ICANN has been subjected to its first wave of criticism over its handling to date of the IANA transition process, which will see oversight of the DNS root leave US government hands.
Yesterday was the deadline for comments to be submitted on ICANN’s proposal for a way to handle what some are calling the “sunsetting” of the Department of Commerce’s stewardship of the IANA function.
As DI previously reported, it’s “a proposal for a process to develop a process to develop a proposal”.
ICANN basically proposed a 22-member “Steering Group”, comprised of members of the various ICANN constituencies, that would guide the bottom-up, multistakeholder IANA transition discussion.
The group would ultimately steer the community towards creating a proposal for replacing the US government as IANA’s overseer, which would then be checked and rubber-stamped by Commerce.
As part of ICANN’s initial proposal, a “scoping document” was provided, laying out what in ICANN’s view should and should not be open for discussion.
Dozens of comments were received covering a diverse range of issues related to the make-up of the Steering Group and the range of the scoping document.
Here I’m going to attempt to cover half a dozen key themes that seemed to emerge across multiple commenters.
Note: 1) it’s not a comprehensive overview, 2) I don’t necessarily agree with all of the comments cited below, 3) that most of the links throughout this article are to PDFs.
Registries are apparently not “affected parties”
Given that one of IANA’s key roles (for DI’s purposes, it’s its primary role) is assigning TLDs to registries, you might have expected registries to be classed as “affected parties”.
But they’re not. Bafflingly, only the IAB, IETF, ISOC and NRO — none of which primarily concern themselves with domain names — get that definition in ICANN’s proposal.
Naturally enough, the ccTLD and gTLD operators are not happy about this state of affairs.
The ccNSO, proposing that gTLDs and ccTLDs get two seats each on the Steering Group, wrote:
These organizations, which also participate directly in ICANN’s multistakeholder process, are appropriate and important participants in this transition planning process, but they are not adequate substitutes for registry stakeholders with respect to processing root zone change requests and other functions that uniquely affect TLD registry operators… It is imperative that registry operators sit at the table on equal footing with those organizations and without ICANN intermediation.
The Registries Stakeholder Group of the GNSO concurred, stating:
we feel this list is incomplete as it does not include direct customers of the IANA functions, such as gTLD, nTLD and ccTLD registries, which is incomprehensible and appears to be self-serving of the convener
The GNSO is under-represented
If the registries feel badly treated, they’re not alone.
The Generic Names Supporting Organization comprises seven distinct stakeholder groups: registries, registrars, non-commercial users, non-profits, businesses, ISPs and intellectual property owners.
While there is overlap (registries and registrars often vote en bloc, as do businesses and IP owners), there are at least three camps that rarely fully agree with each other.
The ICANN proposal would provide two seats on the Steering Group between them.
The Intellectual Property Constituency, in its comments, said that each GNSO constituency should get one seat each.
The US Chamber of Commerce asked for at least one seat to be set aside for business interests.
A group of registrars, including most of the big ones, agreed, and put forward a rather more expansive proposal:
Several members of the Registrar Stakeholder Group believe that having two Steering Group representatives for the GNSO will not be sufficient in ensuring that the interests of all GNSO stakeholders are properly reflected. As the GNSO is the largest and most diverse structure within ICANN, we find that a “one size fits all” approach to delegation is not appropriate. Instead, we propose that each SO/AC submit a number of representatives that it believes to be sufficiently representative, but be encouraged to keep the number as small as possible.
The selection process is top-down
Given that this is supposed to be a community-driven process, you’d expect the community to be tasked with picking their representatives on the Steering Group. But that’s not what ICANN proposes.
ICANN instead reckons that membership should be selected by ICANN chair Steve Crocker and GAC chair Heather Dryden from the pool of people who volunteer themselves.
Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of opposition to this. Most groups commenting on this aspect of the proposal said that committee members should be selected by the groups they represent.
