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.xxx domains could arrive by June

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors today approved the .xxx top-level domain, over the objections of governments and pornographers.

The vote was 9 to 3 in favor, with three directors recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest and the CEO abstaining (pretty typical for votes on .xxx over the years, I think it’s a liability thing).

Assuming the US government, which controls the DNS, doesn’t try the nuclear option of overruling ICANN, .xxx could make it into the root about 10 days from now.

Now expect ICM Registry to ramp up the marketing quite quickly – it’s aiming to launch the first of its three sunrise periods in mid-June, just three months from now.

We’re looking at a landrush certainly before the end of the year.

While ICM, in a press release today, said .xxx domains “will only be available to the adult entertainment industry”, the industry is self-defining, and president Stuart Lawley has previously stated that flipping porn domain names counts as an industry service.

Domain investors are welcome, if not necessarily encouraged, in other words.

I hear ICM has already reached out to registrars, giving them a mid-April deadline to apply to be evaluated.

The TLD launching on schedule will of course also depend on whether any legal action is taken to stop it. Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, said at a press conference yesterday that the FSC is thinking about suing.

She also said that it may arrange some kind of boycott, which strikes me as a terrible idea – how many pornographers will refuse to defensively register their .xxx domains out of principle? Very few, I suspect.

The FSC said last week that it was also looking into a Reconsideration Request or an Independent Review Panel procedure, which are the only two real avenues of appeal through ICANN.

An IRP could be more expensive than a lawsuit, and if precedent is any guide even a successful Reconsideration would be moot – it would take at least a month, by which time ICM’s registry contract would be long since signed.

It seems likely that ICM’s long, strange, expensive journey into the DNS may finally be at an end.

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Porn rally underway at ICANN San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2011, Domain Policy

A small group of Free Speech Coalition supporters are currently holding a protest against the .xxx top-level domain, outside the ICANN meeting in San Francisco.

The rally outside the Westin St Francis hotel on Union Square has attracted about 25 people by my count, chanting slogans such as “We want porn! No triple-X!”

Noted porn producer/performer John “Buttman” Stagliano is among them, although he seems to be keeping to the sidelines.

Not to judge, but another of the protestors appears to be the same homeless guy who’s been bothering me for change and cigarettes all week.

Also attending, first amendment attorney Paul Cambria. There’s an unsubstantiated rumor he’s ready to serve ICANN and/or ICM Registry with a lawsuit if .xxx gets approved tomorrow.

He declined to comment on the rumor.

There’s an FSC press conference shortly, and Cambria tells me he’s going to be making a statement at the ICANN public comment forum later this afternoon.

I’ll update when it becomes clearer what the FSC’s game-plan is.

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OpenRegistry wins .sx contract

Kevin Murphy, March 16, 2011, Domain Registries

OpenRegistry, the recently formed registry services provider, has won its first top-level domain deal.

The Benelux-based company has been signed up to provide the back-end registry for .sx, the country-code TLD newly assigned to Sint Maarten.

The deal with Sint Maarten’s government will see the formation of a new company, SX Registry SA, a joint venture of OpenRegistry and MediaFusion, a small Canadian registrar.

MediaFusion’s president, Normand Fortier, will serve as CEO of the company.

The registry’s policies and registrar partners will be announced over the coming weeks, but OpenRegistry CEO Jean-Christophe Vignes tells me the plan is to have a completely open, global ccTLD, along similar lines to the recently relaunched .co domain.

The ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property, CHIP, has been engaged to provide trademark protection services for .sx’s sunrise period.

Sint Maarten is a new country, one of three that formed following the break-up of the Netherlands Antilles (.an) last October. It was assigned .sx in December.

As such, the ccTLD has not yet been officially delegated to anyone, and the new company is hopeful it will be able to lock it down by ICANN’s June meeting in Singapore.

OpenRegistry, while employing experienced staff, does not currently operate any TLD registries. The .sx deal may make the company more appealing to other new TLD applicants.

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ICANN names compliance chief

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has found itself a new senior director of contractual compliance, nine months after the post was vacated.

Maguy Serad, most recently with Nissan North America, starts April 4 at ICANN’s headquarters in Marina Del Rey, California.

She’s apparently a Black Belt Six-Sigma (don’t worry, that’s a real thing), Liberian by birth and currently a Lebanese citizen. She speaks English, French and Arabic.

