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Former NTIA chief Redl now working for Amazon

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2019, Domain Policy

David Redl, the former head of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has joined Amazon as an internet governance advisor, I’ve learned.

I don’t know whether he’s taken a full-time job or is a contractor, but he’s been spotted palling around with Amazon folk at ICANN 66 in Montreal and knowledgeable sources tell me he’s definitely on the payroll.

Redl was assistant secretary at the NTIA until May, when he was reportedly asked to resign over a wireless spectrum issue unrelated to the domain names after just 18 months on the job.

His private sector career prior to NTIA was in the wireless space. I don’t believe he’s ever been employed in the domain industry before.

NTIA is of course the US agency responsible for participating in all matters ICANN, including the ongoing fight over Amazon’s application for the .amazon brand gTLD.

The proposed dot-brand has been in limbo for many years due to the objections of the eight nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which claims cultural rights to the string.

ACTO nations on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee want ICANN to force Amazon back to the negotiating table, to give them more power over the TLD after it launches.

But the NTIA rep on the GAC indicated at the weekend that the US would block any GAC calls for .amazon to be delayed any longer.

As I type these words, the GAC is debating precisely what it should say to ICANN regarding .amazon in its Montreal communique, using competing draft texts submitted by the US and European Commission, and it’s not looking great for ACTO.

As I blogged earlier in the week, another NTIA official, former GAC rep Ashley Heineman, has accepted a job at GoDaddy.

UPDATE: As a commenter points out, Redl last year criticized the revolving door between ICANN and the domain name industry, shortly after Akram Atallah joined Donuts.

America has Amazon’s back in gTLD fight at ICANN 66

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2019, Domain Policy

The United States looks set to stand in the way of government attempts to further delay Amazon’s application for .amazon.

The US Governmental Advisory Committee representative, Vernita Harris, said today that the US “does not support further GAC advice on the .amazon issue” and that ICANN is well within its rights to move forward with Amazon’s controversial gTLD applications.

She spoke after a lengthy intervention from Brazilian rep Ambassador Achilles Zaluar Neto, who said South American nations view the contested string as their “birthright” and said ICANN is allowing Amazon “to run roughshod over the concerns and the cultural heritage of eight nations and tens of millions of people”.

It was the opening exchange in would could prove to be a fractious war of words at ICANN 66 in Montreal, which formally opens tomorrow.

The .amazon applications have been controversial because the eight countries in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization believe their unwritten cultural rights to the word outweigh Amazon’s trademark rights.

Forced to the negotiating table by ICANN last year, the two sides each posed their own sets of ideas about how the gTLD could be managed in such a way as to protect culturally sensitive terms at the second-level, and taking ACTO’s views into account.

But an ICANN-imposed deadline for talks to conclude in April was missed, largely as a result of the ongoing Venezuela crisis, which caused friction between the ACTO governments.

But today, Brazil said that ACTO is ready and willing to get back to the negotiating table asked that ICANN reopen these talks with an impartial mediator at the helm.

As things stand, Amazon is poised to get .amazon approved with a bunch of Public Interest Commitments in its registry contract that were written by Amazon without ACTO’s input.

Neto said that he believed a “win-win” deal could be found, which “would provide a positive impetus for internet governance instead of discrediting it”. He threatened to raise the issue at the Internet Governance Forum next month.

ICANN’s failure to reopen talks “would set a bad precedent and reflect badly on the current state of internet governance, including its ability to establish a balance between private interests and public policy concerns”, he said

But the US rallied to Amazon’s defense. Harris said:

The United States does not support further GAC advice on the .amazon issue. Any further questions from the GAC to the Board on this matter we believe is unwarranted… We are unaware of any international consensus that recognizes inherent governmental rights and geographic names. Discussions regarding protections of geographic names is the responsibility of other forums and therefore should be discussed and those relevant and appropriate forums. Contrary to statements made by others, it is the position of the United States that the Board’s various decisions authorizing ICANN to move forward with processing the.application are consistent with all relevant GAC advice. The United States therefore does not support further intervention that effectively works to prevent or delay the delegation of .amazon and we believe we are not supportive and we do not believe that it’s required.