The Business Constituency stated:
Appointments to the Steering/Convening Committee should come from constituency groups — not as appointments made by ICANN chair and GAC chair. Nor should any stakeholder group be excluded as a result of consolidating within stakeholder organizations such as the GNSO.
The Center for Democracy and Technology agreed, saying:
The Chairs of ICANN and the GAC should not be the ones to select the Supporting Organization and Advisory Committee representatives; the SO/AC representatives should be selected within their own communities.
Inappropriate framing of the discussion
Many commenters took issue with the way ICANN has configured the discussion, accusing it of acting in the interests of its own self-preservation rather than the stability of the IANA function.
Chiefly, there’s concern that the discussion has been framed in such a way that it assumes ICANN will continue in its role as performer of the IANA functions in more or less the same way as today.
This concern appears to be extremely broad.
The RySG said it was “suspicious” of what appeared to be a “self-interested” framing of the debate:
we feel that it is premature for ICANN staff to assert that ICANN’s role is out of scope. This sentiment is not included in the NTIA announcement and we believe ICANN’s role is an issue that should be left to the bottom-up, multistakeholder process to decide. In particular, we believe whether “structural review of ICANN or its functions” should be included in the scope should be a matter for the community.
The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group agreed that this should be open for discussion:
ICANN-controlled entities both develop and approve DNS policies and also implements the IANA functions. Only a requirement of the NTIA contract guarantees separation of policy and DNS root zone implementation activities. Because of this, we cannot currently support language in ICANN’s proposed Scoping Document which explicitly rules out any discussion of separating the IANA functions from ICANN. How or whether to separate those activities in lieu of the NTIA contract should be openly discussed.
Google said in its comments:
The role of ICANN’s Board is to oversee all of ICANN’s business and operational actions and to ensure its continued solvency as an organization. As such, the Board has a vested interest in ensuring ICANN’s continued relevancy within the Internet governance ecosystem and arguably has an interest in scoping the process to preserve ICANN’s existing role. While we are confident that ICANN’s Board would not act in a way that would harm the Internet or the IANA functions transition, the presence of a conflict of interest — even if perceived — could impact the overall integrity of the process
The Business Constituency said:
this transition should not presume that the only possible outcome is to award IANA functions to ICANN. It is possible that some other third party could replace the US government role as counterparty.
Accountability is being handled in a separate track
ICANN was initially of the view that its own accountability mechanisms — things designed to prevent capture, allow appeals of decisions etc — were out of scope for the IANA transition discussion.
It’s since backtracked, this week launching a new “Enhancing ICANN Accountability” process that will run in parallel — and be “interdependent and interrelated” — to the IANA transition debate.
If these two discussions are so interdependent, why not just lump them together in the same policy track? It’s surely a recipe for mass confusion to keep them separate.
The NCSG stated in its comments:
We do not support ICANN’s efforts to discuss the IANA transition and accountability mechanisms on separate tracks. Specifically, ICANN’s draft proposal and scoping document might prevent any discussion of options for structurally separating IANA function operations from DNS policy making activities.
The ccNSO seemed resigned to the separation, but noted:
To the extent that ICANN continues to insist on maintaining separate tracks to address each of these issues, it must ensure that the two tracks come together in advance of the transition itself.
The IPC said that the discussions need to be more closely synchronized:
The resolution of these two issues is inextricably intertwined and the processes and mechanism for doing so need to be tightly coordinated; this is impossible if the processes and mechanisms are not being developed at the same time.
There’s far from consensus on this issue, however.
The BC and Google both explicitly support the continued separation of the two tracks, while the International Trademark Association implicitly supported the parallel moves, noting:
We generally would be opposed to any approval of an IANA functions transition plan unless it is accompanied by an acceptable globalization and accountability plan that assures continued ICANN accountability at optimal levels.
Everyone only had 30 days to comment
Given that we’re talking about management of the DNS root here, you’d imagine that ICANN would take it just as if not more seriously than, I dunno, its “Future Meetings Strategy” or how much its directors are paid.
