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Could new gTLD auctions last until April 2016?

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

April 2016. That’s the likely date of the final new gTLD contention set auction under the rules currently anticipated by ICANN.

As you might imagine, many applicants are not happy about this.

In a series of presentations over the last couple of weeks, ICANN has laid out how it sees its “last resort” auctions playing out.

Preliminary timetables have been sketched out, from which three data points are noteworthy:

  • Auctions will start in “early March” 2014.
  • There will be one “auction event” every four weeks.
  • Applicants can bid on a maximum of five gTLDs per auction.

Currently, the applicant in the most contention sets is Donuts, as you might have guessed given the size of its portfolio. By my reckoning it’s currently contesting 141 gTLD strings.

With a March 1 date for the first auction, and taking into account the aforementioned timing restrictions, it would be April 23, 2016 before the final Donuts contention set is resolved.

That’s four years after the application window closed.

Google would be in auctions until January 2015. TLDH, Uniregistry and Amazon’s contested strings would be tied up until at least October next year.

This is obviously terrible news for applicants competing with portfolio applicants where the contention set has quite a high position in ICANN’s prioritization queue.

A year or two is a long time to wait — burning through your funding and not taking in any revenue — if you’re a single-string applicant on a tight budget. Every dollar spent waiting is a dollar less to spend at auction.

According to ICANN, applicants will be able to waive the five-gTLDs-per-month maximum.

But that only seems to help the larger portfolio applicants, which will be seeing revenue from launched, uncontested gTLDs and could take the opportunity to starve out their smaller rivals.

Auctions themselves are shaping up to be a controversial subject in general, with several community members taking the mic at the ICANN 48 Public Forum last week to call for ICANN to change the process.

A few people pointed the ICANN board to the recent withdrawal of DotGreen — a popular but evidently poorly funded community effort — from the new gTLD program as a harbinger of things to come.

“By not allowing applicants to be in more than five auctions simultaneously it means those applicants, particularly portfolio applicants, are not going to be able to move through their contention sets,” Google policy manager Sarah Falvey said at the Forum.

“It drags in all the single applicants, because they’re stuck on that exact same time schedule and can’t move their applications through as well,” she said, adding that ICANN should create a new process that sets the time limit for auctions at about six months.

“People could be waiting two years to delegate through no fault of their own,” she said.

Later responding to Afilias director Jonathan Robinson, who backed up Falvey’s call for an accelerated schedule, ICANN president of generic domains Akram Atallah said that the rules are not yet set in stone.

The five-a-day rule was created to give applicants the ability to plan payments better, he said, and ICANN is still soliciting input on how the system could be improved.

Is this the worst new gTLD video yet?

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

If you’re trying to market a new gTLD aimed solely at CEOs, and your messaging is security, credibility and authority, what’s the best medium to get that message across?

Why, it’s white rap of course! In Donald Trump masks!

That’s apparently the thought process of PeopleBrowsr, the applicant for .ceo, anyway.

The video below got its first airing during a joint PeopleBrowsr/TLDH party at ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires last week.

I was on a bio break at the time and missed the premiere, but I was assured by other party-goers that it was the most painfully awkward video ever screened at an ICANN meeting.

After PeopleBrowsr published it on YouTube today, I was not disappointed. Enjoy a true classic:

Why ICANN should stop taking the “Malvinas” issue seriously [RANT]

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2013, Domain Policy

Here in the UK, we have something not very nice called the British National Party.

It’s a perfectly legal political party but, as the name may suggest, it has an overtly racist manifesto, garners few votes, and holds next to no power.

Voting BNP is frowned upon in polite company. Don’t expect too many dinner party invitations if you’re a supporter. It’s even legal here for employers to discriminate against card-carrying members.

The most unpleasant manifesto promise of the BNP is to “encourage the voluntary resettlement” of “immigrants”.

Britain, the BNP says, should be for its “indigenous people”, which it has described as “the people whose ancestors were the earliest settlers here after the last great Ice Age”.

That’s about 10,000 years ago. It’s basically the BNP’s way of rationalizing its racism with a cut-off point for what constitutes an “immigrant” that falls well before anyone with brown skin showed up.

None of this has anything to do with domain names, of course.

I only mention the BNP because its ludicrous views always spring to my mind whenever I hear an Argentinian activist raise the issue of the Falkland Islands at an ICANN meeting.

This happened quite a lot at the Public Forum of the ICANN 48 meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina last Thursday.

It wasn’t the first time the Falklands have been discussed at an ICANN meeting but, on home turf, many locals who would not otherwise consider attending decided to show up to make their views known.

