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ICANN finally addresses Net 4 India meltdown, but mysteries remain

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2020, Domain Registrars

ICANN today made an effort to publicly address the hundreds of complaints that have recently been made about Net 4 India, India’s largest registrar, which has been in insolvency proceedings for over three years and recently started losing its customers’ domains.

In a lengthy blog post, ICANN confirmed that it received roughly 300 complaints about Net4 in August and September, when India was in coronavirus lockdown and the registrar’s customer service department was unable to cope with demand.

Many customers reported on social media and elsewhere that domains were expiring and transfers to third-party registrars were not possible.

ICANN said it had received over 400 complaints since it filed its first notice of suspension against Net4, which came about after ICANN learned of the insolvency proceedings, in June 2019. It says 74% have been resolved and it’s working on the remainder.

The post sets out customers’ options when it comes to filing complaints, which is complicated by the fact that Net4 also acts as a reseller for OpenProvider, which is not in the same financial difficulty.

ICANN’s says that it is closely monitoring Net4’s compliance with its Registrar Accreditation Agreement and has regular contact with the insolvency court where the company’s case is being heard.

What’s unclear is why the company has been permitted to continue to operate as an accredited registrar, despite its insolvency proceeding being a direct violation of the RAA. ICANN filed a suspension notice in June last year, but has postponed its effective date ever since.

While ICANN says it has not ruled out terminating Net4 and transferring its domains to another registrar, the reality may be that it is unable to do so.

In today’s post, ICANN says it “postponed the start date of the Suspension Period after considering information regarding the insolvency proceedings” provided by the court-appointed resolution professional.

Last month, during the ICANN 69 public forum, the org was asked by an Indian registrant what it was doing about Net4, and compliance chief Jamie Hedlund responded:

When they initially filed for insolvency, we attempted to suspend them and prevent them from being able to register new names. But unfortunately due to the insolvency, we were not able to do that.

It seems that a resolution professional appointed by a quasi-judicial Indian court has managed to trump ICANN’s powers under its Californian-law registrar contract.

Net4’s latest registry transaction reports show that it had 90,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of July. It’s bleeding thousands of domains every month. The company claims to have 400,000 customers in total.

The insolvency proceedings were initiated in 2017 by a debt-recovery agency called Edelweiss, which had acquired $28 million of debts Net4 owed the State Bank of India.

Masochistic mug urgently wanted for thankless, pay-free ICANN leadership role

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t found itself a volunteer to head up the next round of no-doubt contentious discussions about Whois policy.

Today it put out its second call for a chair of the Expedited Policy Development Process working group, which is continuing to square the circle of keeping Whois data compliant with data protection law whilst also allowing cops and IP lawyers access to the data.

The EPDP was supposed to have concluded a few months ago with the end of the second phase of talks, but a couple of issues were left unresolved, leading to the creation of a third phase, being spun as “Phase 2a”.

The first issue still to be discussed is if and how registries and registrars should be obliged to make a distinction between the data of private individuals, which is protected by law, and legal entities, which isn’t.

The second is whether it would be possible to have a uniform system of anonymized email addresses across Whois records.

They’re not exactly the most controversial of topics under the Whois umbrella, but they’re not easy asks either.

And the role of chair is time-consuming, uncompensated, with few perks.

ICANN wants somebody who is neutral and, unstated but perhaps more importantly, perceived to be neutral. The chairs of the previous two phases have been policy heavy-hitters Kurt Pritz and Janis Karklins.

It also wants somebody with “considerable experience in chairing working groups”, which immediately drains the pool of potential applicants.

If previous phases of the EPDP are any guide, the successful applicant will have to herd the cats through dozens of hours of teleconferences — the more-complex phase two had 74 meetings, most of which were two hours long.

For their efforts, the chair gets no money, and because of coronavirus travel restrictions they won’t even get paid junkets to international face-to-face meetings.

And if the output of the next phase is anywhere as near as divisive as phase two, they probably won’t win much praise either.