But while these and most other comment periods get 45 too 60 days of public comment, the IANA transition proposal only got 30.
ICANN is evidently in a rush to get things finalized before its next public meeting, scheduled for next month in London, rather than wait until the Los Angeles meeting in October.
Some groups, such as the Governmental Advisory Committee, couldn’t get their act together in time to provide a meaningful response given the tight deadline.
Many others, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, complained:
it is unacceptable that an issue as critical as the transition of the IANA functions would be allowed only a short public comment period
The IPC stated that the whole timetable is out of whack:
The group is supposed to convene for the first time in London in approximately 6 weeks, yet the concept of a Steering Group is not finalized, much less its composition or how it would be chosen… The Steering Group is also supposed to “finalize the group’s charter” “in the London 50 timeframe.” Charters are critical documents, and they take a number of hours over a number of weeks to be created, much less finalized. How would the group have a draft charter before London that could be finalized in London?
In my opinion, this may be “a proposal for a process to develop a process to develop a proposal”, but it’s also a process to demonstrate the effectiveness and inclusiveness of the process.
Given the parallel focus on internet governance in the non-ICANN world (eg NetMundial), the multistakeholder model itself is under intense scrutiny.
How ICANN responds to this first wave of comments will be crucial.
While there are certainly divergent views (not half of which I’ve covered here) among the various parties, it seems to me that some clear areas of agreement have emerged, even among groups that don’t often see eye to eye.
Will ICANN bow to a clear call for its scoping document to be relaxed — putting its own neck on the chopping block in the process — because the multistakeholder community seems to be asking for it?
ICANN’s board of directors has refused to choose between the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the Governmental Advisory Committee on the issue of intergovernmental organization protections.
In a resolution last week, the board decided to approve only the parts of the GNSO’s unanimous consensus recommendations that the GAC does not disagree with.
The GNSO said last November that IGOs should not have their acronyms blocked forever at the second level in new gTLDs, going against the GAC consensus view that the acronyms should be “permanently protected”.
The GAC wants IGOs to enjoy a permanent version of the Trademark Claims notifications mechanism, whereas the GNSO thinks they should only get the 90 days enjoyed by trademark owners.
Instead of choosing a side, ICANN passed a resolution last Wednesday requesting “additional time” to reach a decision on these points of difference and said it wants to:
facilitate discussions among the relevant parties to reconcile any remaining differences between the policy recommendations and the GAC advice
The decision is not unexpected. Board member Bruce Tonkin basically revealed the board’s intention to go this way during the Singapore meeting a couple of months ago.
The differences between the GAC and the GNSO are relatively minor now, and the board did approve a large part of the GNSO’s recommendations in its resolution.
IGOs, the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent will all get permanent blocks for their full names (but not acronyms) at the top level and second level in the new gTLD program.
International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) will also get top-level blocks for their full names and protection in the style of the Trademark Claims service at the second level.
The dispute over acronyms was important because many obscure IGOs, which arguably don’t need protection from cybersquatters, have useful or potentially valuable acronyms that new gTLD registries want to keep.
Belgium wants Donuts’ application for .spa rejected after the new gTLD applicant declined to sign a deal with the city of Spa.
In a March 20 letter to ICANN, published today, the Belgian deputy prime minister Johan Vande Lanotte said “negotiations between the stakeholders are closed”, adding that Belgium:
requests the Board of Directors of the ICANN to delegate the new “.spa” gTLD to the candidate who has a formal agreement with the local authorities of Spa and in respect of the public interest.
That’s the other applicant in the two-horse .spa race, Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, which has promised to earmark up to 25% of its European profits to spa-related uses in the environs of Spa.
The letter was sent a week before the Governmental Advisory Committee issued its Singapore communique, which noncommittally noted that it “welcomes” the agreement between Spa and ASWPC.
ICANN may or may not be currently in receipt of firm, consensus GAC advice to accept or reject either of the remaining .spa applications.
