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Beckstrom calls for ICANN’s independence

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom has called for the organization to be allowed to further loosen its ties to the US government.

The two-hour opening ceremony of its 40th public meeting, here in San Francisco this morning, had a heavy focus on ICANN’s relationship with governments, and looked as much to its roots in the Clinton administration as it addressed more immediate concerns internationally.

Beckstrom and others tackled the renewal of the soon-to-expire IANA contract, with which the US grants ICANN many of its powers over the domain name system, head-on.

Beckstrom said some have expressed “a belief that the US government should live up to its 1998 White Paper commitment to transfer management of the IANA functions to the private sector-led organization entrusted to manage the DNS, which is ICANN. ”

That would mean severing one of the most frequently criticized links between ICANN and the USA.

In a press conference later, he confirmed that this is in fact his belief, saying that internet governance is “evolving behind the curve” as internet usage grows internationally.

The US handing the keys to the internet over to ICANN doesn’t appear to be immediately likely, however. But there may be some ways to continue to phase out the US special relationship on a shorter term basis.

Beckstrom took the stage shortly after Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the US Department of Commerce, made some frank criticisms.

While stressing the Obama administration’s commitment to what he called “multistakeholderism” in internet governance, he had a few pointed remarks to make about ICANN’s decision-making process.

He accused the ICANN board of directors of “picking winners and losers” by making decisions in situations where the community has been unable to reach a consensus policy.

He singled out two recent policies where he believes ICANN has failed to sufficiently rationalize its decisions: registry-registrar integration and economic studies into new TLDs.

The criticisms are not new, and many of them may well go away if and when ICANN implements the recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team.

My initial sense is that the fact Strickling was able to speak so frankly and so publicly about the administration’s feelings is an encouraging sign of ICANN’s maturity.

And Beckstrom’s response was equally ballsy, urging ICANN’s supporters to lobby the NTIA for a loosening of US-ICANN ties.

The NTIA’s Notice Of Inquiry regarding IANA, which floats the idea of breaking up the IANA functions and possibly assigning them to three different entities, was released a few weeks ago.

During his address this morning, former ICANN chair Vint Cerf put forth the view that this kind of government procurement contract may be an inappropriate mechanism for overseeing IANA functions:

I believe that that concept of procuring service from ICANN really ought to change to become a cooperative agreement because I believe that format expresses more correctly the relationship between ICANN and the Department of Commerce.

Beckstrom evidently agrees with Cerf. At the press conference, he pointed out that the disadvantage of a procurement contract is that it’s short term, undermining confidence in ICANN.

It also requires ICANN to run the IANA to the benefit of the American people, rather than the international community, he said. This obviously can reinforce the perception in some parts of the world that ICANN has an untenable American bias.

“A cooperative agreement seems more befitting of the relationship the NTIA and ICANN has developed,” he said, noting that this is currently the structure of NTIA’s relationship with VeriSign.

The Number Resource Organization may give a further clue to ICANN’s game plan in this email (pdf) published today, in which the NRO says:

We strongly believe that no government should have a special role in managing, regulating or supervising the IANA functions.

The NRO suggests that ICANN, through these coming negotiations, should advocate for a staged reduction of the level of DoC’s oversight to IANA. This process could possibly involve a transitionfrom a contract to a cooperation agreement, and ultimately arrival at a non-binding arrangement, such as an affirmation of commitments

Beckstrom now wants your help to make this happen. During his keynote, he urged the ICANN community to make its disparate views known to the NTIA, “openly and in writing”.

“This is the chance to add your voice to those determining the fate of the IANA function,” he said. “If your voice is to be heard, you must speak up.”

“When all voices are heard, no single voice can dominate an organization – not even governments. Not even the government that facilitated its creation,” Beckstrom said.

Details about how to respond to the NOI can be found in this PDF.

AusRegistry chalks up third Arabic domain win

AusRegistry International has announced it has been picked to provide the back-end registry for عمان., the Arabic-script internationalized domain name for Oman.

