ICANN’s board of directors has approved full refunds for any new gTLD applicant that asks for one – something that the organization has already been offering for over a month.
At its two-day retreat in Amsterdam this weekend, the board’s New gTLD Program Committee resolved:
to offer to applicants a full refund of the New gTLD Application fee actually paid to ICANN if the applicant wishes to withdraw its application prior to the date that ICANN publicly posts the identification of all TLD applications.
The date of the Big Reveal, when the names of every applicant and every applied-for gTLD will be publicly posted and the refunds will no longer be available, has not yet been set.
While the resolution refers to the TLD Application System data leakage bug, the refund does not appear to be restricted to directly affected applicants. Anyone can claim it.
However, as regular DI readers know, ICANN had been offering full refunds to applicants that withdraw before the Big Reveal for weeks before the TAS bug emerged.
ICANN customer services reps told DI and at least one gTLD applicant in March that: “Applications withdrawn prior to the posting of the applied-for strings are qualified for a $180000 refund”.
ICANN said in a statement today:
We recognize that this represents an increase of only US $5000 over the refund that withdrawing applicants would otherwise receive, but we believe it is an important part of fulfilling our commitment to treat applicants fairly.
Under the terms of the Applicant Guidebook, the maximum refund available after the Reveal is $148,000.
In other news from Amsterdam…
The ICANN board has decided to let director Thomas Narten join the New gTLD Program Committee, which comprises all of the board members without new gTLD conflicts of interest.
Narten had been barred from the recently formed committee because he worked for IBM, which planned to apply for one or more new gTLDs.
But the board said he has now “mitigated the previously-identified conflict of interest with respect to the New gTLD Program”, so he gets to join the committee as a non-voting liaison.
It’s not clear from the weekend’s resolution why Narten is no longer conflicted. Two obvious possibilities spring to mind.
There was no news from Amsterdam on ICANN’s CEO hunt.
Incumbent Rod Beckstrom intends to “hand the baton” to his successor at the Prague meeting in late June, and the board already has a favored candidate lined up to replace him.
I understand that this candidate did attend the Amsterdam board retreat, albeit under a veil of secrecy lest his or her identity leak out before official confirmation.
But I also understand that the board has decided to move super-cautiously on the CEO decision, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
The policy body overseeing .xxx domain names plans to dish out grants of up to $10,000 to worthy causes.
The International Foundation For Online Responsibility expects to launch a new IFFOR Grants Program on June 1, according to a March announcement I only just noticed.
According to IFFOR, the grants will be capped at $10,000 per individual or organization and will be given to those who contribute to IFFOR’s four official policy goals:
Fostering communication between the Sponsored Community and other Internet stakeholders
Protecting free expression rights as defined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights
Promoting the development and adoption of responsible business practices designed to combat online child abuse images and to support user choice and parental control regarding access to online adult entertainment, and
Protecting the privacy, security, and consumer rights of consenting adult consumers of online adult entertainment goods and services
It seems like a pretty good opportunity for free speech advocacy groups to top up their funding.
ICM Registry, the .xxx manager, gives IFFOR $10 per year for every resolving .xxx domain name registered.
Its funding is therefore
very likely approaching the $1.5 million mark in the hundreds of thousands of dollars right about now.
ICANN could net $150 million from a 2,000-application new gTLD round.
That’s according to a proposed budget published for comment last night, which for the first time contemplates more than 500 new generic top-level domain applications.
The budget also contains budgets for 500-application and 1,000-application rounds.
But with ICANN revealing this week that it has 1,268 registered users of its TLD Application System, 2,000 applications is beginning to look extremely plausible.
ICANN would receive $368 million in fees from a 2,000-app round, according to the budget, of which an estimated $33 million would be returned in refunds when applicants withdraw.
But the operating cost of the program would only come in at $156 million – slightly cheaper on a per-application basis than a 500-app round due to volume discounts from its contractors.
What happens to the rest of the money?
About $30 million is returned to the ICANN contingency fund to recoup program development costs. A $31 million surplus could be considered “profit” – it’s budgeted as an increase in net assets.
But the majority – $120 million – is budgeted to the amorphous “risk costs” line item.
The risk fund – sometimes flippantly referred to as the legal war chest – was budgeted to cover unanticipated costs such as delays and litigation.
ICANN evidently does not anticipate any economies of scale here. The $120 million in the budget is a simple multiple of the $30 million it said it needed to cover risk in a 500-application round.
