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ICANN explains how .org pricing decision was made

ICANN has responded to questions about how its decision to lift price caps on .org, along with .biz and .info, was made.

The buck stops with CEO Göran Marby, it seems, according to an ICANN statement, sent to DI last night.

ICANN confirmed that was no formal vote of the board of directors, though there were two “consultations” between staff and board and the board did not object to the staff’s plans.

The removal of price caps on .org — which had been limited to a 10% increase per year — proved controversial.

ICANN approved the changes to Public Interest Registry’s contract despite receiving over opposing messages from 3,200 people and organizations during its open public comment period.

Given that the board of directors had not voted, it was not at all clear how the decision to disregard these comments had been made and by whom.

The Internet Commerce Association, which coordinated much of the response to the comment period, has since written to ICANN to ask for clarity on this and other points.

ICANN’s response to DI may shed a little light.

ICANN staff first briefed the board about the RA changes at its retreat in Los Angeles from January 25 to 28 this year, according to the statement.

That briefing covered the reasons ICANN thinks it is desirable to migrate legacy gTLD Registry Agreements to the 2012-round’s base RA, which has no pricing controls.

The base RA “provides additional safeguards and security and stability requirements compared to legacy agreements” and “creates efficiencies for ICANN org in administration and compliance enforcement”, ICANN said.

Migrating old gTLDs to the standardized new contract complies with ICANN’s bylaws commitment “to introduce and promote competition in the registration of domain names and, where feasible and appropriate, depend upon market mechanisms to promote and sustain a competitive environment in the DNS market”, ICANN said.

They also contain provisions forcing the registry to give advance notice of price changes and to give registrants the chance to lock-in prices for 10 years by renewing during the notice period, the board was told.

After the January briefing, Marby made the call to continue negotiations. The statement says:

After consultation with the Board at the Los Angeles workshop, and with the Board’s support, the CEO decided to continue the plan to complete the renewal negotiations utilizing the Base RA. The Board has delegated the authority to sign contracts to the CEO or his designee.

A second board briefing took place after the public comment periods, at the board’s workshop in Marrakech last month.

The board was presented with ICANN’s staff summary of the public comments (pdf), along with other briefing documents, then Marby made the call to move forward with signing.

Following the discussion with the Board in Marrakech, and consistent with the Board’s support, the CEO made the decision for ICANN org to continue with renewal agreements as proposed, using the Base gTLD Registry Agreement.

Both LA and Marrakech briefings “were closed sessions and are not minuted”, ICANN said.

But it appears that the board of directors, while not voting, had at least two opportunities to object to the new contracts but chose not to stand in staff’s way.

At the root of the decision appears to be ICANN Org’s unswerving, doctrinal mission to make its life easier and stay out of price regulation to the greatest extent possible.

Reasonable people can disagree, I think, on whether this is a worthy goal. I’m on the fence.

But it does beg the question: what’s going to happen to .com?

.amazon frozen AGAIN as endless government games continue

Kevin Murphy, June 25, 2019, Domain Policy

Amazon’s application for the .amazon gTLD has yet again been frozen, after a South American government invoked ICANN’s appeals process.

The bid, as well as applications for the Chinese and Japanese versions, were returned to “on-hold” status at the weekend, after Colombia filed a formal Request for Reconsideration, an ICANN spokesperson confirmed to DI.

“The processing toward contracting of the .AMAZON applications has been halted pending the resolution of Request 19-1, per ICANN organization’s normal processes,” the spokesperson said.

This means the applications could remain frozen for 135 days, until late October, while ICANN processes the request. It’s something that has happened several times with other contested gTLDs.

Colombia filed RfR 19-1 (pdf) on June 15. It demands that ICANN reverses its board’s decision of May 15, which handed Amazon a seemingly decisive victory in its long-running battle with the eight governments of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ACTO’s members believe they should have policy control over .amazon, to protect the interests of their citizens who live in the region they share.

