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US wants veto power over new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2011, Domain Registries

The United States is backing a governmental power grab over ICANN’s new top-level domains program.

In a startling submission to the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee, a copy of which I have obtained, the US says that governments should get veto power over TLDs they are uncomfortable with:

Any GAC member may raise an objection to a proposed string for any reason. If it is the consensus position of the GAC not to oppose objection raised by a GAC member or members, ICANN shall reject the application.

In other words, if Uganda objected to .gay, Iran objected to .jewish, or Egypt objected to .twitter, and no other governments opposed those objections, the TLD applications would be killed off.

The fate of TLDs representing marginal communities or controversial brands could well end up subject to back-room governmental horse-trading, rather than the objective, transparent, predictable process the ICANN community has been trying to create for the last few years.

The amendments the US is calling for would also limit the right to object to a TLD on “morality” grounds to members of the GAC, while the current Applicant Guidebook is much broader.

The rationale for these rather Draconian proposals is stability and “universal resolvability”.

The worry seems to be that if some nations start blocking TLDs, they may well also decide to start up their own rival DNS root, fragmenting the internet (and damaging the special role the US has in internet governance today).

The US also wants TLDs such as “.bank” or “.pharmacy” more closely regulated (or blocked altogether) and wants “community” applications more strictly defined.

In the current ICANN Applicant Guidebook, any applicant can designate their application “community-based”, in order to potentially strengthen its chances against rival bids.

But the US wants the Guidebook amended to contain the following provisions:

“Community-based strings” include those that purport to represent or that embody a particular group of people or interests based on historical components of identity (such as nationality, race or ethnicity, religion or religious affiliation, culture or particular social group, and/or a language or linguistic group). In addition, those strings that refer to particular sectors, in particular those subject to national regulation (such as .bank, .pharmacy) are also “community-based” strings.

In the event the proposed string is either too broad to effectively identify a single entity as the relevant authority or appropriate manager, or is sufficiently contentious that an appropriate manager cannot be identified and/or agreed, the application should be rejected.

In practice, this could potentially kill off pretty much every vertical TLD you can think of, such as .bank, .music and .hotel. How many industries have a “single entity” overseeing them globally?

While the goal appears to be noble – nobody wants a .bank or .pharma managed by hucksters – the Community Objection procedure in the Guidebook arguably already provides protection here.

The US also wants the policy allowing the vertical integration of registries and registrars reining in, for TLD applicants to justify the costs their domains will incur on others, and a dramatic overhaul of the trademark protection mechanisms in the Guidebook.

In short, the US wants the new TLDs program substantially overhauled, in ways that are certain to draw howls of protest from many in the ICANN community.

The document does not appear to be official GAC policy yet. It could well be watered down before the GAC meets the ICANN board in Brussels at the end of February.

ICANN said earlier this week that it plans to approve a Guidebook “as close as practically possible” to the current draft, and heavily hinted that it wants to do so at its San Francisco meeting in March.

But if many of the US recommendations were to make it through Brussels, that’s a deadline that could be safely kissed goodbye.

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DNS not to blame for Egypt blackout

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Tech

Egypt got disconnected from the internet last night, but it does not appear that DNS is to blame.

It what appears to be an unprecedented move, internet traffic to and from Egypt dried up to a trickle, apparently as a result of a government effort to crack down on anti-presidential protests.

While a number of reports have blamed DNS for the outage, the currently available data suggests the problem is much more deeply rooted.

Traffic monitoring firm Renesys seems to be one of the best sources of primary data so far. The company’s James Cowie blogged today:

At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet’s global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt’s service providers. Virtually all of Egypt’s Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

BGP is the Border Gateway Protocol. It’s used where networks interconnect, enabling ISPs to “announce” what IP addresses they are responsible for and exchange traffic accordingly.

With no BGP routes into or out of Egypt, whether the DNS works or not is pretty much moot.

Blocking individual domain names, such as twitter.com, is one way to stifle communication. Another way is to instruct local ISPs to turn off DNS altogether.

But in both cases users can route around the blockade by choosing overseas DNS servers, such as the services Google and OpenDNS make available for free.

Even without DNS, users can still access web resources using IP addresses, if they know what they are.

But when ISPs stop announcing their IP addresses, even that becomes impossible. Even if you know how to find a web site, it has no way of finding you.

In this case, it seems likely that Egypt has physically unplugged itself from the global internet, which means its traffic is going nowhere, no matter what protocol you’re talking about.

But even this is not foolproof. According to experts interviewed on BBC news in the last hour, ISPs outside of the country are offering free dial-up access to Egyptians.

