ICANN’s board of directors has given the clearest indication yet that the organization wants to set up an HQ overseas, further loosening ties with the US government.
The board has formed six new “President’s Globalization Advisory Groups”, made up of half a dozen directors each, one of which has been tasked with advising ICANN on ways to:
Establish complimentary [sic] parallel international structure to enhance ICANN’s global legitimacy. Consider complementary parallel international structure within scope of ICANN’s mandate.
This indicates that ICANN’s reported plan to base itself in Geneva may not be so far-fetched after all, but it also indicates that ICANN currently does not anticipate doing away with its original HQ in Los Angeles.
ICANN already has several offices around the world, but recently there’s been talk of it embedding itself in Switzerland, as an “international organization”, more deeply.
As we’ve previously reported, ICANN may not relocate outside of the US due to its Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce, which requires it to remain a US non-profit.
But another of the three panels set up by the board this week will advise ICANN on how to create an “enhanced Affirmation of Commitments.”
Other panels will explore the globalization of the IANA function — currently operated under a procurement contract with Commerce — and the root server system, which is independent operated but heavily US-based.
The ICANN board said in its resolution:
the continued globalization of ICANN must evolve in several ways, including: partnerships in the broader Internet eco-system to strengthen multistakeholder Internet governance frameworks; strengthening ICANN itself, including affirmations of commitments and relationships among the stakeholders; evolving the policy structures to serve and scale to the needs of the global community, and identify opportunities for the future legal structures and IANA globalization.
The plan is for these panels talk to the community at the Singapore meeting next month, before reporting back to the board before ICANN meets for its 50th public meeting in London this coming June.
This week’s move is the latest in a series of decisions made by the ICANN board following the spying revelations of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and the subsequent consternation they caused in capitals around the world.
Brazil is set to host a meeting to discuss these kinds of internet governance matters with ICANN and its coalition of the willing in Sao Paulo this April.
NCC Group, owner of .secure applicant Artemis, has bought the rights to .trust from Deutsche Post, which has an uncontested bid for the new gTLD but decided it doesn’t want it.
The price tag of the deal was not disclosed.
NCC, which is also one of the two major data escrow providers supporting new gTLD applicants, said in a statement:
Deutsche Post originally obtained the gTLD through ICANN’s new gTLD allocation process during 2013 but has now chosen not to utilise it.
NCC Group will use .trust as the primary vehicle for launching its Artemis internet security service, which aims to create global internet safety through a secure and trusted environment for selected customers.
The Group remains in the contention stage with its application to ICANN for the .secure gTLD. It believes that there will be a benefit in having a number of complementary named gTLDs, all of which offer the same high levels of internet security.
While Artemis has applied for .secure, it’s facing competition from the much richer Amazon.
Its initial hope that Amazon’s bid would be rejected due to the controversy over “closed generics” seems to have been dashed after Amazon was allowed to change its application.
NCC may be characterizing .trust as an “additional” security TLD, but it’s quite possible it will be its “only” one.
Deutsche Post, which as owner of DHL is the world’s largest courier service, has passed Initial Evaluation on .trust but has not yet signed its ICANN contract.
ICANN’s web site still shows Deutsche Post as the applicant for .trust and it’s not clear from NCC’s statement how the transfer would be handled.
ICANN could wind up being based in Geneva as a result of the current post-Snowden internet governance discussions, according to a report in a Swiss newspaper.
Le Temps, citing several anonymous ICANN sources, reported today that an HQ move from Los Angeles to Geneva was a “very likely scenario”.
That’s as an alternative to allowing its functions to be taken over by the International Telecommunications Union, the paper reported.
It’s not the first time a move to Geneva has been touted.
Back in September, DI rubbished — and ICANN denied — claims that the organization had already put the wheels in motion for a move to Switzerland.
It still appears to be unlikely in the short term, and for the same reason: ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments with the US Department of Commerce requires it to remain a US non-profit corporation.
But the AoC is now open for discussion again.
Barely a month after the Geneva move was first raised as a possibility, Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread US spying on internet users had led to the Montevideo Declaration, in which ICANN spoke of the need for further “internationalization” of ICANN.
Later last October, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade called America’s unique role in ICANN’s oversight “just not sustainable“.
Coming this April, governments, standards bodies, industry and others are set to meet in Sao Paolo, Brazil, for early-stage discussions that may eventually lead to the US cutting ICANN loose.
