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Uniregistry will stick with risky .hiv model for now

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has agreed to take over the new gTLD .hiv from original registry dotHIV, and said it has no plans to immediately change the business model.

“We are going to maintain the status quo, at least at the start,” said Uniregistry general counsel Bret Fausett. “We will give it a year or so on our platform and then evaluate it.”

dotHIV launched last year with what I then described as “one of the strangest and riskiest business models of any new gTLD to date.”

It’s a not-for-profit TLD with an optional “Click-Counter” service that makes microdonations, pulled from reg fees, to HIV/AIDS charities whenever somebody visits a .hiv web site.

The idea hasn’t really caught on.

When dotHIV put its ICANN contract up for auction in April it had only 345 fee-paying registrations and total revenue was $83,000.

The auction, which made it plain that the buyer would not be allowed to make a profit, failed to meet the $200,000 reserve.

Uniregistry said in a press release that while it is a for-profit company, it will continue to run .hiv as a “social enterprise”.

Fausett said the gTLD’s numbers could go up once it’s on Uniregistry’s platform.

“We think this will get a natural bump when it moves to our registrar channel,” he said. “We have over 175 registrars on our platform, which is 4x the current .HIV distribution channel.”

ICANN on “knife edge” after accountability impasse

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2015, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors and the community group tasked with improving its accountability have failed to come to a compromise over the future direction of the organization, despite an intense two-day argument at the weekend.

As the often fractious Los Angeles gathering drew to a close, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the board was sticking to its original position on how ICANN should be structured in future, apparently unmoved by opposing arguments.

Other directors later echoed that view.

The Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) has proposed a raft of measures designed to ensure ICANN can be held to account in future if its board goes off the rails and starts behaving crazy.

Basically, it’s trying to find a back-stop to replace the US government, which intends to remove itself from stewardship of the DNS root zone next year.

A key proposal from the CCWG is that ICANN should be remade as a member organization, a specific type of legal structure under California law.

A Sole Member, governed by community members, would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

But the ICANN board thinks that’s too complicated, that it would replace the board with the Sole Member as the ultimate governing body of ICANN, and that it could lead to unintended consequences.

It’s suggested a replacement Multistakeholder Enforcement Model that would do away with the Member and replace it with a binding arbitration process.

Its model is a lot weaker than the one proposed by the CCWG.

Much of the LA meeting’s testing first day was taken up with discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these two models.

The second day, in an effort to adopt a more collegial tone, attendees attempted to return to the basics of how decisions are made and challenged in ICANN.

The result was a discussion that dwelt slightly too long on technicalities like voting thresholds, committee make-ups and legal minutiae.

There seems to be a general consensus that the meeting didn’t accomplish much.

Towards the end of the first day, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Larry Stricking urged attendees to get their acts together and come up with something simple that had broad community support. He said:

At this point, we do not have a view that any particular approach is absolutely okay or is absolutely not okay. But what I can tell you is that the work that we need to see, the thoroughness, the detail, and I put this in the blog, it is not there yet. So that I don’t feel comfortable even taking what we saw in these reports and trying to opine on them because there are too many open questions

On Saturday, fellow government man Ira Magaziner, who was deeply involved with ICANN’s creation as a member of the Clinton administration, issued a stark warning.

“I think you can fail. And I think you’re right on a knife’s edge now as to whether you’ll succeed or fail,” he said.

He warned that the IANA transition is going to become a political football as the US presidential election enters its final year and unorthodox candidates (I think he means the Republican clown car) are putting forward “somewhat nationalistic” points of view.

“I think you have a limited amount of time to get this done and for the US government to consider it and pass it,” he said.

That basically means the transition has to happen before January 2017, when there’ll be a new president in the White House. If it’s a Republican, the chances of the transition going ahead get slimmer.

Sure enough, within 24 hours the first reports emerged that Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, backed up by a few other senators, is asking the Government Accountability Office whether it’s even within the power of the US executive to remove itself from the IANA process.

In a letter, Cruz asked:

1. Would the termination of the NTIA’s contract with ICANN cause Government property, of any kind, to be transferred to ICANN?

2. Is the authoritative root zone file, or other related or similar materials or information, United States government property?

3. If so, does the NTIA have the authority to transfer the root zone file or, other related materials or information to a non-federal entity?

If this kind of anti-transition sentiment catches popular opinion, you can guarantee other jingoistic candidates will fall in line.

So ICANN’s on the clock, racing the US political process. In Magaziner’s view, the meat of the disagreements needs to be resolved by the end of the Dublin meeting — three weeks from now — or not long thereafter.

He seems to be of the view that the CCWG has overreached its remit. He said:

The task of accountability that was assigned to this group was, as the chair said this morning, to replace the ultimate backstop of the US government with a community-based backstop. The committee was not charged to completely rewrite the way ICANN works. I’m sure ICANN can be improved and there ought to be an ongoing process to improve the way it works, but this particular committee and NTIA didn’t ask you to completely redo ICANN.

The LA meeting didn’t seem to help much in moving the accountability debate closer.

On Saturday afternoon, Crocker spoke to confirm that the board is sticking to its guns in opposing the Sole Member model.

“We certainly did not understand and don’t believe that creating a superstructure to replace them [the US government] in a corporate sense was intended, desired, needed, or appropriate,” he said.

“So in the comments that we submitted some time ago, we did represent a board position. We did a quick check this morning, and 100% agreement that what we said then still stands,” he said.

That’s a reference to the board feedback on the CCWG proposal submitted September 11.

Now, the CCWG has to figure out what to do before Dublin.

Currently, it’s combing through the scores of public comments submitted on its last draft proposals (probably something that should have happened earlier) in order to figure out exactly where everyone agrees and disagrees.

