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ICANN Brussels – .xxx approved but not approved

The controversy over the .xxx top-level domain has for the last few years, at least from one point of view, centered on opposing views of whether it was already “approved”.

ICM Registry has long claimed that ICANN “approved” it in 2005, and believes the Independent Review Panel agreed with that position. ICANN said the opposite.

Regardless of what happened in Brussels yesterday, when the board grudgingly voted to reopen talks on .xxx (to a surprisingly muted audience response), the question of whether .xxx is “approved” is definitely not over yet.

ICM tweeted shortly after the ICANN’s board’s decision:

@ICMRegistry: We are delighted to announce that the #ICANN Board has approved the .xxx top-level domain.

But a couple of hours later, ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush told us at a press conference that it categorically was not “approved”.

In terms of getting its point across to the media, ICM’s message trumped ICANN’s, judging by the headlines currently scrolling past me on Google News.

I guess this boils down to a question of definitions.

From the ICANN perspective, a TLD is presumably not “approved” until a contract has been signed and the board has resolved to add it to the root.

The board’s decision yesterday merely sets out the track towards that eventuality, with a few hurdles scattered along the way. In conversation with ICM people, I get the impression they believe the hurdles are low and easily surmountable.

Crucially for ICM, the issue of community support, the stick with which ICANN nearly killed .xxx back in 2007, is now off the table. There will be a quick review of ICM’s books and technical capabilities, but the views of the porn industry now seem pretty much irrelevant.

The only real way I can see .xxx being derailed again now is if the Governmental Advisory Committee issues future advice that unequivocally opposes the TLD.

As Kieren McCarthy noted in some detail over on CircleID, the GAC has never had a hell of a lot of substantial advice to impart about .xxx in its official communiques, so it’s difficult to see where a clash could arise based on its previous missives.

But with the GAC currently using bogus “morality and public order” arguments to jerk everybody around with regards the next new TLD round, it’s not entirely impossible that it could lob one final grenade in ICM’s direction.

This story ain’t over yet.

ICANN Brussels – some of my coverage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2010, Domain Policy

As you may have noticed from my relatively light posting week, it really is a lot easier to cover ICANN meetings remotely.

The only drawback is, of course, that you don’t get to meet, greet, debate, argue and inevitably get into drunken fist-fights with any of the lovely people who show up to these things.

So, on balance, I think I prefer to be on-site rather than off.

I was not entirely lazy in Brussels this week, however. Here are links to a few pieces I filed with The Register.

Cyber cops want stronger domain rules

International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.

.XXX to get ICANN nod

ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

Governments mull net censorship grab

Governments working within ICANN are pondering asking for a right of veto on new internet top-level domains, a move that would almost certainly spell doom for politically or sexually controversial TLDs.

New TLD guidebook could be finalized at ICANN retreat

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook for new TLDs could become the Final Applicant Guidebook at an ICANN retreat before the next ICANN meeting.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said at a press conference here in Brussels earlier that a private two-day board retreat this year, focused entirely on new TLDs, could “clear up any remaining issues” with the DAG.

I believe he was referring to the ICANN board’s scheduled September 24-25 retreat, although he may have had something else in mind.

Dengate Thrush said that we should not expect the board to pass as many resolutions relating to the DAG at the end of the Brussels meeting as it did at the end of Nairobi three months ago.

But he still expects DAG v4 will be the final draft published before the guidebook is finalized.

“The reality is that there are a number of overarching issues where the community has to reach consensus, and it’s difficult for us to put time limits on the community,” he said.

A few minutes ago, during an open mic session on new TLDs, Jon Nevett of Domain Dimensions questioned whether there should be a special ICANN meeting, before the retreat, to give the community a chance to help with the finalization process.

The ICANN Brussels schwag bag – full details

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2010, Gossip

I’ve just landed at ICANN 38, in the really rather lovely setting of the Mont des Arts in Brussels.

Either I’m lost, or it’s a bit quiet at the moment, so I thought I’d get the most important news out of the way first – what’s in the schwag bag?

A heck of a lot more than the last ICANN meeting I attended, in Mar Del Plata, Argentina three five years ago.

