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Empowered Community makes first symbolic exercise of power

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2017, Domain Policy

The new “Empowered Community” of ICANN has exercised its power for the first time.

The EC on Friday told ICANN that it has approved the ICANN board of directors’ recent resolution to create a new committee tasked with handling various oversight processes.

It’s of largely symbolic importance, the first test of whether the EC process works when the issue at hand is non-controversial.

The EC is a body made up of representatives of ICANN’s Address Supporting Organization, At-Large Advisory Committee, Country Code Names Supporting Organization, Generic Names Supporting Organization and Government Advisory Committee.

Among its powers and responsibilities is the duty to accept or reject changes to ICANN’s fundamental bylaws.

Some of those bylaws concern the composition and roles of board committees, so creating a new such committee required EC assent.

All five EC members, known as Decisional Participants, approved the resolution (pdf).

The EC also has the power to reject ICANN’s budget. The deadline for exercising this power for the 2017/18 budget is approaching soon, but I’m not expecting that to happen.

Governments slammed for overreach as Amazon wins gTLD appeal

Kevin Murphy, July 19, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon has won its appeal against the rejection of its .amazon gTLD application, in a ruling that criticizes ICANN for giving too much deference to government advice.

The Independent Review Process panel’s 2-to-1 ruling, delivered July 11 and published this week, means that .amazon and its Chinese and Japanese translations has been un-rejected and ICANN will have to consider approving it again.

The ruling (pdf) turns on the idea that ICANN’s board of directors rejected the gTLD based on nothing more than the groundless objections of a few South American governments.

Amazon’s applications were rejected three years ago when ICANN accepted the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee.

That advice, which had no attached rationale, had come largely at the behest of Brazil and Peru, two countries through which the Amazon river flows.

At issue was the word “Amazon”, which the governments protested matched the name of an important geographic region extending into several countries.

But the string was not protected by ICANN’s new gTLD program rules because it does not match the name of an administrative region of any country.

Regardless, Brazil and Peru said that to give .amazon to Amazon would prevent it being used in future by citizens of the informal South American region.

GAC consensus was reached only after the US government, for political reasons connected to the then-recent announcement of the IANA transition, decided to withdraw its objection to the advice.

Consensus, under GAC rules means simply that no one government objects to the proposed advice. It does not indicate unanimity.

But at no point in the pubic record of discussions within the GAC or ICANN board did anyone give any substantial public policy reasons for the objection, the IRP panel has now found.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets “too high for the Board to say no.”

It seems ICANN sometimes just assumes that GAC advice by default is rooted in sound public policy, even when that is not the case.

Brazil and Peru’s objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the panelists wrote.

The panel wrote:

We conclude that GAC consensus advice, although no reasons or rationale need be given, nonetheless must be based on a well-founded public interest concern and this public interest basis must be ascertained or ascertainable from the entirety of the record…

the Board cannot simply accept GAC consensus advice as conclusive. The GAC has not been granted a veto under ICANN’s governance documents.

So, while the GAC was under no obligation to state its reasons for objecting to .amazon, the ICANN board was obliged to state its reasons for accepting this advice beyond just “the GAC made us do it”.

As somebody who spent much of 2011 arguing that the GAC new gTLD veto was a bad idea, it’s nice to see the panel agree with me.

The GAC itself also erred by refusing to consider Amazon’s arguments in favor of its application, the IRP panel’s majority found.

Peru had publicly claimed that the string “Amazon” was protected under ICANN rules, which was not true, and Amazon did not have the opportunity to correct the record.

Amazon had also pointed out that the Brazilian oil company Ipiranga was granted its application for .ipiranga, despite its name matching the name of a Brazilian river apparently so important that it is referred to in the Brazilian national anthem.

However, the IRP panel decided that because ICANN’s board had not taken any action on .ipiranga, there was no basis for it to consider whether Amazon had been unfairly subject to different treatment.

In conclusion, this is what the panel has sent to the board:

The Panel recommends that the Board of ICANN promptly re-evaluate Amazon’s applications in light of the Panel’s declarations above. In its re-evaluation of the applications, the Board should make an objective and independent judgment regarding whether there are, in fact, well-founded, merits-based public policy reasons for denying Amazon’s applications. Further, if the Board determines that the applications should not proceed, the Board should explain its reasons supporting that decision. The GAC consensus advice, standing alone, cannot supplant the Board’s independent and objective decision with a reasoned analysis.

It seems Amazon’s chances of having .amazon approved have improved. If ICANN wants to reject the applications again it is going to have to come up with some good reasons, some good reasons that possibly do not exist.

The panel also ordered ICANN to reimburse Amazon for the $163,045.51 it spent on the IRP.

ICANN chair paid $114,000 last year

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN chair Steve Crocker was paid $114,203.24 in the organization’s last tax year.

The number was released today (pdf) in response to a request by domain blogger John Poole of DomainMondo.com.

Poole had requested the figures because Crocker is paid via his company, Shinkuro, rather than directly, so his compensation does not show up on ICANN’s published tax returns.

It was already known that ICANN’s chair is eligible for $75,000 a year in salary, but today’s letter, from CFO Xavier Calvez, states that he also received $39,203.24 for office rent (about $3,250 per month) in the year ended June 30 2016.

This does not include his travel reimbursements and such, which came to well over $100,000 in the same fiscal year according to ICANN disclosures.

If Crocker were on ICANN staff, he would be the 18th most costly employee, even if you do include the extra reimbursements.

Other ICANN directors receive $45,000 per year.

Calvez said ICANN will update its disclosure process to make it clearer how much Crocker is paid via Shinkuro.

Could the next new gTLD round last 25 years? Or 70 years?

