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ICANN 71 is online-only, because of course it is

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has called off plans to conduct its 71st public meeting in the Netherlands this June.

Blaming the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the risk to safety and travel restrictions, ICANN confirmed last week that the venue will again be Zoom, rather than The Hague.

It will be the fifth consecutive meeting to go online-only.

The dates will remain the same — June 14 to June 17 — and the European time zone of course means that folks at ICANN HQ in Los Angeles will once again be working throughout the night.

ICANN 70, relocated from Cancun, begins next Monday.

ICANN 70 has virtual schwag, other new stuff

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2021, Domain Policy

It may not make up for the lack of sun, sea, sand and sexual abstinence, but the ICANN 70 meeting, taking place this month on Zoom instead of Cancun, Mexico, does have a few new enticements that may tickle your fancy.

It’s also beginning to look like ICANN 70 won’t be the last of ICANN’s public meetings this year to be online-only.

At the trivial end of the spectrum, attendees get a virtual schwag bag containing unsponsored, printable collectibles including: two versions of a do-not-disturb door sign, a name badge, and two types of origami paper airplanes.

Equally trivially, ICANN appears to trying to foster a sense of remote community by encouraging attendees to take photographs of their food and post them to social media with the hashtag #icannchef. Because it’s 2009, apparently.

A bit more substance comes with the promise of private breakout rooms, which ICANN described in a blog post.

Apparently attendees will be able to create their own private rooms, containing multiple parties, whether it’s for social or business or policy-making purposes.

While ICANN 70 Prep Week started this week, that feature doesn’t appear to be live yet, or is so well-hidden that I couldn’t find it.

I can see this being potentially useful for meetings that take longer than the time allotment Zoom gives you for free, but I’m not sure I’d want to hold any super-sensitive meetings on a platform configured by ICANN, given its track record.

Other new features include the ability to listen in to live interpretation in the supported languages during the supported sessions, natively via the Zoom interface.

ICANN’s also turning on Zoom’s often hilarious, automated real-time transcription service, for sessions that don’t receive the usual human-assisted scribe service.

The Org has been adding features to its online platform bit-by-bit since the coronavirus pandemic forced the community into virtual mode a year ago.

It’s unlikely to be the last time ICANN meets in an online-only fashion. The board of directors is to meet tomorrow to consider the fate of ICANN 71, which is currently scheduled to take place in The Hague in June.

While some countries may well be approaching some level of pre-pandemic normality by then, ICANN is an international organization and the maxim “Nobody’s safe until we’re all safe” probably applies here.

ICANN axes Cancun again. Apparently there’s a pandemic

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally confirmed that its seventieth public meeting will be online-only, disappointing restaurateurs and sex workers in Cancun, Mexico for the second year running.

The meeting will also be mercifully shorter, with two days cut from its running time. The new dates are March 22 to March 25. Thankfully, ICANN actually announced the date change this time around.

ICANN top brass had indicated as far back as October that Cancun was very unlikely to go ahead as an in-person meeting.

It will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago. My guess is it won’t be the last.

The next meeting this year is slated to take place in The Hague in late June, but I think only an strident optimist or denialist could imagine that actually happening.

Mixed messages from ICANN on pandemic travel in 2021

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t formally cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico next March, but it appears to be planning for scheduled in-person gatherings to not resume until the fourth quarter of next year.

While nobody in their right mind seems to believe ICANN 70 will go ahead anywhere other than virtually — and ICANN’s top brass acknowledged in October that a face-to-face community forum appeared highly unlikely — the Org has still not announced that it will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom.

But two recently published documents show that ICANN doesn’t see travel getting back to normal any time soon, though its expected timing is ambiguous.

First, the proposed budget for fiscal 2022, which was published on Friday, envisages pandemic-related travel restrictions for only “the first nine months” of its current FY21, which ends June 30 next year.

That means that ICANN, at least in its travel budget, still thinks there’s a chance that international travel may be an option as early as April next year. Its travel budget for this year is $4.7 million, which certainly suggests one normal public meeting.

That would rule out Cancun, but leaves open the possibility that June 14-17 public meeting in The Hague could actually go ahead.

The budget also assumes a normal level of travel spending for the whole of FY22, which would mean ICANN 72 in Seattle — a mere domestic flight for most ICANN staff and a good portion of the domain industry — would also take place in-person next October.

