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ICANN now has half a billion bucks in the bank after huge pandemic profits

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN, the non-profit organization with the limited technical mandate, now has over half a billion dollars in the bank, after the affects of the coronavirus pandemic boosted funding and slashed costs.

The Org ended June 2021 with cash and investments of $521 million, up $40 million over the preceding 12 months.

While some of this gain can be attributed to investment gains, the majority chunk comes from ICANN largely misjudging the length and impact of pandemic-related restrictions.

Expenses were $10 million lower than budget, because all three ICANN meetings during the year were held online, where they cost about half a million bucks a pop, about $3 million lower than in-person gatherings.

ICANN had budgeted for its 2021 meetings to take place face-to-face in venues around the world, but governmental travel restrictions made this impossible.

The Org saved well over half a million dollars in director expenses alone.

On the top half of the financial statement, the numbers also show a failure to predict how much the pandemic would be generally a boon, rather than a burden, to the domain name industry.

ICANN received $142 million in funding during the year, which was $12 million ahead of budget and $1 million more than it received in fiscal 2020.

ICANN cuts the weekend from next public meeting

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has changed the dates for ICANN 72, its 2021 annual general meeting, making it two days shorter.

The old plan was for the meeting to run October 23-28. Now it will be October 25-28.

Basically, this means nobody will have to work at the weekend. October 23 is a Saturday.

The presumably truncated schedule will be published October 4.

ICANN said it made the decision “to support better working hours for attendees and encourage greater participation”.

ICANN 72 came close to having an in-person component in Seattle, but the board of directors decided last month to stick to Zoom due to ongoing pandemic uncertainties.

Over 2,000 attendees for ICANN 73?

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2021, Domain Policy

Puerto Rico is expecting as many as 2,100 people to show up to ICANN’s public meeting there next year, according to a local report.

A local business publication, NimB, cites Pablo Rodríguez of NIC.pr as saying ICANN 73 could have about 2,100 attendees, bringing as much as $8 million to $10 million to the San Juan economy.

My first thought was that the dollar figure seemed high — it works out to about $5,000 per head — until I realized that most attendees are funded by either ICANN or their company credit cards, and not everyone is as frugal as yours truly.

But then I realized that 2,100 is by far the more surprising number.

Consider that it’s by no means assured that there will be an in-person component to the meeting at all. ICANN is certainly planning for one, but like everyone else the Org is subject to the whims of a microscopic glob of goo.

The plan is for a “hybrid”, a mix of face-to-face and Zoom, with some recognition that there are some parts of the world that will show up with extremely light delegations.

Consider also that the last time ICANN met in San Juan in March, just a couple years ago, the grand total was 1,564 people, 37% of whom hailed from outside the Americas.

With that in mind, 2,100 seems like an incredibly ambitious prediction.

ICANN 73 will be “virtual first”

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s public meeting next March will prioritize online participation, according to chair Maarten Botterman.

Botterman told members of the APAC Space community group this week that ICANN 73 will have “a meaningful ‘virtual first’ hybrid format to support the community’s ongoing priorities, policy advice, and development work”.

APAC Space, you will recall, had written to ICANN to protest the possibility of this October’s ICANN 72 meeting moving to a hybrid model with an in-person component that most Asia-Pacific community members would not be able to take advantage of due to ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions.

But the ICANN board, in part due to these concerns, decided to keep 72 online-only rather than showing up in Seattle in person, while stating an intention to go hybrid for 73 if “feasible”.

ICANN 73 is due to take place in Puerto Rico, part of the North America region, next March. As a US territory, the venue will be easier to attend for Americans.

Indeed, APAC Space is skeptical about its members ability to attend 73 in person also.

Botterman addressed this, saying:

We appreciate you have similar concerns about holding a hybrid meeting for ICANN73. At this time, relevant experts have a higher level of confidence that the global pandemic situation, in particular vaccination and infection rates, will be much improved by early 2022. While we will continue to closely monitor the situation, our intentions are to hold ICANN73 as a hybrid meeting with an in-person component if it is feasible to do so.

The five online-only meetings ICANN has held since the pandemic hit are generally regarded as being pretty good as far as Zoom meetings go, but there can be no replacement for the corridor conversations, cocktail events and private dinners that face-to-face meetings permit.