It’s the company’s third IDN ccTLD contract in the region, following on from Qatar’s forthcoming قطر. and the United Arab Emirates’ already-live امارات.

The company’s press release suggests to me that it’s a software/support deal, rather than a full-blown hosted back-end registry solution.

AusRegistry said it will “provide Domain Name Registry Software and supporting services for the establishment of a new Domain Name Registry System”.

It has previously announced back-end deals for ASCII ccTLDs including .qa and .ae, and manages Australia’s .au, which recently passed the two million domains milestone.

The deal with Oman, which AusRegistry said was competitively bid, also encompasses .om, the nation’s regular ccTLD.

While ICANN approved Oman’s chosen string under its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program back in October, it has not yet been delegated to the DNS root zone.

With the approval of Ukraine’s Cyrillic ccTLD last week, 25 territories have had their choice of local-script ccTLD given the nod under the program.

US may break up ICANN powers

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government is considering taking away some of ICANN’s powers.

The Department of Commerce today kicked off the process of reviewing the so-called IANA contract, from which ICANN currently derives its control over the domain name system root zone.

As I predicted yesterday, Commerce has published a Notice of Inquiry in the Federal Register. It wants input from the public before it officially opens the contract for rebidding.

ICANN has operated the IANA functions, often regarded as intrinsic to and inseparable from its mission, for the last decade. But the contract expires September 30 this year.

Significantly, Commerce now wants to know whether the three IANA functions – IP address allocation, protocol number assignments, and DNS root zone management – should be split up.

The NOI says:

The IANA functions have been viewed historically as a set of interdependent technical functions and accordingly performed together by a single entity. In light of technology changes and market developments, should the IANA functions continue to be treated as interdependent? For example, does the coordination of the assignment of technical protocol parameters need to be done by the same entity that administers certain responsibilities associated with root zone management?

I’m speculating here, but assuming ICANN is a shoo-in for the domain names part of the IANA deal, this suggests that Commerce is thinking about breaking out the IP address and protocol pieces and possibly assigning them to a third party.

The NOI also asks for comments about ways to improve the security, stability and reportable metrics of the IANA functions, and whether relationships with other entities such as regional internet registries and the IETF should be baked into the contract.

The timing of the announcement is, as I noted yesterday, interesting. It could be a coincidence, coming almost exactly five years after the IANA contract last came up for review.

But ICANN’s board of directors and its Governmental Advisory Committee will meet in Brussels on Monday to figure out where they agree and disagree on the new top-level domains program.

While it’s an ICANN-GAC meeting, the US has taken a prominent lead in drafting the GAC’s position papers, tempered somewhat, I suspect, by other governments, and will take a key role in next week’s talks.

Hat tip: @RodBeckstrom.

IANA contract up for rebid this week?

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2011, Domain Policy

As ICANN’s leadership heads off to Brussels to kick off two days of unprecedented talks about new top-level domains with international governments, one nation has an ace up its sleeve.

The US government could be just a day or two away from putting the IANA contract, from which ICANN derives much of its power over domain names, up for public discussion and rebidding.

It’s a matter of record that the IANA contract expires at the end of September, and that it will have to be renewed this year if ICANN wants to continue functioning as it is today.

But could the rebid process kick off as early as this week? It seems likely. The timing is right, especially if the US wants to make a statement.

It was February 21, 2006, five years ago this week, that the US Department of Commerce put out a “Request For Information” that led to the current five-year IANA deal with ICANN being signed.

No new RFI has been released yet. But Commerce could choose to pull rank, putting pressure on ICANN to recognize its authority, by issuing such a document this week.

There’s also the possibility that Commerce will issue not an RFI but instead a “Notice Of Inquiry”, a different type of public procurement procedure notice that would kick off not just a rebidding process but a whole lot of public argument about ICANN’s role in internet governance.

Over the years, it has not been unheard of for the US government to occasionally remind ICANN that it has a special relationship with it, particularly before important governance decisions are made.

