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US revives .kids.us in new Neustrar contract

Neustar has been awarded a new three-to-five-year contract to manage the .us ccTLD, under a deal with the US Department of Commerce announced today.

It’s a renewal of a role that Neustar has held since .us was relaunched in 2001, but the new contract come with a few notable new provisions.

First, it seems that the company is now obliged to bring some “multi-stakeholder” oversight into the management of the TLD. Neustar said in a press release:

In 2014, Neustar plans to launch a new multi-stakeholder council including members representing localities, registrars, small businesses and non-profit organizations as well as entities involved with STEM education and cybersecurity. The .US TLD Stakeholder Council will provide a vibrant, diverse, and independent forum for future development of the .US TLD, working directly with .US TLD stakeholders and helping Neustar to identify public needs and develop policies, programs, and partnerships to address those needs while continuing to enhance America’s address.

Second, it looks like .kids.us might not be dead after all.

The third-level service was introduced as a result of the poorly considered Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002, which forced Neustar to operate a child-friendly zone in .us.

The Department of Commerce killed off .kids.us in 2012, but the new .us contract (pdf) says:

Notwithstanding the June 2012 determination to suspend operation of kids.us domain under the current contract, DOC seeks proposals to rejuvenate the kids.us space to increase utilization, utility and awareness of the kids.us domain.

The contract has several more references to Neustar’s obligation to promote the SLD. At the time it was killed off, there were just a handful of registered names in the space.

The contract also says that .us currently has just shy of 1.8 million names under management.

Board confirms: ICANN seeks non-US HQ

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has given the clearest indication yet that the organization wants to set up an HQ overseas, further loosening ties with the US government.

The board has formed six new “President’s Globalization Advisory Groups”, made up of half a dozen directors each, one of which has been tasked with advising ICANN on ways to:

Establish complimentary [sic] parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy. Consider complementary parallel international structure within scope of ICANN’s mandate.

This indicates that ICANN’s reported plan to base itself in Geneva may not be so far-fetched after all, but it also indicates that ICANN currently does not anticipate doing away with its original HQ in Los Angeles.

ICANN already has several offices around the world, but recently there’s been talk of it embedding itself in Switzerland, as an “international organization”, more deeply.

As we’ve previously reported, ICANN may not relocate outside of the US due to its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce, which requires it to remain a US non-profit.

But another of the three panels set up by the board this week will advise ICANN on how to create an “enhanced Affirmation of Commitments.”

Other panels will explore the globalization of the IANA function — currently operated under a procurement contract with Commerce — and the root server system, which is independent operated but heavily US-based.

The ICANN board said in its resolution:

the continued globalization of ICANN must evolve in several ways, including: partnerships in the broader Internet eco-system to strengthen multistakeholder Internet governance frameworks; strengthening ICANN itself, including affirmations of commitments and relationships among the stakeholders; evolving the policy structures to serve and scale to the needs of the global community, and identify opportunities for the future legal structures and IANA globalization.

The plan is for these panels talk to the community at the Singapore meeting next month, before reporting back to the board before ICANN meets for its 50th public meeting in London this coming June.

This week’s move is the latest in a series of decisions made by the ICANN board following the spying revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the subsequent consternation they caused in capitals around the world.

Brazil is set to host a meeting to discuss these kinds of internet governance matters with ICANN and its coalition of the willing in Sao Paulo this April.

EU guns for ICANN’s relationship with US

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2014, Domain Policy

The European Union has made ICANN’s close relationship with the US one of the targets of a new platform on internet governance.

In a new communication on internet governance (pdf), the European Commission said it will “work with all stakeholders” to:

– identify how to globalise the IANA functions, whilst safeguarding the continued stability and security of the domain-name system;

– establish a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN, including its Affirmation of Commitments.

The policy is being characterized as being prompted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread US spying on internet users.

EC vice president Neelie Kroes issued a press release announcing the policy, saying:

Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to Internet Governance. So given the US-centric model of Internet Governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet.

Despite this, the document does not contain any allegations that link ICANN to spying, or indeed any justification for the logical leap from Snowden to domain names.

The EU position is not dissimilar to ICANN’s own. Last October CEO Fadi Chehade used Snowden as an excuse to talk about putting ICANN’s relationship with the US back in the spotlight.

As I noted at the time, it all looks very opportunistic.

Internationalizing ICANN is of course a noble objective — and one that has been envisaged since ICANN’s very creation 15 years ago — but what would it look like it practice?

I’d be very surprised if what the Commission has in mind isn’t a scenario in which the Commission always gets what it wants, even if other stakeholders disagree with it.

