ICANN directors Mike Silber and Chris Disspain have updated their official statements of interest — used to identify potential conflicts on the board — after a complaint from a .africa applicant.
The new SOI statement more clearly specifies the relationship between South African ccTLD policymaker ZADNA — for which Silber acts as treasurer — and Uniforum, which has applied for the .africa gTLD.
(December 28 Update: Silber, in the comments below, states that the update to his SOI was in no way a response to the DCA complaint.)
It also gives a bit more information about Disspain’s employer, .au policymaker AuDA, and ARI Registry Services, which is providing the back-end registry services for dozens of new gTLD applicants.
Here’s Silber’s new SOI summary, with the relevant new text highlighted:
Member of the Management Committee and Treasurer of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) South Africa. He is also, a Director and Treasurer of the .za Domain Name Authority, the ccTLD administrator for .za. The .za Domain Name Authority has concluded an arms-length operating agreement with Uniforum t/a the .za Central Registry for Uniforum to operate the .za registry. Under the agreement, Uniforum will collect and pay transaction fees to .za Domain Name Authority. Uniforum is acting as the registry service provider for various new gTLD applicants.
Here’s Disspain’s, again with my emphasis:
Director and CEO of .au Domain Administration Limited, the .au ccTLD manager; .au has sponsorship agreement with ICANN under which .au pays ICANN a yearly amount based on the amount of names under management. Former Officer of ICANN, Paul Levins, is a Director of .au Domain Administration Limited. .au Domain Administration Limited licenses AusRegistry Pty Ltd to run the registry for the second level names in .au. Under the Registry License agreement, AusRegistry pays fees to auDA; companies affiliated with AusRegistry are affiliated with new gTLD applications.
AusRegistry is technically ARI’s parent, but they share many of the same senior executives.
The updated statement comes shortly after a complaint filed with ICANN’s Ombudsman by .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica about Silber and Disspain’s alleged conflicts of interest over the gTLD.
While the indirect connection between Silber and DCA’s rival .africa applicant Uniforum is clear, it was not obvious to Ombudsman Chris LaHatte what Disspain’s conflict was supposed to be.
LaHatte found no actions that constituted conflicts of interest from either director, but he appeared to nudge the board to providing fuller disclosure, which is what seems to have happened here.
ICANN director Judith Vasquez applied for a new gTLD but then withdrew the bid at the last minute.
That’s among a tapestry of factoids relating to conflicts of interest to emerge from the minutes of recent meetings of ICANN’s board of directors that were published this week.
It’s also emerged that the New gTLD Program Committee — established as a subset of the board “without conflicted members” — actually now has four “directors with conflicts that have been mitigated”.
Vasquez, a businessperson heavily involved in media and telecoms in the Philippines, according to the minutes of the May 6 meeting:
disclosed that she withdrew her new gTLD application through the customer service center, though the withdrawal cannot be completed through the TAS due to the system being offline.
As you may recall, the TLD Application System (TAS) went down April 12, suggesting that Vasquez’s bid was withdrawn close to or after that date — the original deadline for filing new gTLD applications.
It’s not know what gTLD she (or a company she works for) was applying for, or why the application was withdrawn.
The potential for a conflict in her case was first noted in her published statement of interest when she joined the board in October last year.
She’s since joined the New gTLD Program Committee.
From the same May 6 minutes, it has emerged that directors Bill Graham and Kuo-Wei Wu were both probed for conflicts by a board subcommittee — set up a year ago in the wake of Peter Dengate Thrush’s move from the ICANN chair to Top Level Domain Holdings — which:
found that both of them had conflicts, but they had been already mitigated to the satisfaction of the subcommittee. And, therefore, the subcommittee determined that those two individuals, though conflicts were identified, had mitigated those conflicts with regard to the New gTLD Program.
Details of these conflicts have not been published. Both men have sat on the committee since its inception April 10.
A non-voting board liaison, Thomas Narten, was also considered conflicted but sufficiently “mitigated” to join the committee. He works as a software engineer for IBM, which has applied for a dot-brand.
