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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.

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.

UDRP reform put on hold for four years

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s cybersquatting rules, including the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy, will be reviewed and possibly reformed, but probably not until 2016 at the earliest.

The Generic Names Supporting Organization Council voted last Thursday to put the start of UDRP reform on hold until 18 months after the first new top-level domains go live.

The review will also take into account other cybersquatting policies including Uniform Rapid Suspension, which will be binding on all new gTLD registries but has yet to be be tested.

This is the relevant part of the resolution:

the GNSO Council requests a new Issue Report on the current state of all rights protection mechanisms implemented for both existing and new gTLDs, including but not limited to, the UDRP and URS, should be delivered to the GNSO Council by no later than eighteen (18) months following the delegation of the first new gTLD.

An Issue Report is compiled by ICANN staff and often leads to a Policy Development Process that creates policies binding on registries, registrars and ultimately registrants.

Because the first new gTLDs are not expected to be delegated until the first quarter of 2013 at the earliest, the Issue Report would not be delivered until half way through 2014.

After ICANN public comment and analysis, the GNSO Council would be unlikely to kick off a PDP until the first half of 2015. The PDP itself could take months or years to complete.

In short, if UDRP is going to be reformed, we’re unlikely to see the results until 2016.

The Council resolution, which was in line with Governmental Advisory Committee advice, was proposed by the registries, following many months of ICANN public outreach and discussion.

Non-commercial users in the GNSO were most strongly in favor of an accelerated timetable, but a request to reduce the 18-month breather to a year failed to find support.

The Intellectual Property Constituency had proposed an amendment that would have kicked off the process after 100 UDRP and 100 URS cases had been heard in new gTLDs, rather than after a specified time, but the motion was defeated.