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Community proposes way to replace US oversight of ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2014, Domain Policy

The process of removing the US government from management of the DNS root system took a significant step forward today, with the publication of a community proposal for a transition.

The Cross Community Working Group, which convened itself earlier this year, has published a proposal to replace the US with a new contracting company and a bunch of committees.

The DNS community has been tasked with coming up with a way to transition stewardship of the IANA functions from the US National Telecommunications and Information administration, which said in March this year that it intends to relinquish its historic, but largely symbolic, Damoclean role.

After discussions which by any measure of ICANN policy-making have been forcibly swift, the 119-member CWG has now presented two broad options.

The first, a description of which forms the bulk of its report, would see ICANN overseen by a new, lightweight non-profit company managed by multi-stakeholder committees.

The other, which doesn’t get much airplay in the document, would see ICANN simply take over the NTIA’s responsibilities entirely. Accountability would be provided by enhanced accountability processes within the existing ICANN structure.

Under the primary proposal, the CWG was keen to avoid creating something ICANN-like to oversee ICANN, due to the complexity and cost, but it also decided that ICANN remains the best place to house the IANA function for the foreseeable future.

It’s proposed a new company, known currently as “Contract Co”, that would be replace the NTIA as the party that contracts with ICANN to run IANA. It would have “little or no staff”.

The contract itself would be developed and overseen by a Multistakeholder Review Team, comprising people drawn from each area of the ICANN community.

The precise make-up of this MRT is still open to discussion and will be, I suspect, the subject of some pretty fierce debate as the various competing interest groups wrestle to have themselves with the strongest possible representation.

Like the NTIA, the MRT would have the power to pick another entity to run IANA in future, should ICANN screw up.

A new Customer Standing Panel would comprise executives from gTLD and ccTLD registries — the “customers” of IANA’s naming functions — and would have the job of relaying the concerns of registries to the MRT, keeping ICANN accountable to its primary users.

Finally, there’d be an Independent Appeals Panel. Any IANA decision — presumably including the delegation or redelegation of a TLD — could be appealed to this IAP. This function would very probably be outsourced on a case-by-case basis to an existing arbitration body.

Is this worrying? Arbitration panels handling new gTLD disputes haven’t exactly inspired confidence in their ability to provide consistent — or even rational — decisions over the last year or so. Should the last word on what goes into or stays out of the DNS root really go to the same folk who think .通販 and .shop are too confusingly similar to coexist on the internet?

There doesn’t appear to be anything massively surprising in the proposal. When ICANN or its community try to solve a problem the answer is usually a new committee, and the ideas of MRTs, CSPs and IAPs do seem to mirror existing structures to an extent.

The whole thing can be downloaded and read over here.

There’s a December 22 deadline for comment. It will be submitted to the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group by the end of January, with a view to getting a final proposal to the US government next summer in time for the hoped-for September 30 handover date.

ccTLD anger over IANA group “capture”

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2014, Domain Policy

Operators of dozens of ccTLDs are said to be furious that they don’t have representation on the group coordinating the transition of the IANA functions from US oversight.

The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has been “captured” by members of ICANN’s country-code Names Supporting Organization, which does not represent all ccTLDs, according to ccTLD sources.

While the ccNSO is the official body representing ccTLDs within ICANN, many refuse to participate.

Some registries fear that signing up to ICANN and its rules may one day lead to them losing their delegations, while others have sovereignty or liability concerns.

It is believed that while 151 ccTLDs participate in the ccNSO, 104 do not.

None of these 104 are represented on the new ICG, which met for the first time to draft a charter in London last Thursday and Friday.

The ICG is tasked with holding the pen when the community writes a proposal for replacing the US government in the management of the DNS root zone and other IANA functions.

The ccTLD community was given four seats on the ICG, out of a total of 27. All four seats were taken by ccNSO members, picked by a five-person selection committee that included one non-ccNSO member.

I gather that about 20 non-ccNSO ccTLDs are up in arms about this state of affairs, which they believe has seen them “proactively excluded” from the ICG.

Some concerns originate from operators of ccTLDs for dependent territories that may face the risk of being taken over by governments in future.

Because IANA manages the DNS root zone, the transition process may ultimately impact ccTLD redelegations.

But the loudest voice, one of only two speaking on the record so far, is India’s government-established National Internet Exchange of India, which runs .in.

Dr Govind (apparently he doesn’t use his first name), CEO of NIXI, said in a statement last week:

Clearly the process has already been captured by a subset of the ccTLD community. The selection process controlled by the ccNSO resulted in all four seats being assigned to their members. A significant section of the ccTLD Registry operator community do not share the objectives of the ccNSO membership are now excluded from the process.

