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US and Russia face off over ICANN veto power

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2010, Domain Policy

The ruling body of the International Telecommunications Union this week kicked off a major policy-making meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, and has already seen the US and Russia taking opposing stances over the future control of ICANN.

A group of former Soviet nations, chaired by the Russian Federation’s Minister of Communications, seems to have proposed that the ITU should give itself veto power over ICANN decisions.

A proposal filed by the Regional Commonwealth in the field of Communications (RCC) calls for the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee to be scrapped and replaced by an ITU group.

Consideration should be given to the expediency of having the functions of GAC carried out by a specially-constituted group within ITU with the authority to veto decisions adopted by the ICANN Board of Directors. If it is so decided, the ITU Secretary-General should be instructed to consult ICANN on the matter.

The proposal was first noted by Gregory Francis at CircleID.

It says that the GAC is currently the only avenue open to governments to “defend their interests” but that it has “no decision-making authority and can do no more than express its wishes”.

It also notes that fewer than 50% of nations are members of the GAC, and that only 20% or fewer actually participate in GAC meetings.

The proposal was apparently submitted to the ongoing ITU Plenipotentiary Conference but, in contrast to ICANN’s policy of transparency, many ITU documents are only accessible to its members.

A reader was kind enough to send me text extracted from the document. I’ve been unable to verify its authenticity, but I’ve no particular reason to believe it’s bogus.

The RCC was set up in 1991 to increase cooperation between telecommunications and postal operators in the post-Soviet era. Its board is comprised of communications ministers from a dozen nations.

Its position on ICANN appears to be also held by the Russian government. Igor Shchegolev, its communications minister, is chair of the RCC board.

At the Plenipotentiary on Tuesday, Shechegolev said (via Google Translate):

We believe that the ITU is capable of such tasks to international public policy, Internet governance, its development and finally, protection of interests of countries in ICANN.

Philip Verveer told the conference:

the ITU should be a place where the development of the Internet is fostered. The Internet has progressed and evolved in a remarkably successful way under the existing multi-stakeholder arrangements. Changes, especially changes involving inter-governmental controls, are likely to impair the dynamism of the Internet—something we all have an interest in avoiding.

ICANN itself has no formal presence at the Plenipotentiary, after ITU secretary-general Hamadoun Toure turned down a request by ICANN president Rod Beckstrom for observer status.

The conference carries on until October 22. It’s likely that we haven’t heard the last of the anti-ICANN rhetoric.

Telnic wants to sell numeric domain names

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2010, Domain Registries

Telnic, the .tel registry, wants ICANN to allow it to start taking registrations of purely numeric domain names.

While the company has not submitted a formal request, Telnic CEO Khashayar Mahdavi has asked for numbers-only domains in a separate public comment period.

VeriSign has asked ICANN for the ability to start accepting hyphens and numbers in domain names in the .name TLD, including purely numeric strings such as phone numbers.

Mahdavi, who apparently views .name as a key competitor, wrote in a comment submitted on the VeriSign request:

If ICANN decides to remove this restriction from .name then this change in policy should apply to .tel as well. Approving the release of this restriction on one TLD and leaving it in place for another provides the first with a substantial commercial advantage.

In order to avoid such an unjust result, we respectfully request that, if ICANN decides to approve VeriSign’s request to allow all-numeric strings (and strings with combinations of numbers and hyphens) to be registered as domain names in .name, it simultaneously allow Telnic to do the same in .tel.

Telnic’s charter, part of its ICANN registry contract, currently states “The .tel registry will not allow numeric-only domains to be registered at the registry level.”

I believe the restriction was conceived in order to avoid clashes with the international telephone numbering authorities and the ENUM protocol. Mahdavi wrote:

Telnic believes it is important to avoid conflict with ENUM , so it will continue to forbid the registration of single digit domain names in .tel. Such domain names would be necessary for creating an ENUM tree under .tel, so forbidding them makes a .tel-based ENUM system impossible.

When Telnic originally applied for .tel in 2000, one of the reasons it was rejected was the fact that the International Telecommunications Union wasn’t happy with the idea of phone numbers in domain names.

FDA to get domain name takedown role?

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2010, Domain Policy

The US Food and Drug Administration may in future take a stronger role in having domain names associated with rogue internet pharmacies shut down.

Following the meeting between domain name registrars and registries and the Obama administration at the White House last week, I reached out to a few attendees to find out what was discussed.

I didn’t have much luck, to be honest. Some said the meeting was quite dull. But Christine Jones, Go Daddy’s general counsel, was good enough to answer a few questions via email.

The meeting was scheduled to discuss voluntary measures domain firms can take to shut down web sites selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals. I asked whether any specific solutions were discussed.

Jones replied: “Not specifically. There could be an FDA-led solution at some point, which Go Daddy supports.”