Argentinians call the Falklands archipelago, a British Overseas Territory situated in the southern Atlantic about 500km to the east of Argentina, the “Malvinas”.

Originally settled by France in the late 18th century, Britain has controlled the islands more or less continuously since 1834 and at intervals as far back as 1765, before Argentina existed.

Spain was in charge for a few decades from 1767 and then Argentina, after its independence, had a hold for a few years from 1829.

The only time Argentina has had a claim recently was during a two-month period in 1982, when Argentina invaded, starting a pointless war that claimed the lives of 255 British and 649 Argentinian service personnel, wounding a few thousand more.

In case this history lesson is new to you, I should point out that the Falklands are not and have never in living memory been in any way “occupied” by the UK.

The islanders are all British citizens and have the right of self-determination: they want to be British. According to the 2013 electoral roll, only 18 Argentinians live there, of a population of almost 3,000.

So it really boils my piss when I have to listen to Argentinians take to the mic at ICANN meetings to demand — demand — that ICANN transfers the Falklands ccTLD, .fk, to Argentina’s ccTLD operator, Nic.ar.

It turns my piss to steam when members of the ICANN board of directors humor these demands — vowing to take their concerns seriously or, even worse, agreeing with the use of terms like “occupation”.

This happened quite a lot on Thursday.

The ring-leader of the Argentine position is a guy called Sergio Salinas Porto. He’s president of Internauta Argentina, an organization of Argentinian internet users.

He seems to be a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to public statements at ICANN meetings. The Latino Paul Foody, maybe. It’s possible that I’m giving him more credibility than he deserves.

He made similar demands at the ICANN meetings in Senegal in 2011 and Costa Rica last year. This time, however, he seems to have managed to drag some of his supporters with him.

The real-time interpretation provided by ICANN is not good enough to quote from directly at any length, but Internauta published its list of demands on its web site after the Public Forum. Among them (machine-translated from the original Spanish):

That the Argentine authorities (legal and technical secretariat – NIC.ar) will deliver the administration of ccTLDs .fk and .gs.

That all ccTLDs involving debate on issues of sovereignty and further promote colonialist acts or harboring or see these acts are protected from any administrative or factual act by ICANN are reviewed.

It also wants the Falklands referred to as the “Malvinas”, alongside “Falklands”, in ICANN documentation, and for .fk to fall into the Latin-American, rather than European, ICANN region.

But the key demand here is that control of a ccTLD that is currently delegated to a territory’s government — the Falkland Islands Government in this case — is transferred to the government of another country, based on emotive arguments such as “occupation” and “colonialism”.

At the mic, Salinas Porto reiterated these points almost word for word, judging by the ICANN interpreter’s translation — asking for the redelegation and using the same emotive arguments.

The demand was restated by multiple Argentinian commenters.

It was restated so many times that session moderator Bertrand de La Chappelle — who had graciously allowed Salinas Porto to jump to the front of the queue for the mic — took no small amount of flak from Internauta’s supporters for trying to hurry people along in the interests of timing.

One talked of “a dark and colonial power”, another talked of “decolonization”, one said he felt “invaded” by ICANN, a fourth said that “the Malvinas islands were taken by a colonial power by force”.

This is pure chutzpah.

It may be true that the Falklands were seized militarily by Britain. My history is not good enough to pass comment. Whatever happened, it was 180 years ago. Everyone involved is long dead.

Argentina indisputably seized the islands militarily during my lifetime. The records on this are pretty good. Living servicemen on both sides today bear the physical and emotional scars of Argentina’s folly.

Now consider that Argentina was among a coalition of Latin American nations that recently used the Governmental Advisory Committee to kill off the application from Patagonia Inc for the new gTLD .patagonia.

That was based on the governments’ claims that Patagonia — a region that covers areas of Argentina and Chile — should be a protected term in the domain name system. They have sovereignty, they claim.

Yet the Patagonia region was claimed by Argentina during the so-called “Conquest of the Desert”, an act of “colonization” that involved the “genocide” of over 1,000 indigenous people and dislocation of 15,000 more. That’s even more people than killed in 1982.

And Argentina did this act of colonization in 1870, three decades after the British took over the Falklands, which had no indigenous peoples (if you’re not counting the penguins).

If there’s a serious question about the ownership of .fk, shouldn’t the same logic should apply to .patagonia? Argentina can’t have it both ways, can it?

If the cut-off point for ownership of a territory is pre-1834, then Argentina can have no claim over .patagonia.

