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.africa frozen by panel after ICANN screwup

Kevin Murphy, May 12, 2014, Domain Policy

ZA Central Registry’s bid for the .africa new gTLD has been put on ice by an arbitration panel which admonished ICANN for failing to follow its own bylaws.

An Independent Review Panel ruled yesterday that ICANN should not carry on processing .africa until it has ruled on a complaint filed by failed .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.

If .africa were to be delegated, which could have happened as early as Thursday — ZACR and ICANN have already signed a Registry Agreement — it would render the IRP’s decision moot, the panel found.

This ruling doesn’t mean ICANN has lost the case, just that it’s temporarily enjoined from delegating .africa until the final decision has been made by the IRP panel.

However, the panel had some stern words for ICANN, saying that the matter could have been settled months ago had ICANN only followed its own bylaws.

In the Panel’s unanimous view, it would be unfair and unjust to deny DCA Trust’s request for interim relief when the need for such a relief by DCA Trust arises out of ICANN’s failure to follow its own bylaws.

ICANN’s board of directors passed a resolution in April 2013 calling for the creation of a “standing committee” of nine potential IRP panelists, from which each three-person IRP panel could be drawn.

But, over a year later, it has not created this committee, the current IRP panel said. This led to the delay that forced DCA to request the emergency injunction.

ICANN’s basically been told by one of its own accountability mechanisms that that accountability mechanism is inadequate, at a time when its accountability mechanisms are under the world’s spotlight.

Just last week, the organization launched an accountability review that it said it “interdependent and interrelated” to the process of transitioning IANA away from US government stewardship.

Yeah, it’s embarrassing for ICANN. Doubly so because it’s been beaten by a company so incompetent it accidentally applied for the wrong gTLD.

For ZACR, the panel reckons the delay in getting .africa delegated will likely last “a few months”.

Congress may block funding for IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2014, Domain Policy

A US House of Representatives committee has voted to de-fund the IANA transition process.

On Thursday, the House Appropriations Committee approved the fiscal year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations bill, which includes the $36.7 million budget for the NTIA’s running costs.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is the part of the Department of Commerce responsible for oversight of the IANA functions, which it plans to relinquish.

The committee noted its “concern” at this prospect, and said that no money would be made available to fund this process. Notes to the appropriations bill (pdf) include the following text:

The Committee is concerned by NTIA’s announcement of its intent to transition certain Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. Any such transition represents a significant public policy change and should be preceded by an open and transparent process. In order for this issue to be considered more fully by the Congress, the recommendation for NTIA does not include any funds to carry out a transition of these functions. The Committee expects that NTIA will maintain the existing no-cost contract with ICANN throughout fiscal year 2015.

Other bills currently up for discussion in Congress would delay the IANA transition pending further review by the Government Accountability Office.

The appropriations bill has passed a committee vote, but it still has other legislative stages to pass through before it becomes law.

Six ways ICANN is ballsing up the IANA transition

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has been subjected to its first wave of criticism over its handling to date of the IANA transition process, which will see oversight of the DNS root leave US government hands.

Yesterday was the deadline for comments to be submitted on ICANN’s proposal for a way to handle what some are calling the “sunsetting” of the Department of Commerce’s stewardship of the IANA function.

As DI previously reported, it’s “a proposal for a process to develop a process to develop a proposal”.

ICANN basically proposed a 22-member “Steering Group”, comprised of members of the various ICANN constituencies, that would guide the bottom-up, multistakeholder IANA transition discussion.

The group would ultimately steer the community towards creating a proposal for replacing the US government as IANA’s overseer, which would then be checked and rubber-stamped by Commerce.

As part of ICANN’s initial proposal, a “scoping document” was provided, laying out what in ICANN’s view should and should not be open for discussion.

Dozens of comments were received covering a diverse range of issues related to the make-up of the Steering Group and the range of the scoping document.

Here I’m going to attempt to cover half a dozen key themes that seemed to emerge across multiple commenters.

