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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.

ICANN faces first post-transition test of UN power (for real this time)

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2016, Domain Policy

The ICANN community and United Nations agencies are heading for a clash, with governments accused this morning of trying to bypass the ICANN policy-making process.

According to the leader of an ICANN volunteer working group, governments and UN-affilated intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) have circumvented the usual ICANN consensus-building process in order to extract the policies they want directly from the ICANN board of directors and staff.

It’s the first time since the IANA transition, which happened less than a week ago, that governments have been accused of exploiting their special access to the board, and it may become a hot topic at next month’s ICANN 57 meeting in India.

Governments and UN agencies now stand accused of “bypassing the ICANN community” in order to achieve their policy goals.

But the policy being debated is not directly linked to the IANA transition, nor to the thoroughly debunked notion that the UN has taken over ICANN.

Indeed, the issue in question — the permanent protection of IGO acronyms in gTLDs — is almost embarrassingly narrow and predates the announcement of the IANA transition by at least three years, going back to at least 2011.

Basically, the policy questions that look set to cause even more conflict between governments and others are: should IGO acronyms be protected, and if so, how?

IGO acronyms are strings such as WIPO, UNESCO and OECD.

The ICANN board punted this question in May 2014, when it received conflicting advice from the Governmental Advisory Committee and Generic Names Supporting Organization.

Since then, a GNSO Policy Development Process working group has been working on recommendations. It has not yet issued its initial findings, but is close.

Simultaneously and separately, members of ICANN’s board and staff have been quietly talking to a handful of GAC members and IGOs about the same issue in what has become known as the “small group”.

Because it’s small. And a group.

Yesterday, ICANN divulged the consensus of the small group in a letter (pdf) to the leaders of the GNSO Council.

Its recommendations conflict in almost every respect with what the GNSO working group intends to recommend.

The small group wants ICANN to create IGOs-acronyms-only versions of the Trademark Clearinghouse database, Trademark Claims service and UDRP and URS dispute resolution mechanisms — basically “functionally equivalent” mirrors of almost all of the rights protection mechanisms currently only available to trademark owners.

They would be administered at least partially by the GAC and at no cost to the IGOs themselves (presumably meaning ICANN would pick up the tab).

It seems like a disproportionate amount of faff considering the problem ICANN is trying to solve is the vanishingly small possibility that somebody attempts to cybersquat the United Nations Entity For Gender Equality And The Empowerment Of Women (UNWOMEN) or the Postal Union Of The Americas Spain And Portugal (PUASP).

A lot of it is also in direct opposition to what the GNSO WG plans to recommend, according to chair Phil Corwin and the current draft of the WG’s recommendations.

The WG currently plans to recommend that IGOs should be allowed to use the existing URS and UDRP mechanisms to take down or take over domains that use their acronyms in bad faith. It does not currently seem to recommend anything related to Trademark Claims.

A foundational disagreement relates to the status of IGOs under the law. While IGOs in the small group seem to think they are in a special category of entity that is not subject to regular trademark law, the WG hired expert legal counsel that determined the contrary.

Corwin, in his initial response to the small group letter, said that the implications of the debate go beyond how IGO acronyms should be protected.

IGOs carried out a “near boycott” of the GNSO PDP discussions, he wrote, preferring instead to talk to the small group “behind closed doors”. He wrote:

we continually urged members of the GAC, and IGOs, to participate in our WG. That participation was so sporadic that it amounted to a near-boycott, and when IGO representatives did provide any input they stressed that they were speaking solely as individuals and were not providing the official views of the organizations that employed them.

Of course, why should they participate in the GNSO policy processes when they are permitted to pursue their goals in extended closed door discussions with the Board, and when the Board seeks no input from the GNSO in the course of those talks?

He directly linked the timing of the small group report to the expiration last Friday of ICANN’s IANA functions contract with the US Department of Commerce, and suggested that the IGO acronym issue could be a litmus test for how ICANN and governments function together under the new oversight regime.

I note that transmission of the letter has been delayed until after the completion of the IANA transition, and that the post-transition role of governments within ICANN was a central controversy surrounding the transition.

