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Digital archery looked “silly” but had “minor risks”, ICANN board was told

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2012, Domain Policy

While ICANN staff acknowledged that digital archery was perceived as “silly”, it told the board of directors that it was “straightforward” and “unambiguous and easy to execute”.

That’s according to the latest delayed release of meeting minutes and briefing documents detailing board-level discussions between the Costa Rica and Prague meetings.

There was significant debate at the board level about digital archery prior to its approval in March, with directors generally favoring an auction model instead, these documents reveal.

Digital archery as a method of batching new gTLD applications was approved by ICANN at the end of March. It was then suspended two weeks ago and finally killed off last Wednesday.

Back in March, the board of directors’ new gTLD program committee was presented with a strong case in favor of archery by ICANN staff.

According to March 28 briefing document (pdf):

Implementation of the auction model at this late date presents significant risk of: program delay, legal action and significant reputational impact as described below. Board working group members tend to agree with this viewpoint but there is a split of opinion. The digital archery model presents minor risks; primarily a minor reputational risk from the perceived awkwardness of the model.

Analysis indicates that the legal risk raised by a random selection program will be satisfactorily addressed. This is true even though the results appear to have an element of randomness.

Implementation of the digital archery model is essentially completed. It presents no schedule risk. Its operation is straightforward.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it reveals in this case that digital archery was far from straightforward in its operation, and did in fact present schedule risk.

The new gTLD program is currently in semi-limbo while ICANN tries to figure out a way to sequence the processing of applications in a fair and timely way.

Other documents published following Prague include the lengthy minutes of a May 29 committee meeting at which directors argued with staff about how to geographically weight batches.

Staff pushed for a proportional system – where if 10% of applications came from a specific region, 10% of the first batch would be drawn from that region – the minutes reveal.

But several directors argued and won the case for the “round robin” scenario, which would have given advantage to applicants from under-represented regions instead.

Newly published minutes from May 6 also reveal that ICANN considered offering 1% interest on refunds to applicants that withdrew their applications before Reveal Day.

Digital archery is dead, but uncertainties remain

Kevin Murphy, June 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has killed off its unpopular “digital archery” scheme, which it had planned to use to rank and batch new top-level domain applications for evaluation.

But the organization has not yet replaced it with anything, leaving gTLD applicants without their much-sought-after certainty for at least the next three weeks.

In a resolution yesterday, ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee approved the following resolution:

Resolved (2012.06.27.NG06), the New gTLD Program Committee directs the President and CEO to terminate the Digital Archery process as approved in Resolutions 2011.12.08.04-2011.12.08.07.

Given the discussions between the ICANN board and the rest of the community here at ICANN 44 in Prague this week, it would have been more surprising if archery had survived.

Not everyone is happy to see it go, of course.

Richard Schreier, CEO of erstwhile digital archery service provider Pool.com, took to the mic at the ICANN public forum this afternoon to ask that ICANN sticks to its decisions in future.

He further noted that the decision to scrap archery had been made without the input of applicants who are not in attendance at the meeting.

Now that archery has gone, the ICANN board has left a vacuum – nobody knows how applications will be prioritized for processing and evaluation.

Committee chair Cherine Chalaby said that ICANN will now open a comment period for all applicants, in order to help build a “roadmap” to “detail the next steps and timelines”.

This roadmap is due, it seems before the new gTLD committee’s next meeting, which is due to take place approximately three weeks from now.

This does not necessarily mean the program has been delayed, however. ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said a few times this week that evaluators will start looking at apps July 12.

.radio gTLD applicant joins the GAC

Kevin Murphy, June 28, 2012, Domain Policy

The European Broadcasting Union, which is one of four applicants for the .radio top-level domain, has asked to join ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee as an observer.

It is believed that its request is likely to be accepted.

The move, which comes just a couple of weeks after ICANN revealed its list of new gTLD applications, could raise conflict of interest questions.

While several GAC governments and observers are backing new gTLD bids – the UK supports .london, for example – they’re generally geographic in nature and generally not contested.

But .radio has been applied for by Afilias, BRS Media and Donuts in addition to the EBU.

While any organization can file objections against applications, under the rules of the new gTLD program the GAC has the additional right to issue special “GAC Advice on New gTLDs”.

Consensus GAC advice is expected to be enough to kill an application.

Since it’s not entirely clear how the GAC will create its formal Advice, it’s not yet clear whether the EBU will have any input into the process.

According to the GAC’s governing principles, observers do not have voting rights, but they can “participate fully in the GAC and its Committees and Working Groups”.

The EBU’s .radio gTLD would be open to all potential registrants, but it would be subject to post-registration content restrictions: web sites would have to be radio-oriented, according to the application.

It’s also the only Community-designated bid in the contention set, meaning it could attempt a Community Priority Evaluation to resolve the dispute.

The EBU has also applied for .eurovision, the name of its annual singing competition, as an uncontested dot-brand.

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.