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Will Bill Clinton keynote at ICANN San Francisco?

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s been a rumor going around for at least a month that Bill Clinton is being lined up to provide the keynote address for the next ICANN meeting, to be held in San Francisco in March.

I’m not going to pretend to have any inside information, but I’ve heard it from so many people recently that I thought it was worthy of a post.

One reason the rumor may have been reinvigorated this week is the revelation of the hefty sums ICANN is charging its top sponsors for the San Francisco meeting.

As I reported earlier in the week, VeriSign appears to have paid up $500,000 to get one of two top-tier Diamond-level sponsorship deals for the meeting.

Clinton, like many former world leaders, can command powerful sums for public speaking engagements, reportedly up to $350,000 a gig a few years ago.

ICANN, of course, was the brainchild of the Clinton administration in 1998.

While the US government’s attitude to ICANN’s activities has changed over the years, the organization was formed largely to introduce competition in the registrar and registry markets.

Since these are two likely results of the approval of the new TLDs program, Clinton’s appearance at the meeting where it will possibly happen would be appropriate.

ICANN wants to make millions from SF meeting

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN hopes to sign millions of dollars in sponsorship deals for its San Francisco meeting in March.

The organization has revamped its sponsorship options, adding new “Diamond” and “Platinum Elite” tiers (together worth up to $1.5 million) and doubling the price of its existing opportunities.

ICANN is looking for two companies to act as Diamond sponsors, paying $500,000 each, and two more to sign up for the Platinum Elite deal, each paying $250,000.

For the money, these companies will get the best booths, exclusive branding on bags and T-shirts, along with a bunch of other benefits not available to lesser sponsors.

Diamond sponsors will be given a “90-minute industry/technology related presentation delivered by your company at a scheduled session”, which I believe might be a first for ICANN.

They’ll also get “exclusive press access”, according to the ICANN site.

(In Cartagena, “the press” was pretty much just me and the guy from Managing Internet IP. I can’t speak for him, but access to me can be had in SF for the price of a couple of pints of Anchor Steam).

Prices for the Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze deals it has offered at previous meetings have also been doubled, to $100,000, $50,000, $20,000 and $10,000 respectively.

ICANN is also looking for another $160,000 to sponsor its three evening events, $125,000 to sponsor the twice-daily coffee breaks and $210,000 to sponsor the lunches.

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations, ICANN took in less than half a million dollars in sponsorship money for its meeting in Brussels last summer, which was its last big “first-world” gig.

For the March meeting, the organization is clearly hoping to benefit from the concentration of technology companies in the San Francisco bay area, which of course includes Silicon Valley.

I suspect that tapping this pool of sponsor cash may be the main reason the conference is amusingly being referred to officially as the “Silicon Valley in San Francisco” meeting.

How many sponsorship slots get filled by the domain name industry will depend to a degree on how likely it appears that ICANN will approve the new top-level domains program at the SF meeting.

I expect there would be a reluctance from registry service providers to drop half a million bucks on a conference from which the main headline at the end of the week is “ICANN delays gTLDs again”.

The current ICANN budget, incidentally, forecasts just $500,000 in sponsorship revenue for fiscal 2011, which ends in June. Its meetings typically cost $1 million each to run.

UPDATED: In the two hours since this post was first published, .com registry VeriSign has appeared on the ICANN web site as the first $500,000 “Diamond” sponsor of the meeting.

ICANN Ombudsman loses ‘air rage’ appeal

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

Outgoing ICANN Ombudsman Frank Fowlie has lost an appeal with Canadian air regulators over his bust-up with a steward on a first-class flight in 2009.

In a February 2010 decision, the Canadian Transportation Agency found that Air Canada was within its rights to stop Fowlie boarding a connecting flight after he clashed with flight staff over poor service.

The CTA ruled that Fowlie had “engaged in abusive and offensive behaviour” during the flight.

He first appealed, in March, to have his name removed from the record, but the request was rejected in July.

According to the CTA, Fowlie said at the time that:

a non-publication order is necessary to prevent a serious risk to an important interest which in this case is Dr. Fowlie’s employment as an ombudsman that carries an emphasis on public perception of impartiality and neutrality

And that the publication of his name would have:

a direct and highly detrimental impact on that perception that goes beyond the scope of mere embarrassment and undermines public confidence in the Office of the Ombudsman

Then he appealed the original decision, based on “new evidence”, which turned out to be a witness statement from his “traveling companion”, now apparently also his wife.

In its latest ruling, the CTA didn’t think that was good enough grounds to revisit its original decision.

