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.gay, .music and others in limbo as ICANN probes itself

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2017, Domain Policy

Several new gTLD applicants have slammed ICANN for conducting an investigation into its own controversial practices that seems to be as opaque as the practices themselves.

Seven proposed new gTLDs, including the much-anticipated .music and .gay, are currently trapped in ICANN red tape hell as the organization conducts a secretive probe into how its own staff handled Community Priority Evaluations.

The now broad-ranging investigation seems have been going on for over six months but does not appear to have a set deadline for completion.

Applicants affected by the delays don’t know who is conducting the probe, and say they have not been contacted by anyone for their input.

At issue is the CPE process, designed to give genuine “community” gTLD applicants a way to avoid a costly auction in the event that their choice of string was contested.

The results of the roughly 25 CPE decisions, all conducted by the independent Economist Intelligence Unit, were sometimes divergent from each other or just baffling.

Many of the losers complained via ICANN’s in-house Requests for Reconsideration and then Independent Review Process mechanisms.

One such IRP complaint — related to Dot Registry’s .inc, .llc, .llp applications — led to two of the three-person IRP panel deciding last July that ICANN had serious questions to answer about how the CPE process was carried out.

While no evidence was found that ICANN had coached the EIU on scoring, it did emerge that ICANN staff had supplied margin notes to the supposedly independent EIU that had subsequently been incorporated into its final decision.

The IRP panel majority wrote that the EIU “did not act on its own in performing the CPEs” and “ICANN staff was intimately involved in the process”.

A month or so later, the ICANN board of directors passed a resolution calling for the CEO to “undertake an independent review of the process by which ICANN staff interacted with the CPE provider”.

Another month later, in October, the Board Governance Committee broadened the scope of the investigation and asked the EIU to supply it with documents it used to reach its decisions in multiple controversial CPE cases.

A couple of weeks ago, BGC chair Chris Disspain explained all this (pdf) to the applicants for .music, .gay, hotel, .cpa, .llc, .inc, .llp and .merck, all of which are affected by the delay caused by the investigation.

He said that the investigation would be completed “as soon as practicable”.

But in response, Dot Registry and lawyers for fellow failed CPE applicant DotMusic have fired off more letters of complaint to ICANN.

(UPDATE: Dot Registry CEO Shaul Jolles got in touch to say his letter was actually sent before Disspain’s, despite the dates on the letters as published by ICANN suggesting the opposite).

Both applicants note that they have no idea who the independent party investigating the CPEs is. That’s because ICANN hasn’t identified them publicly or privately, and the evaluator has not contacted the applicants for their side of the story.

DotMusic’s lawyer wrote (pdf):

DotMusic’s rights are thus being decided by a process about which it: (1) possesses minimal information; (2) carried out by an individual or organization whose identity ICANN is shielding; (3) whose mandate is secret; (4) whose methods are unknown; and (5) whose report may never be made public by ICANN’s Board.

He added, pointedly:

The exclusion of directly affected parties from participation eerily reproduces the shortcomings of the EIU evaluations that are under scrutiny in the first place.

Dot Registry CEO Shaul Jolles, in his letter (pdf), quoted Disspain saying at a public forum in Copenhagen this March that a blog post addressing the concerns had been drafted and would be published “shortly”, but wasn’t.

He suggested the investigation is “smoke and mirrors” and, along with DotMusic, demanded more information about the investigator’s identity and methods.

It does strike me as a looking a bit like history repeating itself: ICANN comes under fire for non-transparently influencing a supposedly independent review and addresses those criticisms by launching another non-transparent supposedly independent review.

No matter what I feel about the merits of the “community” claims of some of these applicants, it has been over five years now since they submitted their applications and the courtesy of transparency — if closure itself its not yet possible — doesn’t seem like a great deal to ask.

Second emergency registry tested with dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN is running its second test of the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator system, designed as a failover for bankrupt gTLDs.

This time, the EBERO under the microscope is CORE Association, one of the three approved providers.

It this week took over operation of .mtpc, a dot-brand gTLD that Mitsubishi applied for, was delegated, never used, and then decided it didn’t want to run any more.

ICANN said:

ICANN is conducting a test of the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program. Simulating an emergency registry operator transition will provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of procedures for addressing potential gTLD service interruptions. Lessons learned will be used to support ICANN’s efforts to ensure the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet and the Domain Name System.

The first test was conducted by ICANN and EBERO provider Nominet earlier this year, using the similarly unloved dot-brand .doosan.

