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ICANN approves two new TLDs, including THAT one

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors has given the nod to two more country-code TLDs.

The eight-year-old nation of South Sudan is finally getting its possibly controversial .ss, while Mauritania is getting the Arabic-script version of its name, موريتانيا. (.xn--mgbah1a3hjkrd), to complement its existing .mr ccTLD.

Both TLDs were approved by ICANN after going through the usual, secretive IANA process, at its board meeting at the weekend.

The recipient of موريتانيا. is the Université de Nouakchott Al Aasriya, while .ss is going to National Communication Authority, a governmental agency.

As previously noted, .ss has the potential to be controversial due to its Nazi associations, and the fact that Nazis are precisely the kind of people who have trouble finding TLDs that will allow them to register names.

But none of that is ICANN’s business. It simply checks to make sure the requester has the support of the local internet community and that the string is on the ISO 3166 list.

The Mauritanian IDN has already been added to the DNS root, while .ss has not.

Pay up or sell up, ICANN tells failing new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN has responded to a request for it to reduce the $25,000 annual fee it charges gTLD registries.

The answer is no.

That wholly unsurprising reply came in a letter from registry services director Russ Weinstein to John McCabe, CEO of failing new gTLD operator Who’s Who Registry.

McCabe, in November, had asked ICANN to reduce its fees for TLDs, such as its own .whoswho, that have zero levels of abuse. ICANN fees are the “single biggest item” in the company’s budget, he said.

His request coincided with ICANN commencing compliance proceedings against the company for failure to pay these fees

Weinstein wrote, in a letter (pdf) published today:

We sympathize with the financial challenges that some new gTLD registry operators may be facing in the early periods of these new businesses. New gTLD operators face a challenging task of building consumer awareness and this can and may take significant time and effort.

But he goes on to point out that the $25,000-a-year fee was known to all applicants before they applied, and had been subject to numerous rounds of public comment before the Applicant Guidebook was finalized.

Weinstein writes:

The AGB made clear that evaluation phase was to determine whether an applicant had the requisite technical, operation and financial capabilities to operate a registry, and was not a assessment nor an endorsement of a particular business plan.

It’s pretty clear that the .whoswho business plan has failed. It’s sold no more than a handful of non-defensive domains over the four years it has been available.

Weinstein concludes his letter by pointing out that all new gTLD registries are free to terminate their contracts for any reason, and that it’s perfectly permissible under ICANN rules to sell your contract to another registry.

ICANN told Who’s Who earlier this month that it has until February 10 to pay its overdue fees or risk having its contract terminated.

Nazis rejoice! A TLD for you could be coming soon

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2019, Domain Registries

The domain name system could soon get its first new standard country-code domain for eight years.

This weekend, ICANN’s board of directors is set to vote on whether to allow the delegation of a ccTLD for the relatively new nation of South Sudan.

The string would be .ss.

It would be the first Latin-script ccTLD added to the root since 2010, when .cw and .sx were delegated for Curaçao and Sint Maarten, two of the countries formed by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles.

Dozens of internationalized domain name ccTLDs — those in non-Latin scripts — have been delegated in the meantime.

But South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It formed in 2011 following an independence referendum that saw it break away from Sudan.

It was recognized by the UN as a sovereign nation in July that year and was given the SS delegation by the International Standards Organization on the ISO 3166-2 list a month later.

The country has been wracked by civil war for almost all of its existence, which may well be a reason why it’s taken so long for a delegation request to come up for an ICANN vote. The warring sides agreed to a peace treaty last year.

South Sudan is among the world’s poorest and least-developed nations, with shocking levels of infant and maternal mortality. Having an unfortunate ccTLD is the very least of its problems.

The choice of .ss was made in 2011 by the new South Sudan government in the full knowledge that it has an uncomfortable alternate meaning in the global north, where the string denotes the Schutzstaffel, the properly evil, black-uniformed bastards in every World War II movie you’ve ever seen.

The Anti-Defamation League classifies “SS” as a “hate symbol” that has been “adopted by white supremacists and neo-Nazis worldwide”.

When South Sudan went to ISO for the SS delegation, then-secretary of telecommunications Stephen Lugga told Reuters

We want our domain name to be ‘SS’ for ‘South Sudan’, but people are telling us ‘SS’ has an association in Europe with Nazis… Some might prefer us to have a different one. We have applied for it anyway, SS, and we are waiting for a reply.

To be fair, it would have been pretty dumb to have applied for a different string, when SS, clearly the obvious choice, was available.

There’s nothing ICANN can do about the string. It takes its lead from the ISO 3166 list. Nor does it have the authority to impose any content-regulation rules on the new registry.

Unless the new South Sudan registry takes a hard line voluntarily, I think it’s a near-certainty that .ss will be used by neo-Nazis who have been turfed out of their regular domains.

The vote of ICANN’s board is scheduled to be part of its main agenda, rather than its consent agenda, so it’s not yet 100% certain that the delegation will be approved.

ICANN creates female-heavy anti-harassment team

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors has created a new team to look at issues of harassment in the community.

The new Board Working Group on Anti-Harassment has eight members, six of whom are women.

In fact, all six female members of the board, including non-voting liaisons, have been appointed to the group.

The members are Becky Burr, Chris Disspain, Avri Doria, Lito Ibarra, Manal Ismail, Merike Kaeo and Tripti Sinha. It will be chaired by Sarah Deutsch.

The board said “a focused group of Board members can be part of a group that is trying to help create an environment where the ICANN community is free to focus on the mission and not on behaviors that should not be a part of the working environment.”

Harassment, particularly sexual harassment, has been a simmering topic in the community for a few years, ever since the infamous Cheesesandwichgate affair.

In response, ICANN created its first anti-harassment policy, to complement its longstanding Expected Rules of Behavior.

At ICANN 63 in Barcelona last October, I noticed several unavoidably prominent warnings — billboards the height of a man person — warning attendees against harassing their fellow participants, citing the policy.

In late 2017, an unscientific survey of ICANN community members found that one in three women had experienced or witnessed sexism while participating.

But ICANN’s Ombudsman told DI at the time that no complaints had been filed under the harassment policy in the first eight months it was in effect, even as the #MeToo movement took off.

Critics say that women are reluctant to report incidents to the Ombudsman because he is a man. I expect this is something the new board working group will look at.

In March last year, a group of female community members wrote to ICANN with a set of stories about how they had been harassed at ICANN meetings.

While stopping short of any serious criminal allegations, the stories depicted a working environment that can sometimes be very hostile to women, particularly when alcohol is involved.

ICANN chief gets $100k bonus

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Goran Marby has been awarded almost $100,000 of his annual bonus.

The ICANN board of directors last week voted to approve the first half of his fiscal year 2019 “at risk compensation”, what ICANN calls the discretionary, performance-driven part of its executive compensation packages.

Marby’s salary is $653,846.17 per annum, and the at-risk component is an additional 30% of that. Half of the bonus comes to just over $98,000.

His base pay is about $23,000 more than immediate predecessor Fadi Chehade, but considerably less than two-CEOs-ago Rod Beckstrom, who took home $750,000 and, if it was paid, $195,000 in bonuses.

While at-risk compensation is based on predetermined goals, these goals are not typically made public.

ICANN salaries are based on paying between the 50th and 75th percentile of average wages across the high-tech, non-profit and general industry.