Fowlie, ICANN’s original Ombudsman, is leaving the organization’s payroll this month, and his position is likely to be reevaluated in light of the ATRT report I noted earlier today.

I offered Fowlie an unnecessarily snarky tip back in February:

if you’re a high-powered executive type, dining out on your reputation for integrity and sound judgement, racking up hundreds of thousands of first class air miles on a bottomless expenses account, and you get into a fight with a trolley dolly because your salmon en croute was a little late, try to avoid having the whole embarrassing incident entered into the public record by doing something silly like, you know, filing a complaint.

I’d like to amend that tip to include the following:

Oh, and if you’re paid a six-figure salary to provide oversight for an organization that ostensibly values openness and transparency above all, perhaps subsequently attempting to have your indiscretions expunged from the public record may not paint you in the best light.

Thanks to George Kirikos, who did most of the legwork for this story.

ICANN given 27 New Year’s resolutions

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s a pretty big shake-up coming to ICANN in 2011, following the publication late last week of a report outlining 27 ways it should reform its power structures.

The final recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team (pdf) notably direct the organization to figure out its “dysfunctional” relationship with governments once and for all.

ICANN will also have to revamp how it decides who sits on its board of directors, when its staff can make unilateral decisions, how the voices of stakeholders are heard, and how its decisions can be appealed.

The ATRT report was developed, independently, as one of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government’s Department of Commerce.

As such, ICANN is pretty much bound to adopt its findings. But many are written in such a way to enable some flexibility in their implementation.

The report covers four broad areas of reform, arguably the most important of which is ICANN’s relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN and the GAC have a major stumbling block when it comes to effective communication due mainly to the fact that they can’t agree on what GAC “advice” is.

This has led, most recently, to delays with the TLD program, and with ICM Registry’s application for .xxx.

The ATRT report tells ICANN and the GAC to define “advice” before March this year.

It also recommends the opening of more formalized communications channels, so ICANN can tell the GAC when it needs advice, and on what topics, and the GAC can respond accordingly.

The report stops short of telling ICANN to follow GAC advice on a “mandatory” basis, as had been suggested by at least one GAC member (France).

The ICANN will still be able to overrule the GAC, but it will do so in a more formalized way.

ICANN’s public comment forums also look set for a rethink.

The ATRT report recommends, among other things, separating comment periods into at least two flavors and two phases, giving different priorities to different stages of policy development.

It could also could break out comment periods into two segments, to give commentators the chance to, in a second phase, rebut the earlier comments of others.

The three ICANN appeals processes (its Ombudsman, the Reconsideration Request process and the Independent Review Process) are also set for review.

The ATRT group wants ICANN to, before June, hire “a committee of independent experts” to figure out whether these procedures can be make cheaper, quicker and more useful.

The IRP, for example, is pretty much a rich man’s appeals process. The Ombudsman is seen as too cozy with ICANN to be an effective avenue for complaints. And the Reconsideration Request process has too many strict prerequisites to make it a useful tool.

The report includes a recommendation that ICANN should, in the next six months, clarify under what circumstances its is able to make decisions without listening to bottom-up consensus first:

The Board should clarify, as soon as possible but no later than June 2011 the distinction between issues that are properly subject to ICANN’s policy development processes and those matters that are properly within the executive functions performed by the ICANN staff and Board

ICANN has also been told to address how it selects its directors, with emphasis on:

identifying the collective skill-set required by the ICANN Board including such skills as public policy, finance, strategic planning, corporate governance, negotiation, and dispute resolution.

Other the recommendations themselves, the ATRT spends part of its 200-page report moaning about how little time (about nine months) it had to carry out its work, and how little importance some ICANN senior staff seemed to give to the process.

All of the 27 recommendations are expected to be implemented over the next six months. The report is currently open for public comment here.

Another top staffer quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Tina Dam, senior director of internationalized domain names at ICANN, has quit.

The news appears to have been broken on Twitter by Adrian Kinderis, CEO of AusRegistry, which does quite a bit of work with IDNs in the middle-east.

It’s my understanding that Dam may have actually resigned almost a month ago, during ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena.

Her move comes at an awkward time for ICANN, which is in the middle of revamping its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program, which Dam headed.

Dam has been with ICANN for many years, and is widely well-regarded by the community.

Overseeing the IDN program is a highly specialized and, one imagines, quite stressful position. Finding a qualified replacement will not be trivial.

Her name is added to the list of senior ICANN staffers to either quit or get fired over the last year, which currently numbers at least half a dozen.