The FDA has taken action against illegal online pharmacies in the past, but it does not currently appear to do so on a day-to-day basis.

In November 2009, the agency sent warning letters to the operators of 136 web sites that appeared to be selling medicines illegally. The letters were also sent to the registrars of record for the sites’ domains, most of which were taken down.

The FDA said at the time that the intention was to alert the registrars that the registrants in question may have been in violation of their terms of service and eligible for termination.

In general, the FDA says that overseas pharmacies selling prescription drugs into the US, whether counterfeit or not, is illegal. What this would mean for any “FDA-led solution” is a matter for speculation.

It’s well-known that sick people in the US tend to pay more for their prescription drugs than in other nations, due in part to years of protectionist policies designed to keep the pharma business healthy.

While there are plenty of crooks selling potentially dangerous bogus pills online, some say there are also many legitimate Canadian pharmacies online that supply authentic products more cheaply to US-based prescription holders.

Currently, many US registrars use services such as LegitScript to identify potentially infringing sites. Demand Media’s registrar, eNom, is the most recent convert.

LegitScript, which also only approves US pharmacies, is subject to a certain degree of controversy.

Last week it threatened to sue a web site that made a number of allegations about its financing and the motivations of founder John Horton.

Horton founded LegitScript in 2007, shortly after leaving his Bush administration role as associate deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

LegitScript’s main competitor, PharmacyChecker.com, recently asked the US Congress to investigate Horton for alleged ethics violations, claiming he set up LegitScript while still in government.

In April 2007, the ONDCP issued a report which harshly criticized PharmacyChecker for approving Canadian pharmacies that sell drugs to US citizens over the internet, which it said was illegal.

The domain name legitscript.com was initially registered on March 20, 2007. The earliest Whois record I can find, from July that year, shows Horton was the registrant.

Horton’s LinkedIn profile says he left the administration in May 2007.

It seems likely that even if LegitScript did not exist until Horton was out of government, he was preparing its foundations months earlier, at the same time as his office was trashing his future competitor.

Finally, to return to last week’s White House meeting, I asked Go Daddy’s Jones whether the focus was on healthcare or IP protection, and she had this to say:

The focus of this particular meeting was definitely not IP protection. Although IPEC [Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator] organized the meeting, there were administration officials and law enforcement attending from many areas of the government. The focus was on finding ways to deal with the rogue pharmacy issue, to get non-compliant registrars to join the fight, and to beef up AUPs to cover registrars in these cases.

She also said that the topic of COICA, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, was not raised.

As I’ve previously reported, ICANN did not attend the White House meeting.

ICANN cans broke registrar

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Registrars

4Domains.com has lost its registrar accreditation after ICANN decided it had gone insolvent.

ICANN has alleged numerous other violations of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, but told the registrar that its insolvency allows it terminate the accreditation with immediate effect.

ICANN’s letter to 4Domains (pdf) describes a company unable not only to pay its roughly $6,110 in due ICANN fees, but also to fund its registry accounts, service its customers and pay its staff.

From this, ICANN has concluded that the registrar is insolvent, and has terminated its accreditation.

4Domains is acting in manner that endangers the stability and operational integrity of the Internet, which is a separate grounds to support ICANN’s termination of the 4Domains RAA.

ICANN said 4Domains was also failing to escrow its registrant data, “due to an inability of the 4Domains programmer to resolve the escrow deposit issues”.

But it has this week supplied ICANN with an electronic copy of its customer database, so it appears that most registrants will be protected should their domains be transferred to another registrar.

The company has been told it may now nominate another registrar to take over its accounts in bulk.

4Domains was accredited in 2000, making it one of the first registrars to go live. According to DotAndCo.net, it has about 25,000 active registrations in five gTLDs.

Now .mobi wants to auction ultra-short domains

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias-owned dotMobi has applied to ICANN to auction off one and two-letter .mobi domain names, following in the footsteps on other top-level domain registries.

The company had a plan to selectively allocate some such domains based on a Request For Proposals approved by ICANN almost two years ago, now it wants to be able to auction off whatever domains remain.

dotMobi said (pdf):

Once the previously approved RFP round has concluded, dotMobi will conduct an auction of any remaining domains according to a schedule determined by dotMobi. For any domains not allocated during either the RFP or auction rounds, dotMobi will announce a release date and will invite open, first-come-first-served registrations.

Requests to allocate one and two-character domains have previously been submitted and approved by Neustar (.biz), Afilias (.info), puntCAT (.cat), Tralliance (.travel) and RegistryPro (.pro).

Telnic (.tel) has a similar proposal still under board review.

Such auctions offer a one-time windfall for the registry operator. NeuStar’s .biz auction raised a reported $360,000 last year.

As DomainNameWire reported yesterday VeriSign has withdrawn its application for one-letter auctions in .net. Its proposal would have seen expired one-character domains returned to registry control, allowing them to be re-auctioned.