pricing, but called for greater transparency into the side-deal that sees ICANN get an extra $4 million a year for unspecified security-related work. ICANN has never revealed publicly how this money is spent.

In terms of the number of submissions, the biggest concern people seem to have is that the proposed contract contains language obliging Verisign to take down domains to comply with “applicable law, government rules or regulations, or pursuant to any legal order or subpoena of any government, administrative or governmental authority, or court of competent jurisdiction”.

This language is already in the .com contract, but before ICANN clarified this on April 26 several concerned registrants had made comments opposing its inclusion.

Notably, the founder of the controversial troll forum, which has been kicked out of registrars after being linked to suicides, submitted his own “ICANN should be destroyed” comment.

Several commenters also noted that the definition of “security and stability” in the .net contract differs to the Base Registry Agreement that almost all other registries have signed in such a way that it is feared that Verisign would not have to abide by future ICANN Consensus Policies under certain circumstances.

As several commenters note, the usual protocol following an ICANN public comment period is for ICANN to issue a summary report, pay lip service to having “considered” the input, and then make absolutely no changes at all.

This time, some commenters held out some hope that ICANN’s new, surprisingly sprightly and accommodating leadership may have a different approach.

The comments can be read here.

ICANN just put a date on the next new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN has just penciled in a date for the next round of new gTLD applications for the first time, but it’s already upsetting some people who think it’s not aggressive enough.

Org has released its draft Implementation Plan for the next round, which would see it launch in May 2026, three years from now.

The date seems to have been set from the top. The plan refers to “the Board’s desire to launch the next round by May 2026”.

The plan sets out the timeline by which community members will work with staff to turn the community’s policy recommendations into the rules and procedures for accepting and processing gTLD applications.

This cross-community Implementation Review Team will write the next Applicant Guidebook — the new gTLD’s program’s Holy Quran.

The plan covers the 98 policy recommendations already approved by the ICANN board of directors, it will be updated when or if the board approves the 38 recommendations currently considered “pending”.

The work would be split into eight “modules”, corresponding to the sections of the AGB, and the IRT would tackle each in turn, meeting mostly via Zoom for a couple hours once a week.

The modules would be split into about 40 topics, each covering a group of related recommendations, and each topic would be discussed for two meetings, with Org-drafted text undergoing first and second “readings” by the IRT.

The first module would take seven months to complete, timed from this month, and each subsequent module would take three to four months after the completion of the preceding module, according to the draft plan.

Above and beyond that timetable, the IRT has certain external dependencies, such as the work being done with governments on the “closed generics” issue, the plan notes.

After the AGB is published, ICANN would need to carry out other work, such as subjecting the AGB to public comment, then marketing the program for four months, before an application window would open.

The timeline has been received negatively by pretty much everyone on the IRT expressing a view on mailing list or Zoom chatter so far, with some asking why the modules have to be tackled sequentially rather than in parallel work tracks.

Some have also pointed out that an IRT lasting over two years risks participant attrition, a frequent problem with ICANN’s interminable policy-making work.

The IRT comprises dozens of volunteers from all sections of the community, though the most-engaged tend to be the lawyers and consultants who stand to make money advising large enterprises on their dot-brand applications.

.web delay likely after Verisign rival files ICANN appeal

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2023, Domain Policy

The .web gTLD appears unlikely to see the light of day any time soon, after the Afilias spin-off that came second to Verisign in the $135 million auction in 2016 kicked off another appeals process.

Altanovo, which is made up of bits of Afilias left over when Identity Digital acquired the company, has asked ICANN to enter a Cooperative Engagement Process, according to ICANN’s records.

The CEP is a form of mediation companies can force ICANN into when they have beef. It’s designed to avoid the relative expense of a full-on Independent Review Process. They usually result in an IRP anyway.

Altanovo made its request the same day ICANN announced that its board of directors had decided to take .web off hold and resume registry contract negotiations with Verisign, following Altanovo’s original, unsuccessful IRP.

Verisign yesterday said the move amounted to an “abuse of process” and “baseless procedural maneuvering”, likely to lead to “delay for delay’s sake”.

IRPs typically last years and cost many hundreds of thousands of dollars in panel fees, not counting each party’s lawyer fees.

Altanovo believes that Verisign broke ICANN’s new gTLD program rules when it bid for .web via a secret intermediary. Verisign has countered that its rival, then Afilias, broke the rules by trying to negotiate a private deal during the auction’s “black out” period.

Progress made on next new gTLD round rules

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2023, Domain Policy

Pace towards finalizing the details of the next new gTLD application round is picking up, with a group of policy-makers close to overcoming some of the ICANN board’s concerns about the program.