It’s a ludicrous thing to say, I know. I can barely believe I’m making the argument, it’s so silly. I feel almost Amish, or BNP, or one of the Conkies, to try to use an arbitrary cut-off date like that.

That’s probably why nobody from the UK took the mic at the ICANN Public Forum on Thursday to respond to Salinas Porto and Internauta’s supporters.

Maybe they didn’t want to provide oxygen to the illusion that there is a real debate here (in which case they’re smarter than me), or maybe they were far too polite to risk insulting their host nation by joining in on the trivialization of a political conflict that has resulted in the death and maiming of so many (in which case I’m embarrassing myself here).

But at least three members of the ICANN board did address the issue, vowing to treat the issue seriously and therefore compelling me to respond, regardless.

Notably, CEO Fadi Chehade, who grew up in Beirut, Lebanon, said it was a “very worthy question”, adding:

This was a chance for us to hear your views and appreciate your feelings about this. I must tell you on a personal basis, unlike living the history of colonialism I lived under a colonizer, personally, so I’m personally familiar with how you feel. But this is a very serious matter that requires some review and some thinking. I can assure you that we have listened to you and we will take your input as great learning for us.

Now, it’s quite possible that this was just the latest instance of Chehade “doing a Chehade” and telling his perceived audience what he perceived they wanted to hear.

His predecessor, Rod Beckstrom, was similarly accommodating to Salinas Porto during the Costa Rica meeting in 2012.

Chehade did not actually commit ICANN to address the issue.

But the Brits were in the audience too. And I think it’s fair to say that when we hear Argentinians bang on about the “Malvinas” — and we hear the ICANN board pay them heed — we either a) get angry or b) shake our heads and tut.

At the start of this article I compared the Argentinian argument to the BNP. To avoid doubt, I’m not saying that it’s racist. I could not begin to construct such an argument. I am saying that it’s silly, and probably based more on Argentinian nationalism than it is on any deficiencies in ICANN policy.

When ICANN in future responds to Argentinian arguments about the Falklands, these are some things to bear in mind:

  • ICANN does not decide, and is not qualified to decide, what arbitrary subdivisions of our planet are or are not worthy of a ccTLD delegation.
  • ICANN long ago decided to take its cues from the International Standards Organization, which in turn looks to the United Nations, when assembling its list of ccTLD identifiers.
  • ICANN, via its IANA department, always pays attention to the wishes of the local populace when it decides whether to redelegate a ccTLD to a new operator.

These three bullet points are the only things an ICANN director needs to know when responding to anyone who uses the word “Malvinas” in a Public Forum statement.

“Taking it seriously” should only be an option if you’re trying to be polite.

GAC gives ICANN a way out on IGO acronyms

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2013, Domain Policy

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has reiterated its call for the protection of intergovernmental organization acronyms in the new gTLD program, but seems to have given ICANN a way to avoid a nasty confrontation.

In its official Communique from the just-concluded meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the GAC provided the following advice concerning IGOs:

The GAC, together with IGOs, remains committed to continuing the dialogue with NGPC [ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee] on finalising the modalities for permanent protection of IGO acronyms at the second level, by putting in place a mechanism which would:

1. provide for a permanent system of notifications to both the potential registrant and the relevant IGO as to a possible conflict if a potential registrant seeks to register a domain name matching the acronym of that IGO;

2. allow the IGO a timely opportunity to effectively prevent potential misuse and confusion;

3. allow for a final and binding determination by an independent third party in order to resolve any disagreement between an IGO and a potential registrant; and

4. be at no cost or of a nominal cost only to the IGO.

This seems to be a departure from the GAC’s its Durban Communique, in which it had demanded “preventative” measures be put in place to stop third parties registering IGO acronyms.

As we reported earlier this week, the GNSO Council unanimously approved a resolution telling ICANN to remove IGO acronyms from existing block-lists, something the GAC had been demanding.

Now, it seems that ICANN has been given a relatively simple and less confrontational way of accepting the GAC’s watered-down advice.

The Trademark Claims alerts service and Uniform Rapid Suspension dispute resolution process combined would, by my reading, tick all four of the GAC’s boxes.

IGO acronyms do not currently qualify for either, because they’re not trademarks, but if ICANN can figure out a way to allow these strings into the Trademark Clearinghouse, it can probably give the GAC what it wants.

In my view, such a move wouldn’t trample on anyone else’s rights, it would not represent the kind of overkill the GAC originally wanted, nor would it be in conflict with the GNSO’s consensus resolution (which seems to envisage a future in which these acronyms get TMCH protection).

