Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

If the GNSO is irrelevant, ICANN itself is at risk [Guest Post]

Stéphane Van Gelder, December 1, 2012, Domain Policy

The weeks since October’s Toronto ICANN meeting have seen some extraordinary (and, if you care about the multi-stakeholder model, rather worrying), activity.

First, there were the two by-invitation-only meetings organised in November at ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé’s behest to iron out the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH).

The TMCH is one of the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) being put in place to protect people with prior rights such as trademarks from the risk of seeing them hijacked as a spate of new gTLDs come online.

The first meeting in Brussels served as a warning sign that policy developed by the many might be renegotiated at the last minute by a few. The follow-up meeting in Los Angeles seemed to confirm this.

Two groups, the Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) and the Business Constituency (BC), met with the CEO to discuss changing the TMCH scheme. And although others were allowed in the room, they were clearly told not to tell the outside world about the details of the discussions.

Chehadé came out of the meeting with a strawman proposal for changes to the TMCH that includes changes suggested by the IPC and the BC. Changes that, depending upon which side of the table you’re sitting on, look either very much like policy changes or harmless implementation tweaks.

Making the GNSO irrelevant

So perhaps ICANN leadership should be given the benefit of the doubt. Clearly Chehadé is trying to balance the (legitimate) needs of the IP community to defend their existing rights with the (necessary) requirement to uphold the multi stakeholder policy development model.

But then the ICANN Board took another swipe at the model.

It decided to provide specific protection for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Red Cross (RC), and other Intergovernmental Organisations (IGOs) in the new gTLD program. This means that gTLD registries will have to add lengthy lists of protected terms to the “exclusion zone” of domain names that cannot be registered in their TLDs.

RPMs and the IOC/RC and IGO processes have all been worked on by the Generic Names Supporting Organisation (GNSO). ICANN’s policy making body for gTLDs groups together all interested parties, from internet users to registries, in a true multi-stakeholder environment.

It is the epitome of the ICANN model: rule-based, hard to understand, at times slow or indecisive, so reliant on pro-bono volunteer commitment that crucial details are sometimes overlooked… But ultimately fair: everyone has a say in the final decision, not just those with the most money or the loudest voice.

The original new gTLD program policy came from the GNSO. The program’s RPMs were then worked on for months by GNSO groups. The GNSO currently has a group working on the IOC/RC issue and is starting work on IGO policy development.

But neither Chehadé, in the TMCH situation, or the Board with the IOC/RC and IGO protections, can be bothered to wait.

So they’ve waded in, making what look very much like top-down decisions, and defending them with a soupcon of hypocrisy by saying it’s for the common good. Yet on the very day the GNSO Chair was writing to the Board to provide an update on the GNSO’s IOC/RC/IGO related work, the Board’s new gTLD committee was passing resolutions side-stepping that work.

The next day, on November 27, 2012, new gTLD committee Chair Cherine Chalaby wrote:

The Committee’s 26 November 2012 resolution is consistent with its 13 September 2012 resolution and approves temporary restrictions in the first round of new gTLDs for registration of RCRC and IOC names at the second level which will be in place until such a time as a policy is adopted that may required further action on the part of the Board.

Continuing on the same line, Chalaby added:

The second resolution provides for interim protection of names which qualify for .int registration and, for IGOs which request such special protection from ICANN by 28 February 2013. (…) The Committee adopted both resolutions at this time in deference to geopolitical concerns and specific GAC advice, to reassure the impacted stakeholders in the community, acknowledge and encourage the continuing work of the GNSO Council, and take an action consistent with its 13 September 2012 resolution.

A soothing “sleep on” message to both the community and the GNSO that the bottom-up policy development process is safe and sound, as long as no-one minds ICANN leadership cutting across it and making the crucial decisions.

Red alert!

Chehadé’s drive to get personally involved and help solve issues is paved with good intentions. In the real world, i.e. the one most of us live and work in, a hands-on approach by the boss generally has few downsides. But in the ICANN microverse, it is fraught with danger.

So is the Board deciding that it knows better than its community and cannot afford to wait for them to “get it”?

These latest episodes should have alarm bells ringing on the executive floor of ICANN Towers.

ICANN only works if it is truly about all interested parties getting together and working through due process to reach consensus decisions. Yes, this process is sometimes lengthy and extremely frustrating. But it is what sets ICANN apart from other governance organisations and make it so well suited to the internet’s warp-speed evolution.

Turn your back on it, act like there are valid circumstances which call for this ideology to be pushed aside, and you may as well hand the technical coordination of the internet’s naming and numbering system to the UN. Simple as that.

This is a guest post written by Stéphane Van Gelder, strategy director for NetNames. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.

GNSO Chair contest is Rickert v Robinson

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2012, Domain Policy

Two candidates for the soon-be-vacated chair of the Generic Names Supporting Organization have been put forward.

Jonathan Robinson has been nominated by the contracted parties house (registries and registrars), while Thomas Rickert has been put forward by the non-contracted parties.

Rickert, an IP lawyer, is director of names and numbers at Eco, a German internet industry association. He was appointed to the GNSO Council by the ICANN Nominating Committee last year.

UK-based Robinson is a longstanding member of the domain name industry and a registries rep on the Council. He’s a director of Afilias and runs IProta, the startup that managed ICM Registry’s sunrise last year.

The two men will be voted on by the GNSO Council before the chairman’s seat, currently occupied by Stephane Van Gelder, is vacated at the end of the Toronto meeting next month.