It’s quite possible that ICANN won’t even need to dip into the risk fund, or that it might only need to withdraw a small amount, which would leave it sitting on an embarrassingly large wedge of cash.
The organization has yet to decide how its surplus would be deployed, but it’s going to be kept in a separate bank account and accounted for separately.
ICANN’s next public meeting, and all its public meetings thereafter, will be a day shorter than usual, following a decision to cancel the regular Friday morning program.
No Friday means no public meeting of the board of directors.
While the move is being characterized as an effort to enhance the effectiveness of ICANN’s board – a particular concern, frequently voiced, of chairman Steve Crocker – it’s also a perplexing shift away from ICANN’s core tenet of transparency.
One of the effects could be to mask dissent on the board.
From now on, it appears that all of ICANN’s top-level decision-making will happen in private.
Instead of wrapping up each public meeting with a board session at which resolutions get voted on, each meeting will instead be book-ended by less formal “community sessions”.
During these sessions, the board will apparently report to attendees about what it has been doing since the last meeting and what it plans to do before the next meeting.
Crocker said in a statement:
We believe that the removal of the Friday public Board meeting and its replacement with two Board community sessions will improve the effectiveness of both the Board and the staff and increase the time that the Board has to interact with the community.
That may well be true — time will tell — but let’s look at what the ICANN community is almost certainly losing.
First, there will be no more transcripts of board meetings at all.
Today, only the public meetings have published recordings and transcripts. Intersessional meetings are minuted, but not transcribed. If recordings are made, they are not published.
Killing off transcripts completely is a pretty obvious step backwards for an organization committed by its bylaws to “operate to the maximum extent feasible in an open and transparent manner”.
Second, if there is dissent on the board, it will be essentially shielded from the community’s view for some time after the fact.
In both cases, certain directors read prepared statements into the record harshly criticizing the majority view.
In March 2011, for example, George Sadowsky stated that ICM’s purported community support for .xxx was “illusory” and that approving the TLD could lead to DNS Balkanization.
And with new gTLDs last June, Mike Silber abstained in the belief that the program was incomplete and that the vote had been scheduled “based on artificial and ego-driven deadlines”.
In both cases, the ICANN community heard the dissenting views – in person, webcast, recorded and transcribed – moments before the vote actually took place.
With no public board meetings, it seems likely that in future that we’re going to have to wait a week to read the voting record for any given resolution and a month or more to read directors’ statements.
Under ICANN’s bylaws, the voting record, which breaks down who voted for and against resolutions, is contained in a preliminary report that is not published for seven days after the vote.
Also under the bylaws, directors’ voting statements are not published until the minutes of the meeting are approved at the board’s next meeting, typically one to two months later.
If the new procedures had been in effect last year, the statements of Sadowsky and Silber would not have been published for over a month after they were made.
With that in mind, it’s clear that killing off the public board meetings could in no way be seen as a positive step for transparency at ICANN.
It’s true that these meetings have for several years been pure theater, but it was theater with value.
ICANN has announced yet another delay in its new generic top-level domains program.
Last night’s much-anticipated update on its efforts to deal with the fallout of the TLD Application System security bug merely deferred resolution of the problem for a week. Again.
The whole program is now essentially a month behind schedule.
Chief operating office Akram Atallah said in a statement:
ICANN will notify all applicants within the next seven business days whether our analysis shows they were affected by the technical glitch in the TLD application system.
Shortly after the notification process has been completed, we will announce the schedule for reopening the application system and completing the application period. We are mindful of the need to allow sufficient time during the reopening period for applicants to confirm the completeness of their submissions.
The seven business days for applicant notifications takes us to May 8.
It’s not clear whether TAS would reopen immediately after this, but I suspect we’re probably looking at a buffer of at least a day or two between the end of notifications and TAS coming back online.
ICANN has previously said that TAS will be open for five business days, to enable applicants to finish off their applications. This brings us to, at the very earliest, May 15.
The Big Reveal of the list of applications, I estimate, will come one to two weeks after that.
We’re essentially looking at a late May or early June finish to a process that should have ended in late April.
As a result, the entire timetable for evaluating, approving and delegating new gTLDs will likely also be pushed out by a month.
For applicants, the anticipated November 12 date for the completion of the first-batch Initial Evaluation phase is now likely to come some time in mid-December instead.
Unhelpfully, the deadlines for filing objections and requesting Extended Evaluation for first-batch applicants is now likely to fall around about January 1, 2013.
That’s assuming we do not see any more delays, of course, which I think would be optimistic.