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For only the second time, ICANN tells the GAC to get stuffed

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has decided to formally disagree with its Governmental Advisory Committee for what I believe is only the second time in the organization’s history.

In a letter to new GAC chair Thomas Schneider today, ICANN chair Steve Crocker took issue with the fact that the GAC recently advised the board to cut the GNSO from a policy-making decision.

The letter kick-starts a formal “Consultation Procedure” in which the board and GAC try to reconcile their differences.

It’s only the second time, I believe, that this kind of procedure — which has been alluded to in the ICANN bylaws since the early days of the organization — has been invoked by the board.

The first time was in 2010, when the board initiated a consultation with the GAC when they disagreed about approval of the .xxx gTLD.

It was all a bit slapdash back then, but the procedure has since been formalized somewhat into a seven-step process that Crocker outlined in an attachment to his letter (pdf) today.

The actual substance of the disagreement is a bit “inside baseball”, relating to the long-running (embarrassing, time-wasting) saga over protection for Red Cross/Red Crescent names in new gTLDs.

Back in June at the ICANN 50 public meeting in London, the GAC issued advice stating:

the protections due to the Red Cross and Red Crescent terms and names should not be subjected to, or conditioned upon, a policy development process

A Policy Development Process is the mechanism through which the multi-stakeholder GNSO creates new ICANN policies. Generally, a PDP takes a really long time.

The GNSO had already finished a PDP that granted protection to the names of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in multiple scripts across all new gTLDs, but the GAC suddenly decided earlier this year that it wanted the names of 189 national Red Cross organizations protected too.

And it wasn’t prepared to wait for another PDP to get it.

So, in its haste to get its changing RC/RC demands met by ICANN, the GAC basically told ICANN’s board to ignore the GNSO.

That was obviously totally uncool — a slap in the face for the rest of the ICANN community and a bit of an admission that the GAC doesn’t like to play nicely in a multi-stakeholder context.

But it would also be, Crocker told Schneider today, a violation of ICANN’s bylaws:

The Board has concerns about the advice in the London Communiqué because it appears to be inconsistent with the framework established in the Bylaws granting the GNSO authority to recommend consensus policies to the Board, and the Board to appropriately act upon policies developed through the bottom-up consensus policy developed by the GNSO.

Now that Crocker has formally initiated the Consultation Procedure, the process now calls for a series of written and face-to-face interactions that could last as long as six months.

While the GAC may not be getting the speedy resolution it so wanted, the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee has nevertheless already voted to give the Red Cross and Red Crescent the additional protections the GAC wanted, albeit only on a temporary basis.

Two-letter domains to be released in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries will be able to release all two-character strings in their zones, following an ICANN decision last week.

The ICANN board of directors voted on Thursday to instruct ICANN’s executive to

develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement

The procedure will have to take into account the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee issued at the end of last week’s ICANN 51 meeting in Los Angeles.

But that advice merely asks that governments are informed when a registry requests the release of two-character names.

All two-character strings were initially reserved due to the potential for confusion with two-letter ccTLDs.

But the GAC decided in LA that it doesn’t really have a problem with such strings being released, with some governments noting that ccTLD second-levels such as us.com and uk.com haven’t caused a problem to date.

The board’s decision is particularly good news for dot-brand applicants that may want to run domains such as uk.google or de.bmw to service specific regions where they operate.

Registries representing over 200 new gTLDs have already filed Registry Service Evaluation Process requests for the release of some two-character strings (some including ccTLD matches, some not).

It’s not yet clear how ICANN will go about removing the two-character restriction.

It may be more efficient to offer all registries a blanket amendment to the RA rather than process each RSEP request individually as it is today.

However, because the GAC has asked for notification on a case-by-case basis, ICANN may be forced to stick to the something along the lines of the existing procedure.

Another ICANN director mysteriously quits

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN director Olga Madruga-Forti unexpectedly quit the board last week.