But a resolution passed by the ICANN board of directors last Thursday appears to have a more pessimistic outlook.

The board at that meeting approved the continuation of contingency plans for signing the cryptographic keys at the root of the DNS that would eliminate the need for travel until the fourth quarter of calendar 2021.

Normal, quarterly root Key-Signing Key ceremonies require a small number of trusted “secret key holders” to be flown from around the world into facilities in the US, carrying physical keys, to ensure the integrity of the process.

But those rules were tweaked under coronavirus lockdown last April to allow IANA employees to sub in for these key-holders.

Understanding that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon, but perhaps with hindsight on the optimistic side, the KSK ceremony in April generated three quarters’ worth of keys in advance, enabling root DNSSEC until the end of March 2021.

Last Thursday, the ICANN board resolved to again bulk-generate keys during its next ceremony, to be held some time in the first quarter. The plan states:

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to continue to significantly impact operations well into 2021. To limit the impact on the ability to hold quarterly key ceremonies, the plan again provides for generating signatures for an extended nine-month period. This relieves the need to hold a subsequent key signing ceremony until the fourth quarter of 2021.

So, while the proposed budget thinks travel could return to normal by April, the KSK plans are thinking October could be the best-case scenario.

Vaccines appear to be the key, as you might expect:

Staff will continue to monitor the pandemic and prepare for all possible scenarios for this ceremony in accordance with the graduated approach. Should widespread vaccination programs prove to be successful, and international travel limitations be relaxed, it is conceivable a late-2021 ceremony could be conducted in its normal format with international in-person participation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the chances of a normal in-person ICANN meeting going ahead before Seattle are pretty slim.

For vaccination programs to be successful, we’re going to need a combination of competent governments capable of handling an unprecedented logistical challenge and a largely sane, rationale populace willing to go under the needle en masse. I’m afraid I don’t have that much faith in humanity.

Even if everything goes smoothly, we’re still looking at the vaccine rollout taking a long time indeed. I live in the UK, the first country to roll out vaccinations at scale, and I don’t anticipate getting the jab for six months or more.

An unofficial calculator tool estimates that a middle-aged Brit with no diagnosed preexisting conditions cannot reasonably expect to get a vaccine until July 2021, assuming the UK manages to quickly ramp up to one million vaccinations per week and 70% of those eligible choose to take the shot.

If that’s true elsewhere in the world, and vaccination becomes a passport to travel, then any hypothetical June face-to-face ICANN meeting could resemble a senior care home or retirement village even more than usual.

Not so much Club Med as a Saga Holiday.

And none of this takes into account the potential impact of the super-spreadable new coronavirus strain discovered to be hugely prevalent in the UK last week.

While it’s early days, it seems there’s a significant possibility that what I’m calling the limeyvirus (because what goes better with Corona than lime?) is going to significantly impact travel worldwide in the coming months.

ICANN may not meet again for a looong time

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2020, Domain Policy

The grim reality of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic seems to be sinking in at ICANN.

Management and board all but confirmed yesterday that ICANN 70, currently still scheduled for Cancun, Mexico next March, will instead take place online via Zoom.

“We would all like to get back to face-to-face, but at this moment Cancun is not looking good for now,” chair Maarten Botterman said during a community discussion about meetings at ICANN 69, also online-only.

CEO Goran Marby said that there’s a “high probability” that Cancun will be virtual.

The session, “Board/Community Focus on ICANN Meetings” was notable for being extremely depressing rather than merely boring.

Several participants spoke in terms of ICANN meetings being virtual “for the foreseeable future”.

“With the world as it is right now, it’s very hard to say when we come back to full-fledged physical meetings,” CEO Göran Marby said.

He said there’s a possibility of “hybrid” meetings, where a face-to-face gathering could take place in a part of the world where the pandemic was under control, but he noted that this would put online participants at a disadvantage.

The overall vibe of the session was that things probably aren’t going to be back to “normal” for some time.

Even though coronavirus vaccines are already reportedly rolling off the presses right now and will be in the hands of governments by the start of 2021, many experts say the logistical problem of distributing vaccine widely enough to ensure herd immunity is tough enough that the “return to normal” is still a long way off.

Meeting participant Susan Anthony predicted that airline fares will be sky-high next year, limiting the ability of many would-be participants, particularly the smaller, less well-funded ones, to show up in person.