Note: 1) it’s not a comprehensive overview, 2) I don’t necessarily agree with all of the comments cited below, 3) that most of the links throughout this article are to PDFs.

Registries are apparently not “affected parties”

Given that one of IANA’s key roles (for DI’s purposes, it’s its primary role) is assigning TLDs to registries, you might have expected registries to be classed as “affected parties”.

But they’re not. Bafflingly, only the IAB, IETF, ISOC and NRO — none of which primarily concern themselves with domain names — get that definition in ICANN’s proposal.

Naturally enough, the ccTLD and gTLD operators are not happy about this state of affairs.

The ccNSO, proposing that gTLDs and ccTLDs get two seats each on the Steering Group, wrote:

These organizations, which also participate directly in ICANN’s multistakeholder process, are appropriate and important participants in this transition planning process, but they are not adequate substitutes for registry stakeholders with respect to processing root zone change requests and other functions that uniquely affect TLD registry operators… It is imperative that registry operators sit at the table on equal footing with those organizations and without ICANN intermediation.

The Registries Stakeholder Group of the GNSO concurred, stating:

we feel this list is incomplete as it does not include direct customers of the IANA functions, such as gTLD, nTLD and ccTLD registries, which is incomprehensible and appears to be self-serving of the convener

The GNSO is under-represented

If the registries feel badly treated, they’re not alone.

The Generic Names Supporting Organization comprises seven distinct stakeholder groups: registries, registrars, non-commercial users, non-profits, businesses, ISPs and intellectual property owners.

While there is overlap (registries and registrars often vote en bloc, as do businesses and IP owners), there are at least three camps that rarely fully agree with each other.

The ICANN proposal would provide two seats on the Steering Group between them.

The Intellectual Property Constituency, in its comments, said that each GNSO constituency should get one seat each.

The US Chamber of Commerce asked for at least one seat to be set aside for business interests.

A group of registrars, including most of the big ones, agreed, and put forward a rather more expansive proposal:

Several members of the Registrar Stakeholder Group believe that having two Steering Group representatives for the GNSO will not be sufficient in ensuring that the interests of all GNSO stakeholders are properly reflected. As the GNSO is the largest and most diverse structure within ICANN, we find that a “one size fits all” approach to delegation is not appropriate. Instead, we propose that each SO/AC submit a number of representatives that it believes to be sufficiently representative, but be encouraged to keep the number as small as possible.

The selection process is top-down

Given that this is supposed to be a community-driven process, you’d expect the community to be tasked with picking their representatives on the Steering Group. But that’s not what ICANN proposes.

ICANN instead reckons that membership should be selected by ICANN chair Steve Crocker and GAC chair Heather Dryden from the pool of people who volunteer themselves.

Unsurprisingly, there’s lots of opposition to this. Most groups commenting on this aspect of the proposal said that committee members should be selected by the groups they represent.

The Business Constituency stated:

Appointments to the Steering/Convening Committee should come from constituency groups — not as appointments made by ICANN chair and GAC chair. Nor should any stakeholder group be excluded as a result of consolidating within stakeholder organizations such as the GNSO.

The Center for Democracy and Technology agreed, saying:

The Chairs of ICANN and the GAC should not be the ones to select the Supporting Organization and Advisory Committee representatives; the SO/AC representatives should be selected within their own communities.

Inappropriate framing of the discussion

Many commenters took issue with the way ICANN has configured the discussion, accusing it of acting in the interests of its own self-preservation rather than the stability of the IANA function.

Chiefly, there’s concern that the discussion has been framed in such a way that it assumes ICANN will continue in its role as performer of the IANA functions in more or less the same way as today.

This concern appears to be extremely broad.

The RySG said it was “suspicious” of what appeared to be a “self-interested” framing of the debate:

we feel that it is premature for ICANN staff to assert that ICANN’s role is out of scope. This sentiment is not included in the NTIA announcement and we believe ICANN’s role is an issue that should be left to the bottom-up, multistakeholder process to decide. In particular, we believe whether “structural review of ICANN or its functions” should be included in the scope should be a matter for the community.

