Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

ICANN names compliance chief

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has found itself a new senior director of contractual compliance, nine months after the post was vacated.

Maguy Serad, most recently with Nissan North America, starts April 4 at ICANN’s headquarters in Marina Del Rey, California.

She’s apparently a Black Belt Six-Sigma (don’t worry, that’s a real thing), Liberian by birth and currently a Lebanese citizen. She speaks English, French and Arabic.

ICANN has also hired Colombian intellectual property lawyer Carlos Alvarez as a new contractual compliance manager/auditor. He has a history in initiatives fighting software piracy and child pornography.

The timing of the hires means ICANN has probably dodged a bullet.

There have been grumblings in some parts of the ICANN community about the vacant compliance posts for some months, and some stakeholders here at the San Francisco meeting planned to make their feelings known to ICANN’s senior staff and board.

ICANN’s compliance team is responsible for monitoring and enforcing ICANN’s contracts with registries and registrars, which will become a lot more important when the new top-level domains program kicks off.

Beckstrom calls for ICANN’s independence

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom has called for the organization to be allowed to further loosen its ties to the US government.

The two-hour opening ceremony of its 40th public meeting, here in San Francisco this morning, had a heavy focus on ICANN’s relationship with governments, and looked as much to its roots in the Clinton administration as it addressed more immediate concerns internationally.

Beckstrom and others tackled the renewal of the soon-to-expire IANA contract, with which the US grants ICANN many of its powers over the domain name system, head-on.

Beckstrom said some have expressed “a belief that the US government should live up to its 1998 White Paper commitment to transfer management of the IANA functions to the private sector-led organization entrusted to manage the DNS, which is ICANN. ”

That would mean severing one of the most frequently criticized links between ICANN and the USA.

In a press conference later, he confirmed that this is in fact his belief, saying that internet governance is “evolving behind the curve” as internet usage grows internationally.

The US handing the keys to the internet over to ICANN doesn’t appear to be immediately likely, however. But there may be some ways to continue to phase out the US special relationship on a shorter term basis.

Beckstrom took the stage shortly after Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce, made some frank criticisms.

While stressing the Obama administration’s commitment to what he called “multistakeholderism” in internet governance, he had a few pointed remarks to make about ICANN’s decision-making process.

He accused the ICANN board of directors of “picking winners and losers” by making decisions in situations where the community has been unable to reach a consensus policy.

He singled out two recent policies where he believes ICANN has failed to sufficiently rationalize its decisions: registry-registrar integration and economic studies into new TLDs.

The criticisms are not new, and many of them may well go away if and when ICANN implements the recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

My initial sense is that the fact Strickling was able to speak so frankly and so publicly about the administration’s feelings is an encouraging sign of ICANN’s maturity.

And Beckstrom’s response was equally ballsy, urging ICANN’s supporters to lobby the NTIA for a loosening of US-ICANN ties.

The NTIA’s Notice Of Inquiry regarding IANA, which floats the idea of breaking up the IANA functions and possibly assigning them to three different entities, was released a few weeks ago.

During his address this morning, former ICANN chair Vint Cerf put forth the view that this kind of government procurement contract may be an inappropriate mechanism for overseeing IANA functions:

I believe that that concept of procuring service from ICANN really ought to change to become a cooperative agreement because I believe that format expresses more correctly the relationship between ICANN and the Department of Commerce.

Beckstrom evidently agrees with Cerf. At the press conference, he pointed out that the disadvantage of a procurement contract is that it’s short term, undermining confidence in ICANN.

It also requires ICANN to run the IANA to the benefit of the American people, rather than the international community, he said. This obviously can reinforce the perception in some parts of the world that ICANN has an untenable American bias.

“A cooperative agreement seems more befitting of the relationship the NTIA and ICANN has developed,” he said, noting that this is currently the structure of NTIA’s relationship with VeriSign.

The Number Resource Organization may give a further clue to ICANN’s game plan in this email (pdf) published today, in which the NRO says:

We strongly believe that no government should have a special role in managing, regulating or supervising the IANA functions.