In Beijing a year ago, the GAC put .spa on a list of gTLD strings where “further GAC consideration may be warranted” and asked ICANN to “not proceed beyond Initial Evaluation”.
At the Durban and Buenos Aires meetings last year the GAC said ICANN should not “proceed beyond initial evaluation until the agreements between the relevant parties are reached.”
Given that Donuts and Spa evidently cannot come to an agreement, ICANN presumably remains advised to keep one or both .spa applications on hold. The advice is pretty vague.
The string “spa” is not a geographic name within the rules of the new gTLD program. Donuts argues that it’s too generic nowadays to belong just to Spa.
New gTLDs with a geographic or community focus have won concessions from ICANN under new rules published today.
All new gTLD registries will be able to allocate names to public authorities, matching for example district names or landmarks, even if those names match trademarks in the Trademark Clearinghouse.
The change came in the final version of the Qualified Launch Program guidelines, which spells out how new registries are able to allocate up to 100 names, pre-sunrise, to anchor tenants.
The new language related to public authorities reads says that any registry, may give names to any “international, national, regional, local or municipal governmental authority”.
Such domains must match “the name of a building, park, monument, airport or other public place… region, city, street, district or other geographic area” operated by the authority, the name or acronym of the authority itself, or the name of one of its public services.
The carve-out would allow (to use a Minds + Machines example), the .london registry to give thepolice.london to the Metropolitan Police, even if the Sting-fronted band The Police had a matching mark in the TMCH.
The newly amended rules apply to all new gTLDs, not only those that were classified as “geographic” under ICANN’s rules. So they would apply to .scot, for example, even though it’s not strictly a geographic name.
But the QLP still would prevent registries allocating a TMCH-listed string to anyone prior to their sunrise period concluding, unless the entity getting the name also owned the TMCH listing.
The new QLP rules are available here.
Republican US Congressmen today voted to advance the DOTCOM Act, which would add a delay of up to a year to the IANA transition.
The Communications and Technology Subcommittee voted 16 to 10, split directly along party lines, to advance the bill to the next stage of the US legislative process.
It would now block the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from approving ICANN’s proposal for an NTIA-free future for up to one year while the Government Accountability Office prepares an analysis.
In the first draft, that delay would begin at the moment the bill hit the statute books. Now, the clock starts when the proposal is made.
Democrats on the subcommittee, who had four amendments shot down by the Republican majority during a markup session today, said the bill makes a mockery of the multistakeholder process they all profess to endorse.
Ranking member Anna Eshoo noted that Democrats supported a GAO report, but did not want the NTIA’s hands tied.
She reminded her opponents that they had all voted for a bill in 2012 — shortly before the International Telecommunications Union met for its WCIT conference — affirming the United States government’s commitment to multistakeholder management of the internet.
“Today you are unraveling exactly what you voted for,” she said, accusing Republicans of seeing “black helicopters” and a “conspiracy” by President Obama to give the internet to authoritarian regimes.
“It’s a source of embarrassment for a committee that has for the most part operated in a very respectful bipartisan way,” he said.
Republicans in response said that it is not unreasonable to request a GAO report, to help them understand the possible consequences of the IANA transition.
Rep John Shimkus, the primary sponsor of the DOTCOM Act, said that the forced delay was needed to give the bill “teeth”. Without it, he said, the GAO report could come after the IANA transition has already taken place.
In a concurrent hearing elsewhere on Capitol Hill, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade was busy explaining to a different committee why he could not support the bill.
The DOTCOM Act would give the impression that the US government does not take the multistakeholder model seriously and does not trust ICANN, he said.
While Republicans may feel like the bill will keep the DNS root out of the hands of Russia and China, what they’re actually doing is giving those nations fuel for their power grabs in government-led international fora such as the ITU, in other words.
The DOTCOM Act is not yet law. It still has to go through the full House (Republican-controlled) and Senate (Democrat-controlled) and be signed by President Obama (China-controlled) before it hits the statute books.