Balazs Martos, registry manager of Hungary’s .hu, added:

I am very concerned that the ccNSO seem to feel they speak for the whole ccTLD Community when dealing with every IANA matter. They do not, .HU is an IANA service user, but we are not a member of the ccNSO.

The joint statement also raises concerns about “cultural diversity”, which seems like a cheap move played from a position in the deck close to the race card.

The ccTLD representation on the ICG comprises the UK, New Zealand, China and Nigeria.

The chair of the ccNSO, .ca’s Byron Holland, has stated that the way the these four were selected from the 12 candidates (two of whom were non-ccNSO) was a “very difficult task”.

The selection committee had to consider factors such as geography, registry size, candidate expertise and available time, governance structure and business model, Holland said.

Blogging last week, addressing Govind’s concerns if not directly acknowledging them, he wrote:

Given the criteria we had to balance, there were no ‘reserved’ seats for any one group. The fact is four seats only allowed us to ensure some – not all – of the criteria were met. The discussion was difficult and the outcome was not unanimous. We did, however, reach consensus. In paring this list down to the final four, we balanced the selection criteria – balance being the keyword here. Geographic diversity is a good example of this – while there are five ICANN-defined geographic regions, we only had four seats on the Coordination Committee.

Did we meet the all of the criteria set out at the beginning of the process? No, but given the constraints we were facing – four seats to represent a community as large and diverse as ccTLDs – I have no hesitation in endorsing each of them for their ability to be representative of the global ccTLD community – both ccNSO members and non-members – effectively.

Unanimous support for new ICANN appeals process

Kevin Murphy, June 30, 2014, Domain Policy

The Generic Names Supporting Organization has issued an “unprecedented” statement of “unanimous” support for a new way for ICANN community members to appeal ICANN decisions.

All seven constituency groups signed onto a statement that was read by representatives of registries, non-commercial users and intellectual property interests at the ICANN 50 public forum last week.

“It only took us 50 meetings, but I think the rarity of what you’re witnessing this afternoon sends a very strong message about our views,” the Registries Stakeholder Group’s Keith Drazek said.

This is the meat of the demand:

The entire GNSO joins together today calling for the Board to support community creation of an independent accountability mechanism that provides meaningful review and adequate redress for those harmed by ICANN action or inaction in contravention of an agreed upon compact with the community.

Rafik Dammak of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency added that the creation of such a mechanism is “a necessary and integral element of the IANA stewardship transition.”

“The Board’s decisions must be open to challenge and the Board cannot be in a position of reviewing and certifying its own decisions,” he said.

“We need an independent accountability structure that holds the ICANN Board, Staff, and various stakeholder groups accountable under ICANN’s governing documents, serves as an ultimate review of Board/Staff decisions,” said Kristina Rosette of the Intellectual Property Constituency.

What they’re basically looking for is a third way to appeal ICANN decisions beyond the existing Independent Review Process and Request for Reconsideration mechanisms.

IRP is considered too time-consuming and expensive for anyone other than well-funded commercial stakeholders. It cost ICM Registry millions in legal fees to win its IRP in 2010.

RfR, meanwhile, sees the ICANN board review its own decisions, and is only successful (in 15 years it’s only happened once, a week ago) when a requester can bring new evidence to the table.

What the GNSO seems to be looking for is a third way — independent review of ICANN decisions that doesn’t cost a bomb and can be used to reexamine decisions on the merits.

In many ways the demand represents the low-hanging fruit of the amorphous “accountability” discussion that took place at length at the London meeting last week.

ICANN accountability is being examined simultaneously with the proposed transition of the IANA stewardship functions from the US Department of Commerce to a yet-undefined mechanism.

There seems to be broad community consensus that the transition should be linked to improvements in accountability.

During the “constituency day” sessions on Tuesday, during which the ICANN board visits in turn with each GNSO constituency, accountability was the theme common to each and every session.

Time and again, CEO Fadi Chehade pushed the constituency he was addressing to provide some specifics.

“What is accountability and how accountable are we today?” he asked the RySG. “Who are we accountable to for what? We need to get precise before you ask us to answer a question that says when you finish accountability, then you can move to the transition.”

The GNSO statement two days later, which still needs fleshing out with details, appears to be the first step toward providing the precision Chehade wants.

Chehade said multiple times that the accountability review and the IANA transition discussions are “interrelated” but not “interdependent.”

If one were dependent on the other, it would be easier for opponents to stonewall the IANA transition by delaying the accountability review, he said.

“There are people in this community would like the transition from the US government to never happen,” he told the RySG. “They won’t admit it, but there are several, in this room even, who want this to never happen.”

