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ICANN going to Panama for 56th meeting

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2015, Domain Policy

Panama has been selected as the venue for ICANN’s 56th public meeting.

The ICANN board of directors approved the location a few days ago.

The meeting will be held in June next year in Panama City.

ICANN 56 falls between the March meeting in Marrakech, Morocco and October’s meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The final meeting of 2015 happens in Dublin, Ireland in a couple of weeks.

The structure of ICANN meetings changes next year, so the Panama gathering will be the first example of a four-day schedule that eschews traditional sessions such as the opening ceremony and public forum.

Africa hands coffin nails to DotConnectAfrica evaluators

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2015, Domain Policy

The African Union and a United Nations commission have formally told ICANN that they don’t support DotConnectAfrica’s bid for .africa.

When it comes to showing governmental support, a necessity under ICANN’s rules for a geographic gTLD applications, the UN Economic Commission for Africa was DCA’s only prayer.

Company CEO Sophia Bekele had managed to get somebody at UNECA to write a letter supporting .africa back in 2008, and DCA has continued to pretend that the letter was relevant even after the entire continent came out in support of rival applicant ZA Central Registry.

During its Independent Review Process appeal, DCA begged the IRP panel to declare that the 2008 letter showed it had the support of the 60% of African governments that it requires to be approved by ICANN.

The panel naturally declined to take this view.

Now UNECA has said in a letter to the African Union Commission (pdf) dated July 20, which has since been forwarded to ICANN:

ECA as United Nations entity is neither a government nor a public authority and therefore is not qualified to issue a letter of support for a prospective applicant in support of their application. In addition, ECA does not have a mandate represent the views or convey the support or otherwise of African governments in matters relating to application for delegation of the gTLD.

It is ECA’s position that the August 2008 letter to Ms Bekele cannot be properly considered as a “letter of support or endorsement” with the context of ICANN’s requirements and cannot be used as such.

The AUC itself has also now confirmed for the umpteenth time, in a September 29 letter (pdf), that it doesn’t support the DCA bid either. It said:

Any reliance by DCA in its application… proclaiming support or endorsement by the AUC, must be dismissed. The AUC does not support the DCA application and, if any such support was initially provided, it has subsequently been withdrawn with the full knowledge of DCA even prior to the commencement of ICANN’s new gTLD application process.

The AUC went on to say that if DCA is claiming support from any individual African government, such claims should be treated “with the utmost caution and sensitivity”.

That’s because a few years ago African Union member states all signed up to a declaration handing authority over .africa to the AUC.

The AUC ran an open process to find a registry operator. DCA consciously decided to not participate, proclaiming the process corrupt, and ZACR won.

The new letters are relevant because DCA is currently being evaluated for the second time by ICANN’s independent Geographic Names Panel, which has to decide whether DCA has the support of 60% of African governments.

ZACR passed its GNP review largely due to a letter of support from the AUC.

If DCA does not have the same level of support, its application will fail for the second time.

The 2008 UNECA letter was the only thing DCA had left showing any kind of support from any governmental authority.

Now that’s gone, does this mean the DCA application is dead?

No. DCA has a track record of operating irrationally and throwing good money after bad. There’s every chance that when it fails the Geographic Names Review it will simply file another Request for Reconsideration and then another IRP, delaying the delegation of .africa for another year or so.

ICANN on “knife edge” after accountability impasse

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2015, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors and the community group tasked with improving its accountability have failed to come to a compromise over the future direction of the organization, despite an intense two-day argument at the weekend.

As the often fractious Los Angeles gathering drew to a close, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the board was sticking to its original position on how ICANN should be structured in future, apparently unmoved by opposing arguments.

Other directors later echoed that view.

The Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) has proposed a raft of measures designed to ensure ICANN can be held to account in future if its board goes off the rails and starts behaving crazy.

Basically, it’s trying to find a back-stop to replace the US government, which intends to remove itself from stewardship of the DNS root zone next year.

A key proposal from the CCWG is that ICANN should be remade as a member organization, a specific type of legal structure under California law.

A Sole Member, governed by community members, would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

But the ICANN board thinks that’s too complicated, that it would replace the board with the Sole Member as the ultimate governing body of ICANN, and that it could lead to unintended consequences.