To win an RfR — something that hardly ever happens — a complainant has to show that the ICANN board failed to consider pertinent information before it passed a resolution.

In Colombia’s case, it argues that the board ignored an April 7 letter (since published in PDF format here) its Governmental Advisory Committee representative sent that raises some interesting questions about how Amazon proposes to operate its TLDs.

Because .amazon is meant to be a highly restricted “dot-brand” gTLD, it would presumably have to incorporate Specification 13 into its ICANN registry agreements.

Spec 13 releases dot-brands from commitments to registrar competition and trademark protection in exchange for a commitment that only the brand itself will be able to own domains in the TLD.

But Colombia points out that Amazon’s proposal (pdf) to protect ACTO governments’ interests would give the eight countries and ACTO itself “beneficial ownership” over a single domain each (believed to be names such as co.amazon, .br.amazon, etc).

If this means that Amazon would not qualify for Spec 13, it could follow that ICANN’s board made its decision to continue processing .amazon on faulty assumptions, Colombia argues.

Colombia points to the case of .sas, a dot-brand that is apparently shared by two companies that have the same brand, as a possible model for shared management of .amazon.

RfRs are handled by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee.

BAMC took just a couple of days to rule out (pdf) Colombia’s request for “urgent reconsideration”, which would reduce its regular response time from 90 days to 7 days.

The committee said that because the .amazon applications were being placed back on-hold as part of normal procedure during consideration of an RfR, no harm could come to Colombia that would warrant “urgent” reconsideration.

According to ICANN’s spokesperson, under its bylaws the latest the board can respond to Colombia’s request is October 28.

At a GAC session at the ICANN 65 meeting in Marrakech, taking place right now, several ACTO governments have just spent over an hour firmly and publicly protesting ICANN’s actions surrounding .amazon.

They’re still talking as I hit “publish” on this post.

In a nutshell, they believe that ICANN has ignored GAC advice and reneged on its commitment to help Amazon and ACTO reach a “mutually acceptable solution”.

ICANN heading back to Morocco in 2019

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has picked Morocco for its mid-year meeting in 2019.

The June 24-27 meeting, ICANN 65, will be hosted by the Mediterranean Federation of Internet Associations at the Palmeraie Resort in Marrakech. That’s the same venue as ICANN 55 in March 2016.

It’s a Policy Forum meeting, meaning it has an abridged agenda, an expected lower attendance, and a tighter focus on policy work than the other two annual meetings.

It will be sandwiched between the March meeting in Kobe, Japan and the November meeting in Montreal, Canada.

More pressingly, it now seems all but certain that ICANN is heading to Puerto Rico in March 2018 for ICANN 61, despite the extensive damage caused by Hurricane Maria in September.

During the public forum at ICANN 60 in Abu Dhabi last week, the customary spot where the next meeting’s hosts get five minutes to plug their city or nation was notably different.

Shots of landscapes, sunsets and cultural attractions were instead replaced by a series of government and local tourism officials encouraging ICANNers to visit. The message was basically: everything’s okay, it’s safe for you to come.

The convention center venue for ICANN 61 was so lightly damaged by Maria that it was actually used as the headquarters of the recovery effort immediately after the storm. You may have seen news footage of it when President Trump showed up.

ICANN said October 7 that it was monitoring the situation but that it still intended to have the March meeting in San Juan as planned.

The city would no doubt welcome the modest economic boost that a few thousand tech professionals and lawyers showing up for a week will provide.

I’m planning on attending.

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).

In rare public session, ICANN approves sexual harassment policy

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors this afternoon approved an anti-harassment policy designed to protect community members from unwanted sexual attention.

It’s the policy inspired by the now infamous Cheesesandwichgate incident at the Marrakech meeting a year ago.

But general counsel John Jeffrey noted that there have been multiple similar complaints to the Ombudsman over the last year or so, possibly as a result of increased awareness that such complaints are possible.

