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Ombudsman reports on ICANN 43 “girls” scandal

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2012, Gossip

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has delivered his official report on the ICANN 43 sexism controversy.

As you may recall, during the ICANN 43 meeting in Costa Rica last month, domain name lawyer John Berryhill complained to LaHatte about a booth operated by Czech ccTLD operator CZ.nic.

Marketing ICANN 44, which CZ.nic is hosting in Prague this June, the booth offered cartoon postcards advertising “girls” as one of several reasons — alongside “beer”, “culture” etc — to attend the meeting.

Berryhill complained that the cards objectified women and were inappropriate for an ICANN meeting.

LaHatte writes:

The complainant says the use of the postcard was demeaning to women and an unnecessary objectification of them.

After some discussion, they [CZ.nic] understood the way in which this was seen, from another perspective, and quickly agreed to remove the postcards as an option in the kiosk display. What they saw as a light-hearted tribute to attractive woman in the Czech Republic, they then were able to see as offensive to others. Because they were so ready to perceive and accept the alternative view, it was not necessary to take any further action

A presentation by CZ.nic later in the week at the Costa Rica meeting eschewed any mention of the cards in question.

In the interests of disclosure, since first reporting this story I’ve discovered that Berryhill discovered the postcards via one of my own tweets, so I’m probably partly responsible for creating my own controversy here.

Olympic showdown spells doom for ICANN, film at 11

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s 43rd public meeting, held in Costa Rica last week, was a relatively low-drama affair, with one small exception: the predicted death of ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization.

The drama went down at the GNSO Council’s meeting last Wednesday – or “the day that everyone is going to remember as the downfall of the current GNSO Council” as vice-chair Jeff Neuman put it.

It had all the elements one might expect from an ICANN showdown: obscure rules of engagement, government meddling, special interests, delayed deadlines, whole oceans of acronym soup, commercial and non-commercial interests facing off against each other…

…and it was ultimately utterly, utterly pointless and avoidable.

The GNSO Council – which is responsible for forwarding community policies to ICANN’s board of directors – was asked to vote on a resolution giving special trademark protections to the International Olympic Committee and Red Cross and Red Crescent movements.

The resolution would have made it possible for the IOC/RC/RC organizations to apply for new gTLDs such as .olympic and .redcross while also disallowing confusingly similar strings from delegation.

The motion was created by a Drafting Team on the instruction of the ICANN board of directors, itself responding to a request from a heavily lobbied Governmental Advisory Committee.

The timing of the vote was crucial – the GNSO Council was not set to meet again until April 12, coincidentally the same date that ICANN stops accepting applications for new gTLDs.

If the vote didn’t happen last week, the IOC and Red Cross could have been basically banned from applying for new gTLDs until the second application round, years from now.

Confusingly similar strings would be eligible for delegation in the first round, however, which could mean both organizations would be locked out of the program permanently.

The resolution enjoyed broad support and was set to attract positive votes from every constituency group with the exception of the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group.

The Non-Coms were unhappy that the Drafting Team recommendations underlying the resolution were, and still are, open for public comment.

While it’s not a unanimous view, they’re also ideologically opposed to the idea that the IOC and Red Cross should get special protection when a cheap way to object to confusing gTLDs already exists.

And the NCSG is far from alone in its concern that the decision to grant special privileges to these groups was a top-down decree from the ICANN board, lobbied for by the GAC.

Rather than simply voting “no”, however, the NCSG decided instead to force a deferral of the vote.

NCSG councilor Rafik Dammak said the resolution was “questionable on the merits and contrary to ICANN’s processes” and said the group had decided it had “no option but to defer this motion at least until the public comment period is closed”.

The GNSO Council has an unwritten but frequently used convention whereby any stakeholder group request to defer a vote until the next meeting is honored by the chair.

Barely a Council meeting goes by without one stakeholder group or another requesting a deferral. Usually, it’s requested to give a constituency group more time to study a proposal.

