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ICANN 57 brings in thousands of noobs

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN 57 set new records in terms of attendance, with a large majority of participants total newbies who’d never been to an ICANN meeting before.

The meeting, held in Hyderabad, India last month, had 3,182 attendees, and first-timers outnumbered veterans over two-to-one.

The previous record was 3,115 total participants, set at ICANN 50 in London two years ago.

Over two thirds of participants — 2,180 people or 68% of the total — were noobs, according to ICANN statistics released last night (pdf).

That compares to 344 newcomers at the abbreviated June meeting in Helsinki.

The massive turnout in November appears to be due to huge local interest.

Over 72% of attendees — 2,306 people — were from the Asia-Pacific region. ICANN does not break down attendance by nationality, but I suspect the large majority will have been Indian.

Only 200 people from Asia-Pac showed up in Helsinki.

Of the Asia-Pacific participants in Hyderabad, 2,056 were first-time attendees.

For context, there were hundreds more first-time Asia-Pac participants in Hyderabad than there were total attendees at the Helsinki meeting, when 1,436 people showed up.

There were also slightly more Asia-Pac attendees at ICANN 57 than total attendees at ICANN 55 in Marrakech this March.

The significant local interest appears to have tilted the gender balance in favor of men, who represented 74% of the total. Women were 20%. The remainder did not disclose their sex.

That compares to 61% and 32% in Helsinki.

UPDATE: This story was updated with better gender mix data a few hours after publication.

Who are the five new ICANN directors?

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2016, Domain Policy

Almost a quarter of ICANN’s board of directors were replaced at the organization’s annual general meeting in Hyderabad last week.

Five of the 21-strong board are fresh faces, though many will be familiar to regular ICANN and industry watchers.

They hail from five different countries in four of ICANN’s five regions. One is female.

They replace Bruce Tonkin, Erika Mann, Suzanne Woolf, Kuo-Wei Wu and Bruno Lanvin, each of whom have served terms between three and nine years.

The newcomers all get initial, renewable, three-year terms.

Here’s some abbreviated bios of the newly appointed directors.

Maarten Botterman

Appointed by the Nominating Committee, Botterman is an internet governance consultant with strong historic ties to the registry industry.

From the Netherlands, he was chairman of .org manager Public Interest Registry for eight years until July 2016 and served as its interim CEO for several months in 2010.

Prior to that, he held advisory roles in the Dutch and European Union governments.

Becky Burr

American Burr replaces term-limited Bruce Tonkin as the GNSO contracted parties representative to the board. Since 2012 she’s been chief privacy officer of Neustar. Before that, she was a lawyer in private practice.

There are very few people more intimately familiar with ICANN. In the late 1990s, while working at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, she was a key player in ICANN’s creation.

Khaled Koubaa

Koubaa, a Tunisian, is founder of the Arab World Internet Institute, a non-profit dedicated to improving internet knowledge in the Arab region, and until recently head of Middle-East and North Africa public policy at Google.

He was selected by the NomCom. He is also a former member of NomCom, having sat on it during its 2008/9 session. He’s also been a volunteer adviser to PIR in the past.

Akinori Maemura

Hailing from Japan, Maemura works for IP address registry JPNIC. He was selected for the ICANN board by the Address Supporting Organization.

Until recently, he was chair of the executive council of APNIC, which is responsible for distributing IP addresses in the Asia-Pacific region.

Kaveh Ranjbar

Iranian-born, Netherlands-based Ranjbar is chief information officer of RIPE NCC, the European IP address authority.

He was appointed to the ICANN board by the Root Server System Advisory Committee.

Verisign and Afilias in open war over $135m .web

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2016, Domain Registries

Two of the industry’s oldest and biggest gTLD registries escalated their fight over the .web gTLD auction this week, trading blows in print and in public.

Verisign, accused by Afilias of breaking the rules when it committed $130 million to secure .web for itself, has now turned the tables on its rival.

It accuses Afilias of itself breaking the auction rules and of trying to emotionally blackmail ICANN into reversing the auction on spurious political grounds.

The .web auction was won by obscure shell-company applicant Nu Dot Co with a record-setting $135 million bid back in July.

It quickly emerged, as had been suspected for a few weeks beforehand, that Verisign was footing the bill for the NDC bid.

The plan is that NDC will transfer its .web ICANN contract to Verisign after it is awarded, assuming ICANN consents to the transfer.