I expect we’ll see a third test before long, using CNNIC, the third EBERO provider.

It would have plenty of dead dot-brands to choose from.

Hey, you! Listen to the ICANN board webcast more private sessions

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is to live stream two sessions during an upcoming retreat, and if you’re at all interested in ICANN you really ought to tune in.

The webcasts are part of an ongoing pilot program designed to increase transparency at the very top of ICANN’s policy-making reverse-hierarchy.

The public, listen-only sessions seem to have been cherry-picked from the broader program of a retreat in Geneva over the May 6-7 weekend, and are:

Marketplace Dynamics Session I: Registries and Registrars
Saturday, 6 May, 11:15 – 12:00 UTC

Internet Governance Engagement Strategy with a Focus on the Internet Governance Forums (IGFs): Proposal to the Board
Sunday, 7 May, 09:00 – 10:00 UTC

Neither session sounds earth-shatteringly exciting, but both will be worth a listen in my view.

If nobody listens, ICANN could fairly say that streaming board meetings is a waste of money and stop doing it rather than expanding the program in future. That reduction of transparency would be in nobody’s interests.

The most recent live sessions occurred during ICANN 58 in Copenhagen last month, but until I ranted on Twitter nobody apart from me was listening.

That’s despite the fact that increased board transparency has been something the community has been crying out for for years.

So if you agree with transparency but find the chosen topics boring, perhaps just open the Adobe Connect room, hit mute, and go for brunch or play with your kids or something.

The Adobe links can be found here.

Disclosure: now that I’ve written this post, I think it’s almost inevitable that I will accidentally miss one or both of these sessions. You’re welcome to mock me should that happen (though you’ll only know whether I was there if you tune in yourself).

MarkMonitor tells .feedback to take a hike after “breach” claim

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2017, Domain Registrars

MarkMonitor is to voluntarily terminate its registrar relationship with Top Level Spectrum after the .feedback registry hit it with a breach of contract notice.

Troy Fuhriman, director of domain management at the registrar, told DI today that the company has just sent TLS a letter stating that it no longer wishes to sell .feedback names.

TLS earlier this month accused MarkMonitor of breaking the terms of its Registry-Registrar Agreements by leaking details of that agreement to media outlets including yours truly.

While TLS CEO Jay Westerdal told DI that an apology from MarkMonitor would be enough to make the termination threat go away, MarkMonitor has clearly decided against that route.

“We’re going to terminate all accreditation agreements for .feedback,” he said. “In part it’s a response to ICANN’s finding that Top Level Spectrum violated its Pubic Interest Commitments, and what we believe is a retaliatory breach notification from them.”

MarkMonitor and a small posse of high-profile clients including Facebook recently won a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Policy complaint against .feedback, related to the transparency of its launch policies and pricing.

It was in that complaint that MarkMonitor released details contained in the RRA that TLS deemed to be confidential.

Terminating the agreement means that MarkMonitor will no longer be able to sell .feedback names as a registrar and will have to transfer its existing registrations to a different registrar.

Not many clients are affected. MarkMonitor had only 45 .feedback domains under management at the last count (which was still enough to make it the fourth-largest independent .feedback registrar).

Most of these domains will be moved to 101domain, which with fewer than 200 domains is still the leading .feedback registrar.

UPDATE: Westerdal says that MarkMonitor was in fact terminated on Monday. Neither party claims that MarkMonitor made any effort to comply with the breach notice by apologizing.

ICANN attendance shrank in Denmark

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2017, Domain Policy

Attendance at ICANN’s recent meeting in Copenhagen was down about 8% on the comparable meeting a year earlier in Marrakech, according to ICANN statistics.

There were 2,089 at the Denmark meeting, down from 2,273 reported a year ago in Morocco.

The decline appears to be largely a result of relatively lower local participation. Africa is usually under-represented at ICANN meetings, but there was a surge in Marrakech, with almost 956 attendees hailing from the continent.

About half of Copenhagen participants — 1,012 people, of which 417 were first-timers — were European.

The number of remote participation attendees was much higher in Copenhagen. ICANN counted 4,428 unique users logging into Adobe Connect meeting rooms, compared to 3,458 in Marrakech.

Both Copenhagen and Marrakech, ICANNs 55 and 58, are designated as “community forums”, meaning they follow the traditional ICANN schedule. ICANN 56 was a shorter, policy-focused meeting and ICANN 57 was a longer meeting with a focus on outreach.

The stats for Copenhagen can be downloaded here (pdf).