This is a bit of a reversal from the US position in 2013.

Back then, the GAC wanted to issue consensus advice that ICANN should reject .amazon, but the US, protecting one of its largest companies, stood in the way of full consensus until, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, the US decided instead to abstain, apparently to appease an increasingly angry Brazil.

It was that decision that opened the door to the six more years of legal wrangling and delay that .amazon has been subject to.

With the US statement today, it seems that the GAC will be unlikely to be able to issue strong, full-consensus advice that will delay .amazon further, when it drafts its Montreal communique later in the week.

The only other GAC member speaking today to support the US position was Israel, whose rep said “since it is an ongoing issue for seven years, we don’t believe that there is a need for further delay”.

Several government reps — from China, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium and the European Commission — spoke in favor of Brazil’s view that ICANN should allow ACTO and Amazon back to the negotiating table.

The GAC is almost certain to say something about .amazon in its communique, due to drop Wednesday, but the ICANN board of directors does not currently have an Amazon-related item on its Montreal agenda.

UPDATE: The originally published version of this story incorrectly identified the US GAC representative as Ashley Heineman, who is listed on the GAC’s web site as the US representative. In fact, the speaker was Vernita Harris, acting associate administrator at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Had I been watching the meeting, rather that just listening to it, this would have been readily apparent to me. My apologies to Ms Heineman and Ms Harris for the error.

New (kinda) geo-TLD rules laid out at ICANN 66

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2019, Domain Policy

The proposed rules for companies thinking about applying for a geographic gTLD in the next application round have been sketched out.

They’re the same as the old rules.

At ICANN 66 in Montreal today, a GNSO Policy Development Process working group team discussed its recently submitted final report (pdf) into geographic strings at the top level.

While the group, which comprised over 160 members, has been working for over two years on potential changes to the rules laid out in the 2012 Applicant Guidebook, it has basically concluded by consensus that no changes are needed.

What it has decided is that the GNSO policy on new gTLDs that was agreed upon in 2007 should be updated to come into line with the current AGB.

It appears to be a case of the GNSO setting a policy, the ICANN staff and board implementing rules inconsistent with that policy, then, seven years later, the GNSO changing its policy to comply with that top-down mandate.

It’s not really how bottom-up ICANN is supposed to work.

But at least nobody’s going to have to learn a whole new set of rules when the next application round opens.

The 2012 AGB bans two-letter gTLDs, for example, to avoid confusion with ccTLDs. It also places strong restrictions on the UN-recognized names of countries, territories, capital cities and regions.

It also gave the Governmental Advisory Committee sweeping powers to object to any gTLD it didn’t like the look of.

What it didn’t do was restrict geographic names such as “Amazon”, which is an undeniably famous geographic feature but which does not appear on any of the International Standards Organization lists that the AGB defers to.

Amazon the retailer has been fighting for its .amazon gTLDs for seven years, and it appears that the new GNSO recommendations will do nothing to provide clarity for edge-case applicants such as this in future rounds.

The group that came up with report — known as Work Track 5 of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group — evidently had members that want to reduce geographic-string protections and those who wanted to increase them.

Members ultimately reached “consensus” — indicating that most but not all members agreed with the outcome — to stick with the status quo.

Nevertheless, the Montreal session this afternoon concluded with a great deal of back-slapping and expressions that Work Track 5 had allowed all voices, even those whose requests were ultimately declined, to be heard equally and fairly.

The final report has been submitted to the full WG for adoption, after which it will go to the full GNSO for approval, before heading to public comment and the ICANN board of directors as part of the PDP’s full final report.

Sorry, you still can’t sue ICANN, two-faced .africa bidder told

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Policy

Failed .africa gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica appears to have lost its lawsuit against ICANN.