What is at stake in this matter goes far beyond the relatively rare instance in which a domain registrant infringes upon the name or acronym of an IGO and the IGO seeks relief through a CRP [Curative Rights Protection mechanism]. The larger issue is whether, in a post-transition ICANN, the GAC and the UN agencies that comprise a large portion of IGOs, will participate meaningfully in GNSO policy activities, or will seek their policy aims by bypassing the ICANN community and engaging in direct, closed door discussions with the Board.

The financial effects of this seemingly interminable debate on the gTLD industry are probably pretty minor.

Currently, all new gTLDs have temporarily blocked, from launch, all of the IGO acronyms in question. That’s roughly 200 domains per gTLD that could otherwise be sold.

Many of the strings are three, four and five-letter acronyms that could fetch “premium” prices in the open market (though, in my judgement, not much more than a couple hundreds bucks in most cases).

A small number of the acronyms, such as WHO and IDEA, are potentially more valuable.

Off the top of my head and the back of an envelope, I’d put the cost to the industry as a whole of the IGO acronym blocks probably somewhere in the very low millions.

The harms being prevented are also very minor, in my view. With a small handful of exceptions, the IGOs in question are not attractive cybersquatting targets.

But, as is so often the case in ICANN matters, the arguments in this case boil down to matters of law, principle and process much more than practical impact.

Ship explosion takes ICANN gear out of action

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2016, Domain Tech

An explosion and fire aboard a cargo ship has caused hardware destined for the ICANN’s upcoming meeting in Hyderabad to be impounded.

A welding accident caused the explosion aboard the mega container vessel as it was docked in Hamburg, on September 1 according to reports.

The resulting fire took four days for firefighters to put out, according to ICANN.

ICANN had two containers — a 40-footer and 20-footer — on the ship, moving gear from June’s Helsinki meeting to next month’s ICANN 57 in India, ICANN said.

The smaller of the two containers was close to the fire and has been “detained” in Germany where it may not be released for months or years.

It held “printers, remote participation computers, camera kits, digital signage equipment, and all network hardware and wireless equipment, including over 5 miles (8 km) of cabling”, ICANN said in a blog post.

While replacements have been secured for much of the equipment — likely at a cost of many thousands of dollars — some of the gear cannot be replaced in time for Hyderabad.

The main impact of this will be that remote meeting hubs will not be able to broadcast live into the Hyderabad venue, according to ICANN.

On-site participants may also experience slower than expected downloads due to the unavailability of the Akamai content delivery network servers the meetings usually use.

ICANN ships about 100 tonnes of kit to each of its meetings.

ICANN 57 will run from November 3 to November 9 at the International Convention Centre.

ICANN diverts from Puerto Rico to India to avoid Zika

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN has confirmed that its 57th public meeting will not be held, as originally planned, in Puerto Rico.

Instead, it is asking community members to instead head to Hyderabad, India, this November.

Those Las Vegas rumors turned out not to be true. However, on the up-side, those Las Vegas rumors turned out not to be true!

The decision was to relocate made to the a “state of emergency” being declared in Puerto Rico due to the Zika virus.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes and male sexual partners and can cause devastating birth defects in kids.

Latest figures from the US Center for Disease Control put infections in US territories at 701, three of whom were travelers.

ICANN said in a blog post this evening:

This decision was based on available research and information and the fact that Puerto Rico has declared a state of emergency due to the ongoing Zika virus outbreak. We believe that the Zika virus poses a significant enough threat that we need to postpone going to Puerto Rico for the health and safety of our community and our ICANN team, just as we had to postpone ICANN52 and relocate from Marrakech to Singapore due to the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014.

It’s the second of this year’s meetings to be relocated due to Zika. June’s Panama meeting has been moved to Helsinki.

ICANN said that the new venue for ICANN 57, which takes place from November 3 to 9 this year, is the Hyderabad International Convention Centre.

It’s said that ICANN will take a seven-figure hit to its bank balance in order to cancel the PR meeting.