Two other directors — Sebastien Bachollet and Bertrand de La Chapelle — were identified as having conflicts which they tried and apparently failed to mitigate to the satisfaction of the board.
Bachollet was unhappy with that classification, according to a statement he entered into the minutes several weeks later, which partly reads:
I still disagree with the conclusion of the Subcommittee and on the proposed mitigating measures. I will not enter into detail here, but now I have to accept this decision and I do.
I take this opportunity to underline that there is no appeal procedure in place allowing a second view on the matter.
Bachollet is a director of the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, .xxx’s nominal sponsoring organization, which is funded by ICM Registry, an applicant for three porn-related gTLDs.
The policy think-tank founded by De La Chapelle is or was funded by companies that applied for new gTLDs or offered services to applicants, according to his latest statement of interest.
The New gTLD Program Committee has 12 voting directors at present, three of which have been previously identified as conflicted but with their conflicts mitigated.
According to the May 6 minutes, ICANN’s chief lawyer John Jeffrey explained, in response to a query from de La Chapelle, why this is not a problem:
The General Counsel and Secretary explained that there are situations where a conflict may still exist, but mitigation can be completed that will remove that conflict from having an impact on the fiduciary responsibilities to ICANN or the other entity with whom the conflict may have arisen. Those directors or liaisons may then participate as if they were nonconflicted, acting without conflict in the decisions they make for the Board. He also noted that there could be situations where, upon mitigation, there may not be a conflict at all.
ICANN’s board of directors has approved full refunds for any new gTLD applicant that asks for one – something that the organization has already been offering for over a month.
At its two-day retreat in Amsterdam this weekend, the board’s New gTLD Program Committee resolved:
to offer to applicants a full refund of the New gTLD Application fee actually paid to ICANN if the applicant wishes to withdraw its application prior to the date that ICANN publicly posts the identification of all TLD applications.
The date of the Big Reveal, when the names of every applicant and every applied-for gTLD will be publicly posted and the refunds will no longer be available, has not yet been set.
While the resolution refers to the TLD Application System data leakage bug, the refund does not appear to be restricted to directly affected applicants. Anyone can claim it.
However, as regular DI readers know, ICANN had been offering full refunds to applicants that withdraw before the Big Reveal for weeks before the TAS bug emerged.
ICANN customer services reps told DI and at least one gTLD applicant in March that: “Applications withdrawn prior to the posting of the applied-for strings are qualified for a $180000 refund”.
ICANN said in a statement today:
We recognize that this represents an increase of only US $5000 over the refund that withdrawing applicants would otherwise receive, but we believe it is an important part of fulfilling our commitment to treat applicants fairly.
Under the terms of the Applicant Guidebook, the maximum refund available after the Reveal is $148,000.
In other news from Amsterdam…
The ICANN board has decided to let director Thomas Narten join the New gTLD Program Committee, which comprises all of the board members without new gTLD conflicts of interest.
Narten had been barred from the recently formed committee because he worked for IBM, which planned to apply for one or more new gTLDs.
But the board said he has now “mitigated the previously-identified conflict of interest with respect to the New gTLD Program”, so he gets to join the committee as a non-voting liaison.
It’s not clear from the weekend’s resolution why Narten is no longer conflicted. Two obvious possibilities spring to mind.
There was no news from Amsterdam on ICANN’s CEO hunt.
Incumbent Rod Beckstrom intends to “hand the baton” to his successor at the Prague meeting in late June, and the board already has a favored candidate lined up to replace him.
I understand that this candidate did attend the Amsterdam board retreat, albeit under a veil of secrecy lest his or her identity leak out before official confirmation.
But I also understand that the board has decided to move super-cautiously on the CEO decision, in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.
Yet another member of ICANN’s board of directors may have a conflict of interest relating to the new generic top-level domains program, it has emerged.
As well as its official open meeting last Friday, the board held three off-the-books meetings during ICANN 44 last week, the outcomes of which have just been published.
