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ICANN axes Cancun again. Apparently there’s a pandemic

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally confirmed that its seventieth public meeting will be online-only, disappointing restaurateurs and sex workers in Cancun, Mexico for the second year running.

The meeting will also be mercifully shorter, with two days cut from its running time. The new dates are March 22 to March 25. Thankfully, ICANN actually announced the date change this time around.

ICANN top brass had indicated as far back as October that Cancun was very unlikely to go ahead as an in-person meeting.

It will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom since the coronavirus pandemic began a year ago. My guess is it won’t be the last.

The next meeting this year is slated to take place in The Hague in late June, but I think only an strident optimist or denialist could imagine that actually happening.

Mixed messages from ICANN on pandemic travel in 2021

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t formally cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico next March, but it appears to be planning for scheduled in-person gatherings to not resume until the fourth quarter of next year.

While nobody in their right mind seems to believe ICANN 70 will go ahead anywhere other than virtually — and ICANN’s top brass acknowledged in October that a face-to-face community forum appeared highly unlikely — the Org has still not announced that it will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom.

But two recently published documents show that ICANN doesn’t see travel getting back to normal any time soon, though its expected timing is ambiguous.

First, the proposed budget for fiscal 2022, which was published on Friday, envisages pandemic-related travel restrictions for only “the first nine months” of its current FY21, which ends June 30 next year.

That means that ICANN, at least in its travel budget, still thinks there’s a chance that international travel may be an option as early as April next year. Its travel budget for this year is $4.7 million, which certainly suggests one normal public meeting.

That would rule out Cancun, but leaves open the possibility that June 14-17 public meeting in The Hague could actually go ahead.

The budget also assumes a normal level of travel spending for the whole of FY22, which would mean ICANN 72 in Seattle — a mere domestic flight for most ICANN staff and a good portion of the domain industry — would also take place in-person next October.

But a resolution passed by the ICANN board of directors last Thursday appears to have a more pessimistic outlook.

The board at that meeting approved the continuation of contingency plans for signing the cryptographic keys at the root of the DNS that would eliminate the need for travel until the fourth quarter of calendar 2021.

Normal, quarterly root Key-Signing Key ceremonies require a small number of trusted “secret key holders” to be flown from around the world into facilities in the US, carrying physical keys, to ensure the integrity of the process.

But those rules were tweaked under coronavirus lockdown last April to allow IANA employees to sub in for these key-holders.

Understanding that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon, but perhaps with hindsight on the optimistic side, the KSK ceremony in April generated three quarters’ worth of keys in advance, enabling root DNSSEC until the end of March 2021.

Last Thursday, the ICANN board resolved to again bulk-generate keys during its next ceremony, to be held some time in the first quarter. The plan states:

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to continue to significantly impact operations well into 2021. To limit the impact on the ability to hold quarterly key ceremonies, the plan again provides for generating signatures for an extended nine-month period. This relieves the need to hold a subsequent key signing ceremony until the fourth quarter of 2021.

So, while the proposed budget thinks travel could return to normal by April, the KSK plans are thinking October could be the best-case scenario.

Vaccines appear to be the key, as you might expect:

Staff will continue to monitor the pandemic and prepare for all possible scenarios for this ceremony in accordance with the graduated approach. Should widespread vaccination programs prove to be successful, and international travel limitations be relaxed, it is conceivable a late-2021 ceremony could be conducted in its normal format with international in-person participation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the chances of a normal in-person ICANN meeting going ahead before Seattle are pretty slim.

For vaccination programs to be successful, we’re going to need a combination of competent governments capable of handling an unprecedented logistical challenge and a largely sane, rationale populace willing to go under the needle en masse. I’m afraid I don’t have that much faith in humanity.

Even if everything goes smoothly, we’re still looking at the vaccine rollout taking a long time indeed. I live in the UK, the first country to roll out vaccinations at scale, and I don’t anticipate getting the jab for six months or more.

An unofficial calculator tool estimates that a middle-aged Brit with no diagnosed preexisting conditions cannot reasonably expect to get a vaccine until July 2021, assuming the UK manages to quickly ramp up to one million vaccinations per week and 70% of those eligible choose to take the shot.

If that’s true elsewhere in the world, and vaccination becomes a passport to travel, then any hypothetical June face-to-face ICANN meeting could resemble a senior care home or retirement village even more than usual.

Not so much Club Med as a Saga Holiday.

And none of this takes into account the potential impact of the super-spreadable new coronavirus strain discovered to be hugely prevalent in the UK last week.

While it’s early days, it seems there’s a significant possibility that what I’m calling the limeyvirus (because what goes better with Corona than lime?) is going to significantly impact travel worldwide in the coming months.

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.

ICANN plans return to Cancun in 2021

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has named the locations of two of its 2021 public meetings.

Notably, it will return to Cancun, Mexico, in the March for ICANN 70, just one year after hosting ICANN 67 there.

In both years, the dates appear to coincide with some US universities’ “Spring Break” academic holiday, which sees many college students descend on Cancun to take advantage to excess of Mexico’s more liberal drinking laws.

In June 2021, ICANN will head to the Hague in the Netherlands, perhaps also known for its more liberal attitude to inebriants, for its mid-year policy meeting.

It’s already named Seattle, home to several domain companies, as its choice for the final meeting of 2021.

Under ICANN’s system of dividing up the world into regions for the purpose of meetings rotation, Mexico counts as Latin America rather than North America.