While the text of the resolution has not yet been published, I believe it’s approving a lightly modified version of the policy draft outlined here.

That draft sought to ban activities such as “sexually suggestive touching” and “lewd jokes” at ICANN meetings. A laundry list of characteristics (such as race, gender, disability) were also given special protection.

What’s possibly more interesting than the new policy itself is the manner in which the policy was approved.

It was the first time in goodness knows how many years — definitely over 10, and I’m tempted to say over 15, but nobody seems to know for sure — that the ICANN board has deliberated on a resolution in public.

By “in public” I mean the 30-minute session was live-streamed via Adobe Connect from an undisclosed location somewhere at ICANN 58, here in Copenhagen. An in-person live audience was not possible for logistical reasons, I’m told.

Apart from the first few years of ICANN’s existence, its public board meetings have usually been rubber-stamping sessions at the end of the week-long meeting, based on discussions that had gone on behind closed doors days earlier.

So today’s session was a significant attempt to increase transparency that is likely to be welcomed by many.

Unfortunately, its existence could have been communicated better.

For the first 15 minutes, there were no more than 19 people in the Adobe room, and I believe I may have been the only one who was not ICANN staff or board.

After I tweeted about it, another 10 or so people showed up to listen.

Given that increased board transparency is something many sections of the community have been clamoring for for years, one might have expected a bigger turnout.

While the meeting had been prominently announced, it was not listed on the official ICANN 58 schedule, so had failed to make it onto the to-do lists of any of the iCal slaves pottering around the venue.

The session itself came across to me as a genuine discussion — not stage-managed or rehearsed as some had feared.

Directors raised issues such as the possible increased workload on the Ombudsman, the fact that the current Ombudsman (or Ombudsperson, as some directors referred to him) is male, and the availability of female staff members to receive “sensitive” complaints.

Today’s open session is part of a “pilot” and is due to be followed up on Sunday with another, which will discuss ICANN’s fiscal 2018 operating plan and budget.

Again, turning up to watch in person will not be possible, but the 90-minute session will be streamed live at 0745 UTC here.

The first in the pilot program, which even I missed, was in Brussels in September.

How many elephants did ICANN send to Helsinki?

Kevin Murphy, July 18, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN ships a quite staggering amount of equipment to its thrice-yearly public meetings, equivalent to more than 12 mid-sized cars at the recent Helsinki meeting.

That’s one of the interesting data points in ICANN’s just published “Technical Report” — a 49-page data dump — for ICANN 56.

It’s the second meeting in a row the organization has published such a report, the first for a so-called “Meeting B” or “Policy Forum” which run on a reduced-formality, more focused schedule.

The Helsinki report reveals that 1,436 people showed up in person, compared to 2,273 for March’s Marrakech meeting, which had a normal ICANN meeting agenda.

The attendees were 61% male and 32% female. Another 7% did not disclose their gender. No comparable numbers were published in the Marrakech report.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the Helsinki numbers show not a terrible gender balance as far as tech conferences go. It’s a bit better than you’d expect from anecdotal evidence.

Not many big tech events publish their male/female attendee ratios, but Google has said attendees at this year’s Google IO were 23% female.

Europeans accounted for most of the Helsinki attendees, as you might expect, at 43%. That compared to 20% in Marrakech.

The next largest geographic contingent came from North America — 27%, compared to just 18% in Marrakech.

The big surprise to me is how much equipment ICANN ships out to each of its meetings.

In March, it moved 93 metric tonnes (103 American tons) of kit to Marrakech. About 19 metric tonnes of that was ICANN-owned gear, the rest was hired. That weighs as much as 3.5 African elephants, the report says.

For Helsinki, that was up to 19.7 metric tonnes, more than 12 cars’ worth. Shipped equipment includes stuff like 412 microphones, 73 laptops and 28 printers.