Consider this a disclosure statement – I am now forever beholden to all of these companies, in no particular order:

  • T-shirt (Hanes) from ICANN.
  • T-shirt (Fruit of the Loom) from RegistryPro.
  • Empty Belgian chocolate bag from Iron Mountain (visit the booth for the choccie, presumably).
  • Fan with party invite printed on it from GMO (dotShop).
  • Pen from .CO Internet.
  • Keyring (foam) from dns.be.
  • Pen from Nic.ru.
  • Belgian chocolate box (full) from Centr.
  • Keyring (metal) from PIR (slogan: “PracticeSafeDNS.org”)
  • Badge/button (small) from .quebec.
  • Badge/button (huge) from ICM Registry (slogan: “Yes to .XXX”)
  • Bumper sticker from .quebec.
  • Notebook from PIR (.org “Celebrating 25 years”)
  • Playing cards (one-way backs) from Ausregistry.
  • “Multi-purpose retractable lock” from SIDN.
  • USB Flash drive (4GB) from Afnic.
  • Notebook from .eu.
  • A good-sized tree’s worth of flyers, booklets and sales pitches from the meeting’s sponsors – very strong contingent of new TLD players and consultancies.
  • The bag itself is sponsored by Afilias.

I heard a rumor that ICM was giving away .xxx vuvuzelas, but if they were they appear to have already run out.

Will ICANN punt .xxx in Brussels?

Is ICANN set to delay approval of the proposed .xxx top-level domain – again – in Brussels?

That’s my reading of ICANN’s latest document concerning ICM Registry’s long-running and controversial battle for a porn-only TLD.

This week, ICANN submitted its summary of the public comment period that ran to May 10. It’s a fair bit shorter than the one Kieren McCarthy compiled for ICM last month.

As usual, it’s written in a fairly neutral tone. But, if you’re feeling conspiratorial, the mask does slip on occasion, perhaps giving a sense of where the .xxx application could head next.

The ICANN summary occasionally breaks from reporting what a commenter actually said in order to highlight a potential problem they did not address.

Example (my emphasis):

Only two commenters directly addressed the question of further interaction with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) on the .XXX sTLD Application. Both of those commenters were against seeking any further input from the GAC outside of any public comment period. Neither of these commenters – nor any other – addressed the potential violation of the ICANN Bylaws that could result from the Board’s failure to properly consider the advice of the GAC

This suggests, to me, that the ICANN board will be receiving advice to the effect that further GAC input needs to be forthcoming before it can move forward with .xxx.

If this is the case, the GAC might have to produce some advice before next Friday’s board meeting if ICM has any hope of getting back around the negotiating table prior to Cartagena in December.

That’s not the only reason to believe ICANN may punt .xxx again, however. Elsewhere in the report, we read (my emphasis again):

For those in favor of proceeding with the .XXX sTLD Application, many created an alternative option – that ICM and ICANN should proceed to a contract right away. There was substantial discussion on this point in the ICM submissions. Few commenters addressed the technical realities identified within the Process Report ‐ that prompt execution of the agreement negotiated in 2007 is not feasible.

The Process Report referenced says that it is not possible to go straight into contract talks because ICM first applied for .xxx more than six years ago.

This has been a bone of contention. ICM points to .post, which was applied for at the same time as .xxx and only approved late last year, as proof that the passage of time should be no barrier.

But ICANN president Rod Beckstrom doesn’t buy that comparison. He wrote to ICM (pdf) at the end of March noting that .post was backed by the International Postal Union, whereas .xxx is “sponsored” by IFFOR, an organization created by ICM purely to act as its sponsor.

In that letter, Beckstrom talks about due diligence to make sure ICM and IFFOR still satisfy financial and technical criteria, and a review of whether .xxx “can still satisfy the requisite sponsorship criteria”.

I’ll admit that I’m breaking out the crystal ball a bit here, and I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t think it’s looking great for ICM in Brussels.

US government requests root DNSSEC go-ahead

Kevin Murphy, June 7, 2010, Domain Tech

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce, has formally announced its intent to allow the domain name system’s root servers to be digitally signed with DNSSEC.

Largely, I expect, a formality, a public comment period has been opened (pdf) that will run for two weeks, concluding on the first day of ICANN’s Brussels meeting.

NTIA said:

NTIA and NIST have reviewed the testing and evaluation report and conclude that DNSSEC is ready for the final stages of deployment at the authoritative root zone.

DNSSEC is a standard for signing DNS traffic using cryptographic keys, making it much more difficult to spoof domain names.

ICANN is expected to get the next stage of DNSSEC deployment underway next week, when it generates the first set of keys during a six-hour “ceremony” at a secure facility in Culpeper, Virginia.