It’s suggested a replacement Multistakeholder Enforcement Model that would do away with the Member and replace it with a binding arbitration process.

Its model is a lot weaker than the one proposed by the CCWG.

Much of the LA meeting’s testing first day was taken up with discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these two models.

The second day, in an effort to adopt a more collegial tone, attendees attempted to return to the basics of how decisions are made and challenged in ICANN.

The result was a discussion that dwelt slightly too long on technicalities like voting thresholds, committee make-ups and legal minutiae.

There seems to be a general consensus that the meeting didn’t accomplish much.

Towards the end of the first day, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Larry Stricking urged attendees to get their acts together and come up with something simple that had broad community support. He said:

At this point, we do not have a view that any particular approach is absolutely okay or is absolutely not okay. But what I can tell you is that the work that we need to see, the thoroughness, the detail, and I put this in the blog, it is not there yet. So that I don’t feel comfortable even taking what we saw in these reports and trying to opine on them because there are too many open questions

On Saturday, fellow government man Ira Magaziner, who was deeply involved with ICANN’s creation as a member of the Clinton administration, issued a stark warning.

“I think you can fail. And I think you’re right on a knife’s edge now as to whether you’ll succeed or fail,” he said.

He warned that the IANA transition is going to become a political football as the US presidential election enters its final year and unorthodox candidates (I think he means the Republican clown car) are putting forward “somewhat nationalistic” points of view.

“I think you have a limited amount of time to get this done and for the US government to consider it and pass it,” he said.

That basically means the transition has to happen before January 2017, when there’ll be a new president in the White House. If it’s a Republican, the chances of the transition going ahead get slimmer.

Sure enough, within 24 hours the first reports emerged that Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, backed up by a few other senators, is asking the Government Accountability Office whether it’s even within the power of the US executive to remove itself from the IANA process.

In a letter, Cruz asked:

1. Would the termination of the NTIA’s contract with ICANN cause Government property, of any kind, to be transferred to ICANN?

2. Is the authoritative root zone file, or other related or similar materials or information, United States government property?

3. If so, does the NTIA have the authority to transfer the root zone file or, other related materials or information to a non-federal entity?

If this kind of anti-transition sentiment catches popular opinion, you can guarantee other jingoistic candidates will fall in line.

So ICANN’s on the clock, racing the US political process. In Magaziner’s view, the meat of the disagreements needs to be resolved by the end of the Dublin meeting — three weeks from now — or not long thereafter.

He seems to be of the view that the CCWG has overreached its remit. He said:

The task of accountability that was assigned to this group was, as the chair said this morning, to replace the ultimate backstop of the US government with a community-based backstop. The committee was not charged to completely rewrite the way ICANN works. I’m sure ICANN can be improved and there ought to be an ongoing process to improve the way it works, but this particular committee and NTIA didn’t ask you to completely redo ICANN.

The LA meeting didn’t seem to help much in moving the accountability debate closer.

On Saturday afternoon, Crocker spoke to confirm that the board is sticking to its guns in opposing the Sole Member model.

“We certainly did not understand and don’t believe that creating a superstructure to replace them [the US government] in a corporate sense was intended, desired, needed, or appropriate,” he said.

“So in the comments that we submitted some time ago, we did represent a board position. We did a quick check this morning, and 100% agreement that what we said then still stands,” he said.

That’s a reference to the board feedback on the CCWG proposal submitted September 11.

Now, the CCWG has to figure out what to do before Dublin.

Currently, it’s combing through the scores of public comments submitted on its last draft proposals (probably something that should have happened earlier) in order to figure out exactly where everyone agrees and disagrees.

It seems ICANN 54, which starts October 16, will be dominated by this stuff.

ICANN lists the ways the new gTLD program sucked

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has published an analysis of the many ways in which the first round of the new gTLD program wasted everyone’s time and money.

The 200-page “New gTLD Program Implementation Review” is essentially a long list of ways the program could have been better, along with dozens of recommendations for possible future changes.

It’s for the most part a fairly dry read, and it is probably not as comprehensive as it could be, but it will be required reading for anyone working on policy concerning, or thinking of applying during, the second application round.

It concludes, for example, that maybe there should be a right to appeal inconsistent objection rulings.

It ponders aloud whether the Community Priority Evaluation should be scrapped or revised.

