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ICANN to skip stakeholders for more GAC talks

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN stakeholder groups will miss out on their usual formal sit-down with the board of directors at the San Francisco meeting next week, due to talks between the board and governments.

ICANN has confirmed the touted second day of Governmental Advisory Committee consultations, centering on new top-level domains and .xxx, for next Tuesday.

Tuesdays at ICANN meetings are informally referred to as Constituency Day, where the various interest groups that make up the “bottom” of ICANN’s policy-making process meet up.

Usually, the board moves between these meetings, gathering feedback on policy issues from stakeholders such as registrars, registries, ISPs, IP owners and non-commercial users.

According to some attendees, that won’t happen in San Francisco.

ICANN staff will still attend the constituency sessions, but the GAC consultation will take up the board’s undivided attention.

It make perfect sense, of course. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many days in the week, and ICANN is eager to put work on the new TLD program to bed as soon as possible.

But that logic is unlikely to prevent grumblings from some stakeholders.

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Neustar wants to be a registrar ASAP

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

Neustar, registry manager for the .biz and .us top-level domains, has put the wheels in motion to acquire an ICANN registrar accreditation as soon as possible.

It’s the first major gTLD operator to formally request permission to “vertically integrate” since ICANN announced last November that it was prepared to lift the ownership caps that have previously kept registries and registrars quite strictly separated.

Neustar’s .biz contract currently forbids it from owning more than 15% of an ICANN registrar.

In a letter to ICANN sent this afternoon, Neustar vice president of law and policy Jeff Neuman said the company wants this provision deleted:

We are asking for this language now to allow Neustar to compete fairly for new gTLDs on the same terms and conditions as registrars entering the new gTLD registry market.

It is critical to resolve this issue immediately to ensure that Neustar is able to compete on a level playing field with the new entrants into the marketplace and to promote the efficiencies and innovation for consumers as advocated by the ICANN Board.

ICANN shocked the industry last year when its board of directors decided to allow registries and registrars to own each other.

The decision meant that niche community and brand TLDs will be able to sell direct to registrants, without having to secure the support of reluctant big-name registrars.

It also meant that existing gTLD operators will be able to own registrars for the first time.

As a caveat, designed to protect consumers from gaming registries, ICANN proposed a Code of Conduct designed to limit the cross-pollination of data that could be abused.

Similarly, the Code calls for registries to treat all approved registrars equally, regardless of ownership stakes, to avoid competition concerns.

Neuman wrote that Neustar is prepared to have language along the lines of the current draft Code of Conduct, but “no more restrictive”, incorporated into the .biz registry contract.

Other incumbent gTLD registry operators, notably VeriSign and Afilias, are bound by similar contractual restrictions and will presumably also pursue their options along the same lines in future.

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Brussels’ biggest winner?

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Policy

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by consultant Michael Palage).

Analyzing the aftermath of last week’s ICANN Board-GAC non-bylaws consultation in Brussels, the biggest winner may be Rod Beckstrom. Many who attended the meeting or followed it remotely may have found it unusual how little he spoke during the three-day session. Why was Rod so quiet in Brussels?

Soon Beckstrom will begin the third and final year of the contract that he executed in June 2009 – yes, it has been almost two years since Rod assumed the mantle as ICANN’s fourth President and CEO. He got off to a quick start with the successful expiration of the Joint Project Agreement (JPA), the execution of the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC), and the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) in country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) earning the accolades of myself and others.

Then came the ICANN meeting in Kenya and Rod’s statement that “[t]he domain name system is more fragile and vulnerable today than it has ever been. It could stop at any given point in time, literally.” To say that this was not warmly received by many within the broader ICANN community would be an understatement. However, instead of back-tracking, Beckstrom doubled down with his high-profile DNS Vulnerabilities and Risk Management panel discussion in Brussels reinforcing his claims about the fragile nature of the Internet.

Some in the community have also voiced concern about the continued exodus of senior ICANN staff, while others have questioned some of Rod’s recent hires. While I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with John Nakamura, Advisor to the CEO on Government Affairs, and Elad Levinson, Vice-President of Organization Efficiency, these are two hires which I myself have a hard time reconciling while other key positions remain unfilled.

However, to Rod’s credit a number of his new senior hires appear to be making positive impacts and look to increase the overall professional skill set within ICANN staff. Although Paul Twomey’s original two senior staff hires, John Jeffrey and Kurt Pritz, continue to dominate important policy and operational matters within ICANN, this may be in part due to the fact that there is so little institutional knowledge left within the senior staff.