The signed, validatable root zone is expected to go live July 15.

Porn domain firm urges ICANN to ignore the haters

ICM Registry has asked ICANN to set aside the views of thousands of naysayers and approve the porn-only .xxx top-level domain as soon as possible.

The company has sent three documents to ICANN today, two of which set out ICM’s position in the same firm tone that has characterized its previous missives.

Basically: no more delays, your only option here is to get back into contract talks now.

I would say ICM is drawing a line in the sand, but ICM has drawn so many lines in the sand recently it’s beginning to look like a game of beach tic-tac-toe (which, visualizing it, is kinda appropriate).

The third document is a post-game summary of ICANN’s recently closed comment period on the .xxx application, which attracted record comments. That’s written by former ICANN public participation wonk Kieren McCarthy and is more measured in tone.

ICM president Stuart Lawley believes that the thousands of copy-paste comments from US-based anti-porn Christian groups can be safely ignored. I get the impression ICANN will probably agree.

The volume of comments on an entirely irrelevant issue – that is, the content of websites on the Internet – was one of the original reasons this process went off the rails. ICANN should not repeat its earlier mistakes and pander to those interests.

Given that a substantial number of comments came from the porn industry itself, notably the Free Speech Coalition, Lawley wrote that “debate about community support is no longer appropriate”.

ICM’s on shakier ground here than with the Christians. A TLD for a sponsored community that is unequivocally hated (NSFW) by a vocal part of that community can’t look good.

But the FSC, along with the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network, one of its members, “represent only a small fraction of the adult industry”, Lawley claimed.

Over 100,000 .xxx domains have been pre-registered over the last five years and several hundred of these people sent ICM’s copy-paste letter to ICANN. ICM says this indicates adult industry support, though I think that’s a less than watertight argument.

ICANN’s board will undoubtedly have a good old chinwag about their current predicament at their retreat this weekend, but they’re not due to make any decisions until the Brussels meeting a little over a month from now.

Dot-XXX lights fire under ICANN’s feet

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2010, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has urged ICANN to stop messing around and finalise the contract that would add .xxx to the domain name system.

“There is no legitimate obstacle to the approval of ICM’s registry agreement,” ICM chair Stuart Lawley said in a letter to ICANN yesterday. “We can see no reason for further delay in the process of approving ICM’s registry agreement”.

At its Nairobi meeting earlier this month, ICANN’s board decided to hand the problem of how to handle .xxx to its staff, saying it “wishes to create a transparent set of process options which can be published for public comment.”

ICM now claims that no such process options are necessary. The .post application, Lawley said, was approved last December, six years after it was made, without the need for any new processes.

There are some differences between .post and .xxx, of course. While the .xxx application has previously been approved, it has also previously been rejected.

It is back on the table following an Independent Review Panel decision that ICANN broke its fairness rules by singling out ICM for special treatment.

Lawley reminds ICANN of as much several times in his latest letter, which can be found here.

ICANN’s staff is expected to deliver its process options next week. There will be a period of public comment, and the board will have to make a call by its June meeting in Brussels.

Internet ‘villain’ to headline ICANN Brussels

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2010, Domain Policy

It’s a date! Viviane Reding, European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has accepted Rod Beckstrom’s invitation to attend ICANN’s meeting in Brussels this June.

Reding is a mildly controversial figure in the domain name world.

Notably, she is the recipient of a UK Internet Service Provider Association Internet Villain award over the launch of .eu, which happened under her watch as Information Society commissioner.

ISPA nominated her in 2007, for “foisting the most arcane set of rules yet seen for prior registration of .eu domains, requiring UK-registered companies to submit legal affidavits to justify the authenticity of their business.”

Arcane rules? At an ICANN meeting? Shurely shome mishtake.

It’s not clear whether Reding will be speaking at the meeting. She’s agreed to attend on June 22, the same day as the Governmental Advisory Committee meeting.

ICANN: .xxx is not approved

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN never makes a decision if it can make a process instead, and that seems to be the case with the board’s latest call on .xxx.

The board voted this morning to kick ICM’s proposal until after the Brussels meeting in June, on the basis that it needs a process by which it can approve .xxx.

While this is mixed news for ICM – it’s not what it hoped for but the company still has a pretty good chance of getting what it wants – the language used in the resolution clearly indicates that the board believes .xxx is currently in an unapproved state: (continue reading)