In both reports, ICANN explains the shipments like this:

Much like a touring band, ICANN learned over time that the most cost-effective method of ensuring that meeting participants have a positive experience is to sea freight our own equipment to ICANN meetings. We ship critical equipment, then rent the remaining equipment locally to help promote the economy.

Rock on.

The Helsinki report, which reveals more data than anyone could possibly find useful, can be downloaded as a PDF here.

“Cheese sandwich” comment blamed for sexual harassment complaint

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s first formal case of sexual harassment has been closed with no official finding by the Ombudsman.

Ombudsman Chris LaHatte today said he was unable to establish the facts of the alleged incident, which is said to have taken place during a coffee break at the ICANN 55 meeting in Marrkech, March 6.

LaHatte said that the complainant’s decision to publicly name the man she says harassed her had “compromised” his investigation and that the alleged actions of the man “cannot be considered serious”.

It also emerged publicly for the first time that the interaction that led to the complaint was a brief conversation about sandwiches.

LaHatte’s report on the incident says:

The allegation was that she had a relatively brief discussion with a man, which she found derogatory and which she considered was sexual harassment. The description was that he leaned towards her and took her ICANN identification tag. There was a general discussion about the food, and she said that he made the comment, “you can go make me a cheese sandwich”

But the complainant told DI a slightly different version of events that she said is more accurate:

[The man] approached me, pulled at my name tag, examined it and dropped it. A little later, he lifted my name tag and flipped it back and forth, asking me “Where are you from?”, leaned in, lecherously looked at me and then said, “do you know how to make a cheese sandwich?” I was taken aback and responded angrily with “Yes, that is why I came here, to make you cheese sandwiches.” He went on to throw another lecherous look my way and said, “Well, I love veg sandwiches.”

According to LaHatte, the man in question flatly denies that the incident even took place.

The complainant says the incident can be defined as sexual harassment under the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Indian law (she is Indian), and the ICANN corporate policy against sexual harassment among its staff.

Neither party is a member of ICANN staff.

LaHatte says in his report that he has not considered jurisdiction or matters of definition, given that he was unable to even establish the facts of the incident.

In this complaint, the matters alleged cannot be considered serious by any standard. If in fact the action and statement were made, it may have been a lapse of good manners and insensitive to gender. Such issues need to be taken in proportion, and best practice is not to debate this in a public forum where the issues are not yet clear…

However any chance of discussing the comments has been compromised by the decision to identify the other party before my investigation could be completed, and for the parties to have had a full opportunity to consider the alternative versions. The other party has been publically named without an opportunity to make any comment or denial of the incident. It is also part of my role as the ombudsman to ensure that standards of procedural fairness are met, and the premature publication regrettably does not meet the standards of natural justice, because the parties have a right to be heard before this occurred.

LaHatte names the complainant (who waived her right to confidentiality) but not the man (who didn’t) in his report.

The man has apparently considered legal action over his public naming.

Man in sexual harassment claim considers legal action

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2016, Domain Policy

The man accused of sexual harassment at an ICANN meeting is considering legal action for defamation.

He’s also filed a counter-complaint with ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, after his accuser named him on a public mailing list.

That’s according to emails from LaHatte, screen-captured and posted to social media by the woman making the accusations.

LaHatte had previously told the woman that the man could not recall the alleged incident, said to have taken place during ICANN 55 in Marrakech a couple of weeks ago.

The woman says her name tag — at ICANN meetings a rectangle of plastic hanging loosely around the neck on a strap — was “pulled at” while the man made “inappropriate remarks”.

The content of the alleged remarks has not yet been disclosed.

She published her Ombudsman complaint — which names the man — to a public mailing list late last week.

In the new email, LaHatte tells her that naming the man publicly has complicated matters.

The investigation now becomes very difficult. Indeed, he has complained about the naming as being unfair and asked me to undertake a complaint investigation about your action.

The man was entitled to a “fair and impartial investigation”, he said, but “his privacy has been compromised”.