Since the June 2010 Brussels meeting, Rod has maintained a lower profile, focusing on ICANN’s continued accomplishments in the areas of new IDN ccTLDs being added to the root and the final allocation of IPv4 address space by IANA. Whether Rod would seek a second term is still an unknown. Of ICANN’s four Presidents, only Twomey ever made it to a second contract renewal, although the high churn rate can in large part be attributed to the stresses associated with the job.

This is why Beckstrom’s silence in Brussels was so interesting. While there were some pointed exchanges between ICANN Chair Peter Dengate Thrush and certain GAC members, Rod left the meeting unscathed. Over the next couple of months as the ICANN Board and GAC resolve their outstanding issues regarding the new gTLD implementation process, Beckstrom positions himself well for a potential contract extension as his Chairman continues to serve as a lightning rod in these consultations.

For the moment, only Beckstrom knows if he is actively seeking a contract extension. While he can go out on a high note listing the following high profile accomplishments during his three year tenure: AoC, IDN TLDs, new gTLDs, exhaustion of IPv4 address space, and a new IANA contract; Rod may wish to stick around and achieve some yet unknown additional accomplishments.

Michael Palage is an intellectual property attorney and an information technology consultant. He has been actively involved in ICANN operational and policy matters since its formation in both an individual and leadership role, including a three-year term on the ICANN Board of Directors.

Palage is President and CEO of Pharos Global, Inc, which provides consulting and management services to domain name registration authorities and other technology related companies.

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Competition for .africa heats up

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

AfTLD, an organization of African country-code top-level domain operators, has announced its intention to apply to ICANN for the .africa TLD.

The initiative appears to be different to and competitive with the best-known .africa applicant to date, Sophia Bekele’s DotConnectAfrica.

AfTLD said that it plans to seek a mandate for .africa from the Commission of the African Union. It also expects to discuss forming a company to manage the bid at a meeting in Ghana next month.

Vika Mpisane, AfTLD’s chairman and general manager of South Africa’s .za ccTLD, said in a press release:

We are not just interested in .africa only, but we want to also take on .afrique, which is the French version of .africa. It’s only natural for us to do this because at least 50% of Africa speaks French. We also intend to have an internationalised version of .africa as well because we have significant Arabic Africa population, but we will start definitely with .africa first.

AfTLD shortly intends to announce a “leading registry services provider” to run its back-end, but indicated that in future it would expect to run the registry from within Africa.

The current version of ICANN’s new TLDs Applicant Guidebook sets the bar for a .africa bid very high, in practice possibly requiring near-universal governmental support.

A bidder for this kind of protected geographic term would require letters of support from 60% of the nations concerned. For Africa, as the Guidebook defines it, that’s about 34 countries.

However, crucially, if more than one African government were to object in writing to any given .africa application, that bid could be killed off.

AfTLD has 24 ccTLD registry members. They’re not all government-run TLDs, of course, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that it already has 24 countries on board.

A key question is whether endorsement of a bid by the African Union could be interpreted as blanket approval from all of its 53 member governments. I don’t think that’s a given, under the letter of the Guidebook.

But if it is, DotConnectAfrica may already be there. It has a signed letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, dated August 2009, that endorses its specific bid.

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dotMusic buys music.co

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2011, Domain Sales

Constantine Roussos of dotMusic, which plans to apply for the .music top-level domain, has added to his collection of musical domain names with the purchase of music.co.

Roussos, who already owns music.us and music.biz, seems to have been the winning bidder, paying $30,000, when it was auctioned by Sedo late last month, but Whois records did not change until this Monday.

Remarkably, Music.co is already developed. It lets you play from a selection of godawful* music from an artist calling himself “Constantine”, including one track called “.music”.

The domain was previously owned by domainer Mike Mann, who snapped up dozens of premium generic terms in the .com.co namespace a few years ago in order to be grandfathered in when .co relaunched.

Roussos’ dotMusic initiative is currently the only applicant for the .music TLD to have gone public.

Of the other big sales from the Sedo auction, shop.co is now owned by a German search engine, Websuche, and pizza.co was sold to a California-based developer of discount codes web sites.

The domain download.co, which sold for $10,099, now redirects to what appears to be an affiliate marketing site for software called “Driver Detective”, which I was too scared to install.

Many of the other sales appear to have been made to other domainers.

(* I’m kidding. Probably.)

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