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Beckstrom: next ICANN CEO should be an outsider

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has called on the organization to replace him with somebody from outside of the domain name industry.

His remarks, at the opening ceremony of its meeting in Dakar yesterday, came as the organization’s decisions are coming under increasing scrutiny from outside the domain name industry.

“I hope that the person who replaces me will be of the highest integrity and has no recent or current commercial or career interests in the domain industry, because ICANN’s fairness, objectivity and independence are of paramount importance to the future of the internet,” Beckstrom said.

“We are not here in the domain name business,” he said. “We are here to serve the global public interest.”

Beckstrom generally uses his ICANN meeting opening remarks to fire-fight the latest pieces of criticism directed at the organization and yesterday was no exception.

His comments should be read in the light of ongoing claims that the new gTLDs program was approved prematurely due in part to the business interests of former chair Peter Dengate Thrush.

Dengate Thrush left ICANN in June, shortly after helping to approve the program, and promptly took up a position with gTLD applicant Minds + Machines.

Organizations opposed to the program, such as the Association of National Advertisers, have seized on the controversy as a stick to bash ICANN with.

Since June, there have been calls for ICANN to revisit its conflicts of interest and ethics policies, which it seems to be taking very seriously.

Every member of the ICANN board of directors has already been ruled out of the CEO search, for example.

Beckstrom elaborated on his comments at a press conference yesterday.

“My view very strongly is that the organization can and should be led a party who does not have a vested personal business interest or history specifically in the domain name industry,” he said, “lest the efforts of the organization be potentially skewed in such a direction from a policy or operational standpoint, in terms of being more sensitive to the needs of the industry as opposed to the global public interest.”

Chairman of the board Steve Crocker said Beckstrom’s opinions were valuable, but his own, representing only one input into the process of creating CEO search criteria.

“We obviously want to balance two factors,” he said. “We’re very concerned about conflicts of interest and at same time we want the widest and most capable pool of candidates possible.”

There have previously been calls for ICANN to hire somebody already familiar with its operation, in order to reduce the learning curve for Beckstrom’s replacement at a time when the organization is in the midst of the new gTLD evaluation process.

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IANA contract only for US companies

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2011, Domain Policy

The US Department of Commerce has announced the date of its RFP for the IANA contract, stating that only wholly US-based organizations are welcome to apply.

Commerce, via the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said it intends to accept proposals from potential contractors between November 4 and December 4.

Among other things, the IANA contract is what gives ICANN its powers over the domain name system’s root – its ability to delegate gTLDs and ccTLDs to registries.

It is due to expire at the end of March next year, having been extended from its original expiry date of September 30. ICANN is of course the favorite candidate.

ICANN had asked for a longer-term or more arms-length contract, to dilute the perception that IANA is too US-centric, but NTIA has indicated that it intends to decline that request.

However, the duration of the contract has been changed.

The current IANA contract was a one-year deal, with four one-year renewal options. The next will be for a three-year base period, followed by two two-year renewal options, according to Commerce.

“The current unilateral structure of the IANA functions contract should evolve to meet the needs of the global community,” ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said during his opening remarks at ICANN’s 42nd public meeting in Dakar, Senegal yesterday.

He noted that the US government originally said, in a 1998 white paper, that ICANN would ultimately take over the IANA functions entirely, cutting it off from government.

“We hope that progress towards the vision articulated by the US government’s white paper will be made in the next agreement and we hope and we expect to see a roadmap for the realization of this vision in the future,” Beckstrom said.

Now that Commerce has made such a big deal out of the fact that only US-based organizations are welcome to apply to run IANA, that goal seems further away.

It’s also notable that the next IANA contract will be a single document.

The NTIA had previously floated the possibility of splitting it into three functions – protocol management, DNS root management and IP address allocation – but the idea was not well-received.

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.xxx sunrise on track for 50,000 domains

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has seen over 42,000 sunrise applications since September 7, with “thousands more pouring in each day”, according to the company.

With a last-minute rush possible by porn-scared brand owners before the process closes this Friday, .xxx may well hit 50,000 sunrise applications.

The 42,000 number seems to cover all three sunrise phases – the ‘B’ process for non-porn companies and the AT and AD processes for pornographers.

Sunrise B applications cost $162 at the registry level and over $200 from registrars. ICM’s breakeven point was 10,000 applications, so it will be profitable to the tune of several million dollars.

Because Sunrise B applications incur a one-time fee, ICM has essentially made a windfall now at the expense of recurring revenues from renewals.

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GAC slams registrars over “silly” crime domain moves

Kevin Murphy, October 24, 2011, Domain Registrars

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is seriously annoyed with domain name registrars over what it sees as a failure to take the demands of law enforcement seriously.

The first official day of ICANN’s 42nd public meeting in Dakar, Senegal, was highlighted by a fractious discussion between the GAC and the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

Governments are evidently losing patience with the industry over what they see as incessant foot-dragging and, now, halfhearted bone-throwing.

The US, which is easily the most influential GAC member, was harshly critical of recent efforts by registrars to self-regulate themselves some law enforcement cooperation policies.

