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Governments split on IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, March 7, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is unlikely to provide its full backing to accountability proposals supporting the IANA transition.

In meetings at ICANN 55 in Marrkech over the weekend, a handful of GAC delegates publicly stated that they would block consensus over concerns the proposals reduce government power in ICANN.

The most vocal opposition came from Brazil, but it was backed up by the countries including Peru and Russia.

The proposals currently up for debate would make it harder for the ICANN board to disagree with consensus GAC advice, but it clarifies that non-consensus advice does not carry the same weight.

Currently, the ICANN board can reject GAC advice by a simple majority vote, but doing so kick-starts a bilateral negotiation process where the board and GAC have to try to resolve their differences.

The new accountability proposals would raise the threshold to 60% of the board, and the negotiations would only have to take place if the advice carried the full consensus of the GAC.

Under the GAC’s current operating rules, consensus means no one government formally objected to the advice. The accountability proposals would enshrine that definition in the ICANN bylaws.

The proposal was drafted like this to handle what is known as “Stress Test 18” — a scenario in which the GAC switched its decision-making mechanism to a simple majority vote, enabling it to more easily issue potentially more extreme advice.

Brazil finds the whole idea of Stress Test 18 “insulting”. Its delegate told the GAC yesterday:

We consider Stress Test 18 unacceptable. We have said this from the beginning. We think this contaminates the full proposal. I think there are many positive aspects in the proposal coming forward that we could accept, that we could support… I think this compounds a very ugly picture in which it is very clear that the real intent was to circumvent the possibility of governments having meaningful participation unless there is full consensus among its members.

Brazil was one of nine governments to put its name to a letter (pdf) last month criticizing the post-transition accountability proposals.

The letter points out that the current definition of GAC consensus would allow a single government to block consensus, even in the face of overwhelming support from other governments, simply by formally objecting.

This could lead to GAC “paralysis”, the letter stated.

Indeed, we saw something like this a couple of years ago when the US blocked GAC advice against the .amazon gTLD, before eventually withdrawing its objection.

Once it became clear yesterday that the GAC might not be able to provide full consensus on the accountability proposals, some GAC delegates worried aloud about what kind of message that would send to the rest of the world.

The proposals are inextricably linked to the IANA transition, which would see ICANN management of the DNS root zone become independent from US government oversight for the first time.

Some on the hard right of US politics, such as presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, are convinced that the transition will allow China to start censoring the internet.

First new gTLD deleted from the net

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2016, Domain Registries

.doosan today became the first new gTLD to be removed from the domain name system.

It’s no longer showing up in the DNS root zone file, and IANA’s record lists it as “retired”.

.doosan was a dot-brand managed by Korean conglomerate Doosan Group. The company never did anything with it before deciding to kill the TLD off last September.

A month ago, ICANN used the pending deletion to test its Emergency Back-End Registry Operator safety net.

If memory serves, it’s the only gTLD to be ever be removed from the root zone, excluding test internationalized TLDs previously operated by ICANN.

ccTLDs are removed somewhat regularly, when international borders are redrawn.

Cruz says Chehade is in China’s pocket

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2016, Domain Policy

Terrifying US presidential candidate Ted Cruz has told outgoing ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade to recuse himself from crucial decisions, claiming Chehade is conflicted.

Republican Cruz yesterday said that Chehade can’t be trusted to make decisions related to the IANA transition because he’s already signed up to a Chinese internet governance committee.

Chehade said in December that he’s become co-chair of an advisory committee of the World Internet Conference.

Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, it’s a China-led talking shop that has been criticized for pushing China’s agenda of limiting free speech and promoting governmental control over the internet.

Cruz quizzed Chehade about his involvement in a letter earlier this month, basically fishing for evidence that Chehade was in some way conflicted.

In response (pdf), Chehade said he wasn’t being paid for the committee role, but that his travel expenses would probably be picked up.

Aha! Cruz seized on that admission, writing yesterday:

Travel compensation from the Chinese government can be a form of personal conflict of interest, which could impair Chehade’s ability to act impartially and in the best interest of the [US] government when performing under the [IANA] contract. As such, Chehade should recuse himself from all ICANN decisions that could impact the Chinese government, which include all negotiations and discussions pertaining to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition.

Chehade, who says he only joined the committee in order to promote the notion of multi-stakeholder internet governance, makes $900,000 a year at ICANN in salary and bonuses.