Right now, the Commission is demanding that ICANN rejects applications for .wine and .vin new gTLDs unless applicants agree to new rights protection mechanisms for geographic indicators such as “Champagne”.

That’s something that ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee could not reach consensus on, yet the EU wants ICANN to act based on its unilateral (insofar as the EU could be seen as a single entity) advice.

The new EC policy document makes lots of noise about its support for the “multi-stakeholder process”, but with hints that it might not be the “multi-equal-stakeholder process” championed by Chehade.

For example, it states on the one hand:

Those responsible for an inclusive process must make a reasonable effort to reach out to all parties impacted by a given topic, and offer fair and affordable opportunities to participate and contribute to all key stages of decision making, while avoiding capture of the process by any dominant stakeholder or vested interests.

That sounds fair enough, but the document immediately goes on to state:

the fact that a process is claimed to be multistakeholder does not per se guarantee outcomes that are widely seen to be legitimate

it should be recognised that different stages of decision making processes each have their own requirements and may involve different sets of stakeholders.

Sound multistakeholder processes remain essential for the future governance of the Internet. At the same time, they should not affect the ability of public authorities, deriving their powers and legitimacy from democratic processes, to fulfil their public policy responsibilities where those are compatible with universal human rights. This includes their right to intervene with regulation where required.

With that in mind, what would an “internationalized” IANA look like, if the European Commission gets its way?

Right now, IANA may be contractually tethered to the US Department of Commerce, but in practice Commerce has never refused to delegate a TLD (even when Kroes asked it to delay .xxx).

Compare that to Kroes statement last September that “under no circumstance can we agree having .wine and .vin on the internet, without sufficient safeguards”.

Today’s policy news from the EC looks fine at a high level, but in light of what the EC actually seems to want to achieve in practical terms, it looks more like an attempt at a power grab.

ICANN approves reworked GAC advice over US concerns

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2014, Domain Policy

No sooner had we reported on the US government’s complaint about ICANN’s reinterpretation of GAC advice on new gTLDs than it emerged that ICANN has already approved the plan.

The ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution on how to implement the so-called Category 1 advice the Governmental Advisory Committee came up with in Beijing last April. The resolution was published today.

The Category 1 advice calls for stronger regulation — stuff like forcing registrants to provide industry credentials at point of sale — in scores of new gTLDs the GAC considers particularly sensitive.

Despite US Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling calling for more talks after ICANN substantially diluted some of the GAC’s Beijing communique, the NGPC has now formally approved its watered-down action plan.

Under the plan, registrants in gTLDs such as .lawyer and .doctor will have to “represent” that they are credentialed professionals in those verticals when they register a domain.

That’s as opposed to actually providing those credentials at point of registration, which, as Strickling reiterated in his letter, is what the GAC asked for in its Beijing communique.

The full list of eight approved “safeguards” (as interpreted from GAC advice by ICANN) along with the list of the gTLDs that they will apply to, can be found in this PDF.

US probing Verisign price hikes, .com contract may be extended

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2012, Domain Registries

The US Departments of Commerce and Justice are investigating the price increase provisions of Verisign’s .com registry agreement.

Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos disclosed the “review” on a conference call with financial analysts tonight.

It is likely that it will last beyond November 30 2012, the date the current .com agreement expires, he said.

“There’s a possibility it will not be complete by November 30,” he said.

A special six-month extension is likely to be triggered, he said.

“The status of our ability to operate .com is not an issue here,” he said.

He declined to comment on questions related to the likelihood that the company would be forced to change its pricing plans.

Verisign has spent $3.9 million in legal and other fees related to the US review, it emerged during the call.

ICANN approved the contract, which gives Verisign the right to increase its .com registry fees by 7% in four of the next six years, in June.

ICANN will see an extra $8 million in revenue from Verisign as a result.

Due to the special nature of .com, Justice and Commerce approval is required before the contract can be renewed. Verisign had previously expected that to come before November 30.

Verisign shares are trading down 14% in after-hours trading following the news.

ICANN to get $8 million more from new .com deal

Verisign will pay ICANN roughly $8 million more per year in fees under its new .com registry agreement, CEO Jim Bidzos told financial analysts last night.

Under the new deal, approved by ICANN last month, the company pays ICANN a $0.25 fee for every .com registration-year, renewal or transfer, instead of the lump sums it paid previously.

That’s going to work out to about $25 million in 2013, Bidzos said on Verisign’s second-quarter earnings call last night, compared to about $17 million under the old arrangement.

The new agreement continues to give the company the right to increase its price by 7% a year in most years, of course, so it’s not all bad news for Verisign investors.