Even the ICANN board of directors is affected — due to the annual turnover, some members haven’t even met each other face-to-face in a board context.

Irish domain sales closely track pandemic restrictions

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Sales of .ie domains saw their best-ever first half this year, with registration growth closely tracking pandemic-related restrictions.

Local registry IEDR reported this week that it added 33,815 new .ie domains in the six months to June 30, up 1.6% on last year. It ended the period with 324,074 .ie domains under management, up 9.6% on last year.

The registry is in no doubt that it benefited from the cross-industry lockdown bump associated with the coronavirus pandemic.

Comparing first quarter numbers show Q1 2021 regs up 34% on Q1 2020.

Ireland was in strict lockdown measures in the first months of this year, but did not enter lockdown until towards the end of the quarter in 2020.

Second quarter number reflected the same pattern in reverse — regs were down 22% this year, when lockdown had been eased, IEDR said.

The lockdown bump is a phenomenon whereby domain name sales spiked as traditional bricks-and-mortar small businesses rushed to establish an online presence in order to carry on business behind closed doors.

Domain keywords directly related to the pandemic were down in H1 compared to last year, while domains related to summertime, pools and barbecues spiked, the registry said.

Nope, no Seattle meeting for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s planned public meeting in Seattle will have no face-to-face component, the board of directors decided yesterday.

In a resolution published last night, the board cited the global vaccine inequity and the ongoing difficulties with international travel and visas during the coronavirus pandemic.

But it added that it plans to go ahead with a hybrid online/in-person meeting for ICANN 73 in San Juan, Puerto Rico next March “if it is feasible to do so”.

The board noted that its last in-person AGM, held in late 2019, saw 68% of its participants come from outside the US, suggesting Seattle would go ahead with a majority of its community members absent.

It added that “it is likely that ICANN72 could be a meeting of in-person attendees from just a couple of regions, which does not serve global participants in ICANN’s multistakeholder model”

While some of the pandemic-related issues may be resolved by October, ICANN had to make the call now to avoid wasting money on a physical meeting it may have had to later cancel.

The results of the board vote have not yet been published. A similar resolution last year saw some directors vote in favor of a return to face-to-face meetings by October 2020.

The resolution states that ICANN org should use the next eight months to ensure the hybrid model planned for San Juan is as effective as possible for those who will still be unable or unwilling to attend in person due to the pandemic.

It adds that smaller regional meetings, where travel restrictions are less irrelevant, could still go ahead this year.

A recent poll showed a majority of community members from all regions were keen to return to in-person meetings for Seattle, but the majority was greater in North America than elsewhere.

A group of participants from the Asia-Pacific region recently wrote to ICANN to state that it was likely that nobody from that region would be able to show up in Seattle.

ICANN 72 will be the sixth consecutive public meeting to be held virtually.

ICANN to hold hybrid meeting in October (not that one)

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN said yesterday that is plans to hold a “hybrid” meeting in October with an in-person component.

It’s not the Seattle public meeting ICANN 72 — no decision has been made there yet — but rather the Asia Pacific Internet Governance Academy.

APIGA is basically a set of internet governance training sessions for adult students aged 18 to 35 in the Asia-Pac region, particularly South Korea.

It’s normally held for a week, in-person. But this time it will be spread over a full two months from October 1 with one or two evening sessions held online per week.

At the end, there’ll be a hybrid day, with South Korean participants gathered in person and others Zooming in remotely.

Is this a harbinger of things to come with the Seattle meeting, where there’s already some distress from Asian participants that they probably won’t be able to attend?

I don’t think so. APIGA appears to have been a decision of the ICANN staff, whereas 72 is going to a board vote later this month.

“Diversity” warning over ICANN Seattle

Kevin Murphy, July 8, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has been told that it risks disenfranchising community members from outside the US if it goes ahead with a return to in-person meetings at ICANN 72 in Seattle this October.

APAC Space, a group comprising participants from the Asia-Pacific region, reckons there’s almost no chance that any of its members will be able to make it to Seattle, due to pandemic restrictions.