“The deferral request is intended to give people time to consider motions,” Council chair Stephane Van Gelder told Dammak. “The statement you just read is a statement against the motion itself.”

As Van Gelder noted, the NCSG did not have the usual excuse. Drafting Team chair Jeff Neuman had spent a few weeks prior to Costa Rica making damn sure that every stakeholder group, as well as the ICANN board, knew exactly what was coming down the pike.

As a veteran GNSO wonk, Neuman knew that a Non-Com deferral was likely. Even I predicted the move over a week before the Costa Rica meeting kicked off.

He was a little pissed off anyway. Neuman said:

For us to not be able to vote today is a failure. It’s a failure of the system under the guise of claiming you want more public comment. It’s a convenient excuse but in the end it’s a failure – nothing more, nothing less. This is a slap in the face to the governments that have asked us to decide.

You already know how you’re going to vote, it’s clear the vote is going to be no, so why don’t you stand behind your vote and vote now and vote no. That is what you really should be doing.

I want everyone to remember today – March 14, 2012 – because it this is the day that everyone going to remember as the downfall of the current GNSO Council as we know it and the policy process as we know it. Mark my words, it will happen. The GAC has asked us to act and we have failed to do so.

See? Drama.

Neuman noted that the deferral tradition is an unwritten politeness and called for the Council to vote to reject the NCSG’s request – an unprecedented move.

Van Gelder was clearly uncomfortable with the idea, as were others.

NCSG councilor Bill Drake said Neuman’s call for a vote on the deferral was “absolutely astonishing”.

“I never would have imagined I could say ‘well I don’t like this, this annoys me’ and so I’m going to demand we get a vote together and try to penalize a minority group that’s standing alone for some principle,” he said. “If that’s how we going to go about conducting ourselves perhaps this is the end of the Council.”

The Non-Com position also found support from other constituencies.

While Mason Cole of the Registrars Stakeholder Group said he would have voted in favor of the resolution, he said the way the policy was created looked like “a circumvention of the bottom-up policy development process”.

To cut a long story short (too late), after a spirited debate that lasted over an hour Van Gelder honored the NCSG deferral request, saying “something that we’ve always allowed in the past for everyone else should not be overturned in this instance”.

This would have pushed the vote out to the April 12 meeting — the NCSG would have effectively killed off the resolution purely by virtue of the new gTLD program timetable.

Neuman, however, had already invoked another quirk of the GNSO rules of engagement, demanding an emergency Council teleconference to vote on the resolution.

That’s now scheduled for March 26. Assuming the resolution is approved, the ICANN board will have just three days to rubber-stamp it before ICANN’s TLD Application System stops accepting new users.

If the Olympic or Red Cross organizations have any plans to apply for new gTLDs matching their brands, they’re going to have to be very quick.

Frankly, the IOC/RC issue has been a bit of a clusterfuck from beginning to end. This is one of those cases, it seems to me, in which every party involved is wrong.

The GAC was wrong to demand unnecessary special protections for these bodies back in June.

The ICANN board of directors was wrong to overturn established bottom-up policy when it gave the GAC what it wanted at the Singapore meeting.

The ICANN staff implementation that made it into the Applicant Guidebook last September was wrong and full of loopholes.

The Drafting Team was wrong (albeit through no fault of its own) to assume that it was refining established law rather than legislating.

The GNSO Council was wrong to consider a resolution on a policy that was still open for public comment.

The Non-Coms were wrong to abuse the goodwill of the Council by deferring the vote tactically.

There are probably a few typos in this article, too.

But does it spell the end of the GNSO?

I don’t think so. I suspect Neuman’s doomsaying theatrics may have also been somewhat tactical.

The GAC, which wields the hypothetical kill-stick, has yet to say anything about the drama. This may change if the GAC doesn’t get what it wants by the Prague meeting in June, but for now the GNSO is, I believe, safe.

Second new gTLD round in “small number of years”

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN chair Steve Crocker has said that the second round of new generic top-level domain applications will open years from now, but “not a large number of years”.