ICANN did not give an explanation for her sudden departure, which came toward the end of the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles.

The Argentinian telco lawyer’s resignation means she will miss the third and final year of her appointed three-year term.

Her decision comes almost exactly a year after Filipino entrepreneur Judith Vazquez also quit, again with no reason given, two years into her own three-year term.

This possible coincidence has led to speculation that the ICANN board has an “aggressively male culture”, whatever that means.

Both Madruga-Forti and Vazquez were selected by the Nominating Committee, which has guidelines obliging it to try to maintain a healthy gender balance on the ICANN board.

I’m not sure whether Madruga-Forti’s resignation supports or challenges my previously stated view that pro-female gender discrimination by NomCom is of questionable value.

On the one hand, NomCom has for two years in a row selected candidates — partly on the basis of their gender and geographic origins — that didn’t make it through a full term.

On the other hand, if the male-heavy gender balance on the board is to blame for these resignations, perhaps a bit of enforced balancing may help maintain a stable board in future.

It’s a tricky one.

Currently, only four of the (currently) 20-member board are female. Three have voting rights. Of those three, two were selected by NomCom. The third was elected by the At-Large.

Two of them have been on the board for less than a week, having been selected or elected for terms beginning last Thursday.

It seems likely that Madruga-Forti’s permanent replacement will turn out to be female. Just a hunch.

What do you think? Is ICANN too blokey? How important should gender balance be on the ICANN board?

GAC elects Swiss rep as new chair

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has elected Thomas Schneider of the Swiss government as its new chair.

The unprecedented, one-nation-one-vote secret ballot election at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles today saw Schneider beat Lebanon’s Imad Hoballah by 61 votes to 37.

He will take over from Canadian incumbent Heather Dryden at the end of the week.

Schneider is deputy head of international affairs at the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (Ofcom).

He currently serves as one of the GAC’s three vice chairs.

The election was overseen by the Australian Continuous Improvement Group, which provides the GAC with ICANN-independent secretariat services.

Governments totally cool with two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee does not plan to advise against the release of two-character domain names in new gTLDs.

In fact, judging by a GAC discussion at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles yesterday, the governments of many major nations are totally cool with the idea.

Under the standard Registry Agreement for new gTLD registries, all two-character domains (any combination of letters, numbers) must not be sold or activated in the DNS.

The blanket ban was designed to avoid clashes with two-letter ccTLD codes, both existing and future.

ICANN left the door open for registries to request the release of such names, however, and many companies have formally applied to do so via the Registry Services Evaluation Process.

Some registries want all two-character domains released, others have only asked for permission to sell those strings that do not match allocated ccTLDs.

There seems to have been an underlying assumption that governments may want to protect their geographic turf. That assumption may turn out to be untrue.

Representatives from the United States, Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, Australia, Austria and Iran all said yesterday that the GAC should not issue formal advice against the the two-character proposals.

No governments opposed that apparent consensus view.

“The use of the ‘US’ two-letter country code at the second level has not presented any technical or policy issues for the United States,” US rep Suzanne Radell said.

“We, in fact, do not require any approval for the use of US two-character country codes at the second level in existing gTLDs, and do not propose to require anything for new gTLDs,” she said.

She even highlighted domains such as us.com and us.org — which are marketed by UK-based CentralNic as alternatives to the .us ccTLD — as being just fine and dandy with the US government.

It seems likely that the GAC will instead suggest to ICANN that it is the responsibility of individual governments to challenge the registries’ requests via the RSEP process.

“What we see at the moment is that ICANN is putting these RSEP requests out for public comment and it would be open to any government to use that public comment period if they did feel in some instances that there was a concern,” Australian GACer Peter Nettlefold said.

I’ve not been able to find any government comments to the relevant RSEP requests.

For example, Neustar’s .neustar, which proposes the release of all two-character strings including country codes, has yet to receive a comment from a government.

Many comments in other RSEP fora appear to be from fellow dot-brand registries that want to use two-letter codes to represent the countries where they operate.