It seems ICANN 54, which starts October 16, will be dominated by this stuff.

ICANN lists the ways the new gTLD program sucked

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has published an analysis of the many ways in which the first round of the new gTLD program wasted everyone’s time and money.

The 200-page “New gTLD Program Implementation Review” is essentially a long list of ways the program could have been better, along with dozens of recommendations for possible future changes.

It’s for the most part a fairly dry read, and it is probably not as comprehensive as it could be, but it will be required reading for anyone working on policy concerning, or thinking of applying during, the second application round.

It concludes, for example, that maybe there should be a right to appeal inconsistent objection rulings.

It ponders aloud whether the Community Priority Evaluation should be scrapped or revised.

It wonders whether dot-brands, or other categories of gTLD, should get their own version of the standard Registry Agreement.

There’s also some discussion about the possibility of making the evaluation stage more efficient by grouping applications by applicant or back-end service provider, which would streamline the process but complicate the prioritization queues.

I count 48 “lessons learned” in the document, but as a concise summary covering over three years of the program, it’s necessarily somewhat light on detail.

On my first read, a few omissions jumped out at me.

There’s no discussion at all of the cybersquatting component of the background screening process, for example. Nor is there any mention of Geographic Name Review shortcomings highlighted by the recent .africa Independent Review Process case.

Also, in my view the document goes way too easy on the Governmental Advisory Committee.

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure almost everyone who reads it will notice something lacking.

That’s why it’s now open for public comment.

The document is expected to be used as part of the review leading into the second application round, which somehow seems more distant with each passing day.

US gov: we can’t support ICANN accountability plan

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has waded into the ICANN accountability debate, possibly muddying the waters in the process.

In a blog post last night, NTIA head Larry Strickling said that community proposals for enhancing accountability were not yet detailed enough, and had not reached the desired level of consensus, for the NTIA to support them.

He urged everyone involved to simplify the proposals and to work on areas where there is still confusion or disagreement.

The comments were directed at the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG), a diverse volunteer committee that has been tasked with coming up with ways to improve ICANN accountability after the US government severs formal oversight of the IANA functions.

That group spent a year coming up with a set of draft proposals, outlining measures such as stronger, harder-to-change bylaws and improvements to the Independent Review Process.

But the main organizational change it proposed is where the most conflict has emerged.

CCWG thinks the best way to give the community a way to enforce accountability is to change ICANN into a membership organization, a certain type of legal entity under California law.

It would have a Sole Member, a legal entity peopled by members of each part of the community, which would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.

The ICANN board doesn’t dig this idea one bit. Its outside attorneys at Jones Day have counseled against such a move as untested, overly complex and potentially subject to capture.

On a recent three-hour teleconference, the board proposed the Sole Member model be replaced by a “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism”.

The MEM would create a binding arbitration process — enforceable in California court — through which ICANN’s supporting organizations and advisory committees could gang up to challenge decisions that they believe go against ICANN’s Fundamental Bylaws.

Since this bombshell, a key question facing the CCWG has been: is the board’s view being informed primarily by its lawyers, or has Strickling been quietly raising NTIA concerns about the proposal via back-channels?

If it’s the former, the CCWG and its own outside counsel could robustly argue the community’s corner.

If it’s the latter, it’s pretty much back to the drawing board — because if the NTIA doesn’t like the plan, it won’t be approved.

Unfortunately, Strickling’s latest blog post avoids giving any straight answers, saying “it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of the community”.

But his choice of language may suggest a degree of support for the board’s position.

As I stated in Argentina in June, provide us a plan that is as simple as possible but still meets our conditions and the community’s needs. Every day you take now to simplify the plan, resolve questions, and provide details will shorten the length of time it will take to implement the plan and increase the likelihood that the plan will preserve the security and stability of the Internet. Putting in the extra effort now to develop the best possible consensus plan should enhance the likelihood that the transition will be completed on a timely schedule.

The emphasis on “simplicity” could be read as coded support for the board, which has repeatedly said that it thinks the Sole Member model may be too complicated for the NTIA to swallow.

Both the board and Strickling’s latest post refer back to a speech he made in Buenos Aires in June, in which he said:

If a plan is too complex, it increases the likelihood there will be issues that emerge later. Unnecessary complexity increases the possibility that the community will be unable to identify and mitigate all the consequences of the plan. And a complex plan almost certainly will take longer to implement.

Strickling certainly knows that the board has been citing these comments in its objection to the Sole Member model, so the fact that he chose to repeat them may be indicative of which way he is leaning. Or maybe it isn’t.

Either way, I think it’s going to be tough for the CCWG to easily dismiss the board’s concerns.

CCWG members are currently on planes heading to ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles for a two-day face-to-face meeting at which the chairs “expect that a large portion of our time… will be reserved to answering the tough questions”.

Many believe that unless this meeting is extraordinarily successful, it’s going to be tough for an IANA transition proposal to be approved by the NTIA under the current US administration.

XYZ to rethink China gateway plans

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Registries has withdrawn its request to start selling .xyz and .college domains into China via a local gateway service provider.

The company has said it will amend and resubmit its plan to ICANN, which had told it the idea “might raise significant Stability or Security issues”.

The registry wants to be one of the first non-Chinese registries to be able to comply with government regulations, which require all domain firms to have an official license.

As we reported last week, it had signed up with local registrar ZDNS, which would proxy for registrations made by Chinese registrants.

However, it has now withdrawn its Registry Services Evaluation Process request after ICANN said it would have to refer it up the chain to a special technical committee for review.

XYZ said in a letter to ICANN:

We are withdrawing this request because our gateway model is changed since the submission of the registry request and so the request is no longer accurate. We will shortly submit a new registry request to cover the updated gateway model.

It’s not clear what the specific “security and stability” concerns were.