ICANN: new gTLDs will not kill the internet

Kevin Murphy, June 28, 2012, Domain Policy

One of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee’s ongoing inexplicable obsessions is that the introduction of new top-level domains risks toppling the internet.

One or more GAC members have raised the topic of DNS root zone scalability at pretty much every meeting the GAC has had with ICANN’s board of directors for the last couple of years.

It’s the reason why ICANN has committed to delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs – a fairly arbitrarily chosen number – to the root per year.

I’m not entirely sure where the GAC’s concerns originated, but they’ve been dismissed as red herrings on multiple occasions by ICANN and third-party technical experts.

And now ICANN has published yet another report – this one written by its own IANA staff – making the point that the risk to root stability is query volume, not database size.

Here’s the gist:

Having twice as many TLDs does not mean that the average Internet user visits twice as many web pages, or writes twice as many emails. Rather, Internet usage is driven by growth in overall Internet adoption. Having more TLDs available does not directly incur increased usage of the DNS; rather it will exchange a subset of their query load from existing TLDs to new TLDs.

You can download the full report here.

New gTLD application batching dead?

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2012, Domain Policy

It’s looking increasingly possible that not only is digital archery dead, but that ICANN may also kill off the idea of batching new gTLD applications entirely this week.

Given the number of groveling apologies from staff and board about the failure of digital archery over the last few days, there doesn’t seem to be any way it can be plausibly reinstated following its shut-down last week.

But from the first three days of meetings and hallway conversations here at ICANN 44 in Prague, it’s pretty clear that doing away with batching is under serious consideration at board level.

It’s also my understanding that ICANN staff, which initially appeared reluctant to abandon plans to divide the 1,930 applications into three or four batches, is now also thinking along the same lines.

Batching is unpopular among most — but by no means all — applicants, because they don’t want to risk losing a time-to-market advantage by being allocated to a later batch.

When director Chris Disspain told an audience of applicants yesterday, “What I think the board thinks you want now is certainty,” the reaction suggested he had hit the nail on the head.

The problem ICANN has with a single batchless evaluation process is that it faces — hypothetically at least — up to 1,409 unique gTLDs exiting Initial Evaluation at the same time.

This could cause problems because it’s promised the DNS root server operators and the Governmental Advisory Committee that it will delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs per year.

These commitments are, at least for now, non-negotiable, chairman Steve Crocker has indicated this week.

So ICANN has to figure out a way to “rate limit” application processing so that no more than 1,000 gTLDs go live in the same 12 month period.

Many opponents of batching have stated that the process already contains several throttling mechanisms, or “gateways” as ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis calls them.

For starters, not every application will be successful. Some will be withdrawn soon because they were tactical filings, others will not pass Initial Evaluation and will be withdrawn.

Some will fail Initial Evaluation and enter Extended Evaluation. Others will face formal objections or will find themselves in contention resolution.

In these cases, applicants can expect an extra six months of processing time, which will act as a natural throttle.

For those applications that get through to contract negotiations, ICANN’s legal department will operate on a strict first-in-first-out basis with the paper contracts, Disspain said yesterday.

But there’s a concern that these gateways might not be enough to smooth out the evaluation and approval process.

Various solutions have been put forward by the ICANN community so far this week.

These have ranged from the predictable “IDN applicants should go first” from IDN applicants and “brands should go first” from brand applicants, which both seem unlikely to be adopted, to some more inventive ideas.

Top Level Domain Holdings founder Fred Krueger and others have suggested that one way to prioritize applications would be to ask the large portfolio applicants — TLDH, Google, Donuts, et al — to decide which of their gTLDs they want to hit the root first.

“I value .london significantly more than I value .beer,” Krueger said yesterday. “I’m sure Google values .google more than .lol.”

Another idea, put forward by Uniregistry’s outside counsel Bret Fausett yesterday, was to rank applications according to how cleanly they exit Initial Evaluation.

Applications that made it through Initial Evaluation without the evaluators needing to ask any clarifying questions would be considered the “first batch”. Those that needed a single question answered would be the “second batch”, and so on.

This system would have the advantages of enabling a single batch while rate-limiting applications based on their inherent quality.

On the face of it, it’s quite an attractive idea, and it’s my sense that Fausett’s approach was well-received by ICANN. We might be hearing more about it as ICANN 44 progresses.

Former ICANN VP calls bull on Beckstrom’s exit speech

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2012, Domain Policy

If you were following DI on Twitter during the opening ceremony of ICANN 44 yesterday, you may have noticed I only tweeted one direct quote from incoming CEO Fadi Chehade.

I pulled this one line out of what was a fairly long and passionate address because I had a “hunch” what might be coming up next when outgoing CEO Rod Beckstrom took the stage for the final time.

Now, former ICANN vice president of corporate affairs Paul Levins has called out his old boss for taking credit where credit may not be due.

Beckstrom said, during his opening remarks:

My first day on the job, I was given a blank sheet of paper and I was told that the Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Commerce of the US government was not going to be renewed by ICANN.

And I was told, “You better come up with something better and you have to get it done in 90 days because the MoU is going to expire.”