A so-called “small team” of GNSO members, aided by a couple of ICANN directors, have drafted a set of recommendations aimed at helping the board approve the 38 community recommendations it has not yet adopted.

The board approved 98 new gTLD “Subsequent Procedures” policy recommendations in March, but was hesitant on issues such as the proposed registry back-end evaluation program, round-based applications, and content policing.

The board had raised the specter of a first-come, first-served model for new gTLD applications, something the community roundly rejected during the Policy Development Process for the next rounds.

Directors in the small group have since clarified that they’re really looking for a “steady state” application process, that may or may not involve FCFS, in order to make planning, hiring and software development more predictable.

There seems to be no question of the next application opportunity being anything other than a round-based process.

Nevertheless, it’s now possible that the GNSO may throw the board a bone by suggesting a PDP that would look into how the new gTLD program could operate in a “steady state” over the long term.

Content policing is another issue that has caused the board pause.

SubPro and the GNSO have recommended that registries be able to add Registry Voluntary Commitments — promises to ban certain types of content from their zone, for example — to their ICANN contracts.

But the board is worried that this may break its 2016 bylaws, which demand ICANN not get involved in content policing, even though the similar Public Interest Commitments from the 2012 round are enforceable.

The GNSO and board currently seem to be leaning towards a bylaws amendment to address RVCs, but it will be a bit of a tightrope, language-wise, to keep ICANN on its ostensibly technical mandate.

The small group has met nine times since late March to try and resolve these and other board concerns ahead of the mid-year ICANN 77 meeting in Washington DC, which starts June 12.

There’s a pretty aggressive schedule of meetings between now and then, with a bilateral between GNSO and board May 22. The board should have the GNSO’s response to its roadblocks by DC, which should allow it to start chipping away at some of the 38 unadopted recommendations.

ICANN salary porn: 2022 edition

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN has published its fiscal 2022 US tax returns, revealing as usual the big bucks its top brass and contractors are paid for boldly keeping the internet stable and secure.

It was a good year for former CEO Göran Marby, who held the top job until the end of calendar 2022 and saw his total compensation top a million dollars for a second time, having dipped in fiscal 2021.

Marby’s total package was $1,050,755 in salary, bonus and benefits for the year ended June 30, up from $977,540 in the previous year. The performance-related portion was $218,315, up from $202,038. His base salary was $734,579, up from $673,462.

The tax filing lists 17 highly compensated employees, down by two from 2021, who are making $390,000 and up. Seven made over half a million dollars a year, up from five in the previous year.

One of the missing employees this year was CTO David Conrad, who left the Org at the end of 2021. The filing reveals he was paid $115,874 in severance, despite ICANN characterizing his departure as a decision he made himself.

Current interim CEO Sally Costerton’s compensation is not revealed. It’s paid to her consulting company and the sum, whatever it is, presumably does not meet the threshold for disclosure as a top contractor.

(I hope this number is disclosed in future, because I’ve just come up with a funny nickname for her if it’s a very large amount.)

Top contractors are as usual law firm Jones Day ($5,164,603, down from $8,769,608) and software developers Architech, Zensar and OSTechnical, which received $2,857,500, $1,488,077 and $1,169,210 respectively.

ICANN’s total revenue was $167,893,854, up from $163,942,482. Its surplus after expenses was $22,755,179, down from $32,564,762. It had net assets of $539,863,742 at the end of June, down from $555,804,201.

The filing reveals that non-accreditation fees from registries and registrars topped $100 million.

ICANN signs Whois’ death warrant in new contracts

Kevin Murphy, May 3, 2023, Domain Policy

Whois as we have known it for decades will be phased out of gTLDs over the next couple of years, after ICANN approved changes to its contracts at the weekend.

The board of directors signed off on amendments to the base Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement after they were approved by the requisite majority of registries and registrars earlier this year.

The changes outline how registries and registrars must make the move away from Whois, the technical specification, toward the functionally similar RDAP, the Registration Data Access Protocol.

After the amendments go into effect, contracted parties will have about 18 months to make the migration. They’ll be allowed to run Whois services in parallel if they wish after the transition.

People will in all likelihood carry on referring to such services as “Whois”, regardless, rather than the official replacement term “Registration Data Directory Services” or RDDS.

The RAA amendment will also require registrars to provide full RDAP output, rather than relying on “thick” registries to do it for them.

None of the changes affect how much personal information is returned for domain ownership lookups.

Worried about governments seizing .com domains? Too late

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2023, Domain Policy

Language proposed for Verisign’s .net registry contract that some say would give governments the ability to arbitrarily seize domains is already present in the company’s .com contract.