Afilias has since revealed that it came second in the auction. It now wants ICANN to overturn the result of the auction, awarding .web to Afilias as runner-up instead.

The company argues that NDC broke the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook rules by refusing to disclose that it had become controlled by Verisign.

It’s now trying to frame the .web debate as ICANN’s “first test of accountability” under the new, independent, post-IANA transition regime.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson posted on CircleID:

If ICANN permits the auction result to stand, it may not only invite further flouting of its rules, it will grant the new TLD with the highest potential to the only entity with a dominant market position. This would diminish competition and consumer choice and directly contradict ICANN’s values and Bylaws.

Given the controversy over ICANN’s independence, all eyes will be on the ICANN board to see if it is focused on doing the right thing. It’s time for the ICANN board to show resolve and to demonstrate that it is a strong, independent body acting according to the letter and spirit of its own AGB and bylaws and, perhaps most importantly of all, to actively demonstrate its commitment to act independently and in the global public interest.

Speaking at the first of ICANN’s two public forum sessions at ICANN 57 in Hyderabad, India this week, Robinson echoed that call, telling the ICANN board:

You are a credible, independent-minded, and respected board who recognized the enhanced scrutiny that goes with the post-transition environment. Indeed, this may well be the first test of your resolve in this new environment. You have the opportunity to deal with the situation by firmly applying your own rules and your own ICANN bylaw-enshrined core value to introduce and promote competition in domain names. We strongly urge you to do so.

Then, after a few months of relative quiet on the subject, Verisign and NDC this week came out swinging.

First, in a joint blog post, the companies rubbished Afilias’ attempt to bring the IANA transition into the debate. They wrote:

Afilias does a great disservice to ICANN and the entire Internet community by attempting to make this issue a referendum on ICANN by entitling its post “ICANN’s First Test of Accountability.” Afilias frames its test for ICANN’s new role as an “independent manager of the Internet’s addressing system,” by asserting that ICANN can only pass this test if it disqualifies NDC and bars Verisign from acquiring rights to the .web new gTLD. In this case, Afilias’ position is based on nothing more than deflection, smoke and cynical self-interest.

Speaking at the public forum in Hyderabad on Wednesday, Verisign senior VP Pat Kane said:

This is not a test for the board. This issue is not a test for the newly empowered community. It is a test of our ability to utilize the processes and the tools that we’ve developed over the past 20 years for dispute resolution.

Verisign instead claims that Afilias’ real motivation could be to force .web to a private auction, where it can be assured an eight-figure payday for losing.

NDC/Verisign won .web at a so-called “last resort” auction, overseen by ICANN, in which the funds raised go into a pool to be used for some yet-to-be-determined public benefit cause.

That robbed rival applicants, including Afilias, of the equal share of the proceeds they would have received had the contention set been settled via the usual private auction process.

But Verisign/NDC, in their post, claim Afilias wants to force .web back to private auction.

Afilias’ allegations of Applicant Guidebook violations by NDC are nothing more than a pretext to conduct a “private” instead of a “public” auction, or to eliminate a competitor for the .web new gTLD and capture it for less than the market price.

Verisign says that NDC was under no obligation to notify ICANN of a change of ownership or control because no change of ownership or control has occurred.

It says the two companies have an “arms-length contract” which saw Verisign pay for the auction and NDC commit to ask ICANN to transfer its .web Registry Agreement to Verisign.

It’s not unlike the deal Donuts had with Rightside, covering over a hundred gTLD applications, Verisign says.

The contract between NDC and Verisign did not assign to Verisign any rights in NDC’s application, nor did Verisign take any ownership or management interest in NDC (let alone control of it). NDC has always been and always will be the owner of its application

Not content with defending itself from allegations of wrongdoing, Verisign/NDC goes on to claim that it is instead Afilias that broke ICANN rules and therefore should have disqualified from the auction.

They allege that Afilias offered NDC a guarantee of a cash payout if it chose to go to private auction instead, and that it attempted to coerce NDC to go to private auction on July 22, which was during a “blackout period” during which bidders were forbidden from discussing bidding strategies.

During the public forum sessions at ICANN 57, ICANN directors refused to comment on statements from either side of the debate.

That’s likely because it’s a matter currently before the courts.

Fellow .web loser Donuts has already sued ICANN in California, claiming the organization failed to adequately investigate rumors that Verisign had taken over NDC.