A California judge has said he will throw out the portions of DCA’s suit that had not already been thrown out two years ago, on the grounds that DCA was talking out of both sides of its mouth.

DCA applied for .africa in 2012 but lost out to rival applicant ZA Central Registry because ZACR had the backing of African governments and DCA did not.

It filed an Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN in 2013 and won in 2015, with the IRP panel finding that ICANN broke its own bylaws by paying undue deference to Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

It also emerged that ICANN had ghost-written letter of government support on behalf of the African Union, which looked very dodgy.

DCA then sued ICANN in 2016 on 11 counts ranging from fraud to breach of contract to negligence.

The Los Angeles Superior Court decided in 2017 that five of those charges were covered by the “covenant not to sue”, a broad waiver that all new gTLD applicants had to sign up to.

But the remaining six, relating to ICANN’s alleged fraud, were allowed to go ahead.

ICANN relied in its defense on a principle called “judicial estoppel”, where a judge is allowed to throw out a plaintiff’s arguments if it can be shown that it had previously relied on diametrically opposed arguments to win an earlier case.

The judge has now found that estoppel applies here, because DCA fought and won the IRP in part by repeatedly claiming that it was not allowed to sue in a proper court.

It had made this argument on at least seven occasions during the IRP, Judge Robert Broadbelt found. He wrote in his August 22 ruling (pdf):

DCA’s successfully taking the first position in the IRP proceeding and gaining significant advantages in that proceeding as a result thereof, and then taking the second position that its totally inconsistent in this lawsuit, presents egregious circumstances that would result in a miscarriage of justice if the court does not apply the doctrine of judicial estoppel to bar DCA from taking the second position in this lawsuit. The court therefore exercises its discretion to find in favor of ICANN, and against DCA, on ICANN’s affirmative defense of judicial estoppel and to bar DCA from bringing or maintaining its claims against ICANN alleged in the [First Amended Complaint] in this lawsuit.

In other words, ICANN’s won.

The case is not yet over, however. DCA still has an opportunity to object to the ruling, and there’s a hearing scheduled for December.

Berkens says new gTLDs mostly suck but geos suck hardest

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Sales

Ever since he cashed out his massive portfolio of domain names in a bulk sale to GoDaddy three and a half years ago, domain investor Mike Berkens has been dabbling in new gTLDs, and so far he’s not impressed.

In a recent conference speech and blog post, he revealed some of his experiences parking and trying to sell his new g names, and he has come down particularly harshly on geographic TLDs.

City TLDs such as .london, .nyc and .miami are “death” to a domain investor, he said at a domainer meetup in Asheville, North Carolina last week.

His portfolio of 29 .miami names has had just 532 type-in visits in the last year, and have not received a single offer, he wrote on TheDomains.com.

On the flip-side, Berkens told his audience that domain combinations that naturally fit together, such as online.dating, atlantic.city, moving.company and bank.loans are profitable from type-in traffic and can get thousands of visitors a year.

They can be profitable even when the registry charges a premium renewal fee, he said. The domain obama.care makes him $500 a year parked and has a $150 annual renewal, he said.

But when asked directly whether he would recommend new gTLDs to domain investors, Berkens said he would not, citing among other things the added risk of unregulated price increases in the new gTLD space.

Berkens made eight figures selling his portfolio of 70,000 names to GoDaddy in 2015, but the deal apparently did not include the new gTLD names he’d picked up along the way.

You can watch his 24-minute talk here.

Four presidents slam .amazon decision

Kevin Murphy, May 28, 2019, Domain Policy

The leaders of four of the eight governments of the Amazon region of South America have formally condemned ICANN’s decision to move ahead with the .amazon gTLD.

In a joint statement over the weekend, the presidents of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, said they have agreed to “to join efforts to protect the interests of our countries related to geographical or cultural names and the right to cultural identity of indigenous peoples”.