“Send registrars to jail!”, ICANN hears

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN is ramping up its focus on contractual compliance in the midst of calls for domain industry offenders to “go to jail”.

CEO Fadi Chehade yesterday revealed that he has has promoted chief contracting counsel Allen Grogan to the newly created role of chief contract compliance officer.

Grogan, who Chehade has worked with off and on since 1991, will report directly to him. Maguy Serad, who has been heading compliance under Chehade for the last couple of years, will now report to Grogan.

In a session with the GNSO Council at the ICANN 51 public meeting in Los Angeles yesterday, Chehade said the appointment was part of a new “strategic, analytical” approach to compliance.

It was hinted that the compliance focus may form part of Chehade’s address at the formal opening ceremony of ICANN 51 later today.

Ron Andruff of the Business Constituency made the “jail” comments in response.

“We need to see action, we need to see teeth,” he said. “We never see any really strong action taken and it’s time we did. It’s time we saw people go to jail for doing things, lose their contracts for doing things.”

“We’ve lived through 15 years of ICANN with all manner of transgressions, some very serious ones, but they all get slid off to the side and there’s never any mention of it,” he said.

“Should someone be the recipient of extremely strong actions — losing their contract, being thrown out the community — that would send a signal,” he said.

Andruff appeared to be relating comments made by the Intellectual Property Constituency’s Kristina Rosette, at a private Commercial Stakeholders Group meeting earlier that day.

However, Rosette was quick to take to Twitter to deny she’d said anything about jail time.

Chehade, in reply to Andruff, agreed with the need for action but clarified what he plans to do.

“It doesn’t mean to create a police force, that’s not what we need,” he said. “What we need is thoughtful, analytical analysis.”

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to take the job of all the global consumer protection agencies,” he said earlier in the session.

The notion of ICANN having the power to directly jail somebody is of course laughable — all of its power comes from its contracts with registrars and registries.

However, it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that ICANN could refer registrars to law enforcement should it come across suspected illegality in the course of its compliance investigations.

ICANN Compliance currently employs 21 people and deals with 5,000 complaints per month, Chehade said.

In the last year, the number of breach, suspension and termination notices against registrars has been on the increase.

Notably, last November a registrar owned by “spam king” Scott Richter was terminated. Notorious domain “slammer” NameJuice faces possible termination this Friday based on a July suspension notice.

Fight over ICANN’s $400,000 Hollywood party

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2014, Gossip

Corporate sponsors raised $250,000 to fund a $400,000 showbiz gala for ICANN 51 next month, but ICANN pulled the plug after deciding against making up the shortfall.

Sources tell DI that the lavish shindig was set to take place at Fox Studios in Los Angeles on October 15, but that ICANN reneged on a commitment to throw $150,000 into the pot.

Meanwhile, a senior ICANN source insists that there was no commitment and that a “misunderstanding” is to blame.

ICANN announced a week ago that its 51st public meeting would be the first in a while without a gala event. In a blog post, VP Christopher Mondini blamed a lack of sponsors and the large number of attendees, writing:

One change from past meetings is that there will not be an ICANN51 gala. Historically, the gala has been organized and supported by an outside sponsor. ICANN51 will not have such a sponsor, and therefore no gala. ICANN meetings have grown to around 3,000 attendees, and so have the challenges of finding a gala sponsor.

This explanation irked some of those involved in the aborted deal. They claim that the post was misleading.

Sources say that sponsors including Fox Studios, Neustar and MarkMonitor had contractually committed $250,000 to the event after ICANN promised to deliver the remaining $150,000.

But ICANN allegedly changed its mind about its own contribution and, the next day, published the Mondini post.

“The truth is there were sponsors, the truth is it wasn’t too big,” said a source who preferred not to be named. “There was enough money there for a gala.”

The venue was to be the Fox Studios backlot, which advertises itself as being able to handle receptions of up to 4,000 people — plenty of space for an ICANN gala.