US GAC representative Suzanne Radell, saying she was speaking on behalf of the GAC, described a registrar move to start publishing legal service addresses on their web sites at some point in the future as as “paltry”, “mind-boggling” and “silly”.

She heavily implied that if the industry can’t self-regulate, the alternative is governments doing it for them. She was backed up by her counterparts from the UK, Australia and the European Commission.

Registrars have been talking to law enforcement for a few years about how to more effectively work together to prevent crime online.

In October 2009, agencies including the FBI and the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency publish a set of 12 recommendations about how to clean up the industry.

A lot of it was pretty basic stuff like a prohibition on registrar cybersquatting and an obligation to publish an abuse point of contact.

Despite a lot of talking at ICANN meetings, up until a couple of weeks ago there had not been a great deal of tangible progress.

The GNSO passed a resolution, proposed by registrars, to ask for an Issue Report to discuss whether registrars should be forced to post on their sites: a physical address for legal service, the names of key executives, and an abuse contact.

In ICANN’s world, an Issue Report usually precedes a Policy Development Process, which can take a year or more to produce results.

While the GNSO motion passed, it was opposed as inadequate by factions such as the Intellectual Property Constituency, which has close ties to the US government.

As the IPC seemed to correctly predict, the GAC was not amused.

“It is simply impossible for us to write a briefing memo for our political managers to explain why you need a policy to simply put your name on your web site,” Radell told the GNSO Council yesterday. “It is simply mind-boggling that you would require that.”

She pointed out that at a session during the Singapore meeting, registrars had indicated a willingness to address more of the law enforcement demands.

“That’s the context in which we are now coming to you saying this looks pretty paltry and actually it looks a little silly,” she said.

Mason Cole from the registrar constituency denied that they were “roadblocking” law enforcement’s demands, saying that a PDP is the fastest way to create a policy binding on all registrars.

“I think law enforcement was very clear when they made their proposals to us that what they were looking for was binding, enforceable provisions of policy that could be imposed on the registrars,” he said. “A code of conduct or a voluntary method would not arrive at binding, enforceable policy and therefore probably wouldn’t achieve the outcomes that law enforcement representatives were seeking.”

The debate didn’t end yesterday. Radell said she intends to take it up with the ICANN board of directors, presumably at their joint meeting tomorrow.

The implicit threat underlying the GAC’s protest is a legislative one, and Radell and other GAC members made it pretty clear that their governments back home regard domain names as a crucial tool in fighting online crime.

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New gTLDs: no advantage to applying early

Kevin Murphy, October 23, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has confirmed that new top-level domain applications filed early in next year’s application window will not get priority over those filed right at the end.

The subject of “batching” – the way ICANN plans to divide applications into more easily managed chunks of 500 – has seen some debate recently.

Some applicants and consultants have said that filing your application January 12 rather than April 12 would be a wise move, despite the evidence to the contrary.

Now ICANN senior vice president of stakeholder relations Kurt Pritz has busted the myth, during a session on new gTLDs with the Generic Names Supporting Organization in Dakar today.

“There’s no advantage to applying early or later in the process,” he said. “As long as your application is in by the due date it has the same chance of being in any batch.”

It doesn’t come much clearer than that.

ICANN has said that it only plans to process 500 applications at a time. If there are significantly more than 500, then it will process them in batches.

Due to the length of time it is expected to take to process an application, finding yourself in dumped into the second batch could add a few quarters to your go-live runway.

If you’re a commercial gTLD applicant, there could be a significant first-mover advantage to being in the first batch. Revenues from speculative and defensive registrations could be higher, before the novelty of new gTLDs gives way to fatigue.

Applicants in that position are going to use every trick in the book to streamline their process through ICANN and maximize their chances of being in the first batch.

While ICANN has not yet decided how to create the batches, it has ruled out filing time from the criteria. Pritz talked the GNSO through some of its current thinking today.

The preferred option is random selection. The problem with this idea is that it may fall foul of US gambling laws if it fits the definition of a lottery.

It sounds stupid, but it’s happened before: when Neustar introduced a random element to its launch of .biz, it would up having to pay $1.2 million to settle claims that it ran an illegal lottery.

“The issue of random selection is that we just have to make sure it complies with all possible applicable laws,” Pritz said. “Our initial legal research points out that this is real risk… but it is the most attractive form of selection because it is objective and fair.”

The other option under consideration is a “secondary time stamp”, Pritz said. This unhelpful label caused some head-scratching during the GNSO session today.

Pritz explained by analogy: imagine every applicant was asked to send a letter to ICANN, and the order of the batches would be determined by the order in which the letters are received.

The important thing to note is that this secondary time stamp would not be based on the date the application itself was submitted to ICANN.

Pritz said that ICANN had also discussed a “charity auction” batching method, but that this idea has now been ruled out.

Whatever mechanism is decided upon, it seems that applicants will have the opportunity to opt in or opt out of the first batch. Some .brand applicants currently clueless about how to use their gTLD may not be super-interested in getting priority processing, for example.

“We think those numbers are non-negligible,” Pritz said.

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