Together we worked and we created the Affirmation of Commitments.

The MoU and the AoC which replaced it have been ICANN’s primary statements of legitimacy with the US government, spelling out its responsibilities to the internet community.

Levins, writing on CircleID last night, calls Beckstrom out on the statement.

We were not starting with a blank piece of paper. It’s to his credit that he allowed that to continue, but it’s not healthy to perpetuate a belief that what replaced the Joint Project Agreement — the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) — was miraculously developed in the space of only weeks prior to the expiration of the JPA — that an accountability rabbit was pulled from the hat.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was ultimately the result of ten years of community effort.

But in the lead up to the JPA expiry, the direct negotiating and writing team was me, Theresa Swinehart and importantly — from the Department of Commerce (DoC) — the willing, creative and sincere cooperation of Fiona Alexander and Larry Atlas the then Senior Advisor at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Communication at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The first written draft of the AoC had been produced over the eight months prior to Beckstrom’s arrival, Levins writes.

It’s fairly well known that Levins was one of the first people to lose his job under Beckstrom, but several others who were on ICANN staff at the time have confirmed to DI that the AoC was developed as Levins says.

His op-ed doesn’t strike me, in that light, as a full case of sour grapes.

Levins, who seems to be one of the many ICANN attendees who was impressed by Chehade’s debut address yesterday, signs off his editorial with what could be considered advice to both Chehade and Beckstrom:

…truth and sincerity is what should continue to drive the AoC’s ongoing implementation. But it should also drive the corporate memory of its creation.

Humility was a personality trait that ICANN specifically asked for when it advertised the CEO’s job earlier this year.

Judging by the reactions of ICANN 44 attendees who listened to Chehade’s speech yesterday — and have met him — humility is something Chehade appears to possess in buckets.

Everybody I’ve spoken to so far is impressed with the new guy, though some have also pointed out that they felt the same way this time in 2009.

Batching session provides more questions than answers

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN plans to start evaluating new generic top-level domain bids on schedule July 12, despite the fact that its digital archery application batching system is offline.

That’s according to senior vice president Kurt Pritz, who told a session of the GNSO Council here in Prague this morning that “we want to ensure evaluations start taking place as scheduled”.

Due to the large amount of contention it seems most likely that there will be three batches, he said, which will take 15 months to process through Initial Evaluation.

Teams at ICANN’s outside evaluators – Ernst & Young, KMPG et al – are already doing test evaluations in order to “calibrate” their scoring for consistency, Pritz said.

Applications will be continuously sent to evaluators for processing throughout the three batches – split into batches at the “output” stage rather than the “input” stage, he said.

“We feed applications in and batches are how they are reported out,” he said.

But with the future of digital archery currently uncertain, one wonders how the “input” will be ordered.

If ICANN is set on pushing applications into the evaluation funnel by July 12, by which time the batching problem may have not been resolved, we could be faced with some weird scenarios.

Theoretically, a batch three application could be processed next month and not be spat out of the system for another year and a half. That’s my interpretation of what Pritz said, anyway, shared by some but not all people who were in the room.

More details are sure to emerge as ICANN 44 progresses…

Digital archery suspended, surely doomed

Kevin Murphy, June 23, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has turned off its unpopular “digital archery” system after new gTLD applicants and independent testing reported “unexpected results”.

As delegates continue to hit the tarmac here in Prague for ICANN 44, at which batching may well be hottest topic in town, digital archery is now surely doomed.

ICANN said in a statement this morning:

The primary reason is that applicants have reported that the timestamp system returns unexpected results depending on circumstances. Independent analysis also confirmed the variances, some as a result of network latency, others as a result of how the timestamp system responds under differing circumstances.

While that’s pretty vague, it could partly refer to the kind of geographic randomness reported by ARI Registry Services, following testing, earlier this week.

It could also refer to the kind of erratic results reported by Top Level Domain Holdings two weeks ago, which were initially dismissed as a minor display-layer error.

TLDH has also claimed that the number of opportunistic third-party digital archery services calibrating their systems against the live site had caused latency spikes.

Several applicants also said earlier this week that the TLD Application System had been inaccessible for long periods, apparently due to a Citrix overloading problem.

Only 20% of applications had so far registered their archery timestamp, according to ICANN, despite the fact that the system was due to close down on June 28.

Make no mistake, this is another technical humiliation for ICANN, one which casts the resignation of new gTLD program director Michael Salazar on Thursday in a new light.

For applicants, ICANN said evaluations were still proceeding according to plan, but that the batching problem is now open for face-to-face community discussion:

The evaluation process will continue to be executed as designed. Independent firms are already performing test evaluations to promote consistent application of evaluation criteria. The time it takes to delegate TLDs will depend on the number and timing of batches

The information gathered from community input to date and here in Prague will be weighed by the New gTLD Committee of the Board. The Committee will work to ensure that community sentiment is fully understood and to avoid disruption to the evaluation schedule.

Expect ICANN staff to take a community beating over these latest developments as ICANN 44 kicks off here in Prague.

There’s light support for batching, and even less for digital archery. It’s looking increasingly likely that neither will survive the meeting.