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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.

.wine no longer blocked after EU drops complaint

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2015, Domain Policy

Donuts and ICANN are currently in the process of signing new gTLD agreements for .wine and .vin, after the European Union and wine sellers dropped objections.

As of today, both gTLDs are “In Contracting” rather than “On Hold”, according to ICANN’s web site.

ICANN revealed earlier this week that the European Union and various wine trade associations have both dropped their Cooperative Engagement Process complaints.

CEP is less formal precursor to a much more expensive and lawyer-hungry Independent Review Process complaint.

With the CEPs out of the way, Donuts is now free to sign its contracts.

Donuts won the auction for .wine back in November, but its application was frozen due to ongoing arguments about the protection of “geographic indicators” representing wine-making regions.

Governments, particularly in Europe and Latin America, had protested that .wine and .vin should not be allowed to launch until areas such as Rioja and Champagne were given special privileges.

Last October, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade told the French government that it was negotiating with applicants to get these protections included in the contracts.

Either Donuts has agreed to such protections, or the EU and wine-makers have gotten bored of complaining.

My feeling is the former is probably more likely, which may be controversial in itself.

There is no international agreement on GI protection — the US and Australia opposed the EU’s position on .wine — so this may be seen as a case of ICANN creating new rights where none previously existed.

Draconian Chinese crackdown puts domain industry at risk

Kevin Murphy, May 27, 2015, Domain Policy

The vast majority of top-level domain registries could soon be banned from selling domains into China due to a reported crackdown under a decade-old law.

That’s according to Allegravita, a company that helps registries with their go-to-market strategies in the country.

Allegravita released a report last week claiming that Chinese registrars will be forbidden to sell domains in TLDs that are not on a government-approved list.

The crackdown could come as early as July, the report says:

Foreign registries which have not applied for Chinese market approval are advised to do so in the near term, as unapproved Top-Level Domains are likely to be taken off the market from July this year.

As of April 30, there were only only 14 TLDs on the approved list. All of them are run by Chinese registries and only five do not use Chinese script.

Not on the list: every legacy gTLD, including .com, as well as every ccTLD apart from .cn.

The Draconian move is actually the implementation of regulations introduced by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology over a decade ago but not really enforced since.

As I reported in December, Donuts was facing problems launching its Chinese-script gTLDs due to this red tape.

MIIT announced in 2012 that new gTLD applicants would need licenses to sell into China.

According to Allegrevita, which until recently was working heavily with TLD Registry (“.chinesewebsite”) on its entry into the country, it’s “no longer ambiguous” that MIIT has asserted full oversight of the domain industry in China.

MIIT’s crackdown appears to be focused on the 93 Chinese registrars it has approved to do business.

Allegravita says these companies will not be allowed to sell unapproved TLD domains to Chinese registrants, but that existing registrations will be grandfathered:

by sometime in July 2015, the MIIT will not permit unapproved registries to operate or offer their domains for sale in China. The MIIT will not interfere with existing domain registrations for unapproved registries; however, new registrations will not be permitted to be sold by Chinese registrars to Chinese registrants.

Presumably, non-Chinese registrars will reap the benefits of this as Chinese would-be registrants look elsewhere to buy their domains.

China is an important market for many registries, particularly the low-cost ones.

Judging by MIIT’s web site, getting approval to sell your TLD in China involves a fairly stringent set of requirements, including having a local presence.

MIIT said in a press release last month that the “special action” is designed “to promote the healthy development of the Internet, to protect China’s Internet domain name system safe and reliable operation

Chehade quits as ICANN CEO

Kevin Murphy, May 21, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN president and CEO Fadi Chehade will step down from the post March 2016, he said in the last hour.

The shock news means he will have served just three and a half years in the top job by the time he leaves. He started September 14, 2012.

It sounds like he might already has a new job lined up. (UPDATE: He’s told AFP that he does, and the identity of his employer will be disclosed later this year.)

He’s told ICANN he intends “to move into a new career in the private sector (outside the Domain Name Industry)”, according to a press release.

Chehade will probably leave just about the same time as the transition of the IANA functions from US government oversight is finalized, assuming ICANN misses the target date of September 2015 and gets a six-month extension.

Here’s the full text of the press release:

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) today announced that President and CEO Fadi Chehadé has informed the Board he will be concluding his tenure in March 2016 to move into a new career in the private sector (outside the Domain Name Industry).

At the request of the Board, Chehadé will be available to work closely with ICANN after March 2016 to support the transition to a new leader, as well as to advise the Board on any issue they require including the implementation of the IANA Stewardship Transition from the US Government to ICANN and the technical operating community.

“I want to thank Fadi for his strong commitment,” said Dr. Stephen Crocker, Chair of the Board of Directors. I am very confident that with Fadi’s continued leadership and ICANN’s very experienced management team who have the breadth to ensure that ICANN continues to manage its key responsibilities effectively, that the organization’s work will proceed smoothly.”

“I am deeply committed to working with the Board, our staff, and our community to continue ICANN’s mission as we still have much to accomplish,” said Chehadé. “During the remaining 10 months of my tenure, it’s business-as-usual. My priority remains to continue strengthening ICANN’s operations and services to the global community.”

Personally, I think this is going to be horrible for continuity at ICANN. Chehade is a vision guy who had set out long-term goals for the organization that I don’t think he’ll be able to wrap up in his remaining 10 months.

What do you think?