That’s perhaps why ICANN has extended the deadline for expressions of interest from last Friday to November 23.

Applicants go here.

ICANN made over $500k in secret lawyer payments over [REDACTED] legal dispute

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has approved a payout of over half a million dollars to outside lawyers for work on a legal dispute it does not want you to know about.

The board of directors a week ago approved the disbursement of a “[Redacted – Privileged & Confidential]” sum to undisclosed parties in relation to “extensive activity in [Redacted – Privileged & Confidential]”.

Under ICANN policy, the fact that board approval was required means that the amount being paid is at least $500,000. The redacted resolution also authorizes additional payments up to $499,999.

ICANN isn’t providing any hints about what the payments concern, other than that it’s a legal dispute of some kind. The resolution states:

When required, ICANN must engage outside legal counsel to help prepare for and defend against all types of disputes that are brought against ICANN. When those disputes become highly contentious they often require significant involvement during a certain time period by outside counsel and that significant amount of time also results in significant fees and related expenses.

The words “related expenses” may be telling. We may not just be talking about lawyers’ fees here.

ICANN also does not state when the expenses were incurred, other than to note that the org’s budget for fiscal 2020, which ended June 30, “contemplated” the need for such payments.

So we’re talking about a legal issue that ICANN was aware of before May 2019, when the FY20 budget was approved, possibly as far back as December 2018, when earlier versions of that budget were published.

Known legal disputes that were active back then and have seen activity in the last few months include the Afilias Independent Review Process complaint about the .web auction and DotConnectAfrica’s court appeal over its .africa loss.

But both of those cases are matters of public record. ICANN even regularly publishes legal documentation on both. They’re not secret.

The only cases I’m aware of that ICANN has actively tried to keep secret involve allegations of sexual discrimination and harassment made against at least one former senior staffer. One such lawsuit was filed late February 2019.

But the hundreds of thousands doled out by ICANN last week could be related to just about anything.

ICANN’s bylaws give the board a broad brush when it comes to redacting information from published resolutions:

any actions relating to personnel or employment matters, legal matters (to the extent the Board determines it is necessary or appropriate to protect the interests of ICANN), matters that ICANN is prohibited by law or contract from disclosing publicly, and other matters that the Board determines, by a three-quarters (3/4) vote of Directors present at the meeting and voting, are not appropriate for public distribution

Usually, when ICANN redacts information, it’s related to personnel matters such as management bonuses.

Whatever it was ICANN just spent your money on, ICANN ain’t saying.

.trust finds a new home with UNR

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2020, Domain Registries

UNR has acquired the contract to run the .trust new gTLD.

According to ICANN records, the registry agreement was transferred to UNR, the registry arm of the former Uniregistry, back in June.

It’s the second time the TLD has changed hands since it was delegated back in 2014.

It was originally awarded by ICANN to Deutsche Post, but was quickly sold to NCC Group, which launched it in early 2015.

While .trust is technically live, it has not actually sold any domain names yet and doesn’t appear to have any registrars. The only domains in use, a mere half-dozen, all appear to belong to NCC.

Expect that to change under its new ownership.

I first speculated that .trust was for sale back in 2016, after the then-CEO of NCC utterly slagged off the new gTLD program.

But when NCC sold off its domain name assets in 2017, .trust remained with the company.

The gTLD seems to be following UNR’s chief legal officer, Jean-Christophe Vignes, who ran it under NCC before joining UNR two years ago.

I believe it’s UNR’s 25th gTLD. The company has not yet announced its plans for .trust.

Tributes as “great mentor” Marilyn Cade dies

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2020, Domain Policy

Social media was flooded with tributes today after it was sadly announced that one of ICANN’s elder statespeople, Marilyn Cade, has died.

CadeCade, who participated in ICANN and the wider internet governance community for decades, was widely admired not only for her dedication to fighting her corner, but also her habit of taking the time to bring newcomers, particularly women, the young, and those from under-served regions, into the community.

Reading through tributes on social media and elsewhere today, the word “mentor” appears over and over again.