The NRO suggests that ICANN, through these coming negotiations, should advocate for a staged reduction of the level of DoC’s oversight to IANA. This process could possibly involve a transitionfrom a contract to a cooperation agreement, and ultimately arrival at a non-binding arrangement, such as an affirmation of commitments

Beckstrom now wants your help to make this happen. During his keynote, he urged the ICANN community to make its disparate views known to the NTIA, “openly and in writing”.

“This is the chance to add your voice to those determining the fate of the IANA function,” he said. “If your voice is to be heard, you must speak up.”

“When all voices are heard, no single voice can dominate an organization – not even governments. Not even the government that facilitated its creation,” Beckstrom said.

Details about how to respond to the NOI can be found in this PDF.

ICANN to skip stakeholders for more GAC talks

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN stakeholder groups will miss out on their usual formal sit-down with the board of directors at the San Francisco meeting next week, due to talks between the board and governments.

ICANN has confirmed the touted second day of Governmental Advisory Committee consultations, centering on new top-level domains and .xxx, for next Tuesday.

Tuesdays at ICANN meetings are informally referred to as Constituency Day, where the various interest groups that make up the “bottom” of ICANN’s policy-making process meet up.

Usually, the board moves between these meetings, gathering feedback on policy issues from stakeholders such as registrars, registries, ISPs, IP owners and non-commercial users.

According to some attendees, that won’t happen in San Francisco.

ICANN staff will still attend the constituency sessions, but the GAC consultation will take up the board’s undivided attention.

It make perfect sense, of course. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many days in the week, and ICANN is eager to put work on the new TLD program to bed as soon as possible.

But that logic is unlikely to prevent grumblings from some stakeholders.

Brussels’ biggest winner?

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Policy

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by consultant Michael Palage).

Analyzing the aftermath of last week’s ICANN Board-GAC non-bylaws consultation in Brussels, the biggest winner may be Rod Beckstrom. Many who attended the meeting or followed it remotely may have found it unusual how little he spoke during the three-day session. Why was Rod so quiet in Brussels?

Soon Beckstrom will begin the third and final year of the contract that he executed in June 2009 – yes, it has been almost two years since Rod assumed the mantle as ICANN’s fourth President and CEO. He got off to a quick start with the successful expiration of the Joint Project Agreement (JPA), the execution of the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC), and the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) in country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) earning the accolades of myself and others.

Then came the ICANN meeting in Kenya and Rod’s statement that “[t]he domain name system is more fragile and vulnerable today than it has ever been. It could stop at any given point in time, literally.” To say that this was not warmly received by many within the broader ICANN community would be an understatement. However, instead of back-tracking, Beckstrom doubled down with his high-profile DNS Vulnerabilities and Risk Management panel discussion in Brussels reinforcing his claims about the fragile nature of the Internet.

Some in the community have also voiced concern about the continued exodus of senior ICANN staff, while others have questioned some of Rod’s recent hires. While I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with John Nakamura, Advisor to the CEO on Government Affairs, and Elad Levinson, Vice-President of Organization Efficiency, these are two hires which I myself have a hard time reconciling while other key positions remain unfilled.

However, to Rod’s credit a number of his new senior hires appear to be making positive impacts and look to increase the overall professional skill set within ICANN staff. Although Paul Twomey’s original two senior staff hires, John Jeffrey and Kurt Pritz, continue to dominate important policy and operational matters within ICANN, this may be in part due to the fact that there is so little institutional knowledge left within the senior staff.

Since the June 2010 Brussels meeting, Rod has maintained a lower profile, focusing on ICANN’s continued accomplishments in the areas of new IDN ccTLDs being added to the root and the final allocation of IPv4 address space by IANA. Whether Rod would seek a second term is still an unknown. Of ICANN’s four Presidents, only Twomey ever made it to a second contract renewal, although the high churn rate can in large part be attributed to the stresses associated with the job.

This is why Beckstrom’s silence in Brussels was so interesting. While there were some pointed exchanges between ICANN Chair Peter Dengate Thrush and certain GAC members, Rod left the meeting unscathed. Over the next couple of months as the ICANN Board and GAC resolve their outstanding issues regarding the new gTLD implementation process, Beckstrom positions himself well for a potential contract extension as his Chairman continues to serve as a lightning rod in these consultations.