Most recently, shortly before the ICANN meeting in Cartagena last December, Larry Strickling, assistant secretary at Commerce, warned that the new TLDs program wasn’t shaping up quite how the US expected.

Next week, Commerce’s Suzanne Sene is one of several Governmental Advisory Committee representatives expected to take a lead role in the ICANN-GAC negotiations.

One way or the other, the IANA contract is up for renewal this year, and the process may soon start that could see the function, hypothetically at least, change hands this September.

IANA, for Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, is responsible for the high-level management of IP address allocations, protocol numbers, and top-level domains.

If a gTLD or ccTLD wants to make a change to its DNS records it has to go to IANA, in much the same way as domain owners such as you and me have to go to our registrar.

IANA decides whether to redelegate a ccTLD to a new registry, for example. When .co liberalized recently, it only did so after IANA approved the transfer of the domain to .CO Internet from a Bogota university.

It’s also responsible for making the call on adding new TLDs to the root. Assigning the IANA function to an entity other than ICANN could, for example, add latency to the go-live date of new TLDs.

For the last decade, IANA has been pretty much an ICANN in-house department. It’s not at all clear to me what would happen if IANA was contracted to a third party, especially one that disagreed with ICANN’s decisions.

Both the European Commission and the Internet Architecture Board have recently indicated that they believe the IANA-ICANN relationship could be due a rethink, as Milton Mueller of the Internet Governance Project noted last summer.

IPv4 addresses to run out Thursday

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2011, Domain Tech

ICANN will announce the final depletion of its pool of IPv4 addresses this Thursday.

The Number Resource Organization will hold a “ceremony and press conference to make a significant announcement and to discuss the global transition to the next generation of Internet addresses”.

The NRO is ICANN’s supporting organization representing Regional Internet Registries, the outfits responsible for handing out IP addresses to network operators.

ICANN, the Internet Society and the Internet Architecture Board will also participate in the event, scheduled for Thursday February 3 at 1430 UTC. It will be webcast here.

Today, APNIC, the Asia-Pacific RIR, said that it has been assigned two /8 blocks of addresses, meaning IANA is down to its Final Five chunks.

Thursday’s ceremony will presumably entail ICANN/IANA officially handing out these last five blocks to the five RIRs, one each, as called for by its allocation policy.

After that, it’s all gone. No more IPv4. The age of IPv6 is upon us.

It is currently estimated that the RIRs will themselves run out of IPv4 in September. After that, if they need IP addresses they’ll receive IPv6.

IPv4 is rapidly becoming a scarce commodity.

Many people, including ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, have predicted a “gray market” for addresses to appear, with address blocks changing hands for less than the cost of upgrading to IPv6.

The focus on Thursday, however, will be all about the measures network operators need to implement in order to remain viable on an internet increasingly running IPv6 equipment.

Three new ccTLDs (including .sx) up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2011, Domain Registries

IANA quietly created three new country-code top-level domains shortly before Christmas, to represent the new nations created by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles last year.

The new ccTLDs are: .bq for Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba, .cw for Curacao and .sx for Sint Maarten (Dutch part). All three appeared in IANA’s database December 20.

None of the strings are currently delegated. The governments of the respective nations will have to apply to IANA if they want to start using their TLDs on the internet.

The days of chancers moving in to colonize island ccTLDs (eg .nu) may have passed, but there are still opportunities for domain name businesses to make a buck here.

The most recent new ccTLD, .me, was assigned to Montenegro in 2007. The registry’s partners include Go Daddy and Afilias.

I’m sure overseas domain name companies are already sniffing around the newly minted countries.

But these nations are small, and they don’t seem to have lucked out by being assigned strings with much secondary semantic value, so I can’t imagine we’re looking at high-volume TLDs.

Sint Maarten’s .sx may be an exception, due to its resemblance to “.sex”, which is quite likely, I think, to be created as a gTLD under ICANN’s upcoming new TLDs program.