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2017, Domain Policy

Will the next new gTLD round see 25,000 applications? If so, how long will it take for them all to go live?

The 25,000 figure is one that I’ve heard touted a few times, most recently during public sessions at ICANN’s meeting in Johannesburg last month.

The problem is that, judging by ICANN’s previous performance, such a huge number of applications would take anywhere from 25 to 70 years to process.

It’s unclear to me where the 25,000 application estimate comes from originally, but it does not strike me as laughably implausible.

There were just shy of 1,930 applications for 1,408 unique strings in the most recent round.

There could have been so many more.

ICANN’s outreach campaign is generally considered to have been a bit lackluster, particularly in developing markets, so many potential applicants were not aware of the opportunity.

In addition, some major portfolio applicants chose to rein in their ambitions.

Larry Page, then-CEO of Google, is known to have wanted to apply for many, many more than the 101 Google wound up applying for, but was talked down by staff.

There’s talk of pent-up demand for dot-brands among those companies that missed the 2012 window, but it’s impossible to know the scale of that demand with any precision.

Despite the fact that a handful of dot-brands with ICANN registry agreements and delegations have since cancelled their contracts, there’s no reason they could not reapply for defensive purposes again in subsequent rounds.

There are also thousands of towns and cities with populations comparable to cities that applied in 2012 that could apply next time around.

And there’s a possibility that the cost of applying — set at $185,000 on a highly redundant “cost recovery” basis — may come down in the next round.

Lots of other factors will play a role in how many applications we see, but in general it doesn’t seem impossible that there could be as many as 25,000.

Assuming for a moment that there are 25,000, how long will that take to process?

In the 2012 round, ICANN said it would delegate TLDs at a rate of no more than 1,000 per year. So that’s at least 25 years for a 25,000-app round.

That rate was set somewhat arbitrarily during discussions about root zone scaling before anyone knew how many gTLDs would be applied for and estimates were around the 500 mark.

Essentially, the 1,000-per-year number was floated as a sort of straw man (or “straw person” as some ICANNers have it nowadays) so the technical folk had a basis to figure out whether the root system could withstand such an influx.

Of course, this limit will have to be revised significantly if ICANN has any hope of processing 25,000 applications in under a generation.

Discussions at the time indicated that the rate of change, not the size of the root zone, was what represented the stability threat.

In reality, the rate of delegation has been significantly slower than 1,000 per year.

It took until May 2016 for the 1,000th new gTLD to go live, 945 days after the first batch were delegated in late October 2013.

That means that during the relative “rush-hour” of new gTLD delegations, there was still only a little over one per day on average.

And that’s counting from the date of the first delegation, which was actually 18 months after the application window was closed.

If that pattern held in subsequent rounds, we would be looking at about 70 years for a batch of 25,000 to make their way through the system.

You could apply for a vanity gTLD matching your family name and leave the delegation as a gift to your great-grandchildren, long after your death.

Clearly, with 25,000 applications some significant process efficiencies — including, I fancy, much more automation — would be in order.

Currently, IANA’s process for making changes to root zone records (including delegations) is somewhat complex and has multiple manual steps. And that’s before Verisign makes the actual change to the master root zone file.

But the act of delegation is only the final stage of processing a gTLD application.

First, applications that typically run into tens of thousands of words have to undergo Initial Evaluation by several teams of knowledgeable consultants.

From Reveal Day in 2012 to the final IE being published in 2014 took a little over two years, or an average of 2.5 applications per day.

Again, we’re looking at over a quarter of a century just to conduct IE on 25,000 applications.

Then there’s contracting — ICANN’s lawyers would have to sign off on about a dozen Registry Agreements per day if it wanted to process 25,000 delegations in just five years.

Not to mention there’s also pre-delegation testing, contention resolution, auctions, change requests, objections…

There’s a limited window to file objections and there were many complaints, largely from governments, that this period was far too short to read through just 1,930 applications.

A 25,000-string round could take forever, and ICANN’s policies and processes would have to be significantly revised to handle them in a reasonable timeframe.

Then again, potential applicants might view the 2012 round as a bust and the next round could be hugely under-subscribed.

There’s no way of knowing for sure, unfortunately.

ICANN shuffles regional bosses, drops “hub” concept

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has made a couple of changes to its senior management team and abandoned the Chehade-era concept of “hub” offices.

Rather than having three offices it calls “hubs” in different parts of the world — Los Angeles, Istanbul and Singapore — it will now have five of what it calls “regional offices”.

As well as the three former hubs, one will be in Brussels, Belgium and the other in Montevideo, Uruguay.

A few vice presidents are being shuffled around to head up each of these offices.

Senior policy VP David Olive is being replaced as managing director of the Istanbul office by Nick Tomasso, who’s also VP in charge of ICANN’s public meetings. Olive will carry on in his VP role, but back in Washington DC, from August.

Fellow policy VP and veteran GAC relations guy Olof Nordling is retiring from ICANN at the end of the July. His role as MD of the Brussels office will be filled by Jean-Jacques Sahel, VP of stakeholder engagement for Europe.

Rodrigo de la Parra, VP of stakeholder engagement for the Latin America region, will be MD of the Montevideo office. Jia-Rong Low runs the Singapore office. ICANN CEO Goran Marby of course is top dog in LA.

The difference in nomenclature — “hub” versus “regional office” — looks to me like it’s quite minor.

Former CEO Fadi Chehade had early on in his stint at ICANN professed a desire to pursue a strategy of aggressive internationalization, with hub offices having equal importance, but I don’t think the idea ever really took off to the extent he expected and he didn’t stick around long enough to see it through.

In addition, the IANA transition last year, which separated ICANN from its US government oversight, pretty much carved ICANN’s California roots into stone for the time being.