He later told the NCUC that these bogeymen were “not in this room”, highlighting perhaps his belief that one or more gTLD registries is preparing to throw a spanner in the works.

Suspicion immediately fell on Verisign, forcing Drazek to issue a separate statement at the public forum on Thursday denying that the company (his employer) opposes the transition:

VeriSign supports NTIA’s March 14th, 2014 announcement. VeriSign supports NTIA’s four key principles. VeriSign Supports the bottom-up multistakeholder process that is now under way and that we have already been very much engaged. VeriSign supports the target date of September 2015 for transition. We support these things provided the multistakeholder community recommendations for ICANN’s accountability reforms are accepted by NTIA before the final transition, and sufficiently implemented by ICANN subject to measurable deliverables.

It’s not much of a denial, really, more of a clarification of where Verisign stands and confirmation that it wants, as Chehade alluded to, accountability reform prior to the IANA transition.

In my view, accountability is the more important of these two threads.

The Department of Commerce doesn’t actually do much in terms of its hands-on role as steward of the IANA functions as they related to domain names. It merely checks that ICANN’s proper procedures have been followed before signing off on DNS root zone changes.

If sanity prevails in the ICANN community’s transition discussions (and I have no reason to believe it will) whatever replaces the US should be similarly mute and invisible.

However, Commerce’s arguably more important role has been to act as a constant Sword of Damocles, a threat that ICANN could lose its IANA powers if it goes rogue and starts acting (in the US government’s view) against the best interests of the internet community.

That’s a very crude accountability mechanism.

What ICANN needs in future is not a direct replacement of that existential threat, but a mechanism of accessible, independent third-party review that will give the ICANN community and internet users everywhere confidence that ICANN isn’t a loose cannon with its hand on the internet’s tiller.

London meeting already ICANN’s second-biggest

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2014, Domain Policy

Over 2,200 people have already registered for ICANN 50, which kicks off this coming weekend in London.

According to ICANN, that puts the upcoming meeting second only to last year’s one in Beijing, which had 3,141 pre-registrations and 2,532 eventual attendees.

London’s a pretty convenient “hub” city to fly to, but I suspect a lot of the interest might be related to the IANA transition process, which has put a new spotlight on ICANN in recent months.

ICANN has already laid on overflow viewing rooms for discussions related to the IANA topic.

The meeting officially starts with the welcome ceremony on Monday, but the work begins as usual on Saturday, when the various constituencies gather to decide what they want to moan about this time.

As usual, you don’t have to actually be in London to “attend” the meeting — there’s a full schedule of remote participation opportunities if your diary, bandwidth and time zone permits.

It’s a packed schedule as usual, and it could look overwhelming to a newbie.

A good trick is to simply follow the board of directors around on the Tuesday, when it invites each constituency into the room in turn for some passive-aggressive feedback sessions.

You’ll get a relatively concise breakdown of the top three or four issues on the mind of ICANN participants in that way, but probably not a great deal of insight into the board’s thought process.

The public forum on Thursday is also a highlight. Anyone can take to the mic to say or ask anything (relevant) they please. Comments and questions can also be submitted remotely.

For ICANN 50 the forum has actually been shortened to two hours to accommodate discussions of the IANA process, causing some in the community to question whether ICANN is trying to stifle the crazy.

US House passes anti-ICANN bill

Kevin Murphy, May 27, 2014, Domain Policy

The US House of Representatives has passed the DOTCOM Act, which would prevent the Department of Commerce from walking away from its oversight of the DNS root zone.

The bill was approved as an amendment to a defense authorization act, with a 245-177 vote that reportedly saw 17 Democrats vote in line with their Republican opponents.

The DOTCOM Act has nothing whatsoever to do with .com. Rather, it’s a response to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s plan to relinquish its role in root zone management.

The bill as passed (pdf) would prevent NTIA from agreeing to any multistakeholder community-created IANA transition proposal until the Government Accountability Office had issued a study on the proposal.

The GAO would have one year from the point ICANN submits the proposal to come up with this report.

That means that if ICANN and NTIA want to stick to their September 2015 target date for the transition, either the ICANN community would need to produce a proposal at unprecedented and unlikely speed or the GAO would need to take substantially less than a year to write its report.

I don’t think it’s an impossible target, but it’s certainly looking more likely that NTIA will have to exercise one of the two-year automatic renewal options in the current IANA contract.

That’s all assuming that a matching bill passes through the Democrat-controlled Senate and then receives a presidential signature, of course, which is not a certainty.

Assuming a bloc vote by the 47 Republican Senators, only four Democrats (or independents) would need to switch sides in order for the DOTCOM Act to become, barring an unlikely presidential veto, law.

To the best of my knowledge there is not currently a matching bill in the Senate.