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Trump nominee open to retaking ICANN oversight role

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Policy

The incoming head of the US Department of Commerce has indicated that it is unlikely he’ll try to reestablish the US government’s unique oversight of ICANN, at least in the short term.

But at his confirmation hearing in Congress yesterday, Trump nominee for secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said he’d be open to ideas about how the US could increase its power over ICANN.

He was responding to a question from Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who made halting the IANA transition one of his key concerns last year.

Cruz, framing the question in such a way as to suggest ICANN is now in the hands of an intergovernmental consortium (which it is not) asked Ross whether he was committed to preventing censorious regimes using ICANN to hinder Americans’ freedom of speech.

Ross replied:

As such a big market and really as the inventors of the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we seem to be essentially voiceless in the governance of that activity. That strikes me as an intellectually incorrect solution. But I’m not aware of what it is that we actually can do right now to deal with that. If it exists, if some realistic alternative comes up, I’d be very interested.

His response also mischaracterizes the power balance post-transition.

The US is not “essentially voiceless”. Rather, it has the same voice as every other government as a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Its role is arguably still a lot more powerful than other nations, given that ICANN is now bylaws-bound to remain headquartered in California and under US jurisdiction.

As head of Commerce, Ross will have authority over the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency most directly responsible for dealing with ICANN and domain name issues in general.

NTIA itself will to the best of my knowledge still be headed by assistant secretary Larry Strickling, who handled the IANA transition from the US government side. (UPDATE: this may not be correct)

Ross, 79, is a billionaire investor who made most of his estimated $2.5 billion fortune restructuring bankrupt companies in the coal and steel industries.

ICANN retires Affirmation of Commitments with US gov

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has terminated its last formal oversight link with the US government.

Late last week, ICANN chair Steve Crocker and Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration mutually agreed to retire the seven-year-old Affirmation of Commitments.

The AoC, negotiated during the tail end of Paul Twomey’s leadership of ICANN and signed by successor Rod Beckstrom, laid out ICANN’s responsibilities to the US government and, to a lesser extent, vice versa.

It included, for example, ICANN’s commitments to openness and transparency, its promise to remain headquartered in California, and its agreement to ongoing reviews of the impact of its actions.

Ongoing projects such as the Competition and Consumer Trust Review originate in the AoC.

The rationale for concluding the deal now is that most of significant provisions of the AoC have been grandfathered into ICANN’s revised bylaws and other foundational documents following the IANA transition, which concluded in October.

Reviews such as the CCT and the lock on its California HQ are now in the bylaws and elsewhere, ICANN said in a blog post.

It’s worth mentioning that the US gets a new administration led by Donald Trump in a little over a week, so it probably made sense to get the AoC out of the way now, lest the new president do something insane with it.

The letters from Crocker and Strickling terminating the deal can be read together here (pdf).

ICANN’s top DC lobbyist gets consumer safeguards role

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has named veteran staffer Jamie Hedlund as its new senior VP for contractual compliance and consumer safeguards.

It’s a new executive team role, created by the departure of chief contract compliance officer Allen Grogan. Grogan announced his intention to leave ICANN last May, and has been working there part-time since August.

The “consumer safeguards” part of the job description is new.

ICANN first said it planned to hire such a person in late 2014, but the position was never filled, despite frequent poking by anti-spam activists.

Now it appears that the two roles — compliance and consumer safeguards — have been combined.

This makes sense, give that ICANN has no power to safeguard consumers other than the enforcement of its contracts with registries and registrars.

From the outside, it does not immediately strike me as an obvious move for Hedlund.

While his job title has changed regularly during his six or so years at ICANN, he’s mainly known as the organization’s only in-house Washington DC government lobbyist.

He played a key role in the recent IANA transition, which saw the US government sever its formal oversight ties with ICANN.

His bio shows no obvious experience in consumer protection roles.

His replacement in the government relations role is arguably just as surprising — Duncan Burns, a veteran PR man who will keep his current job title of senior VP of global communications.

The appointments seem to indicate that lobbying the US government is not as critical to ICANN in the post-transition world, and that institutional experience in the rarefied world of ICANN is a key qualifier for senior positions.

.africa could go live after court refuses injunction

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2017, Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrica’s attempt to have ICANN legally blocked from delegating the .africa gTLD to rival applicant ZACR has been denied.

The ruling by a Los Angeles court, following a December 22 hearing, means ICANN could put .africa in the root, under ZACR’s control, even before the case comes to trial.

A court document (pdf) states:

The plaintiff is seeking to enjoin defendant Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from issuing the .Africa generic top level domain (gTLD) until this case has been resolved…

The plaintiff’s motion for the imposition of a Preliminary Injunction is denied, based on the reasoning expressed in the oral and written arguments of defense counsel.

ICANN was just days away from delegating .africa last April when it was hit by a shock preliminary injunction by a California judge who later admitted he hadn’t fully understood the case.

My understanding is that the latest ruling means ICANN may no longer be subject to that injunction, but ICANN was off for the Christmas holidays last week and unable to comment.

“Sanity prevails and dotAfrica is now one (big) step closer to becoming a reality!” ZACR executive director Neil Dundas wrote on Facebook. He declined to comment further.

Even if ICANN no longer has its hands tied legally, it may decide to wait until the trial is over before delegating .africa anyway.

But its lawyers had argued that there was no need for an injunction, saying that .africa could be re-delegated to DCA should ICANN lose at trial.

DCA case centers on its claims that ICANN treated it unfairly, breaking the terms of the Applicant Guidebook, by awarding .africa to ZACR.

ZACR has support from African governments, as required by the Guidebook, whereas DCA does not.

But DCA argues that a long-since revoked support letter from the African Union should still count, based on the well-known principle of jurisprudence the playground “no take-backs”.

The parties are due to return to court January 23 to agree upon dates for the trial.

After Zika threat passes, ICANN confirms return to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN will hold its first public meeting of 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was originally supposed to the venue for this October’s meeting.

ICANN moved ICANN 57 from San Juan to Hyderabad, India in May, at the height of the scare about the Zika virus.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes and sex and can cause horrible birth defects. An epidemic, beginning in 2015, saw thousands affected in the Americas and South-East Asia.

Puerto Rico was one of the affected regions. At the time of the ICANN postponement, numerous government travel warnings were in effect.

The World Health Organization announced last month that the epidemic is over.

It was always understood that Puerto Rico had been merely postponed rather than permanently canceled, and ICANN’s board of directors this week resolved to hold the March 2018 meeting — ICANN 61 — there.