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Community calls on ICANN to cut staff spending

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN should look internally to cut costs before swinging the scythe at the volunteer community.

That’s a key theme to emerge from many comments filed by the community last week on ICANN’s fiscal 2019 budget, which sees spending on staff increase even as revenue stagnates and cuts are made in other key areas.

ICANN said in January that it would have to cut $5 million from its budget for the year beginning July 1, 2018, largely due to a massive downwards revision in how many new gTLD domains it expects the industry to process.

At the same time, the organization said it will increase its payroll by $7.3 million, up to $76.8 million, with headcount swelling to 425 by the end of the fiscal year and staff receiving on average a 2% pay rise.

In comments filed on the budget, many community members questioned whether this growth can be justified.

Among the most diplomatic objections came from the GNSO Council, which said:

In principle, the GNSO Council believes that growth of staff numbers should only occur under explicit justification and replacements due to staff attrition should always occur with tight scrutiny; especially in times of stagnate funding levels.

The Council added that it is not convinced that the proposed budget funds the policy work it needs to do over the coming year.

The Registrars Stakeholder Group noted the increased headcount with concern and said:

Given the overall industry environment where organizations are being asked to do more with less, we are not convinced these additional positions are needed… The RrSG is not yet calling for cuts to ICANN Staff, we believe the organization should strive to maintain headcount at FY17 Actual year-end levels.

The RrSG shared the GNSO Council’s concern that policy work, ICANN’s raison d’etre, may suffer under the proposed budget.

The At-Large Advisory Committee said it “does not support the direction taken in this budget”, adding:

Specifically we see an increase in staff headcount and personnel costs while services to the community have been brutally cut. ICANN’s credibility rests upon the multistakeholder model, and cuts that jeopardize that model should not be made unless there are no alternatives and without due recognition of the impact.

Staff increases may well be justified, but we must do so we a real regard to costs and benefits, and these must be effectively communicated to the community

ALAC is concerned that the budget appears to cut funding to many projects that see ICANN reach out to, and fund participation by, non-industry potential community members.

Calling for “fiscal prudence”, the Intellectual Property Constituency said it “encourages ICANN to take a hard look at personnel costs and the use of outside professional services consultants.”

The IPC is also worried that ICANN may have underestimated the costs of its contractual compliance programs.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group had some strong words:

The organisation’s headcount, and personnel costs, cannot continue to grow. We feel strongly that the proposal to grow headcount by 25 [Full-Time Employees] to 425 FTE in a year where revenue has stagnated cannot be justified.

With 73% of the overall budget now being spent on staff and professional services, there is an urgent need to see this spend decrease over time… there is a need to stop the growth in the size of the staff, and to review staff salaries, bonuses, and fringe benefits.

NCSG added that ICANN could perhaps reduce costs by relocating some positions from its high-cost Los Angeles headquarters to the “global south”, where the cost of living is more modest.

The ccNSO Strategic and Operational Planning Standing Committee was the only commentator, that I could find, to straight-up call for a freeze in staff pay rises. While also suggesting moving staff to less costly parts of the globe, it said:

The SOPC – as well as many other community stakeholders – seem to agree that ICANN staff are paid well enough, and sometimes even above market average. Considering the current DNS industry trends and forecasts, tougher action to further limit or even abolish the annual rise in compensation would send a strong positive signal to the community.

It’s been suggested that, when asked to find areas to cut, ICANN department heads prioritized retaining their own staff, which is why we’re seeing mainly cuts to community funding.

I’ve only summarized the comments filed by formal ICANN structures here. Other individuals and organizations filing comments in their own capacity expressed similar views.

I was unable to find a comment explicitly supporting increased staffing costs. Some groups, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, did not address the issue directly.

While each commentator has their own reasons for wanting to protect the corner of the budget they tap into most often, it’s a rare moment when every segment of the community (commercial and non-commercial, domain industry and IP interests) seem to be on pretty much the same page on an issue.

Sanchez beats Greenberg to ICANN board seat

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2017, Domain Policy

Mexican intellectual property lawyer León Felipe Sánchez Ambía has been selected to become a member of the ICANN board of directors by the At-Large, comfortably beating his opponent in a poll this weekend.

Sanchez took 13 votes (65%) to 10-year At-Large veteran Alan Greenberg’s 7, in a vote of At-Large Advisory Committee members and Regional At Large Organization chairs.

He’ll take the seat due to be vacated in November by Rinalia Abdul Rahim, who will leave the board after one three-year term.

He’s currently head of the IP practice and a partner at Fulton & Fulton in Mexico City. According to his bio:

He is co-lead for the Mexican chapter of Creative Commons and advisor to different Government bodies that include the Digital Strategy Coordination Office of the Mexican Presidency, the Special Commission on Digital Agenda and IT of the Mexican House of Representatives and the Science and Technology Commission of the Mexican Senate.

He drafted the Internet Users Rights Protection Act for Mexico and has been very active on issues like Anti-Counterfeit Trade Agreement (ACTA), Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA), Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and other local initiatives of the same kind, always advocating to defend users’ and creators’ rights in order to achieve a balance between regulation and freedom.

Sanchez is certainly the less experienced of the two short-listed men when it comes to length of involvement in the ICANN community, but he’s a member of the ALAC and is deeply involved as a volunteer in ICANN accountability work following the IANA transition.

