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ICANN retires Affirmation of Commitments with US gov

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has terminated its last formal oversight link with the US government.

Late last week, ICANN chair Steve Crocker and Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration mutually agreed to retire the seven-year-old Affirmation of Commitments.

The AoC, negotiated during the tail end of Paul Twomey’s leadership of ICANN and signed by successor Rod Beckstrom, laid out ICANN’s responsibilities to the US government and, to a lesser extent, vice versa.

It included, for example, ICANN’s commitments to openness and transparency, its promise to remain headquartered in California, and its agreement to ongoing reviews of the impact of its actions.

Ongoing projects such as the Competition and Consumer Trust Review originate in the AoC.

The rationale for concluding the deal now is that most of significant provisions of the AoC have been grandfathered into ICANN’s revised bylaws and other foundational documents following the IANA transition, which concluded in October.

Reviews such as the CCT and the lock on its California HQ are now in the bylaws and elsewhere, ICANN said in a blog post.

It’s worth mentioning that the US gets a new administration led by Donald Trump in a little over a week, so it probably made sense to get the AoC out of the way now, lest the new president do something insane with it.

The letters from Crocker and Strickling terminating the deal can be read together here (pdf).

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Termination on the .orientexpress

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2017, Domain Registries

The dot-brand .orientexpress has derailed. That’s a train pun, expect more.

The gTLD operator has become the latest to signal (like a railway signal) to ICANN that it no longer wishes to run its dot-brand, this week asking for a contract cancellation (like a train cancellation).

Despite having left the station (like a train station) in February 2015, it only ever registered its mandatory nic.orientexpress domain, and that doesn’t even resolve any more, according to DI PRO tracking (like a train track).

While the Orient Express brand is familiar to many due to the famous Agatha Christie murder mystery novel, it’s been applied to multiple train companies and journeys over the years.

The gTLD was originally applied for, unopposed, in 2012 by Orient-Express Hotels. However, that company renamed itself to Belmond in 2014.

Belmond still runs a luxury train route bearing the Orient Express name, but apparently its devotion to the brand has run out of steam (like a steam train) and its gTLD was no longer just the ticket (like a train ticket).

It’s the 20th dot-brand to change its mind about owning a gTLD after its ICANN Registry Agreement was already signed.

According to DI PRO stats, almost 100 dot-brands are actively using their domains currently, so it’s not as if the concept has been a complete train wreck (like a train train wreck).

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NCC sells Open Registry at huge discount

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2017, Domain Registries

NCC Group has followed through on its promise to divest parts of its domain business, selling the Open Registry collection of companies at a huge discount to the original purchase price.

KeyDrive and a mysterious entity called Terrain.com SA have together acquired the companies for €3.75 million ($3.97 million).

That’s compared to the minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million) NCC originally paid just two years ago.

NCC said in a statement that the sold companies are:

  • Open Registry SA, a registry back-end provider with a handful of new gTLD clients.
  • ClearingHouse for Intellectual Property SA, aka CHIP, which provides software and billing support for the Trademark Clearinghouse.
  • Nexperteam CVBA, a tiny registrar.
  • Sensirius CVBA, the original Open Registry company, a new gTLD consultancy.

Missing from that list is Artemis, the new gTLD registry for .trust, which NCC separately acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum in February 2014.

NCC is also keeping hold of its data escrow business, which is widely used by gTLD registries to comply with ICANN rules.

It’s not clear how the sold companies are being divided up between the two buyers.

KeyDrive is the Luxembourg-based holding company for the registrars Key-Systems and Moniker and other domain firms.

Terrain.com appears to belong to EuroDNS chair Xavier Buck, who was chair of Open Registry until NCC bought it, but the domain itself doesn’t seem to resolve right now.

NCC said that €2 million will be paid up front and €1.75 million will be deferred for 18 months.

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ICA worried ICANN will force URS on .net

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2017, Domain Registries

The Internet Commerce Association has called for a “moratorium” on the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy being added to legacy gTLD contracts, months before Verisign’s .net contract is up for renewal.

In a blog post, ICA counsel Phil Corwin accused ICANN staff of making policy by the back door by compelling pre-2012 registries to adopt URS, despite a lack of ICANN community consensus policy.

In the last few years the registries for .jobs, .travel, .cat, .pro, .xxx and most recently .mobi have agreed to adopt many aspects of the 2012 Registry Agreement, which includes the URS, often in exchange for lower ICANN fees.

Corwin wrote:

the real test of [ICANN’s Global Domains Division’s] illicit strategy of incremental de facto policymaking will come later this year, when the .Net RA comes up for renewal. We have no idea whether Verisign will be seeking any substantial revisions to that RA that would provide GDD staff with substantial leverage to impose URS, nor do we know whether Verisign would be amenable to that tradeoff.

The .net RA is due to expire July 1 this year.

Verisign pays ICANN $0.75 for each .net domain registration, renewal and transfer. If that were to be reduced to the 2012 standard of $0.25, it would save Verisign at least $7.5 million a year.

The URS provides brand owners with a way to suspend trademark-infringing domains in clear-cut cases. It’s based on UDRP but is faster and cheaper and does not allow the brand owner to seize ownership of the domains.

ICA represents large domain speculators, most of which have their investments tied up in .com and .net domains. It’s complained about the addition of URS to other gTLDs but the complaints have largely fallen on deaf ears.

ICANN has said that it does not force URS on anyone, but that it takes the base new gTLD program RA as its starting point for bilateral negotiations with registries whose contracts are up for renewal.

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ICANN’s top DC lobbyist gets consumer safeguards role

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has named veteran staffer Jamie Hedlund as its new senior VP for contractual compliance and consumer safeguards.

It’s a new executive team role, created by the departure of chief contract compliance officer Allen Grogan. Grogan announced his intention to leave ICANN last May, and has been working there part-time since August.

The “consumer safeguards” part of the job description is new.

ICANN first said it planned to hire such a person in late 2014, but the position was never filled, despite frequent poking by anti-spam activists.

Now it appears that the two roles — compliance and consumer safeguards — have been combined.

This makes sense, give that ICANN has no power to safeguard consumers other than the enforcement of its contracts with registries and registrars.

From the outside, it does not immediately strike me as an obvious move for Hedlund.

While his job title has changed regularly during his six or so years at ICANN, he’s mainly known as the organization’s only in-house Washington DC government lobbyist.

He played a key role in the recent IANA transition, which saw the US government sever its formal oversight ties with ICANN.

His bio shows no obvious experience in consumer protection roles.

His replacement in the government relations role is arguably just as surprising — Duncan Burns, a veteran PR man who will keep his current job title of senior VP of global communications.

The appointments seem to indicate that lobbying the US government is not as critical to ICANN in the post-transition world, and that institutional experience in the rarefied world of ICANN is a key qualifier for senior positions.

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