She said virtual or hybrid meetings could be around for “the indefinite future”.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson concurred, saying “the world may have changed immeasurably and somewhat permanently”.

ICANN director Tripti Sinha later compared the post-pandemic world to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was lots of talk about dumping 2020’s practice of holding the meetings during the time zone of the originally planned host country — the Hamburg time zone has been particularly tough on those in the Americas, who have to start their working day at about midnight — in favor of a utilitarian approach that is least inconvenient for the largest number of participants.

It seems to me that one reason that ICANN has yet to formally cancel Cancun — it’s not even on the board’s agenda this week — is that it’s toying with longer-term plan that may mean standard face-to-face ICANN meetings are a long way off indeed.

It’s difficult to believe that it was only June when some ICANN directors thought Hamburg would be sufficiently safe to return to face-to-face meetings this week.

At ICANN 67, nobody knew you’re a dog

Kevin Murphy, March 16, 2020, Gossip

Want to see what your fellow ICANN 67 attendees looked like on the other side of the Zoom chat room?

The meeting may have been held entirely remotely, but that hasn’t stopped the ICANN org from populating its Flickr page with a big wedge of photos, one of which seems to prove the old adage that “On the internet, nobody know’s you’re a dog.”

Virtual Photo Gallery #42

Photo credit: @icannphotos

At regular, face-to-face ICANN meetings, there’s a professional photographer doing the rounds, doing his or her level best to make jet-lagged, bearded. middle-aged men sitting in circles at laptops look thrusting and dynamic.

This time, it was largely up to remote participants to submit their own mug shots, taken in their home offices, kitchens, and lounges, for your viewing delight. And what a jolly nice bunch of people they look.

The batch of photos from 67 also includes a number taken on-site at ICANN’s Los Angeles headquarters, which had been hastily rigged up to act as the meeting’s hub after the face-to-face meeting in Cancun, Mexico was cancelled over coronavirus fears.

Here.

Chinese registrars ask ICANN to waive fees due to Coronavirus

Almost 50 registries and registrars based in China have asked ICANN to temporarily waive its fees due to the economic impact they say Covid-19 — the new Coronavirus — is having on them.

They’ve all put their names to a February 21 letter (pdf) that ICANN published over the weekend, saying they “believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China”.

The letter, signed by more than half of the currently accredited registrars in China, notes the cancellation of the Cancun public meeting, adding:

We highly respect and welcome ICANN’s approach to keep our community safe. Meanwhile, the contracted parties in China, including their staff, suppliers, and relevant business counterparts, are being hit and suffered by the 2019-nCoV in a much greater scale than in other countries and regions combined since January 2020. Many of the staff members have been restrained to perform sales and support functions at the level they are required to. There are significant delays in collections, payments and wire transfers. While we expect that the scale of 2019-nCoV could not go greater, the business growth estimate in 2020 has been jeopardized and the time of recovery can be very long.

While domestic aid on tax, rentals, etc. are being discussed and confirmed, we believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China. The waiver of 2020 fees, including annual fees and transaction fees, will greatly help stabilize our business in the difficult time.

This is not a small ask. ICANN collects fees based on transaction volume, and many millions of transactions originate in China. That’s particularly true in the new gTLD space, where China dominates.

The Chinese companies say that ICANN could afford to waive the fees due to the money they say ICANN will save by cancelling Cancun and other international travel.

My hunch is that ICANN won’t agree to these demands. While China is currently undoubtedly disproportionately affected by Covid-19, that situation is rapidly changing.

In the coming weeks and months it’s quite possible — worst-case scenario — the rest of the world could be similarly affected. Is ICANN prepared to set a precedent that could see it sacrifice its entire annual budget? I doubt it.

All previous requests for ICANN to waive its fees for various other reasons have been denied.

Most languages won’t be available at ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2020, Domain Policy

Translation services are the first component of ICANN 67 to fail victim to the org’s decision to hold the meeting entirely online.

ICANN announced last week that it has cancelled the in-person meeting, which had been due to kick off this coming Saturday in Cancun, due to fears about importing Covid-19 into Mexico and exacerbating its worldwide spread.

But it seems the lack of physical space is going to cause problems. It simply doesn’t have the room at its Los Angeles headquarters to accommodate all of its usual services.

There will be eight rooms operating simultaneously via Zoom during the meeting, ICANN said yesterday, and only two of those will have real-time interpretation.