If and when .sx is delegated, the country will have to bear this potential for confusion in mind when it’s designing its registration policies.

Will it want to keep its national brand respectable, or will it cash in on possible future typosquatting?

The Netherlands Antilles officially split in October. It took about three months for the three strings to be added to the ISO 3166 list (pdf), and another week for IANA to add the ccTLDs to its database.

The string AN, for the dissolved country, has also been deleted from the 3166 list. What happens to .an the ccTLD is a whole other story.

ICANN told to ban .bank or get sued

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2010, Domain Registries

A major financial services lobby group has threatened to sue ICANN unless it puts strict limitations on “.bank” top-level domains.

BITS, the technology policy arm of the Financial Services Roundtable, said financial domains should be banned from the first round of new TLDs, until rules governing security are developed.

In a November 4 letter to ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom, BITS said:

If these critical issues are not fully resolved and ICANN chooses not to defer financial TLD delegation, BITS, its members and its partners are prepared to employ all available legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial mechanisms.

BITS counts all the major US banks among its membership, as well as many large insurance companies and share-trading services.

The organization is concerned that TLDs such as .bank could lead to consumer confusion and an increase in fraud online if delegated into the wrong hands.

While BITS said that it “prefer[s] a prudent solution”, it has threatened to file “legal complaints in one or more jurisdictions” and to lobby the US Congress for legislation.

It noted that ICANN’s IANA contract, which gives it the power to create new TLDs, expires next August, and said that it may lobby Congress for legislation mandating better security as a condition of the renewal.

BITS and other financial groups have already written to members of Congress, in September, expressing disappointment with the absence of a high-security TLD policy from ICANN and adding:

In recognition of the need for higher levels of security and stability in financial services gTLDs than in gTLDs generally, we urge you to support inclusion of language in cyber security legislation language that prevents ICANN from adding financial services gTLDs to the root zone unless the IANA contract specifies higher levels of security for such gTLDs.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the US government body responsible for insuring banks, has also written to the Department of Commerce, expressing its concerns about the possible introduction of a .bank TLD.

Currently, I’m not aware of any public initiative to apply for .bank, but it’s possible that restrictions on financial services TLDs could capture the recently launched German “.insurance” project.

The BITS correspondence was published (pdf) as an attachment to an ongoing Reconsideration Request lodged by Michael Palage, chair of the High Security Top Level Domain Verification Program Advisory Group.

The HSTLD group has been working on a set of technological policy specifications for registries managing high-security TLDs.

Palage is annoyed that ICANN’s board seems to have distanced itself from the HSTLD concept before the group has even finished its work, by resolving in September that:

ICANN will not endorse or govern the program, and does not wish to be liable for issues arising from the use or non-use of the standard.

The HSTLD group, by contrast, has a “clear majority in support of ICANN retaining a continued oversight role”, according to Palage. He wrote:

The ICANN Board’s unilateral actions also have a chilling effect on future bottom up consensus efforts because participants have no basis to know when the ICANN Board will take such unilateral actions in the future.

He’s not alone in worrying about recent top-level ICANN decisions that appear to put corporate legal liability ahead of the wishes of the community. I reported on the issue last week.

IPv4 depletion “imminent”

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2010, Domain Policy

The pool of IPv4 address space available to regional internet registries will likely expire in “early 2011”, according to the Number Resource Organization.

ICANN/IANA said today that it has allocated two more /8 blocks of IPv4, approximately 33.5 million addresses, to APNIC, the Asia-Pacific RIR.

This means there are only 12 /8 blocks left, about 5% of the total allowable addresses under IPv4.

Under IANA’s rules, the final five /8s will all be allocated at the same time, one to each of the five RIRs. So there are only seven left to be handed out under the normal process.

The NRO followed up ICANN’s blog post with a press release stressing the importance of adopting IPv6. From the release (my emphasis):

“This is a major milestone in the life of the Internet, and means that allocation of the last blocks of IPv4 to the RIRs is imminent,” states Axel Pawlik, Chairman of the Number Resource Organization (NRO), the official representative of the five RIRs. “It is critical that all Internet stakeholders take definitive action now to ensure the timely adoption of IPv6.”