Van Gelder is coming to the end of his term on the Council after two years in the chair, hence the need for a replacement.

Satellite policy expert named ICANN director

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has named Olga Madruga-Forti, an Argentinian telecoms policy expert, as the newest member of its board of directors.

Selected by this year’s Nominating Committee, Madruga-Forti will take over from R. Ramaraj when his second term ends at the Toronto meeting this October.

According to the biography provided by ICANN, she has extensive experience of telecommunications policy, particularly related to satellite, in both public and private sectors.

She currently works for ARSAT in Buenes Aires as international counsel. She’s previously worked for Iridium, Loral and the US Federal Communications Commission.

ICANN pointed out that she represents telcos at the International Telecommunications Union, a relevant data point, perhaps, given the WCIT conference coming up in December.

Madruga-Forti ticks one of the Latin-American boxes on the ICANN board.

NomCom has also reappointed two other directors for second terms on the board: Gonzalo Navarro (Latin-America) and the reliably contrarian George Sadowsky (North America).

New leadership members of three ICANN supporting organizations have also been selected by NomCom.

Jennifer Wolfe of the intellectual property law firm WolfeSBMC, which counts new gTLD applicants Microsoft, Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods among its clients, has been appointed to GNSO Council.

I believe she’s destined to replace Carlos Dionisio Aguirre when his term is up later this year.

Canadian Alan Greenberg and Frenchman Jean-Jacques Subrenat have been reappointed to the At-Large Advisory Committee.

Mary Wong, who currently sits on the GNSO Council representing non-commercial stakeholders, has been appointed to the ccNSO Council.

The full biographies of all 2012 NomCom appointees can be found here.

ICANN is about as fast as a pregnant elephant

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2012, Domain Policy

Making a binding policy at ICANN takes about the same amount of time as gestating a human fetus, but only when the organization and community are working at their absolute fastest.

It’s much more often comparable to an elephant pregnancy.

That’s according to a timetable researched by ICANN senior policy director Marika Konings and circulated to the GNSO Council this week.

Konings found that the latest iteration of the GNSO’s Policy Development Process has to last for a bare minimum of 263 days, three days shorter than the average human pregnancy.

However, that deadline would only be met if ICANN staff were fully resourced, all community participants were firing on all cylinders, and there was full agreement about the policy from the outset.

That’s obviously a completely fanciful, largely theoretical scenario.

The more realistic estimated average time for a PDP to run to completion – from the GNSO Council kick-starting the process with a request for an Issue Report to the ICANN board voting to approve or reject the policy – is 620 days, Konings found.

That’s slightly slower than the gestation period of an Asian elephant.

In other words, if some hypothetical policy work were to start in the GNSO today, we could not reasonably expect to see an outcome one way or the other until February 3, 2014.

Konings’ findings were accompanied by an assessment of eight relatively recent PDPs, which took between 415 days and 1,073 days to reach a board vote. The median time was 639 days.

Some GNSO Councilors think ICANN needs a fast-track PDP for no-brainer policies. I tend to agree.

The Olympics and the death of the GNSO, part deux

Kevin Murphy, March 26, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s GNSO Council today narrowly voted to approve controversial special brand protections for the Olympic and Red Cross movements in the new gTLD program.

The vote this afternoon was scheduled as an “emergency” measure after the Council’s dramatic showdown at the ICANN public meeting in Costa Rica earlier this month.

Then, the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group forced a deferral of the vote on the grounds that ICANN’s proper bottom-up policy-making processes had not been followed.

Today, a virtually identical motion barely squeaked through, turning on just a single vote after all six NCSG councilors abstained in protest.

It was a fairly tense discussion, as these things go.

“This is a sham of a proposal cooked up by a couple of lobbyists and shoved down the GNSO’s throat and that’s why I’m abstaining,” said Robin Gross, sitting in for absent councilor Wendy Seltzer.

“I’m abstaining to avoid the downfall of the GNSO Council,” said fellow NCSG councilor Rafik Dammak.

Essentially, the non-coms are upset that the decision to give special protection to the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent appeared to be a top-down mandate from the ICANN board of directors last June.

(The board was itself responding to the demands of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been lobbied for special privileges by the organizations in question.)

ICANN policies are supposed to originate in the community, in a bottom-up fashion, but in this case the normal process was “circumvented”, NCSG councilors said.

Rather than bring the issue of special protection to the GNSO constituencies of which they are members, the IOC and Red Cross went directly to national governments in the GAC, they said.

The motion itself is to create a new class of “Modified Reserved Names” for the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, comprising solely of strings representing the Olympic and Red Cross.

Unlike the current version of the Guidebook, the International Olympic Committee and Red Cresent and Red Cross would actually be able to apply for their own brands as gTLDs.

The Guidebook would also give these Modified Reserved Names the same protection as ICANN itself in terms of string similarity – so Olympus might have a problem if it applies for a dot-brand.

Of course, the GNSO Council resolution does not become law unless it’s approved by the ICANN board of directors and implemented by staff in the Applicant Guidebook.

With the March 29 and April 12 application deadlines approaching, there’s a limited – some might say negligible – amount of time for that to happen if the GNSO’s work is to have any meaning.

That said, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said on more than one occasion during the Costa Rica meeting that he wants the board to be more flexible in its scheduling, so it’s not impossible that we’ll see an impromptu board meeting before Thursday.