For the moment, only Beckstrom knows if he is actively seeking a contract extension. While he can go out on a high note listing the following high profile accomplishments during his three year tenure: AoC, IDN TLDs, new gTLDs, exhaustion of IPv4 address space, and a new IANA contract; Rod may wish to stick around and achieve some yet unknown additional accomplishments.

Michael Palage is an intellectual property attorney and an information technology consultant. He has been actively involved in ICANN operational and policy matters since its formation in both an individual and leadership role, including a three-year term on the ICANN Board of Directors.

Palage is President and CEO of Pharos Global, Inc, which provides consulting and management services to domain name registration authorities and other technology related companies.

ICANN hires weight-loss guru as vice president

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has quietly hired a new vice president with a very peculiar résumé.

Elad Levinson, a psychotherapist with a distinctly Buddhist bent who has previously specialized in weight loss, joined the organization in early January as Vice President for Organization Effectiveness.

He’s been on the payroll as a consultant since May 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile and other sources, but only joined ICANN as a full-time VP two months ago.

ICANN currently has only about a half dozen vice presidents. The most recent to be officially announced (pdf) was noted cryptographer Whitfield Diffie, now VP of information security.

Unlike Diffie, Levinson did not get an announcement when he joined ICANN. Two months after joining the organization, he’s still not even listed on the ICANN staff web page.

(UPDATE: As of last night he is listed on the web site. Possibly because somebody was tipped off I was writing this post.)

I’ve confirmed that he started work there at the start of the year, but I’m not entirely clear what his role is. He appears to be some kind of human resources consultant slash life coach.

He’s previously consulted for a number of California-based corporations.

I understand Levinson is based in the Silicon Valley office, which I believe has about a dozen employees and is located roughly 300 miles from ICANN’s headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Marina Del Rey, where the vast majority of its staff are based.

Levinson has described himself as the author of “several publications regarding the power of self awareness and the integration of western social psychology and Buddhist Psychology” and an advocate of “the use of mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology in its application to organization development, leadership practices, stress reduction and related problems, relationships and parenting.”

His LinkedIn profile, which erroneously refers to ICANN as the “Internet Corporation Assigning Numbers and Naming”, says:

My goals are to bring the arts of relationship building and creation-intention generation to the science of causing tangible, factual results that increase shareholder value and develop highly adaptable cultures supporting the best in human spirit and actions.

The same profile discloses that Levinson has founded or co-founded at least four organizations: Noble Purpose Consulting, Pounds For Poverty, Lose Weight Mindfully and Growth Sherpas.

He’s still listed as an employee on three of those. Noble Purpose’s domain resolves to a blank page.

Pounds For Poverty, with which he was apparently involved until at least June last year, is a California consultancy offering “practical solutions for difficulties with over eating, anxiety, and depression.”

Its web site suggests that the money fat Californians spend on over-eating would be better used fighting hunger elsewhere but, despite the name, it does not appear to be a poverty charity in the usual sense.

Archive.org’s most-recent capture of Noble Purpose, from 2009, reveals it had aims such as “supporting human being’s nobility of purpose on earth” and “insuring that the skills and knowledge necessary for your noble purpose reside internally”.

If you don’t understand what any of the above means, you’re not alone.

Wikipedia’s (poorly sourced) page on “organizational effectiveness” helpfully explains it is “the concept of how effective an organization is in achieving the outcomes the organization intends to produce” and “an abstract concept… basically impossible to measure.”

“Mindfulness” is a Buddhist teaching relating to meditation and focus that has found its way into Western psychology over the last few decades.

It’s not a huge secret that ICANN has issues, internally. Clearly somebody over there believes that some kind of consultant like Levinson is required at the VP level.

According to the Growth Sherpas web site, Levinson is “the one you turn to when you want help solving a thorny company-wide or people problem and want the solution to stick.”

Outsiders are generally more concerned with staffing issues such as the lack of resources to support policy development and compliance initiatives, which will both become even more important once the new top-level domains program kicks off.