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ICANN bans closed generic gTLDs, for now

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has slapped a de facto ban on so-called “closed generic” gTLDs, at least for the remaining 2012 round applicants.

The ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee passed a resolution Sunday that un-freezes the remaining new gTLD applications that envisage a namespace wholly controlled by the applicant.

The affected strings are .hotels, .dvr and .grocery, which are uncontested, as well as .food, .data and .phone, which are contested by one or two other applicants.

The NGPC said five strings are affected, but the ICANN web site currently shows these six.

The resolution allows the contested strings to head to dispute resolution or auction, but makes it clear that “exclusive generic gTLDs” will not be able to sign a registry contract.

Instead, they will either have to withdraw their applications (receiving a partial refund), drop their exclusivity plans, or have their applications carried over to the second new gTLD round.

The GNSO has been asked to develop a policy on closed generics for the second round, which is still probably years away.

It’s not clear whether other applicants would be able to apply for strings that are carried over, potentially making the close generic applicant fight two contention sets.

The NGPC decision comes over two years after the Governmental Advisory Committee advised that closed generics must serve “a public interest goal” or be rejected.

This weekend’s resolution sidesteps the “public interest” question altogether.

Chehade confirms he’ll be gone before IANA transition is done

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has laid out his current best thinking for the timeline of the IANA’s transition from US government oversight, and he’ll be gone well before it’s done.

At the opening ceremony of the ICANN 53 meeting in Buenos Aires today, Chehade described how June 2016 is a likely date for the divorce; three months after his resignation takes effect.

Chehade said:

I asked our community leaders, “Based on your plans and what you’re seeing and what you know today, when could that finish?” The answers that are coming back to us seem to indicate that by ICANN 56, which will be back in Latin America in the middle of 2016, a year from today, the contract with the US Government could come to an end.

He showed a slide that broke the remaining work of the transition into three phases.

Work being carried out within ICANN is not entirely to blame for the length of time the process will take.

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration needs 60 to 90 days to review the final community-developed transition proposal.

And under forthcoming US legislation, 30 legislative days will be required for the US Congress to review the NTIA’s approval of the plan.

Thirty legislative days, Chehade explained, could mean as many as 60 actual days, depending on the yet-unpublished 2016 Congressional calendar.

He urged the community focus hard on Phase One in his graphic — actually producing a consensus transition plan.

The target for delivery of this is the next ICANN meeting, 54, which will take place in Dublin, Ireland from October 18 to October 22 this year.

ICANN 53 launches with risky Caitlyn Jenner joke

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has risked the ire of community members by kicking off ICANN 53 today with a joke referencing transgender celebrity Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.

Just moments into his opening address this hour, ICANN chair Steve Crocker worked a joke around before/after photos of the former athlete.

[UPDATE: Crocker has issued an apology. See the bottom of this post.]

Jenner

This is what Crocker said:

What are we really talking about here? What is this thing we call “the transition”? And why has it captivated the attention of so many?

[Jenner photo appears]

Ahhh, no. That’s not quite the transition that I’m referring to. I’m only referring to the IANA stewardship transition.

Reaction from attendees was mixed.

The joke got laughter from the room.

On Twitter, some were less amused.

I’ll be the first to leap to the defense of the joke.

I laughed. I don’t think it was offensive or insulting to Jenner or to trans people in general — it was more a joke about celebrity culture — and I don’t think any offense was intended.

If I had seen it on TV, I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. I even made a joke about Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover, on Twitter, a couple weeks back.

But a lot of ICANN regulars are more sensitive about this kind of thing. I’ve had conversations with people who believe it was highly inappropriate for CEO Fadi Chehade to congratulate a participant, from the stage during a previous meeting, on her visible pregnancy.

For ICANN’s chairman to make a joke about a transgender person’s transition at the opening ceremony of a major meeting? That’s a misjudgment, in my view.

ICANN, recall, has recently been bombarded with letters from equal rights groups over the decision by the Economist Intelligence Unit to reject a .gay gTLD applicant’s Community Priority Evaluation.

EIU based its decision in large part on the fact that the proposed .gay community included transgender and intersex people, which the EIU said were not encapsulated by the string “gay”.

ICANN has expected standards of behavior for its meetings that cover such things as sexism and homophobia.

UPDATE: Crocker issued the following statement on ICANN’s Facebook account:

I understand that I may have inadvertently offended some during my speech at this morning’s welcome session with a reference to Caitlyn Jenner, which was intended as a salute. It opened up an important dialog that is consistent with our principles.