The deal is currently under review by the US Department of Commerce and Bidzos said he expects it to be approved before November 30, when the current contract expires.

ICANN gives Verisign’s .com contract the nod

ICANN’s board of directors has approved Verisign’s .com registry agreement for another six years.

In a closed meeting on Saturday, the results of which have just been published, the board decided against making any of the changes that had been suggested by the community.

There had been a small uproar over the fact that Verisign will retain the right to increase its .com registry fee by 7% in four out of the next seven years.

The new contract also rejiggers the fees Verisign pays ICANN to bring them more into line with other registry agreements. As a result, ICANN will net millions more in revenue.

Other parties had also asked for improved rights protection, such as a mandatory Uniform Rapid Suspension system, and for the current restrictions on single-character domain names to be lifted.

But the board decided that “no revisions to the proposed .COM renewal Registry Agreement are necessitated after taking into account the thoughtful and carefully considered comments received.”

The agreement will now be forward to the US government for approval. Unlike most registry contracts, the Department of Commerce has the right to review the .com deal.

The current contract expires November 30.

ICANN may renew Verisign’s .com deal this weekend

ICANN’s board of directors is set to vote on Verisign’s .com registry agreement at a meeting in Prague this Saturday.

The meeting is scheduled for June 23, the day before ICANN 44 officially kicks off. Read the agenda here.

The contract has been controversial because it will continue to allow Verisign to raise prices by 7% in four out of the six years of its duration.

Opportunistic intellectual property interests have also called for Verisign to be obliged to follow new rights protection mechanisms such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

But I’m not predicting any big changes from the draft version of the agreement that was published in March.

If and when the ICANN board approves the contract, it will be sent off to the US Department of Commerce for, I believe, another round of public comment and eventual ratification.

If Verisign is to run into any problems with renewal, it’s in Washington DC where it’s most likely to happen.

US reopens IANA contract re-bid

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s key contract with the US government is open for proposals again, a month after ICANN was told its first bid wasn’t up to the expected standards.

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration yesterday posted a revised request for proposals, looking for a new IANA contractor.

The IANA contract is what gives ICANN its operational powers over the domain name system root database.

Based on a quick comparison of the new RFP with the old, there have been few notable, substantial changes, giving little indication of why ICANN’s previous response fell short.

The RFP has a strong emphasis on accountability, transparency, separation of ICANN/IANA powers, conflicts of interest and the “global public interest”, as before.

While many of the requirements have been edited, clarified or shifted around, I haven’t been able to spot any major additions or subtractions.

The RFP now envisages a contract running from October 1, 2012 until September 30, 2015, with two two-year renewal options, bringing the expiry date to September 30, 2019.

The deadline for responses is May 31.

The current contract had been due to expire at the end of March but the NTIA unexpected extended it by six months just before ICANN’s meeting in Costa Rica kicked off last month.

The NTIA said it canceled the first RFP “because we received no proposals that met the requirements” but neither it nor ICANN has yet provided any specifics.

Over a month ago, at an ICANN press conference in Costa Rica, CEO Rod Beckstrom said: “We were invited to have a debriefing with [the NTIA] to learn more about this. Following that discussion we will share any information we are allowed to share.”

Since then, no additional information has been forthcoming.

The new RFP can be read here. For comparison, the old version can be downloaded here.

New .com contract revealed: Verisign gets to raise prices, ICANN makes millions more

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN and Verisign both stand to make oodles of cash from their renewed .com registry contract.

A proposed draft of the next .com Registry Agreement was published by ICANN late this evening.

It would enable Verisign to carry on raising its .com registry fee by 7%, in four of the next six years. This provision, which was in the 2006 agreement also, was not unexpected.

But the deal will also see Verisign pay ICANN millions of dollars more in transaction fees.

Instead of a quarterly lump sum, which is capped at $4.5 million in the current contract, ICANN will instead get a $0.25 fee for every year of a .com registered, renewed or transferred.

According to my quick-and-dirty calculations, that would have brought ICANN approximately $6 million in extra revenue — roughly $24 million in total — from .com domains last year.

(The most recent .com registry reports show billable transactions per month worth about $2 million to ICANN, using the new agreement’s calculation. However, under the current agreement ICANN can only collect $18 million per year, according to its last approved budget.)

The revised contract contains several other changes also. I’ll have more coverage of those tomorrow.

The deal, which is not expected to come into effect until the end of November, is now open for public comment until April 26.

It needs to be approved by the ICANN board of directors, the Verisign board and the US Department of Commerce before it is finally signed.