As I reported earlier this month, the .net Registry Agreement is up for renewal and ICANN has opened up some largely uncontroversial proposed changes for public comment.

ICANN has received two comments so far, both of which refer to what one commenter called the “outrageous and dangerous” proposed changes to Verisign’s .net Registry-Registrar Agreement.

The RRA is the contract all accredited registrars must agree to when they sign up to sell domains in a given TLD. For ICANN, it’s a way to vicariously enforce policy on registrants via registrars via registries.

Unsimply put, the RA instructs Verisign to have an RRA with its registrars that tells them what rules their registrants have to agree to when they buy a domain name.

The new language causing the consternation is:

Verisign reserves the right to deny, cancel, redirect or transfer any registration or transaction, or place any domain name(s) on registry lock, hold or similar status, as it deems necessary, in its unlimited and sole discretion:

to ensure compliance with applicable law, government rules or regulations, or pursuant to any legal order or subpoena of any government, administrative or governmental authority, or court of competent jurisdiction

One commenter states “this proposed agreement would allow any government in the world to cancel, redirect or transfer to their control applicable domain names”, adding “presumably ICANN staff and Verisign would want to also apply it to other extensions like .COM as those contracts come up for renewal”.

In fact, it’s the other way around. The exact same language has been present in Verisign’s .com contract for over three years, a change to Appendix 8a (pdf) that went largely unnoticed when thousands of commenters were instead complaining about the removal of price caps and fretting about the rise of Covid-19 around the world.

For those worried about the new .net language making it into the .com contract one day — worry not! It’s already there.

ICANN wants more newbies on its board

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN is planning changes to how its board of directors are picked, including new measures to get more community virgins around the table.

Under proposed new rules for its Nominating Committee, which chooses eight of the 20 directors, at least three directors at any given time would have to be “unaffiliated”.

The definition of “unaffiliated” is extremely broad, seemingly ruling out anybody who has ever had any professional involvement with the ICANN community whatsoever. Even people who have showed up at ICANN meetings on their employer’s dime would be excluded.

By my reckoning, only two of the current crop of eight NomCom appointees could possibly meet this definition, based on their biographies.

The new rules would give NomCom some flexibility in cases where it really can’t find an otherwise qualified director without any ICANN ties.

NomCom members would also get their own terms extended under the proposals, from one year to two, in order to improve institutional memory. Some current members would have their terms extended while others would not.

To tackle the same continuity issues, ICANN also wants to create a Nominating Committee Standing Committee — that’s right, an entity with two “Committees” in its name — to oversee the NomCom.

The four-person committee would be made up of former NomCom members and would be tasked with things like reviewing the previous hiring cycle and suggesting possible procedural changes. It would have no input on who gets hired and fired.

The proposals, which originate from a review that began in 2016, are open for public comment until May 29.

ICANN to crowd-source CEO search

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2023, Domain Policy

Community members will get more input into ICANN’s leadership than they have for a decade, as the Org searches for its new CEO.

Chris Chapman, chair of the board’s newly reconstituted CEO Search Committee has laid out plans for a series of “listening sessions” that will give interested parties the chance to give their two cents into what an ICANN CEO should look like.

There’s going to be an open Zoom call for 90 minutes on May 16, along with at least a dozen other sessions with various interest groups.

The GAC, ccNSO, ALAC, RSSAC, GNSO, ISOC, IETF, ASO and former directors will all get bilateral sessions during the board’s April 27-28 workshop, and will meet with the SSAC in May.

Staff have also had two such sessions and will get one more before the June public meeting, where ICANN will publish its “candidate profile” for the gig.

The search process wasn’t nearly as inclusive last time around, when a CEO was hired in 2016, but there was a similar level of outreach in 2012, after Rod Beckstrom resigned.

New gTLDs — implementation talks to start next month

Kevin Murphy, April 5, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN expects to kick off its implementation efforts for the next rounds of new gTLDs next month.

The Org is putting together its Implementation Review Team, a group of community members that will help shepherd staff into turning policy into reality.

Each supporting organization, advisory committee and constituency will get to nominate a representative (and an alt) and ICANN will put out an open call for volunteers for the team.

Members of the working group that came up with the policy recommendations in the first place are expected to be likely candidates.

The IRT’s main objective is to make sure that ICANN sticks to the letter and spirit of the recommendations, many of which were adopted by its board of directors last month, and prevent members re-litigating settled disputes.

ICANN expects to hold its first IRT meeting the week of May 14 or sooner.

ICANN spent millions of dollars and most of 2022 carrying out an Operational Design Assessment of new gTLDs policy recommendations, which was intended in part to relieve the IRT of some heavy lifting and speed it up.