These four countries comprise the Andean Community, an economic cooperation group covering the nations through which the Andes pass, which has just concluded a summit on a broad range of issues.

The presidents said they have “deep concerns” about ICANN’s decision to proceed towards delegating .amazon to Amazon the company, over the objections of the eight-nation Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ICANN is “setting a serious precedent by prioritizing private commercial interests over public policy considerations of the States, such as the rights of indigenous peoples and the preservation of the Amazon in favor of humanity and against global warming”, they said (via Google Translate).

ACTO had been prepared to agree to Amazon running .amazon, but it wanted effective veto power on the TLD’s policy-setting committee and a number of other concessions that Amazon thought would interfere with its commercial interests.

As it stands, Amazon has offered to block thousands of culturally sensitive domains and to give the ACTO nations a minority voice in its policy-making activities.

ICANN will soon open these proposed commitments to public comment, and will likely decide to put .amazon into the root not too long thereafter.

Amazon wins! ICANN on verge of approving .amazon despite government outrage

Amazon has one foot over the finish line in its seemingly endless battle for the .amazon gTLD.

ICANN last week nudged its application along to probably its final hurdle and gave the strongest indication yet that the controversial dot-brand will soon be delegated in the root.

Amazon has essentially won, beating off objections from the eight South American nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

In a May 15 resolution, published late Friday, the ICANN board of directors resolved that there is “no public policy reason for why the .AMAZON applications should not be allowed to proceed”.

It now plans to approve the application for .amazon, along with the Chinese and Japanese translations, after Amazon’s “Public Interest Commitments” — enforceable voluntary commitments that would be incorporated into its registry contract — have been subject to 30-day public comment period.

These PICs would require Amazon to give each of the eight nations, and ACTO itself, one domain name under .amazon that they could use to provide non-commercial information about the region whose name the company shares.

Amazon would also have to block up to 1,500 culturally sensitive terms in each of the TLDs, so that nobody could use them.

There’d be a steering committee comprising Amazon and the ACTO members, which would get to decide which domains are blocked. Amazon would have the ultimate veto, but ACTO states could appeal by filing PIC Dispute Resolution Procedure complaint with ICANN.

The text of Amazon’s proposed PICs can be found in an April 17 letter to ICANN (pdf).

As far as I can tell, the public comment period has not yet been opened. If it has, it’s so well-hidden on the ICANN web site that even my voodoo powers have been ineffective in unearthing it.

It seems likely that it will attract comment from ACTO and its members, along with others with an interest in protecting the Amazon region.

Whether their comments will be enough to make ICANN change its mind about eventually delegating .amazon seems highly unlikely.

Amazon, in my view, has basically won at this point.

The victory comes over seven years after the original application was filed.

Amazon fought off a Community Objection from the Independent Objector in 2013, but its applications were rejected by ICANN after receiving consensus advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The GAC reached consensus against Amazon only after the United States, which had been protecting what is one of its largest technology companies’ interests, caved to pressure from the rest of the committee.

But Amazon filed an Independent Review Process complaint, which in July 2017 came back in the company’s favor. The IRP panel ruled that the GAC’s advice had been flimsy and baseless, and that ICANN should un-reject the .amazon applications.

Since then, it’s been a fight between Amazon and ACTO, with ICANN trapped in the middle.

As far as ICANN is concerned, the GAC had only advised it to “facilitate” a resolution between the two parties. It does not appear to believe it was under an obligation to assure that both parties were happy with the outcome.

ACTO had wanted much stronger protections from Amazon including majority control of the policy steering committee and, hilariously, a button on every single .amazon web page linking to an ACTO site promoting the Amazon region.

The company rejected those requests, and instead put its own unilateral proposal to ICANN.

Following ICANN’s approval, it’s now very possible that Amazon could start using .amazon this year.

However, given the usual speed at which the company launches its delegated gTLDs, some time in the 2030s is just as likely.

Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

ICANN takes the reins again as .amazon talks fail

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has re-involved itself in the fight over the .amazon gTLD, after Amazon and eight South American governments failed to reach agreement over the name.

ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby wrote this week to the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization to inform the group that it is now ICANN that will decide whether the proposed dot-brand domain is approved or not.

ICANN’s board had given Amazon and ACTO until April 7 to come to a mutual agreement that addressed ACTO’s sovereignty concerns, but they missed that deadline.

According to the BBC World Service, citing unnamed diplomats, ACTO wanted Amazon to create a kind of policy committee, with seats at the table for governments to veto second-level domains Amazon decides it wants to register in .amazon in future.

Amazon declined this demand, instead offering each of the eight ACTO countries its two-letter country-code under .amazon — br.amazon for Brazil, for example — the Beeb reported at the weekend.

Now that ICANN’s deadline has passed, ACTO appears to have lost its chance to negotiate with Amazon.

ICANN has now asked the company to submit a plan to address ACTO’s concerns directly to ICANN by April 21.

From that point, it could go either way. ICANN might approve the .amazon application, reject it, or push it back to Amazon for further work.

But .amazon may not necessarily be on the home straight yet. A straightforward approval or rejection will very likely provoke howls of anguish, and further appeals action, from the losing side.

“Just give up!” ICANN tells its most stubborn new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has urged the company that wants to run .internet as new gTLD to just give up and go away.

The India-based company, Nameshop, actually applied for .idn — to stand for “internationalized domain name” — back in the 2012 application round.

It failed the Geographic Names Review portion of the application process because IDN is the International Standards Organization’s 3166-1 three-letter code for Indonesia, and those were all banned.

While one might question the logic of applying for a Latin-script string to represent IDNs, overlooking the ISO banned list was not an incredibly stupid move.

Even a company with Google’s brainpower resources overlooked this paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook and applied for three 3166-1 restricted strings: .and, .are and .est.

But rather than withdraw its .idn bid, like Google did with its failed applications, Nameshop decided to ask ICANN to change its applied-for string to .internet.

There was a small amount of precedent for this. ICANN had permitted a few applicants to correct typos in their applied-for strings, enabling DotConnectAfrica for example to correct its nutty application for “.dotafrica” to its intended “.africa”.

But swapping out .idn for .internet was obviously not a simple correction but rather looked a complete upgrade of its addressable market. Nobody else had applied for .internet, and Nameshop was well aware of this, so Nameshop’s bid would have been a shoo-in.

To allow the change would have opened the floodgates for every applicant that found itself in a tricky contention set to completely change their desired strings to something cheaper or more achievable.

But Nameshop principal Sivasubramanian Muthusamy did not take no for an answer. He’s been nagging ICANN to change its mind ever since.

There’s a lengthy, rather slick timeline of his lobbying efforts published on the Nameshop web site.

He filed a Request for Reconsideration back in 2013, which was swiftly rejected by the ICANN board of directors.

In July 2017, he wrote to ICANN to complain that Nameshop’s string change request should be treated the same as any other:

It seems that if ICANN can allow string changes from a relatively undesirable name to a more desireable name based on misspelling, then ICANN should allow a change from a desireable name in three characters(IDN) to longer name in eight characters (Internet) based on confusion with geographical names

Meetings with ICANN staff, the Ombudsman, the Governmental Advisory Committee and others to discuss his predicament several times over the last several years have proved fruitless.

Finally, today ICANN has published a letter (pdf) it sent to Muthusamy on Friday, urging him to ditch his Quixotic quest and get his money back. Christine Willett, VP of gTLD operations, wrote:

Given we are unable to take further action on Nameshop’s application, we encourage you to withdraw the application for a full refund of Nameshop’s application fee.

I doubt this is the first time ICANN has urged Nameshop to take its money and run, but it seems ICANN is now finally sick of talking about the issue.

Willett added that ICANN staff and directors “politely decline” his request for further in-person meetings to discuss the application, and encouraged him to apply for his desired string in the next application round, whenever that may be.