The group wrote (pdf):

Like the rest of the community, the APAC Space members are keen to see a return to face-to-face meetings, but we have serious concerns about continued, longterm disenfranchisement if this return is done in an inequitable way. If a hybrid meeting does go ahead in Seattle, we are reasonably confident that there will be minimal, if any, in-person attendance from the APAC region

APAC Space goes on to note that ICANN 73 next March is also scheduled to take place in the same region, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The letter continues:

We are concerned that holding a hybrid meeting in which participants from only some regions can participate in-person is not in line with ICANN’s goal to reflect regional and cultural diversity, and risks further disenfranchising regions that are already under-represented within ICANN’s processes.

A recent ICANN survey found that a majority of community members were keen to return to face-to-face meetings. While this was true everywhere, the majority was stronger among North Americans and Europeans.

ICANN’s board of directors is due to make a decision about Seattle later this month.

This article was updated July 9 to clarify authorship of the letter to ICANN.

There’s really only one question about the return to face-to-face ICANN meetings

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2021, Domain Policy

The struggles of remote working during unsociable hours and the possibility of a return to partially in-person meetings for Seattle in October were the subject of lots of well-deserved debate at the virtual ICANN 71 public meeting last week, but in reality I think there’s only one question that matters.

The question is posed by Americans to everyone else, and it goes like this: “You guys cool if we go ahead without you?”

Sure, lots of interesting and important questions were raised last week, particularly during the hour-long final session.

If ICANN decides to require proof of vaccination to attend in person, will it accept all brands of vaccine, or will it do a Bruce Springsteen and exclude those who have received the AstraZeneca jab, which is not currently approved in the US?

Is it a problem for overseas travelers that the number of vaccinated Americans currently appears to be plateauing, as ludicrous political divisions see primarily “red state” folks refuse to take their medicine?

What about attendees working for companies that have eliminated their travel budget for the rest of the year?

What if there’s a new flavor of Covid, worse than the current delta variant, in play in October? What if travel corridors into the US are still closed when ICANN 72 comes around? What if attendees have to self-isolate for weeks in expensive hotels upon their return to their home countries? Has ICANN done any research into this?

These are some of the questions that have been raised, and while they’re all very interesting I can’t help but feel that they’re completely irrelevant in the context of an ICANN meeting.

ICANN doesn’t know what the pandemic state of play internationally is going to be four months from now. Nobody does. Not the epidemiologists, not the healthcare leaders, not the governments.

ICANN isn’t a government. It isn’t the United Nations. It’s a technical and policy coordination body that sometimes appears to have a sense of its own importance as inflated as its budget. Its powers to assure an internationally diverse community can gather in literally the same room in October are close to non-existent.

But it’s a pretty safe bet that domestic travel in the US will still be permitted in October (did it ever even really stop?) and therefore it’s a pretty safe bet that community members based in America will be able to bump elbows in Seattle.

The only question remaining therefore is: how much of the rest of the world is ICANN willing to risk excluding to make that happen?

It’s a question its board of directors will answer in July. I don’t envy them the responsibility.

ICANNers itching to get back to face-to-face shindigs

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2021, Domain Policy

A majority of ICANN community members want a return to in-person meetings as soon as possible, and overwhelmingly don’t care how many pandemic-related restrictions are put in place to get it done.

That’s according to the results of an online survey ICANN carried out, which ultimately had 665 responses, or 514 if you exclude responses from ICANN staff.

The survey found that over half of all respondents were keen to fling open the doors for ICANN 72 in Seattle this October, even if it meant reduced attendance and global diversity due to pandemic restrictions on travel.

There was even greater acceptance of — and indeed demand for — health measures such as social distancing, face masks, proof of vaccination, and on-site testing.

None of these proposed measures attracted less than 72% support, and no more than 11% of respondents objected to any individual measure.

While the majority of the respondents were from North America or Europe — which I think it’s fair to say are broadly considered to be well-vaccinated and in the closing days of their pandemic restrictions — ICANN has helpfully broken down some of the responses by geography.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, North Americans and Europeans were far more likely to approve of vaccination-related attendance rules, at 73% and 66% respectively. But a majority of those from Latin America, Asia and Africa were also tolerant of such restrictions.

North Americans were also much less likely to fear travel restrictions — ICANN 72 will be held on home turf, after all.

While the survey results show a clear inclination for reopening in-person meetings, with an online component for those unable to make it, the decision will be made by the ICANN board of directors next month.

The full survey results can be viewed here (pdf).