Please know that I view Caitlyn’s decision to be heroic and brave. I made this reference solely because of the world attention on a transition and it was not intended in any way, shape or form to be a criticism of her heroic decision. I was in no way making light or poking fun at her transition, but rather playing on the world attention on a “transition.” I apologize if my comments were perceived in a different manner than I intended them.

Dr. Stephen Crocker

ICANN Board Chair

Photo credit: James Bladel.

Chehade makes case for insider CEO in frank assessment of failings

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2015, Domain Policy

Outgoing ICANN CEO has made a case for his successor to be somebody already intimately familiar with the ICANN community.

His remarks, which stopped short of explicitly recommending an insider take over his position when he leaves next March, came during a frank self-assessment of his shortcomings in the job at ICANN 53 in Buenos Aires yesterday.

“There are many things I could have done better or done differently,” Chehade said before an audience of Generic Names Supporting Organization members.

He freely confessed to jumping headlong into the job before he fully understood ICANN as a community; how it functions and where the real power is supposed to be wielded.

The key example of that, he said, was the creation of some of the rules now in use at the Trademark Clearinghouse.

“I meant well, I intended well, but I broke every process in the system,” he said. “I didn’t know, and I really didn’t realize that I didn’t until later.”

That’s a reference to late 2012, when Chehade convened a series of secretive, invitation-only community meetings that gave the Intellectual Property Constituency yet another chance to have rights protection mechanisms strengthened.

Chehade famously even asked participants to not even live-tweet during the discussions, it was not webcast, and recordings of (some of) the sessions were not published until DI filed a Documentary Information Disclosure Process request.

These “strawman” meetings culminated in the IPC being given the “Trademark+50” mechanism, which allows variations on trademarks to be protected, and the Non-Commercial Users Constituency to claim its voice had been under-represented and largely ignored.

For this reason and others, Chehade now says his successor had better have “very very good preparation and orientation”.

“Spending about seven minutes with the prior CEO before I took this job is not something I recommend,” he said, apparently a reference to time spent with his predecessor, Rod Beckstrom.

“This is a very complex job, and a very layered role, and I had no orientation to speak of,” he said. “If he or she is not someone who knows this community, this person better have a lot of orientation.”

He described how it took him some time to get to grips with the idea that he’s not a CEO in the conventional sense, able to make changes at will and answerable only to the board of directors.

“I am not a CEO,” he said. “There are types of CEO and this is a servant CEO job. Until you get that you keep hitting walls.”

He also described the job as “a politician without a flag” and “community facilitator”.

His biggest regret, he said, was failing to immediately realize that the facilitator function was the most important part of the job.

It took a clash last year about accountability being a key part of the IANA transition for him to realize this, he said.

“I hope you will all contribute in finding a person who will serve you well from day one, not like me, who from day one will arrive understanding all the parts of this,” he said.

Whether he intended it or not, this sounds like Chehade would err towards hiring an ICANN community veteran as his successor.

He said his replacement should be somebody who “knows all the things I learned, hopefully on day one, or on month one. Or on year one, but not three years in.”

It should be noted that Chehade turned down the chance to be a part of the team that will choose his successor.

Chehade’s position appears to diametrically opposed that of his predecessor. During Beckstrom’s tenure as “outgoing” CEO, he explicitly recommended an outsider take over the role.

“I hope that the person who replaces me will be of the highest integrity and has no recent or current commercial or career interests in the domain industry, because ICANN’s fairness, objectivity and independence are of paramount importance to the future of the internet,” Beckstrom said in October 2011.

Beckstrom’s remarks came as ICANN came under intensified scrutiny over perceived conflicts of interest.

Peter Dengate Thrush had recently come to the end of his tenure as ICANN chair, pushing through the (premature?) approval of the new gTLD program in his last few days on the job and joining applicant Minds + Machines just a few weeks later.

Chehade’s remarks yesterday come as ICANN is in a different position.

When he leaves next March, ICANN will either be freshly decoupled from its oversight relationship with the US government, or will be on the verge of it.

It won’t be an easy time for a new CEO to take over, trying to steer the organization under a fresh, untested set of governance principles.

When it comes to “insiders” with intimate knowledge of ICANN, there are a few community members not already on ICANN staff I could imagine pitching themselves for the CEO’s job.

But there’s also the possibility of an internal hire.

Remember, one of Chehade’s first actions upon taking the job was to hire the two other people who had been on the board’s final shortlist — Tarek Kamel and Sally Costerton.

Kamel, once a controversial minister in Mubarak’s Egyptian government, is currently Chehade’s senior advisor for government engagement.