According to current depletion rates, the last five IPv4 address blocks will be allocated to the RIRs in early 2011. The pressure to adopt IPv6 is mounting. Many worry that without adequate preparation and action, there will be a chaotic scramble for IPv6, which could increase Internet costs and threaten the stability and security of the global network.

There’s a danger that things could start getting messy over the next couple of years, as the RIRs themselves start running out of IPv4 and network managers worldwide start discovering their IPv6 capabilities are not up to scratch.

Will the internet get two new ccTLDs (and lose one)?

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2010, Domain Registries

One country dropped off the map on Sunday, and two new countries were created. So does this mean we’re going to get two new country-code top-level domains?

The islands of Curacao and St. Maarten have reportedly become autonomous countries, after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, a collection of former Dutch colonies off north-east coast of Venezuela.

The reorganization sees a number of other islands join the Netherlands as municipalities, while Curacao and St. Maarten become countries in the own right, albeit still tied politically tied to the motherland.

It seems quite possible that these two islands will now get their own ccTLDs, for two reasons.

First, both states are now reportedly as autonomous as fellow former Dutch Antilles territory Aruba, if not more so. Aruba acquired this status in 1986 and had .aw delegated to it by IANA in 1996.

Second, St Maarten shares a landmass with St Martin, a former French colony. The French northern side of the island is already entitled to its own ccTLD, .mf, although the domain has never been delegated.

ICANN/IANA does not make the call on what is and isn’t considered a nation for ccTLD purposes. Rather, it defers to the International Standards Organization, and a list of strings called ISO 3166-2.

The ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency in turn defers to the UN’s Statistics Division and its “Countries or areas, codes and abbreviations” list, which can be found here.

How long a new ccTLD delegation takes can vary wildly.

Montenegro, for example, declared its independence on June 3, 2006. It was added to the ISO 3166 list on September 26 that year, applied for a ccTLD on December 24, and received its delegation of .me following an ICANN board vote on September 11, 2007.

Finland’s Aland Islands got .ax less than six months after applying in 2006. North Korea, by contrast, received .kp on the same day as Montenegro got .me, but had first applied in 2004.

IANA treats the deletion of a ccTLD much more cautiously, due to the fact that some TLDs could have many second-level registrations already.

The removal of the former Yugoslavian domain, .yu, was subject to a three-year transition process under the supervision of the new .rs registry.

The Dutch Antilles has its own ccTLD, .an, which is in use and delegated to University of The Netherlands Antilles, based in Curacao.

Will we see a gradual phasing-out of .an, in favor of two new ccTLDs?

Top-level domain count likely to top 300 this year

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Perusing the big stack of marketing literature that I picked up at ICANN Brussels in June, I noticed that few companies agree about how many top-level domains currently exist.

Mildly surprising really, given that the official count isn’t especially difficult to come by. According to IANA’s database, there are 292 delegated TLDs today.

That number breaks down like this:

251 ASCII ccTLDs
9 IDN ccTLDs
4 gTLDs
3 “restricted” gTLDs
1 “infrastructure” TLD
13 “sponsored” gTLDs
11 test IDN TLDs

Interestingly, according to IANA, there are only four vanilla, open gTLDs – .com, .net, .org and .info.

I wonder how many sites NeuStar has shut down because .biz is “restricted” to business users? Or how many .mobi domains have been put on hold for breaking the “sponsored” guidelines.

The list does not yet count the six IDN ccTLDs that ICANN’s board approved August 5. So there are actually 298 approved top-level domains today.

In the IDN ccTLD pipeline as of Brussels were also Qatar, Singapore and Syria, which had met string approval but were not yet delegated, and about 15 others that had not.

There are two (or three) more voting meetings for ICANN’s board this year, and so it seems likely that the delegated TLD count will break through the 300 mark before 2011.