The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group agreed that this should be open for discussion:

ICANN-controlled entities both develop and approve DNS policies and also implements the IANA functions. Only a requirement of the NTIA contract guarantees separation of policy and DNS root zone implementation activities. Because of this, we cannot currently support language in ICANN’s proposed Scoping Document which explicitly rules out any discussion of separating the IANA functions from ICANN. How or whether to separate those activities in lieu of the NTIA contract should be openly discussed.

Google said in its comments:

The role of ICANN’s Board is to oversee all of ICANN’s business and operational actions and to ensure its continued solvency as an organization. As such, the Board has a vested interest in ensuring ICANN’s continued relevancy within the Internet governance ecosystem and arguably has an interest in scoping the process to preserve ICANN’s existing role. While we are confident that ICANN’s Board would not act in a way that would harm the Internet or the IANA functions transition, the presence of a conflict of interest — even if perceived — could impact the overall integrity of the process

The Business Constituency said:

this transition should not presume that the only possible outcome is to award IANA functions to ICANN. It is possible that some other third party could replace the US government role as counterparty.

Accountability is being handled in a separate track

ICANN was initially of the view that its own accountability mechanisms — things designed to prevent capture, allow appeals of decisions etc — were out of scope for the IANA transition discussion.

It’s since backtracked, this week launching a new “Enhancing ICANN Accountability” process that will run in parallel — and be “interdependent and interrelated” — to the IANA transition debate.

If these two discussions are so interdependent, why not just lump them together in the same policy track? It’s surely a recipe for mass confusion to keep them separate.

The NCSG stated in its comments:

We do not support ICANN’s efforts to discuss the IANA transition and accountability mechanisms on separate tracks. Specifically, ICANN’s draft proposal and scoping document might prevent any discussion of options for structurally separating IANA function operations from DNS policy making activities.

The ccNSO seemed resigned to the separation, but noted:

To the extent that ICANN continues to insist on maintaining separate tracks to address each of these issues, it must ensure that the two tracks come together in advance of the transition itself.

The IPC said that the discussions need to be more closely synchronized:

The resolution of these two issues is inextricably intertwined and the processes and mechanism for doing so need to be tightly coordinated; this is impossible if the processes and mechanisms are not being developed at the same time.

There’s far from consensus on this issue, however.

The BC and Google both explicitly support the continued separation of the two tracks, while the International Trademark Association implicitly supported the parallel moves, noting:

We generally would be opposed to any approval of an IANA functions transition plan unless it is accompanied by an acceptable globalization and accountability plan that assures continued ICANN accountability at optimal levels.

Everyone only had 30 days to comment

Given that we’re talking about management of the DNS root here, you’d imagine that ICANN would take it just as if not more seriously than, I dunno, its “Future Meetings Strategy” or how much its directors are paid.

But while these and most other comment periods get 45 too 60 days of public comment, the IANA transition proposal only got 30.

ICANN is evidently in a rush to get things finalized before its next public meeting, scheduled for next month in London, rather than wait until the Los Angeles meeting in October.

Some groups, such as the Governmental Advisory Committee, couldn’t get their act together in time to provide a meaningful response given the tight deadline.

Many others, such as the Registries Stakeholder Group, complained:

it is unacceptable that an issue as critical as the transition of the IANA functions would be allowed only a short public comment period

The IPC stated that the whole timetable is out of whack:

The group is supposed to convene for the first time in London in approximately 6 weeks, yet the concept of a Steering Group is not finalized, much less its composition or how it would be chosen… The Steering Group is also supposed to “finalize the group’s charter” “in the London 50 timeframe.” Charters are critical documents, and they take a number of hours over a number of weeks to be created, much less finalized. How would the group have a draft charter before London that could be finalized in London?

Herding cats

In my opinion, this may be “a proposal for a process to develop a process to develop a proposal”, but it’s also a process to demonstrate the effectiveness and inclusiveness of the process.