I have been waiting for a response from you about his reaction to the allegations. So he has now complained that he has been named before he had a chance for your response to be considered by me, and for any analysis and report. This is a matter of procedural fairness, and in my view he should have had the opportunity to have your reply. He is therefore considering his response which may include litigation unfortunately.

The complainant says she wants ICANN to create a sexual harassment policy for its participants — she was already talking to LaHatte about this before the alleged incident.

ICANN’s board of directors said in Marrakech it had instructed staff to look into the possibility of such a policy.

Debate as accuser names “sexual harasser”

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2016, Domain Policy

The woman who says she was sexually harassed at the ICANN meeting in Marrakech earlier this month has controversially named the alleged perpetrator on a public mailing list.

She’s also publicly released documents exchanged between herself and the ICANN Ombudsman, with whom she has made a formal complaint.

According to her complaint the man, a longstanding and often vocal member of the ICANN community “approached me, pulled at my name tag, and passed inappropriate remarks.”

“I felt like my space and safety as a young woman in the ICANN community was at stake,” the complaint says.

No allegations of physical contact have been made, and the content of the “inappropriate remarks” has not been disclosed.

I’m not going to name either party here. They’re “the man” and “the woman” for now.

The woman has said on the mailing list in question that she’s waived her right to confidentiality.

I contacted the man for comment at the weekend and have not yet received a reply.

An email from Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, released by the woman, shows that he has spoken to the man.

The man said he could not recall the incident and LaHatte declined to tell him who his accuser was, for confidentiality reasons, the email says.

The release of the documents has sparked discussion on the mailing list and social media about whether publicly naming the man was the most appropriate course of action.

Inevitably, there’s also been some discussion about what constitutes sexual harassment.

The woman said she had already been engaged with LaHatte about the possibility of ICANN creating a sexual harassment policy, and that “this incident pushed me to take forward what had hitherto been a mere academic interest with increased vigour”.

She said in a released email predating Marrakech that during ICANN 54 last year, her first ICANN meeting, “I personally felt as though a few inappropriate remarks were made by certain male co attendees”.

When the woman initially made her allegations at the ICANN public forum, ICANN director Markus Kummer said the board had asked ICANN staff to look at possibly adjusting the longstanding Expected Standards Of Behavior to more specifically address sexual harassment.

“We clearly do not condone improper conduct of any kind such as harassment or otherwise and there should be zero tolerance for it within the community,” he said during the public forum.

Governments still split on ICANN accountability plan, but will not block it

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2016, Domain Policy

The Governmental Advisory Committee failed to reach consensus on proposals to improve ICANN’s accountability, but has raised “no objection” to them going ahead as planned.

After burning the midnight oil in a tense series of meetings at ICANN 55 in Marrakech last night, the GAC finally agreed to the text of a letter that essentially approves the recommendations of a cross-community accountability working group.

The GAC said, in a letter (pdf) to leaders of the so-called CCWG:

While there are delegations that have expressed support for the proposal, there are other delegations that were not in a position to endorse the proposal as a whole.

In spite of this difference of opinions, the GAC has no objection to the transmission of the proposal to the ICANN Board.

This means that one of the barriers to accountability reform, which is inextricably linked to IANA’s transition away from US government oversight, has been lowered.

The GAC said it could not by consensus endorse the full suite of proposals, however.

The main sticking point was the CCWG’s recommendation 11, which essentially enshrines the GAC’s consensus-based decision-making rules in the ICANN bylaws.

A handful of governments — a bloc of South American nations, plus France and Portugal — are still not happy about this.

There is “no consensus” from the GAC on Recommendation 11, the GAC said.

There is also no consensus on the so-called “GAC carve-out” in Recommendations 1 and 2, which would limit the GAC’s ability to challenge ICANN board decisions alongside the rest of the community.

The accountability plan still needs to be formally endorsed by a couple more ICANN community groups, before it is submitted to the ICANN board for approval, which is expected to happen over the next 48 hours.

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