ICANN may have avoided the sticky situation I pondered earlier this week.

GACmail? Belgium denies .spa gTLD shakedown

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2013, Domain Registries

The Belgian government has denied claims that the city of Spa tried to shake down new gTLD applicants for money in exchange for not objecting to their .spa applications.

The Belgian Governmental Advisory Committee representative said this afternoon that Belgium was “extremely unhappy” that the “disrespectful allusions” got an airing during a meeting with the ICANN board.

He was responding directly to a question asked during a Sunday session by ICANN director Chris Disspain, who, to be fair, didn’t name either the government or the gTLD. He had said:

I understand there is at least one application, possibly more, where a government or part a government is negotiating with the applicant in respect to receive a financial benefit from the applicant. I’m concerned about that and I wondered if the GAC had a view as to whether such matters were appropriate.

While nobody would talk on the record, asking around the ICANN 48 meeting here in Buenos Aires it became clear that Disspain was referring to Belgium and .spa.

It was not clear whether he was referring to Donuts or to Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, which have both applied for the string.

The string “spa” was not protected by ICANN’s rules on geographic names, but the GAC in April advised ICANN not to approve the applications until governments had more time to reach a decision.

My inference from Disspain’s question was that Belgium was planning to press for a GAC objection to .spa unless its city got paid, which could be perceived as an abuse of power.

Nobody from the GAC answered the question on Sunday, but Belgium today denied that anything inappropriate was going on, saying Disspain’s assertion was “factually incorrect”.

There is a contract between Spa and an applicant, he confirmed, but he said that “no money will flow to the city of Spa”.

“A very small part of the profits of the registry will go to the community served by .spa,” he said.

This side-deal does not appear to be a public document, but the Belgian rep said that it has been circulated to GAC members for transparency purposes.

There are several applicants whose strings appeared on ICANN’s protected geo names list that have been required to get letters of non-objection from various countries.

Tata Group, for example, needed permission from Morocco for .tata, while TUI had to go to Burkina Faso for .tui. Both are the names of provinces in those countries.

It’s not publicly known how these letters of non-objection were obtained, and whether any financial benefit accrued to the government as a result.

ICANN 48 travelers face chaos after plane crash

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2013, Gossip

Nobody was hurt. Don’t worry.

But dozens of ICANN 48 attendees experienced huge delays, frustration and anger after a plane skidded off the runway at Buenos Aires, temporarily closing the whole of the Ministro Pistarini International Airport and sending travelers off on diversions totaling thousands of miles.

The early-morning “incident involving a plane”, which is what my own flight crew only ever referred to it as, did not cause any injuries and was apparently cleaned up quite quickly.

But there seems to have been barely anyone flying into Ezeiza on the eve of ICANN 48 yesterday that was not in some way affected.

Consider these stories, collected from the conference floor and Twitter, strictly anecdotal.

  • Several flights carrying ICANNers, due to land at around the same time, found themselves diverted to large cities in neighboring Latin American countries. Many found themselves sitting in hot metal tubes on airport tarmacs in Montevideo, Uruguay, Santiago, Chile and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil before finally turning back to BA.
  • One flight, carrying several delegates from Washington DC, was diverted to Santiago — a 2,000-mile round trip — not once but TWICE, leaving passengers ultimately delayed by well over a day. After the first diversion, and sitting on the Santiago runway for two or three hours, the plane returned to BA only to be told by air traffic control to stay in an hours-long holding pattern while the airport cleared up the backlog. Realizing he lacked the fuel (and apparently the foresight) to do so, the pilot decided to return to Santiago instead, where passengers eventually had to spend the night. They finally started rolling into BA this afternoon.
  • Another, diverted to Montevideo, apparently had to divert for a second time when, moments away from landing, the pilot realized the “runway wasn’t long enough” and had to pull up.
  • My own British Airways flight from London Heathrow, carrying at least a dozen ICANNers, was diverted to Rio de Janeiro, a three-hour flight away. After four hours on the Rio runway and another two sitting in the departure lounge without instruction or information we were finally told that we’d have to wait another eight hours before we could leave, on a newly scheduled flight getting into BA in the wee hours, some 17 hours late. Some stayed at the airport and waited it out. Business class passengers (you know who you are) were safely smuggled away to a hotel to avoid the scuffles that almost broke out over the pallets of flavorless refugee-camp MREs the remaining economy class passengers were offered to keep them quiet. Some of us jumped into taxis and hit Copacabana beach instead.

So it all worked out okay in the end.

Bwahahahaha!