Donuts failed to secure a restraining order preventing the .web auction from happening, but the lawsuit continues. Most recently, ICANN filed a motion attempting to have the case thrown out.

In my opinion, arguments being spouted by Verisign and Afilias both stretch credulity.

Afilias has yet to present any smoking gun showing Verisign or NDC broke the rules. Likewise, Verisign’s claim that Afilias wants to enrich itself by losing a private auction appear to be unsupported by any evidence.

Get ready for thousands of new two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2016, Domain Policy

New gTLD registry operators have been given the right to start selling two-letter domains that match country codes.

Potentially thousands of names could start being released next year, resulting in a windfall for registries and possible opportunities for investors.

Some governments, however, appear to be unhappy with the move and how ICANN’s board of directors reached its decision.

The ICANN board yesterday passed a resolution that will unblock all two-letter domains that match country codes appearing on the ISO 3166 list, most of which are also ccTLDs.

While the resolution gives some protection to governments worried about abuse of “their” strings, it’s been watered down to virtually nothing.

In the first draft of the rules, published in July, ICANN said registries “must” offer an “Exclusive Availability Pre-registration Period” — a kind of mini-sunrise period limited to governments and ccTLD operators.

In the version approved by ICANN yesterday, the word “must” has been replaced by “may” and the word “voluntary” has been added.

In other words, registries won’t have to give any special privileges to governments when they start selling two-character names.

They will, however, have to get registrants to agree that they won’t pass themselves off as having affiliations with the relevant government. It looks like registries probably could get away with simply adding a paragraph to their terms of service to satisfy this requirement.

Registries will also have to “take reasonable steps to investigate and respond to any reports from governmental agencies and ccTLD operators of conduct that causes confusion with the corresponding country code in connection with the use of a letter/letter two-character ACSCII domain.”

This too is worded vaguely enough that it could wind up being worthless to governments, many of which are worried about domains matching their ccTLDs being passed off as government-approved.

The Governmental Advisory Committee is split on how worrisome this kind of thing is.

For examples, governments such as Spain and Italy have fought for the right to get to pre-approve the release of “es” and “it” domains, whereas the governments of the US and UK really could not care less.

The most-recent formal GAC advice on the subject, coming out of the July meeting in Helsinki, merely said ICANN should:

urge the relevant Registry or the Registrar to engage with the relevant GAC members when a risk is identified in order to come to an agreement on how to manage it or to have a third-party assessment of the situation if the name is already registered

“It is our belief that that our resolution is consistent with GAC advice,” outgoing ICANN board member Bruce Tonkin said yesterday, noting that nobody can claim exclusive rights over any string, regardless of length.

Before and after the resolution passed, the GAC expressed “serious concern” that the board had not formally responded to the Helsinki communique.

In its Hyderabad communique, issued after yesterday’s vote, the GAC advised the board to:

  • Clearly indicate whether the actions taken by the Board as referred to in the resolution adopted on 8 November 2016 are fully consistent with the GAC advice given in the Helsinki Communiqué.
  • Always communicate in future the position of the Board regarding GAC advice on any matter in due time before adopting any measure directly related to that advice.

ICANN staff are now tasked with coming up with a way to implement the two-character release.

My sense is that some kind of amendment to Registry Agreements might be required, so we’re probably looking at months before we start seeing two-letter domains being released.

Ship explosion cost ICANN $700k

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2016, Domain Policy

An explosion on board a cargo ship set ICANN back $700,000, the organization has revealed.

The September 1 blast and subsequent fire, which we blogged about two weeks ago, cause equipment heading to ICANN 57 in Hyderabad to be detained by authorities.

The explosion, at the port in Hamburg, was reportedly caused by a welding accident and nobody was seriously hurt.

Now, in a blog post, ICANN said the cost of replacing the detained gear and shipping it to India was $700,000.

Hyderabad is due to kick off next week.

The ICANN blog post, from CIO Ashwin Rangan, reports that all the equipment required to run the meeting has already arrived safely.

The meeting has also been plagued by widespread reports of difficulties obtaining visas. Many have complained on social media that the process is unnecessarily unpredictable and complicated.

Many of these complaints have come from regular ICANN attendees from North America and Europe, unaccustomed to having to secure visas for international travel.

But the level of complaints has been sufficiently high that ICANN has been talking to Indian government officials about ensuring everyone who wants to attend, can.

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