With pay so criminally low, it’s easy to see how he could be tempted to subvert his principles for any foreign government who offered him a free business-class flight and a few nights in a swanky Beijing hotel.

He has kids to feed and clothe, after all.

Cruz, on the other hand, has raised a mere $54 million in campaign contributions over the last five years, and not a single dollar of that will influence his political positions in any way whatsoever.

Ted Cruz slams Chehade over Chinese “conflict”

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2016, Domain Policy

US presidential hopeful Ted Cruz has taken time out of his busy primaries schedule to lay into ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade over his new job on a Chinese policy panel.

Cruz said in a letter to Chehade that China is known for its terrible track record on freedom of speech, and wondered aloud whether Chehade’s involvement in the panel constituted a conflict of interest.

Chehade said in December that he’d joined, as co-chair, an advisory committee of the World Internet Conference.

Also known as the Wuzhen Summit, the WIC is an annual conference organized by the Chinese government in order to push its agenda of national sovereignty over the internet.

The conference, apparently regarded as a bit of a joke even in China, actually has little international participation from government leaders.

It’s also been criticized by Reporters Without Borders, which called for a boycott of the 2015 conference after some Western news outlets were barred from attending.

While Chehade stressed that his involvement is in a personal capacity, that his panel is not due to meet until mid-2016 (after he will have left ICANN), and that he remains committed to ICANN’s “one internet” mantra, Cruz doesn’t believe him.

Cruz said in his letter (pdf) that he was “surprised and dismayed” to learn of Chehade’s involvement in Wuzhen, writing:

your participation as a co-chair of the committee raised concerns about a personal conflict of interest while you serve as the Chief Executive Officer of ICANN under contract with the United States Government.

Cruz poses nine key questions that appear to be designed to get Chehade to admit that his conduct in some way represents a conflict of interest, or that he’s a loose cannon operating without the approval of his board of directors.

He wants to know whether, for example, Wuzhen has already discussed the IANA transition, which will see the US government sever formal oversight of the DNS root zone later this year.

It’s a view common to US Republican politicians, of which Cruz is one, that the transition will open the door to China, Russia and other boogeymen to initiate a crackdown on free speech, which has always seemed a little far-fetched.

Cruz is currently considered one of the front-runners for the Republican nomination in the presidential race, following his victory over Donald Trump in Iowa this week.

His letter, which demands answers before February 19, was also signed by fellow Republican senators James Lankford and Michael Lee.

Chehade is due to leave ICANN at the end of March.

ICANN reveals $1m of not-lobbying lobbying expenses

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has revealed how much it has spent so far on a few controversial professional services firms that have been accused of “lobbying” the US government on behalf of the organization.

It said today that between July 2015 and September 2015 it spent $1,070,438 on six companies providing “Education/Engagement” services related to the transition of IANA from US government oversight.

Two of the payees are consulting firms run by former high-level US officials.

One is Albright Stonebridge Group LLC, founded by Clinton-era secretary of state Madeleine Albright.

The other is Rice Hadley Gates LLC, which counts W-era officials Condoleeza Rice, Stephen Rice and Robert Gates as its principles.

The $1 million figure also includes payouts to PR firm Edelman, which has been working with ICANN for as long as I can remember, a video production company, and two other consultants.

It’s substantially less than the $2.4 million spend estimated by Kieren McCarthy, whose public-forum questions at the last two ICANN meetings and subsequent The Register article seem to be responsible for the latest disclosures.

McCarthy, in heated public clashes with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade, had argued that these payouts were essentially “lobbying” expenses that had not been disclosed because they fall into a “loophole” in US regulations that require lobbyists to disclose their clients.

ICANN said it spent $765,829 on external lobbying services — both related to the IANA transition and not — over the same period.

Its in-house lobbyist, James Hedlund, has separately disclosed a spend of $890,000 over the period.

McCarthy had argued that ICANN was trying to hide the true extent of its lobbying, because it’s trying to make a case with US authorities for ICANN the organization that is at odds with what the community-led IANA transition process is trying to achieve.

Today’s disclosures show that ICANN spent $4,809,949 — almost half of its transition-related professional services spend — on the two law firms that have been advising the two volunteer groups developing the IANA transition proposals.

It spent a more modest $1,150,213 on its own legal advisers, Jones Day.