He made the comments during an interview with ICANN’s head of media relations Brad White after the ICANN public meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica closed on Friday.

“We can’t pin it down with any certainty but we can make a rough estimate,” Crocker said. “It’s time measured from here in years but not a large number of years, it’s probably a small number of years but I can’t pin it down greater than that because we’re running an experiment.”

He reiterated that the first round applications need to be processed and a number of reviews need to take place before the second round opens.

He said ICANN should have a better idea how long the first of these two prerequisites will take after the application window closes April 12.

The Governmental Advisory Committee reiterated its demands for a review of the first round in its Advice document on Friday.

The earliest I believe a second round could open based on what we currently know is 2015, but many other domain industry players think 2017 is more likely.

I think the date will depend to an extent on the changing balance of tensions in the the ICANN community over the next couple of years.

If there’s a strong demand for a second round from business and intellectual property stakeholders, the necessary rights protection reviews may not be as long and drawn-out as many expect.

Crocker also said during the interview that Rod Beckstrom’s replacement as president and CEO will likely be announced in May.

Hot girls land CZ.nic in hot water

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2012, Gossip

Czech domain name registry CZ.nic has been told off by the ICANN Ombudsman for a sexist display at its booth here at the ICANN 43 meeting in Costa Rica.

The company, which will host ICANN 44 in Prague, is currently running a light-hearted promotion whereby attendees can claim a free public transport pass if they choose from a selection of postcards illustrating what they’re “most looking forward to” at the June meeting.

Options include historical sites, beer, and nightlife. And until this morning, you could also choose “girls”. There was no equivalent “boys” option.

I’m not the most tactful person in the world, but even I found the CZ.nic booth a bit icky.

So, apparently, did somebody else.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte confirmed that he received a complaint today and stepped in to ask CZ.nic’s reps to remove the offending postcards, which they did.

LaHatte confirmed that the booth display did not meet ICANN’s longstanding Expected Standards of Behavior, which states in part that participants must:

Treat all members of the ICANN community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

It’s no secret that ICANN meetings, like most tech conferences, can be a bit of a sausage-fest at times, but there are hundreds (probably) of women in attendance too.

At recent meetings, the DNS Women’s Breakfast has become a regular networking event.

(Which, come to think of it, is a closed session and therefore probably a bit sexist too).

UPDATE: For all the pervs demanding photographic evidence in the comments, prepare to be disappointed.

Girls

Beckstrom slams his own board over conflicts

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2012, Domain Policy

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.

Six hot topics for new gTLD applicants at ICANN 43

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2012, Domain Policy

Hundreds of stakeholders are gathering in San Jose, Costa Rica today for the first official day of ICANN’s 43rd public meeting.

While the news that the US government has deferred the renewal of ICANN’s IANA contract for another six months has set the most tongues wagging so far, there’s a lot more going on.

In this in-depth DomainIncite PRO ICANN 43 preview, we take a look at:

  • Why many attendees think the shock IANA news is a personal slight against ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom.
  • How protecting the Olympic and Red Cross trademarks could lead to the new gTLD application window being extended.
  • Why the Governmental Advisory Committee is pushing for greater powers to reject new gTLD applications.
  • Which companies have applied for the potentially lucrative Trademark Clearinghouse contract (and which one is our favorite to win), and why unanswered questions have the IP community worried.
  • What criteria new gTLDs will be judged against after they launch.
  • Why critical talks between ICANN and domain name registrars could lead to the retail price of domain names doubling, and why that probably won’t happen any time soon.

DomainIncite PRO subscribers can read the full analysis here. Non-subscribers can find subscription information here.

NTIA throws a bomb, cancels IANA contract RFP

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2012, Domain Policy

Just hours before ICANN’s Costa Rica meeting kicks off, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has cast uncertainty over the new gTLD program by throwing another of its now-traditional last-minute bombs.

CLICK HERE for the updated story.

It’s canceled the request for proposals that was expected to lead to ICANN being awarded a new IANA contract – the contract that enables it to approve new top-level domains.

