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Rockefeller slams .sucks as “predatory shakedown”

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2014, Domain Policy

US Senator Jay Rockefeller today came out swinging against the proposed .sucks new gTLD, saying it looks like little more than a “predatory shakedown” by applicants.

In a letter to ICANN (pdf), Rockefeller has particular concern about Vox Populi, the .sucks applicant owned by Canadian group Momentous.

As we’ve previously reported, Vox Populi plans to charge trademark owners $25,000 a year for defensive registrations and has already started taking pre-registrations even though .sucks is still in contention.

Rockefeller told ICANN:

I view it as little more than a predatory shakedown scheme… A gTLD like “sucks” has little or no socially redeeming value and it reinforces many people’s fears that the purpose of the gTLD expansion is to enrich the domain name industry rather than benefit the broader community of internet users.

Unusually, I find myself in agreement with Rockefeller, who chairs the Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee — Vox Populi’s plan does bring the domain industry into disrepute.

But it’s not the only applicant for .sucks. Top Level Spectrum and Donuts have also applied for the string.

While neither has revealed their proposed pricing, in Donuts’ case a blocking registration via its Domain Protected Marks List service will cost substantially less on a per-domain basis.

Rockefeller asks that ICANN keep his thoughts in mind when reviewing the application, and I’m sure ICANN will pay lip service to his concerns in response, but I don’t think the letter will have much impact.

A bigger question might be: does Rockefeller’s letter foreshadow more Congressional hearings into the new gTLD program?

The last one, which Rockefeller chaired (for about five minutes, before he buggered off to do more important stuff) was in December 2011, and they have tended to happen every couple of years.

Such a hearing would come at an inopportune moment for ICANN, which is trying to distance itself from the perception of US oversight in light of the Edward Snowden spying revelations.

It’s been setting up offices all over the world and championing the forthcoming NetMundial internet governance meeting, which is happening in Brazil next month.

ICANN hires Walmart alum as CIO

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has hired itself a new C-level executive.

Ashwin Rangan started today as chief innovation and information officer, meaning he’s going to be in charge of ICANN’s oft-criticized IT systems.

He most recently held the CIO role at Edwards Lifesciences, but he’s also held similar positions at MarketShare, Walmart, and Rockwell Semiconductors.

He’s based in ICANN’s Los Angeles headquarters, which the organization is now referring to as a “hub” office.

In keeping with ICANN’s international flavor (and hiring policy), he speaks three Indian languages in addition to English.

Interestingly, his LinkedIn URL is /theinsightfulcio‎, showing he understands the value of a decent web address, even if it is after the slash. I didn’t even know LinkedIn did vanity URLs.

Delays still dog many new gTLD applicants

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2014, Domain Policy

With dozens of new gTLDs currently live and on sale, it’s easy to forget that many applicants are still in ICANN limbo due to several still-unresolved issues with the evaluation process.

The New gTLD Applicant Group wrote to ICANN on Friday to express many of these concerns.

First, NTAG is upset that resolution of the name collisions issue is not moving as fast as hoped.

JAS Advisors published its report into collisions, which recommends “controlled interruption” as a solution, last Thursday. But it’s currently open for public comment until April 21.

That would push approval of the plan by ICANN’s board beyond the Singapore meeting taking place at the end of March, at least a month later than originally expected.

NTAG secretary Andrew Merriam argues that the 42-day comment period should be reduced to 21 days, with ICANN and JAS conducting webinars this week to discuss the proposal with applicants.

Second, NTAG is upset that ICANN has pushed out the start date for the first contention set auctions from March to June. It’s asking ICANN to promise that there will be no further delays.

Third, NTAG says that many dot-brands are unable to enter into contracting talks with ICANN until Specification 13 of the Registry Agreement, which contains opt-outs for single-registrant zones, is finalized.

That’s not currently expected to happen until Singapore, apparently because there were no scheduled meetings of the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee until then.

NTAG also complains about the length of time it’s taking to decide the first Community Priority Evaluations, which is apparently due to quality assurance measures (very wise given the controversy caused by the lack of oversight on new gTLD objections, if you ask me).

The NGPC has a newly scheduled meeting this Wednesday, with new gTLDs on the agenda, but it’s not yet clear whether any of NTAG’s issues are going to be addressed.

Board confirms: ICANN seeks non-US HQ

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has given the clearest indication yet that the organization wants to set up an HQ overseas, further loosening ties with the US government.

The board has formed six new “President’s Globalization Advisory Groups”, made up of half a dozen directors each, one of which has been tasked with advising ICANN on ways to:

Establish complimentary [sic] parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy. Consider complementary parallel international structure within scope of ICANN’s mandate.

This indicates that ICANN’s reported plan to base itself in Geneva may not be so far-fetched after all, but it also indicates that ICANN currently does not anticipate doing away with its original HQ in Los Angeles.

ICANN already has several offices around the world, but recently there’s been talk of it embedding itself in Switzerland, as an “international organization”, more deeply.

As we’ve previously reported, ICANN may not relocate outside of the US due to its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce, which requires it to remain a US non-profit.

But another of the three panels set up by the board this week will advise ICANN on how to create an “enhanced Affirmation of Commitments.”

Other panels will explore the globalization of the IANA function — currently operated under a procurement contract with Commerce — and the root server system, which is independent operated but heavily US-based.

The ICANN board said in its resolution:

the continued globalization of ICANN must evolve in several ways, including: partnerships in the broader Internet eco-system to strengthen multistakeholder Internet governance frameworks; strengthening ICANN itself, including affirmations of commitments and relationships among the stakeholders; evolving the policy structures to serve and scale to the needs of the global community, and identify opportunities for the future legal structures and IANA globalization.

The plan is for these panels talk to the community at the Singapore meeting next month, before reporting back to the board before ICANN meets for its 50th public meeting in London this coming June.

This week’s move is the latest in a series of decisions made by the ICANN board following the spying revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the subsequent consternation they caused in capitals around the world.

Brazil is set to host a meeting to discuss these kinds of internet governance matters with ICANN and its coalition of the willing in Sao Paulo this April.

ICANN heading to Geneva after all?

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN could wind up being based in Geneva as a result of the current post-Snowden internet governance discussions, according to a report in a Swiss newspaper.

Le Temps, citing several anonymous ICANN sources, reported today that an HQ move from Los Angeles to Geneva was a “very likely scenario”.

That’s as an alternative to allowing its functions to be taken over by the International Telecommunications Union, the paper reported.

It’s not the first time a move to Geneva has been touted.

Back in September, DI rubbished — and ICANN denied — claims that the organization had already put the wheels in motion for a move to Switzerland.

It still appears to be unlikely in the short term, and for the same reason: ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce requires it to remain a US non-profit corporation.

But the AoC is now open for discussion again.

Barely a month after the Geneva move was first raised as a possibility, Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread US spying on internet users had led to the Montevideo Declaration, in which ICANN spoke of the need for further “internationalization” of ICANN.

Later last October, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade called America’s unique role in ICANN’s oversight “just not sustainable“.

Coming this April, governments, standards bodies, industry and others are set to meet in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for early-stage discussions that may eventually lead to the US cutting ICANN loose.

If ICANN does leave the US, Geneva does seem like the most plausible venue for its headquarters. It already has a small office there and has obtained international non-profit status for its local subsidiary.