Of the five non-English United Nations languages usually supported — Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish — only French and Spanish will be supported live. Portuguese, which is also usually available, will not be supported.

Sessions of the Governmental Advisory Committee and other high-interest meetings such as open board meetings and the Public Forums, will be given priority.

According to data released by ICANN in December, it appears very few remote participants people actually take advantage of live interpretation.

Of the 1,752 remote participants at ICANN 66, only 15 people tuned in non-English web audio streams and nine of those were listening to the Spanish, this report states. It appears the Arabic interpreter was broadcasting to an international audience of literally nobody.

This, of course, does not take into account how many people were physically in the room and using the live-interpretation headsets ICANN provides. These people will presumably have to switch to the web streams this time around.

Translated transcripts will be available after the meeting, faster than they are normally provided, ICANN said.

It seems that ICANN community members with limited English are going to be hardest hit by the switch to online-only.

Given that these people are most likely reading this article via Google Translate, I’d just like to add for clarity: my lonely moped speedily devours yawning leopards, while gorgeous shoelaces envelope my thorax.

Yup. ICANN cancelled Cancun

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico, due to fears over Covid-19, aka Coronavirus.

Late this evening, the organization said that the ICANN 67 meeting, scheduled for March 7 to March 12, will now take place purely online.

In a statement, the org said:

Each ICANN Public Meeting attracts thousands of attendees from more than 150 countries. With cases in at least 26 of those countries, there is the potential of bringing the virus to Cancún and into the ICANN meeting site. If this were to happen, there could be accidental exposure of the virus to attendees, staff, and others who come in contact with an infected individual.

ICANN had been putting in place measures to mitigate the risk of the disease arriving and spreading.

The decision to cancel the face-to-face meeting was made by the ICANN board of directors today.

It’s going to be the first ICANN meeting to take place fully online. It’s not clear at all that ICANN knows how to do this. ICANN is very good at enabling remote participation, but it’s never run a fully remote week-long meeting with a few thousand participants before.

It seems virtually certain that there will be problems and complaints.

ICANN wants to take your temperature before letting you into ICANN 67

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2020, Domain Policy

Face masks, hand-sanitizer stations, and nurses taking your temperature on the doors… these are some of the measures ICANN plans to deploy at its upcoming public meeting in Cancun next month, in an effort to mitigate the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak.

That’s assuming the meeting goes ahead at all, which is still undecided.

Speaking to community leaders in a teleconference this evening, ICANN staffers outlined the following precautionary measures they expect to put in place:

  • A doctor from International SOS will be on site, alongside the usual two medics.
  • A team of nurses will be deployed at the venue’s two entrances to check attendees’ temperatures (via the forehead, you’ll be pleased to hear) as they enter the building.
  • “Anyone registering a fever will be escorted to the doctor for assessment.”
  • ICANN is “stockpiling” face masks and is already shipping some to the venue. This is complicated by the global supply shortage. Attendees will be encouraged to source their own before leaving home.
  • Hand sanitizer facilities will be dotted around, particularly at large meeting rooms and outside bathrooms.
  • A Mexican familiar with the local public health service will be available.
  • It will be up to the local Mexican authorities to determine how to respond to a confirmed case. It’s not particularly clear what the policy would be on quarantine and the dreaded “cruise ship scenario”. There have been no cases in Mexico yet.

The temperature checks will be daily. One would assume that people leaving the venue for lunch, or a cigarette or something will be checked more frequently.

ICANN has yet to decide whether the meeting is going to go ahead. Its board of directors will meet on Wednesday to make a call, but CEO Göran Marby noted that should the situation with Covid-19 change there’s always the possibility it could be cancelled at a later date.

The meeting could also be cancelled if a large enough number of ICANN support staff refuse to go.

Some companies have already informed ICANN that they won’t be sending employees to the meeting. Marby said that if it looks like only 600 or 700 people are going to show up, the meeting probably won’t go ahead.

Governmental Advisory Committee chair Manal Ismail said on the call that only 30 GAC members have so far indicated that they’re going to attend. That’s about half of the usual level, she said.

If it were to be cancelled, the meeting would go ahead online. All ICANN meetings allow remote participation anyway, but ICANN has been prepping for the possibility that its online tools will need much greater capacity this time.

The audio recording of the call can be found here. Thanks to Rubens Kuhl for the link.

Are you going to go to Cancun, or will you cancel due to Covid? Let me know in the comments.

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