Costerton was London-based EMEA CEO at the public relations agency Hill & Knowlton. Today, she’s the senior advisor for global stakeholder engagement. She maintains a blog about women in leadership positions that some readers might find eye-opening in the ICANN CEO search context.

Both were considered CEO material three years ago, and both now have three years of ICANN experience to put on their job applications (if they choose to file them).

So why is Chehade leaving ICANN? The persistent rumors have him either being offered the job of his dreams elsewhere, or suffering a severe case of ICANN burnout.

But yesterday he left little doubt whether his next job, which it has been confirmed he already has lined up, would be better that his current one.

“[ICANN CEO] is a beautiful job. It is a fantastic job. It is better job that I’ve ever had, or will ever have I think. It is amazing. Lucky is the person who will take my place,” he said.

So, um, why quit?

“The next phase of ICANN requires a different person. Don’t go rehire Fadi. You don’t need another Fadi. I was there for a purpose, for a time,” he said. “I am a classic change agent CEO. I either build things from scratch… or I transform things. ICANN doesn’t need this now.”

Asked to comment on his biggest successes, Chehade deferred, saying his legacy was something to talk about at a different time.

US Congresspeople tell ICANN to ignore GAC “interference”

Kevin Murphy, June 12, 2015, Domain Policy

A bispartisan group of US Congresspeople have called on ICANN to stop bowing to Governmental Advisory Committee meddling.

Showing characteristic chutzpah, the governmental body advises ICANN that advice from governments should be viewed less deferentially in future, lest the GAC gain too much power.

The members wrote (pdf):

Recent reports indicate that the GAC has sought to increase its power at the expense of the multistakeholder system. Although government engagement in Internet governance is prudent, we are concerned that allowing government interference threatens to undermine the multistakeholder system, increasing the risk of government capture of the ICANN Board.

The letter was signed by 11 members of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet, which is one of the House committees that most frequently hauls ICANN to Capitol Hill to explain itself.

Most of the signatories are from the Republican majority, but some are Democrats.

It’s not entirely clear where they draw the line between “engagement” and “interference”.

The letter highlights two specific pieces of GAC input that the signatories seem to believe constitute interference.

First, the GAC’s objection to Amazon’s application for .amazon. The letter says this objection came “without legal basis” and that ICANN “succumbed to political pressure” when it rejected the application.

In reality, the GAC’s advice was consensus advice as envisaged by the Application Guidebook rules. It was the US government that succumbed to political pressure, when it decided to keep its mouth shut and allow the rest of the GAC to reach consensus.

The one thing the GAC did wrong was filing its .amazon objection outside of the window envisaged by the Guidebook, but that’s true of almost every piece of advice it’s given about new gTLD applications.

Second, the Congresspeople are worried that the GAC has seized for its members the right to ban the two-letter code representing their country from any new gTLD of their choosing.

I’ve gone into some depth into how stupid and hypocritical this is before.

The letter says that it has “negative implications for speech and the world economy”, which probably has a grain of truth in it.

But does it cross the line from “engagement” to “interference”?

The Applicant Guidebook explicitly “initially reserved” all two-letter strings at the second level in all new gTLDs.

It goes on to say that they “may be released to the extent that Registry Operator reaches agreement with the government and country-code manager.”

While the rule is pointless and the current implementation convoluted, it comes as a result of the GAC engaging before the new gTLD program kicked off. It was something that all registries were aware of when they applied for their gTLDs.

However, the GAC’s more recent behavior on the two-letter domain subject has been incoherent and looks much more like meddling.

At the ICANN meeting in Los Angeles last October, faced with requests for two-character domains to be released, the GAC issued formal advice saying it was “not in a position to offer consensus advice on the use of two-character second level domain names”.

ICANN’s board of directors accordingly passed a resolution calling for a release mechanism to be developed by ICANN staff.

But by the time February ICANN meeting rolled around, it had emerged that registries’ release requests had been put on hold by ICANN due to letters from the GAC.

The GAC then used its Singapore communique to advise ICANN to “amend the current process… so that relevant governments can be alerted as requests are initiated.” It added that “Comments from relevant governments should be fully considered.”

ICANN interpreted “fully considered” to mean an effective veto, which has led to domains such as it.pizza and fr.domains being banned.

So it does look like thirteenth-hour interference but that’s largely because the GAC is often incapable of making its mind up, rarely talks in specifics, and doesn’t meet frequently enough to work within timelines set by the rest of the community.

However, while there’s undoubtedly harm from registries being messed around by the GAC recently, governments don’t seem to have given themselves any powers that they did not already have in the Applicant Guidebook.