The At-Large was recently criticized in a report (pdf) for the perception that it is “controlled by a handful of ICANN veterans who rotate between the different leadership positions”.

Sanchez’s appointment to the board may have an effect on that perception.

The selection of another (white, male) North American to the board, replacing an Asian woman, will of course create more pressure to increase geographic and gender diversity on the other groups within ICANN that select board members.

A written Q&A between the two candidates and At-Large members can be found here.

ALAC throws spanner in ICANN accountability discussions

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2015, Domain Policy

The At-Large Advisory Committee has yanked backing for a key ICANN accountability proposal.

The ALAC, on of ICANN’s policy advisory groups, this afternoon voted unanimously “to withdraw support for the Membership model” at ICANN 54 in Dublin.

The Membership model is a proposal out of the Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) that would change ICANN’s legal structure to one of formal membership, where a Sole Member gets legal rights to enforce accountability over the ICANN board of directors.

The model has some fierce support in the CCWG, but over the last few days in Dublin the group has started to explore the possibility of a “Designator” model instead.

That would be a weaker accountability model than one based on membership, but stronger than the “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism” proposed by the ICANN board.

ALAC chair Alan Greenberg said in a statement to the CCWG mailing list:

In its formal response to the CCWG-Accountability proposal issued in August 2015, the ALAC said that it could support the model being proposed, but preferred something far less complex and lighter-weight, and that we saw no need for the level of enforceability that the proposal provided. Moreover, the ALAC had specific concerns with the budget veto and the apparent lack of participation of perhaps a majority of AC/SOs.

In light of the reconsideration of a designator model by the CCWG, along with the recommendations of the Saturday morning break-out sessions, the ALAC felt that a revised statement was in order. Accordingly we decided, by a unanimous vote of the 14 ALAC members present (with 1 not present), to withdraw support for the Membership model.

I want to make it clear that this is not a “red line” decision. Should a Membership model become one that is generally advocated by the CCWG, and supported by a supermajority of Board directors (who ultimately MUST support any changes that they will be called upon to approve, else they would be in violation of their fiduciary duty), then the ALAC reserves its right to support such a model.

The move revises the battle lines in the ongoing accountability debate. It’s no longer a simple case of CCWG versus ICANN board.

Dublin is a crunch time for the accountability proposals.

The clock is ticking — if the ICANN community cannot agree on a consensus proposal soon it risks delaying the transition of the IANA functions from US government oversight and possibly killing off the transition altogether.

Yet, while the CCWG is making steady progress cleaning up remaining areas of disagreement, the differences between itself and the board are still as sharp as ever.

At-Large votes to object to .health gTLD bids, but Afilias gets a pass

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee has voted to object to three of the four applications for the .health gTLD.

Afilias, which is one of the applicants, will not receive an ALAC objection. By a single vote, ALAC decided not to go after its application.

Fourteen of the 15-member ALAC panel voted on Tuesday. For DotHealth LLC’s bid, the yes/no/abstain vote was 8/3/3; dot Health Ltd’s was 10/3/1, and Donuts’ was 10/3/1.

Afilias managed to get one extra “no” vote (its result was 7/4/3). so with only 50% of the voters voting “yes”, the motion to object failed.

The ALAC did not vote on .健康, which means “healthy” or “wellness” in Chinese, despite earlier indications that it would.

The identities of the voters and the way they voted does not appear to have been revealed.

The objections will be of the Community or Limited Public Interest variety, and paid for by ICANN.

Healthcare-related gTLDs are already the most controversial of those being applied for.

Each .health bid received four Governmental Advisory Committee Early Warnings late last year, and earlier this week the Independent Objector’s list of 24 objections was dominated by medically oriented strings.

ALAC likely to object to five .health gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee is planning to formally object to four applications for the .health gTLD and one for .健康, which means “.healthy” in Chinese.

Bids backed by Afilias, Donuts, Famous Four Media and Straat Investments (the investment vehicle of .CO Internet CEO Juan Diego Calle), as well as China’s StableTone, are affected.

Dev Anand Teelucksingh, chair of the ALAC’s new gTLD review group, posted the following to an ALAC mailing list this weekend:

Objection statements on community grounds will be drafted for the applications for .health given that the four tests for community objection grounds were passed. The gTLD RG will attempt to put together the objection statements to the applications for .health in time for RALO [Regional At-Large Organization] review around 22 February 2013.

The ALAC is able to file objections to new gTLD bids, using funds provided by ICANN, on only the Community or Limited Public Interest grounds.

Of the four strings before it (.health, .nyc, .patagonia and .amazon) the ALAC review group decided that only a Community objection against .health met its criteria.

These are the only confirmed ALAC objections to date.

The ALAC had received a request to object from the International Medical Informatics Association, which said:

These five proposals are seen as problematic by the global health community for the following reasons:

  • None of the applicants demonstrates that the name will be operated in the public interest.
  • None of the applicants demonstrates adequate consumer protection mechanisms.
  • All of the applicants are commercial in nature and none represent the health community.

Two governments — France and Mali — both expressed concerns about .health on similar grounds by filing Early Warnings last November.

ICANN’s deadline for filing objections is March 13.

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