If ICANN does leave the US, Geneva does seem like the most plausible venue for its headquarters. It already has a small office there and has obtained international non-profit status for its local subsidiary.
The European Union has made ICANN’s close relationship with the US one of the targets of a new platform on internet governance.
In a new communication on internet governance (pdf), the European Commission said it will “work with all stakeholders” to:
- identify how to globalise the IANA functions, whilst safeguarding the continued stability and security of the domain-name system;
- establish a clear timeline for the globalisation of ICANN, including its Affirmation of Commitments.
The policy is being characterized as being prompted by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about widespread US spying on internet users.
EC vice president Neelie Kroes issued a press release announcing the policy, saying:
Recent revelations of large-scale surveillance have called into question the stewardship of the US when it comes to Internet Governance. So given the US-centric model of Internet Governance currently in place, it is necessary to broker a smooth transition to a more global model while at the same time protecting the underlying values of open multi-stakeholder governance of the Internet.
Despite this, the document does not contain any allegations that link ICANN to spying, or indeed any justification for the logical leap from Snowden to domain names.
The EU position is not dissimilar to ICANN’s own. Last October CEO Fadi Chehade used Snowden as an excuse to talk about putting ICANN’s relationship with the US back in the spotlight.
As I noted at the time, it all looks very opportunistic.
Internationalizing ICANN is of course a noble objective — and one that has been envisaged since ICANN’s very creation 15 years ago — but what would it look like it practice?
I’d be very surprised if what the Commission has in mind isn’t a scenario in which the Commission always gets what it wants, even if other stakeholders disagree with it.
Right now, the Commission is demanding that ICANN rejects applications for .wine and .vin new gTLDs unless applicants agree to new rights protection mechanisms for geographic indicators such as “Champagne”.
That’s something that ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee could not reach consensus on, yet the EU wants ICANN to act based on its unilateral (insofar as the EU could be seen as a single entity) advice.
The new EC policy document makes lots of noise about its support for the “multi-stakeholder process”, but with hints that it might not be the “multi-equal-stakeholder process” championed by Chehade.
For example, it states on the one hand:
Those responsible for an inclusive process must make a reasonable effort to reach out to all parties impacted by a given topic, and offer fair and affordable opportunities to participate and contribute to all key stages of decision making, while avoiding capture of the process by any dominant stakeholder or vested interests.
That sounds fair enough, but the document immediately goes on to state:
the fact that a process is claimed to be multistakeholder does not per se guarantee outcomes that are widely seen to be legitimate
it should be recognised that different stages of decision making processes each have their own requirements and may involve different sets of stakeholders.
Sound multistakeholder processes remain essential for the future governance of the Internet. At the same time, they should not affect the ability of public authorities, deriving their powers and legitimacy from democratic processes, to fulfil their public policy responsibilities where those are compatible with universal human rights. This includes their right to intervene with regulation where required.
With that in mind, what would an “internationalized” IANA look like, if the European Commission gets its way?
Right now, IANA may be contractually tethered to the US Department of Commerce, but in practice Commerce has never refused to delegate a TLD (even when Kroes asked it to delay .xxx).
Compare that to Kroes statement last September that “under no circumstance can we agree having .wine and .vin on the internet, without sufficient safeguards”.
Today’s policy news from the EC looks fine at a high level, but in light of what the EC actually seems to want to achieve in practical terms, it looks more like an attempt at a power grab.
New gTLDs get delegated on average 70 days after they sign their ICANN Registry Agreement, but the duration of the wait varies quite a lot by registry, according to DI research.
For the 145 delegated new gTLDs I looked at, the delegation has come 39 to 151 days after contract signing.
After signing an RA, registries have to enter into Pre-Delegation Testing before their strings are handed off to IANA, Verisign and the US Department of Commerce for delegation.
The Applicant Guidebook states that this transition to delegation phase is expected to take approximately two months. On average, ICANN seems to be only slightly missing that target.
The differing wait times could be attributed to any number of reasons. Difficulties during PDT, registry choice, geography and holidays could all see some take longer than others.
Donuts, which is responsible for almost two thirds of the gTLDs I looked at, seems to have refined the process to an art, getting its gTLDs delegated on average 62 days after contract signing.
There are currently 125 gTLDs that have contracts but have not yet been delegated, according to our records.
Here’s the table of delegation wait times, for those interested.
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