Given the parallel focus on internet governance in the non-ICANN world (eg NetMundial), the multistakeholder model itself is under intense scrutiny.

How ICANN responds to this first wave of comments will be crucial.

While there are certainly divergent views (not half of which I’ve covered here) among the various parties, it seems to me that some clear areas of agreement have emerged, even among groups that don’t often see eye to eye.

Will ICANN bow to a clear call for its scoping document to be relaxed — putting its own neck on the chopping block in the process — because the multistakeholder community seems to be asking for it?

ICANN split between GNSO and GAC on IGO names

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has refused to choose between the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the Governmental Advisory Committee on the issue of intergovernmental organization protections.

In a resolution last week, the board decided to approve only the parts of the GNSO’s unanimous consensus recommendations that the GAC does not disagree with.

The GNSO said last November that IGOs should not have their acronyms blocked forever at the second level in new gTLDs, going against the GAC consensus view that the acronyms should be “permanently protected”.

The GAC wants IGOs to enjoy a permanent version of the Trademark Claims notifications mechanism, whereas the GNSO thinks they should only get the 90 days enjoyed by trademark owners.

Instead of choosing a side, ICANN passed a resolution last Wednesday requesting “additional time” to reach a decision on these points of difference and said it wants to:

facilitate discussions among the relevant parties to reconcile any remaining differences between the policy recommendations and the GAC advice

The decision is not unexpected. Board member Bruce Tonkin basically revealed the board’s intention to go this way during the Singapore meeting a couple of months ago.

The differences between the GAC and the GNSO are relatively minor now, and the board did approve a large part of the GNSO’s recommendations in its resolution.

IGOs, the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent will all get permanent blocks for their full names (but not acronyms) at the top level and second level in the new gTLD program.

International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) will also get top-level blocks for their full names and protection in the style of the Trademark Claims service at the second level.

The dispute over acronyms was important because many obscure IGOs, which arguably don’t need protection from cybersquatters, have useful or potentially valuable acronyms that new gTLD registries want to keep.

Wikipedia to get single-letter .wiki domain

Top Level Design has scored a bit of a coup for its forthcoming .wiki gTLD — Wikimedia Foundation, which runs Wikipedia, has signed up as an anchor tenant.

According to the registry, Wikimedia will use w.wiki as a URL shortener and they’re in talks about other domains.

The company has also applied to ICANN to release hundreds of two-letter language codes that the foundation wants to use for language-specific short links.

The deal is reminiscent of .CO Internet’s launch, when it allocated the now-ubiquitous t.co for Twitter’s in-house URL shortener, giving it a much-needed marketing boost.

The deal for two-letter domains stands only a slim chance of of being ready in time for .wiki’s general availability, scheduled for May 26, in my view.

Under ICANN’s standard Registry Agreement, all two-character strings are blocked, in order to avoid clashes with country codes used in the ccTLD naming schema.

Top Level Design has now used the Registry Services Evaluation Process to try to get 179 two-letter strings, each of which represents a language code, unblocked.

Wikimedia explicitly endorses the proposal, in a letter attached to the March 11 RSEP (pdf)

The organization plans to use domains such as fr.wiki to redirect to French-language Wikipedia pages and so forth.

It remains to be seen whether ICANN will approve the request. It’s previously been envisaged that registries would approach each country individually to have its ccTLD’s matching string released.

Top Level Design points out that the strings it wants unblocked are from the ISO 639-1 language codes list, not the ISO 3166-1 lists from which ccTLD names are drawn.

But it’s a bit of an argument to nowhere — the strings are identical in most cases.

Under the RSEP policy, Top Level Design really should have been given a preliminary determination by now. It filed its request March 11 but it was only posted last week.

The clock, which gives ICANN 15 days to give the nod or not, may have only just started.

After the preliminary determination, there would be a public comment period and a board of directors decision. The timetable for this would not allow .wiki to launch with the two-letter names active.

But even with the delay, it seems that the registry will be coming out of the door with at least one strong anchor tenant, which is something most new gTLDs have so far failed to manage.