It wonders whether dot-brands, or other categories of gTLD, should get their own version of the standard Registry Agreement.

There’s also some discussion about the possibility of making the evaluation stage more efficient by grouping applications by applicant or back-end service provider, which would streamline the process but complicate the prioritization queues.

I count 48 “lessons learned” in the document, but as a concise summary covering over three years of the program, it’s necessarily somewhat light on detail.

On my first read, a few omissions jumped out at me.

There’s no discussion at all of the cybersquatting component of the background screening process, for example. Nor is there any mention of Geographic Name Review shortcomings highlighted by the recent .africa Independent Review Process case.

Also, in my view the document goes way too easy on the Governmental Advisory Committee.

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure almost everyone who reads it will notice something lacking.

That’s why it’s now open for public comment.

The document is expected to be used as part of the review leading into the second application round, which somehow seems more distant with each passing day.

US gov: we can’t support ICANN accountability plan

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has waded into the ICANN accountability debate, possibly muddying the waters in the process.

In a blog post last night, NTIA head Larry Strickling said that community proposals for enhancing accountability were not yet detailed enough, and had not reached the desired level of consensus, for the NTIA to support them.

He urged everyone involved to simplify the proposals and to work on areas where there is still confusion or disagreement.

The comments were directed at the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG), a diverse volunteer committee that has been tasked with coming up with ways to improve ICANN accountability after the US government severs formal oversight of the IANA functions.

That group spent a year coming up with a set of draft proposals, outlining measures such as stronger, harder-to-change bylaws and improvements to the Independent Review Process.

But the main organizational change it proposed is where the most conflict has emerged.

CCWG thinks the best way to give the community a way to enforce accountability is to change ICANN into a membership organization, a certain type of legal entity under California law.

It would have a Sole Member, a legal entity peopled by members of each part of the community, which would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

The ICANN board doesn’t dig this idea one bit. Its outside attorneys at Jones Day have counseled against such a move as untested, overly complex and potentially subject to capture.

On a recent three-hour teleconference, the board proposed the Sole Member model be replaced by a “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism”.

The MEM would create a binding arbitration process — enforceable in California court — through which ICANN’s supporting organizations and advisory committees could gang up to challenge decisions that they believe go against ICANN’s Fundamental Bylaws.

Since this bombshell, a key question facing the CCWG has been: is the board’s view being informed primarily by its lawyers, or has Strickling been quietly raising NTIA concerns about the proposal via back-channels?

If it’s the former, the CCWG and its own outside counsel could robustly argue the community’s corner.

If it’s the latter, it’s pretty much back to the drawing board — because if the NTIA doesn’t like the plan, it won’t be approved.

Unfortunately, Strickling’s latest blog post avoids giving any straight answers, saying “it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of the community”.

But his choice of language may suggest a degree of support for the board’s position.

As I stated in Argentina in June, provide us a plan that is as simple as possible but still meets our conditions and the community’s needs. Every day you take now to simplify the plan, resolve questions, and provide details will shorten the length of time it will take to implement the plan and increase the likelihood that the plan will preserve the security and stability of the Internet. Putting in the extra effort now to develop the best possible consensus plan should enhance the likelihood that the transition will be completed on a timely schedule.

The emphasis on “simplicity” could be read as coded support for the board, which has repeatedly said that it thinks the Sole Member model may be too complicated for the NTIA to swallow.

Both the board and Strickling’s latest post refer back to a speech he made in Buenos Aires in June, in which he said:

If a plan is too complex, it increases the likelihood there will be issues that emerge later. Unnecessary complexity increases the possibility that the community will be unable to identify and mitigate all the consequences of the plan. And a complex plan almost certainly will take longer to implement.

Strickling certainly knows that the board has been citing these comments in its objection to the Sole Member model, so the fact that he chose to repeat them may be indicative of which way he is leaning. Or maybe it isn’t.

Either way, I think it’s going to be tough for the CCWG to easily dismiss the board’s concerns.

CCWG members are currently on planes heading to ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles for a two-day face-to-face meeting at which the chairs “expect that a large portion of our time… will be reserved to answering the tough questions”.

Many believe that unless this meeting is extraordinarily successful, it’s going to be tough for an IANA transition proposal to be approved by the NTIA under the current US administration.