Egyptians with access to a dial-up modem, phone jack, compatible computer and long-distance service will presumably be able to use these services to reach the outside world, albeit at 1990s speeds.

With all the inter-governmental debate about the management of domain names over the last several years, the Egypt crisis is a useful reminder that DNS is not the quintessential element of internet governance it is often made out to be.

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Porn set to steal the show in San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry’s .xxx top-level domain looks set to grab the headlines at ICANN’s meeting in San Francisco, due to government-forced delays.

While ICANN is hoping to approve its new top-level domains program in March, that decision may wind up receiving less media attention than the final approval of the porn-only domain.

ICANN last month said that it wanted to hold a final consultation to resolve its differences with the Governmental Advisory Committee – which broadly objects to .xxx – in February 2011.

This referred to a proposed meeting between the GAC and the board, which has now been officially scheduled for February 28 in Brussels.

But a resolution carried by ICANN this week has pushed the consultation back to “no later than Thursday 17 March, 2011”, the day before its San Francisco meeting.

That would put the sign-off of ICM’s contract on the same billing as the planned final approval of the new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook and the launch of the new TLDs program.

San Francisco is set to be the focus of unprecedented media attention, due to its location and the likely presence of Bill Clinton. We’re probably looking at tighter stage management than usual.

With that in mind, I expect ICANN bosses won’t be too happy that porn-friendly .xxx is likely to steal away many column inches they would prefer devoted to new TLDs.

Porn in headlines gets clicks. Readers understand it, and you generally don’t need to explain to an editor what a TLD is. I know which story would be easier for me to sell.

Had ICANN put .xxx on the agenda for Brussels – which does not appear to have been ruled out yet – it could have wrapped up the ICM saga with a resolution quite quickly afterward.

That would have given ICM a week or so of undiluted media coverage, and the new TLDs program would not have had to share the spotlight with porn come San Francisco.

The question is: why is .xxx apparently not on the agenda for Brussels? Given ICANN’s previous decision to hold the meeting in February, responsibility seems to lie with the GAC.

Rumor has it that there’s a bit of a power struggle going on behind the scenes, with some elements of the GAC resistant to make Brussels the official final .xxx consultation.

Time will tell whether this position is firm or flexible.

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ICANN sets March deadline for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN appears determined to put debates about its new top-level domains program to bed at its San Francisco meeting in March.

The resolutions from Tuesday’s ICANN board meeting, published this evening, give every indication that ICANN wants an end to the delays.

This seems to mean it will take a hard line with its Governmental Advisory Committee, with which it is due to meet in Brussels at the end of February.

The board resolved that it “intends to progress toward launching the New gTLD Program, as close as practically possible to the form as set out in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.”

It remains open, however, to take action on the GAC’s concerns, which include trademark protection and the treatment of geographic strings.

It wants the final GAC consultation, which is mandated by its bylaws, to take place March 17, the day before the board meets in San Francisco.

This is encouraging news for anybody who wants to apply for a new TLD, as it means ICANN would be able to launch the program shortly thereafter.

If that happens, it could be able to start accepting applications possibly as early as mid-July (although a late-August/early September window may be more likely).

More on this tomorrow.

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Did Twitter pay $47,000 for Twitter.co.uk?

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2011, Domain Sales

The domain name twitter.co.uk, which was until recently listed for sale with a £30,000 ($47,000) price tag, is now owned by Twitter.

The domain now redirects visitors to twitter.com, and Whois records last updated a week ago show that it is now registered to the San Francisco-based company.

Until recently, twitter.co.uk led to a page calling itself a “thorn in the side of American imperialism” and containing a lengthy rant about the microblogging service, which The Guardian reported on in 2009.

It also, since April 2010, carried this notice:

This domain is for sale at offers over £30k. This valuation is based on the fact that I devoted 9 months of my life working on my own t.w.i.t.t.e.r. project in 2005. I have offered the domain to Twitter Inc, giving them “first refusal”, and as they turned me down I am now offering it to anyone else who may be interested. Obviously there are limits as to what you would be allowed to do with the domain and you should familiarise yourself with Nominet’s policies and, in particular, its Dispute Resolution Service (DRS)

The previous owner registered the domain in early 2005 for his own legitmate purposes, well before Twitter itself launched, so it was by no means a case of cybersquatting.

The domain would, of course, have been considered untouchable for any sensible domainer.

Nominet, the .uk registry, currently has no record of Twitter ever bringing a complaint to its DRS, so it seems likely that Twitter had to put its hand in its pocket to acquire the domain.

The change seems to have been first noticed by a Twitter user at the weekend. AcornDomains has a discussion.

(Hat tip: @MathewCoUk)

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