“She was incredibly dedicated and always trying to bring new people into the multi-stakeholder Internet Governance world. Every time I saw her at an ICANN meeting she would be introducing me to someone new,” wrote one community member.

“What meeting have I been to where Marilyn have not been? She was a mentor, a fighter, lots of energy, but also with attitude,” wrote another.

I myself recall being schooled, and charmed, by Cade over drinks in Mar Del Plata, when I was still a little green, over 15 years ago.

In the ICANN context, Cade was long a member of the Business Constituency of the GNSO, which she chaired for three years from 2010.

She was such a fixture at ICANN, reliably showing up to the open mic during Public Forum sessions at almost every meeting, that the simple introductory sentence “My name is Marilyn Cade” became something of a catchphrase and a source of friendly ribbing.

The phrase regularly showed up on Public Forum Bingo cards, and I once caught an ICANN technician using it to test the audio on a public webcast before the meeting went live.

But she is also fondly remembered in the wider internet governance governance community for many of the same reasons. At the Internet Governance Forum USA, she held the role of “Chief Catalyst”, a job title that perhaps speaks volumes.

The Internet Governance Forum, which kicks off its 2020 meeting online today, announced that it will hold a special session in Cade’s remembrance tomorrow, via Zoom.

“She was a staunch supporter and advocate of the IGF and Internet governance in general,” IGF wrote. “Her energy, enthusiasm and dedication, in particular to the meaningful inclusion of communities from developing countries resulted in dozens of countries establishing their National, Regional and Youth initiatives (NRIs).”

“We were blessed by her passion, her will and her immense love for IGF and the NRI community. I know many of you will be as shocked as us tonight; your pain and anguish is shared,” IGF-USA wrote.

The IGF has opened a comment forum for tributes. Details of the remembrance session can be found at the same link.

Angry investor sues for 30% of new .spa gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2020, Domain Registries

Barely had the new gTLD .spa made it into the DNS root than it got sued by a company that claims it was stiffed out of a 30% stake in the domain.

Malaysia-based Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, the newly minted registry, is being sued in Hong Kong by DotPH, the company that runs the Philippines ccTLD, .ph, over an eight-year-old investment deal DotPH says is being ignored.

It’s also named as defendants .asia registry DotAsia, DotAsia subsidiary Namesphere, and several DotAsia directors.

DotPH claims in its lawsuit that its CEO, Joel Disini, got together with DotAsia CEO Edmon Chung in early 2012 to come up with a deal whereby ownership of .spa, should its application be successful, would be split three ways.

ASWPC would hold half the shares, Namesphere 20%, and DotPH the remaining 30%, according to the complaint. DotPH claims it paid $60,000 for its stake in April 2012.

Now it claims that these shares were never formally issued, and it wants the Hong Kong court to force Namesphere to hand them over and force the original three-way ownership structure originally agreed.

But it turns out that DotAsia seems to have abandoned .spa anyway. Its board of directors a year ago voted to give ASWPC “sole rights” to the gTLD, enabling it to concentrate on .asia.

Disini, who was a member of the board at the time, claims he was only emailed about the vote a day before the meeting and did not see the email until it was too late.

He told DI: “the board of dotAsia moved to give away DotPH’s 30% equity in SPA”. He’s not happy about it. He reckons .spa could easily be a $2 million-a-year business.

The suit was filed October 19. You can read it here (pdf).

I’ve yet to receive a response to my request for comment from Chung, and will of course provide an update should he get back to me.

Amazon sold rights to .box gTLD for $3 million

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2020, Domain Registries

Amazon relinquished its rights to the .box gTLD five years ago for $3 million, according to court documents seen by DI.

Amazon was one of two applicants for .box, the other being a company called NS1 (that’s the numeral 1; this has nothing to do with Network Solutions).

According to a complaint filed a couple of years ago that I came across today, Amazon agreed to withdraw its application, giving its rival an unobstructed shot at the gTLD, for $3 million.

It was a private settlement of the contention set and the payout was not publicly revealed at the time.