Last Wednesday, March 14, the board met in private and passed this resolution:
Resolved (2012.03.14.01), the Subcommittee of the Board Governance Committee on Ethics and Conflicts is requested to review its determination of a perceived, potential or actual conflict of interest in relation to one of the Directors to determine if the mitigation factors identified remain correct as a result of new information learned at the meeting.
In other words, a director currently identified as non-conflicted in relation to the gTLD program may in fact be conflicted as ICANN defines it, based on newly acquired information.
The resolution does not state which director it refers to.
If I had to speculate — and funnily enough I feel compelled to do so — I’d say it’s Judith Vasquez.
Vasquez’s latest statement of interest, also published last week, states that she has “indicated that she may be involved with a new gTLD application”.
This potential conflict was first identified by ICANN in October, shortly before she joined the board.
Other directors whose employers are thinking about applying for new gTLDs – such as IBM’s Thomas Narten – have recused themselves from related discussions.
It’s not clear why Vasquez has not recused herself.
In any event, last week’s resolution could refer to another director whose SOI does not currently state a potential conflict.
Ethics at ICANN have been on ICANN’s agenda since the Singapore meeting last June – former chair Peter Dengate Thrush’s move to Minds + Machines saw to that.
The issue was raised again by CEO Rod Beckstrom during his Costa Rica opening address last Monday, in which he talked about a “tangle of conflicting agendas” on the board.
Such is the degree of concern that ICANN’s Board Governance Committee recently discussed setting up a new committee, comprising the non-conflicted directors, to hold delegated authority over all matters related to the new gTLD program.
ICANN staff were directed to create a formal proposal for such a committee for consideration in Costa Rica last week, but that does not appear to have happened.
While seven of ICANN’s 21 directors recused themselves from a February vote due to new gTLD program conflicts, only four of those were among the 16 voting directors.
ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom today offered a scathing criticism of his own board of directors, saying the current batch looks like it is too conflicted to act in the public interest.
During his opening address here at ICANN’s 43rd public meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica, Beckstrom appeared to single out the chair and vice-chair for special concern.
“ICANN must be able to act for the public good while placing commercial and financial interests in the appropriate context,” Beckstrom said. “How can it do this if all top leadership is from the very domain name industry it is supposed to coordinate independently?”
He noted that ICANN has spent the last eight months introducing new conflicts of interest and ethics rules but said it was “time to further tighten up the rules” in response to “the growing chorus of criticism about ICANN’s ethics environment”.
“There is value in having community members with domain name industry experience but it is equally valuable to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest,” he said.
At ICANN’s last board meeting seven directors – including chair Steve Crocker and vice-chair Bruce Tonkin – excused themselves from a new gTLDs discussion due to conflicts.
Crocker’s company, Shinkuro, has registry services provider Afilias as an investor. Tonkin works for the registrar Melbourne IT, which expects to work with over 100 new gTLD applicants.
ICANN has 21 directors, of which 16 have voting powers. At least four voting directors – Crocker, Tonkin, Sebastian Bachollet and Bertrand de La Chapelle – have disclosed new gTLD conflicts.
But Beckstrom spent more time criticizing ICANN’s secretive Nominating Committee, which appoints half of the ICANN board. NomCom’s structure is a “significant threat” to ICANN, he said.
In future, all of NomCom’s board candidates should be “financially independent of the domain name industry,” he said, and NomCom members themselves should be “free of conflicts”.
“Reform of the board selection process is not just desirable. I believe it is imperative,” he said. “Ideally, a fully independent and non-conflicted NomCom should be in place before the next nomination cycle begins.”
The current NomCom-appointed directors are: Crocker, Cherine Chalaby, Bertrand de La Chapelle, Erika Mann, Gonzalo Navarro, R. Ramaraj, George Sadowsky and Judith Duavit Vazquez
Of those eight appointees, two have new gTLD conflicts of interest that have caused them to recently recuse themselves from board discussions on the topic.
Beckstrom’s opening address also covered IPv6 and DNSSEC deployment, new gTLD protections and the applicant support program, but he did not address the IANA contract problem in any detail.