In an amendment to the November RFP posted last night, the Department of Commerce said it “hereby cancels RFP SA1301-12-RP-IANA in its entirety.”

In a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities web site, it added:

Request for Proposal (RFP) SA1301-12-RP-IANA is hereby cancelled. The Department of Commerce intends to reissue the RFP at a future date, date to be determined (TBD). Interested parties are encouraged to periodically visit www.fbo.gov for updates.

ICANN’s current IANA agreement is due to expire at the end of March and, by my reading, the NTIA has used up all of its options to extend.

Many expected ICANN or the NTIA to announce that the new contract had been awarded to ICANN yesterday, or when the Costa Rica meeting officially kicks off this coming Monday.

For the RFP to be canceled now without explanation hangs a huge question mark over ICANN’s ongoing ability to approve new gTLDs.

There are already community murmurs about ICANN extending the current gTLD application window beyond its current April 12 deadline, and this development may feed such rumors.

This is a developing story, but at the moment it appears that yet again the NTIA’s last-minute attention-seeking bombshell has stolen the show before the show even begins.

UPDATE: Shortly after this story was published, the NTIA released its rationale for the cancellation. Read about it here.

IP lobby files last-minute new gTLD demands

Kevin Murphy, March 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s ongoing public comment period into the “perceived” need for “defensive” gTLD applications produced a raft of demands from the intellectual property community, not all of which relate to the subject matter at hand.

With less than one month left before ICANN closes its new gTLD application window, many IP stakeholders have suggested ways to reduce the need to file a defensive applications, with many disputing its characterization as “perceived”. As far as many brands are concerned, there’s nothing “perceived” about it.

Give the imminent closure of the window, a large number of commenters have also suggested ways to reduce the need for defensive domain name registrations at the second level. While debates about trademark protection in domain names will never end, this is likely to be the IP community’s last chance to officially comment before April 12.

Some comments expressed a desire for relatively small tweaks to the existing Rights Protection Mechanisms, others said that entirely new RPMs should be created. In most cases, the proposed amendments heavily favor certain trademark owners at the expense of other registrants, including other trademark owners.

Some suggestions from the IP community would, if adopted, directly impact the business models of new gTLD registries and registrars. Others could be expected to significantly increase the risk that the new gTLD application process will be gamed at a large scale.

This DomainIncite PRO analysis is organized by issue, addressing concepts that emerged from multiple comments. In each case, we look at the likely counter-arguments to the proposals, explore the potential impact on applicants and the new gTLD program and assess the likelihood of each proposal becoming reality.

DI PRO subscribers can read the full analysis here.

Olympic gTLD showdown coming in Costa Rica

Kevin Murphy, March 5, 2012, Domain Policy

While the ICANN public meeting in Dakar last October was notable for a heated clash between governments and the domain name industry, the Costa Rica meeting next week may be characterized by these two recent enemies uniting against a common enemy.

ICANN staff.

Members of the Generic Names Supporting Organization, the Governmental Advisory Committee and the At-Large Advisory Committee all appear to be equally livid about a last-minute new gTLD program surprise sprung by ICANN late last week.

The hitch relates to the ongoing saga about special brand protection for the International Olympic Committee, Red Cross and Red Crescent movements in the new gTLD program.

The need to develop rights protection mechanisms for essentially just three organizations has always been a slightly ridiculous and unnecessary premise, but recently it has assumed symbolic proportions, cutting to the heart of the multistakeholder model itself.

Now, following a perplexing eleventh-hour ICANN mandate, Costa Rica is likely to see some fierce debate about the ICANN decision to kick off the new gTLD program last June.

We expect the GNSO and the GAC to show a relatively united front against ICANN staff on the IOC/RC issue. The At-Large Advisory Committee is also set to throw a bomb or two.

There’s even an outside chance that upcoming talks could wind up adding delay to the next phase of the new gTLD program itself…

The full text of this pre-ICANN 43 policy analysis is available to DomainIncite PRO subscribers here.