A $3 million deal puts .box in the same ballpark as public auctions such as MMX’s .vip and Johnson & Johnson’s (now XYZ.com’s) .baby.

While the deal is years old, I thought the data point was worth publishing.

NS1’s application suggests that its business plan was to offer registrants cloud storage services, along the lines of DropBox.

But the ICANN contract was sold to Intercap, which also runs .inc and .dealer, earlier this year. The plan now appears to be to operate it as an open niche gTLD, but no launch dates have been announced.

It’s not known how much the gTLD sold for second time around.

Big pharma firm dumps its gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2020, Domain Registries

Indian pharmaceuticals company Lupin has become the latest new gTLD registry to drop its dot-brand.

The firm told ICANN recently that it no longer wishes to continue running .lupin, which it has never actually used.

It’s the 82nd dot-brand to self-terminate, the 13th this year.

Lupin is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of generic medicines, with revenue in excess of $2 billion per year.

.web ruling might not come this year

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2020, Domain Registries

A decision about who gets to run the .web gTLD may not arrive until early next year, according to Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos.

“A final decision from the [Independent Review Process[ panel may be issued later this year or early next year,” he told analysts late last week.

.web sold at auction for $135 million four years ago to a company being secretly bankrolled by Verisign, but the outcome is being challenged in the IRP by runner-up bidder Afilias.

Afilias argues that the auction should be voided because ICANN failed to sufficiently investigate links between Verisign and the winning bidder. ICANN denies any wrongdoing.

It’s widely believed that .web is the strongest potential competitor to Verisign’s .com, and its attempt to secure the string is largely defensive.

The IRP case heard several days of testimony in August and the panel retired to consider its decision.

ICANN may not meet again for a looong time

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2020, Domain Policy

The grim reality of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic seems to be sinking in at ICANN.

Management and board all but confirmed yesterday that ICANN 70, currently still scheduled for Cancun, Mexico next March, will instead take place online via Zoom.

“We would all like to get back to face-to-face, but at this moment Cancun is not looking good for now,” chair Maarten Botterman said during a community discussion about meetings at ICANN 69, also online-only.

CEO Goran Marby said that there’s a “high probability” that Cancun will be virtual.

The session, “Board/Community Focus on ICANN Meetings” was notable for being extremely depressing rather than merely boring.

Several participants spoke in terms of ICANN meetings being virtual “for the foreseeable future”.

“With the world as it is right now, it’s very hard to say when we come back to full-fledged physical meetings,” CEO Göran Marby said.

He said there’s a possibility of “hybrid” meetings, where a face-to-face gathering could take place in a part of the world where the pandemic was under control, but he noted that this would put online participants at a disadvantage.

The overall vibe of the session was that things probably aren’t going to be back to “normal” for some time.

Even though coronavirus vaccines are already reportedly rolling off the presses right now and will be in the hands of governments by the start of 2021, many experts say the logistical problem of distributing vaccine widely enough to ensure herd immunity is tough enough that the “return to normal” is still a long way off.

Meeting participant Susan Anthony predicted that airline fares will be sky-high next year, limiting the ability of many would-be participants, particularly the smaller, less well-funded ones, to show up in person.

She said virtual or hybrid meetings could be around for “the indefinite future”.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson concurred, saying “the world may have changed immeasurably and somewhat permanently”.

ICANN director Tripti Sinha later compared the post-pandemic world to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was lots of talk about dumping 2020’s practice of holding the meetings during the time zone of the originally planned host country — the Hamburg time zone has been particularly tough on those in the Americas, who have to start their working day at about midnight — in favor of a utilitarian approach that is least inconvenient for the largest number of participants.

It seems to me that one reason that ICANN has yet to formally cancel Cancun — it’s not even on the board’s agenda this week — is that it’s toying with longer-term plan that may mean standard face-to-face ICANN meetings are a long way off indeed.

It’s difficult to believe that it was only June when some ICANN directors thought Hamburg would be sufficiently safe to return to face-to-face meetings this week.