I’ve confirmed with Neustar, operator of the .us ccTLD, that it had set aside $75,000 to partly sponsor the event.

But Mondini told DI that ICANN had not committed the $150,000, and that claims to the contrary were based on a “misunderstanding” — $150,000 was the amount ICANN spent on the Singapore gala (nominally sponsored by SGNIC), not how much it intended to spend on the LA event.

“There was no ICANN commitment to make up shortfall,” he said. “It was misheard as an ICANN commitment.”

More generally, ICANN’s top brass are of the opinion that “we shouldn’t be in the business of spending lots of money on galas”, Mondini added.

“ICANN paying for galas is the exception rather than the rule,” he said.

He added that he stood by his blog post, saying that a failure to find sponsors to cover the full $400,000 tab is in fact a failure to find sponsors.

No gala at ICANN 51

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2014, Gossip

One thing ICANN’s thrice-yearly public meetings never lack is free booze, but there’s going to be a little bit less of it at ICANN 51 in Los Angeles next month.

ICANN said yesterday that the gala event, which is typically held on the Wednesday night, will not happen in LA.

ICANN veep Christopher Mondini blogged:

Historically, the gala has been organized and supported by an outside sponsor. ICANN51 will not have such a sponsor, and therefore no gala. ICANN meetings have grown to around 3,000 attendees, and so have the challenges of finding a gala sponsor.

LA is of course ICANN’s home town, hence the lack of need for a local host/sponsor company.

There have been some really spectacular galas over the years — and some not-so-great ones — so the lack of such an event this time around may be mildly disappointing to some attendees.

On the bright side (arguably), Music Night, which was introduced in the Beckstrom era but hasn’t appeared at the last few meetings, is rumored to be making a return for LA.

Usually a Tuesday-night event sponsored by PIR and Afilias, Music Night sees musically inclined ICANN community members jamming together, followed by a bit of karaoke.

Facebook has it that the ah hoc band GEMS (Global Equal Multi-Stakeholders) will be making an appearance to play a selection of bottoms-up, consensus-based classic rock numbers.

Unfortunately, personal circumstances are very probably going to keep yours truly away from ICANN 51, but gifts of whiskey sent to the usual address will of course be consumed in solidarity on the appropriate evening.

ICANN board getting three new directors

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN 51 next month in Los Angeles is also the organization’s formal annual general meeting, and that means changes at the top.

The board of directors is replacing three members in October, and renewing the terms of two others.

Long-time ICANN participant and internet governance expert Markus Kummer has been selected for a seat by the Non-Contracted Parties House of the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

Kummer is currently vice president of public policy at the Internet Society. Prior to that, he was at the United Nations with the primary responsibility for organizing the Internet Governance Forum.

He replaces independent consultant Bill Graham, who’s leaving the board after one three-year term. Graham, until going solo in 2011, also held a senior position at ISOC.

Rinalia Abdul Rahim is to join the board as the new representative of the At Large, having beaten incumbent Sebastien Bachollet in elections early this year.

Based in Malaysia, Rahim is managing director at Compass Rose, her self-founded management consultancy. Between 2011 and 2013, she was a NomCom appointee to the At-Large Advisory Committee.

The last addition is Asha Hemrajani, a Nokia alum and currently a partner at the small Singapore-based business consultancy Knight Griffin. She was selected by the Nominating Committee.

Hemrajani replaces Wolfgang Kleinwachter, who will leave the seat after less than a year. Kleinwachter stepped in to replace Judith Vazquez, who mysteriously quit two years into her three-year term.

NomCom has, unsurprisingly, selected ICANN chair Steve Crocker for a board seat again. Under the ICANN bylaws, it will be Crocker’s third and final three-year term.

Chris Disspain of auDA will also begin his second term, having stood unopposed for one of the two ccNSO seats.

The changes take effect at the end of the LA meeting, which runs from October 12 to 16.