ICANN has also hired Colombian intellectual property lawyer Carlos Alvarez as a new contractual compliance manager/auditor. He has a history in initiatives fighting software piracy and child pornography.

The timing of the hires means ICANN has probably dodged a bullet.

There have been grumblings in some parts of the ICANN community about the vacant compliance posts for some months, and some stakeholders here at the San Francisco meeting planned to make their feelings known to ICANN’s senior staff and board.

ICANN’s compliance team is responsible for monitoring and enforcing ICANN’s contracts with registries and registrars, which will become a lot more important when the new top-level domains program kicks off.

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Beckstrom calls for ICANN’s independence

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom has called for the organization to be allowed to further loosen its ties to the US government.

The two-hour opening ceremony of its 40th public meeting, here in San Francisco this morning, had a heavy focus on ICANN’s relationship with governments, and looked as much to its roots in the Clinton administration as it addressed more immediate concerns internationally.

Beckstrom and others tackled the renewal of the soon-to-expire IANA contract, with which the US grants ICANN many of its powers over the domain name system, head-on.

Beckstrom said some have expressed “a belief that the US government should live up to its 1998 White Paper commitment to transfer management of the IANA functions to the private sector-led organization entrusted to manage the DNS, which is ICANN. ”

That would mean severing one of the most frequently criticized links between ICANN and the USA.

In a press conference later, he confirmed that this is in fact his belief, saying that internet governance is “evolving behind the curve” as internet usage grows internationally.

The US handing the keys to the internet over to ICANN doesn’t appear to be immediately likely, however. But there may be some ways to continue to phase out the US special relationship on a shorter term basis.

Beckstrom took the stage shortly after Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce, made some frank criticisms.

While stressing the Obama administration’s commitment to what he called “multistakeholderism” in internet governance, he had a few pointed remarks to make about ICANN’s decision-making process.

He accused the ICANN board of directors of “picking winners and losers” by making decisions in situations where the community has been unable to reach a consensus policy.

He singled out two recent policies where he believes ICANN has failed to sufficiently rationalize its decisions: registry-registrar integration and economic studies into new TLDs.

The criticisms are not new, and many of them may well go away if and when ICANN implements the recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

My initial sense is that the fact Strickling was able to speak so frankly and so publicly about the administration’s feelings is an encouraging sign of ICANN’s maturity.

And Beckstrom’s response was equally ballsy, urging ICANN’s supporters to lobby the NTIA for a loosening of US-ICANN ties.

The NTIA’s Notice Of Inquiry regarding IANA, which floats the idea of breaking up the IANA functions and possibly assigning them to three different entities, was released a few weeks ago.

During his address this morning, former ICANN chair Vint Cerf put forth the view that this kind of government procurement contract may be an inappropriate mechanism for overseeing IANA functions:

I believe that that concept of procuring service from ICANN really ought to change to become a cooperative agreement because I believe that format expresses more correctly the relationship between ICANN and the Department of Commerce.

Beckstrom evidently agrees with Cerf. At the press conference, he pointed out that the disadvantage of a procurement contract is that it’s short term, undermining confidence in ICANN.

It also requires ICANN to run the IANA to the benefit of the American people, rather than the international community, he said. This obviously can reinforce the perception in some parts of the world that ICANN has an untenable American bias.

“A cooperative agreement seems more befitting of the relationship the NTIA and ICANN has developed,” he said, noting that this is currently the structure of NTIA’s relationship with VeriSign.

The Number Resource Organization may give a further clue to ICANN’s game plan in this email (pdf) published today, in which the NRO says:

We strongly believe that no government should have a special role in managing, regulating or supervising the IANA functions.

The NRO suggests that ICANN, through these coming negotiations, should advocate for a staged reduction of the level of DoC’s oversight to IANA. This process could possibly involve a transitionfrom a contract to a cooperation agreement, and ultimately arrival at a non-binding arrangement, such as an affirmation of commitments

Beckstrom now wants your help to make this happen. During his keynote, he urged the ICANN community to make its disparate views known to the NTIA, “openly and in writing”.

“This is the chance to add your voice to those determining the fate of the IANA function,” he said. “If your voice is to be heard, you must speak up.”

“When all voices are heard, no single voice can dominate an organization – not even governments. Not even the government that facilitated its creation,” Beckstrom said.

Details about how to respond to the NOI can be found in this PDF.

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