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US quietly revises IANA contract

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN will not be allowed to do business with groups designated by the US government as terrorists, according to one of many changes that have been quietly made to the IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which gives ICANN its ability to delegate top-level domains, is up for renewal following the publication of an RFP by the Department of Commerce earlier this month.

But Commerce substantially modified the RFP a week after its initial publication. It’s now about 20 pages longer than the original document, containing many new terms and conditions.

A few changes struck me as notable.

Terrorism

Among the changes is a ban on dealing with groups classified as supporting terrorism under the US Executive Order 13224, signed by President Bush in the aftermath of the the 9/11 attacks.

That Order bans US companies from working with organizations including the IRA, Hamas and Al Qaeda.

While the addition of this clause to the IANA contract doesn’t really change anything – as a US corporation ICANN is bound to comply with US trade sanctions – it may ruffle some feathers.

The new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook banned applicants involved in “terrorism” in its fourth draft, which caused complaints from some quarters.

It was revised over a year ago to instead make reference to US legal compliance and the US Office of Foreign Assets Control and its List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons.

Khaled Fattal of the Mulitlingual Internet Group, who first described the unqualified Guidebook ban on “terrorism” as “racist”, continued to voice opposition to this rule, most recently at the ICANN public forum in Dakar, suggesting it betrays ICANN’s American bias.

Data Rights

The revised IANA RFP also contains a new section detailing the US government’s “unlimited rights” to data and software produced by the IANA contractor.

The new RFP states: “The Government shall have… Unlimited rights in all data delivered under this contract, and in all data first produced in the performance of this contract”

“Data,” it says, “means recorded information, regardless of form or the medium on which it may be recorded. The term includes technical data and computer software. The term does not include information incidental to contract administration, such as financial, administrative, cost or pricing, or management information.”

It’s not entirely clear what this clause could potentially cover.

By it’s very nature, much of the data produced by IANA is public – it needs to be in order for the DNS to function – but could it also cover data such as redelegation communications with other governments or private DNSSEC keys?

New gTLDs

There are no big changes to the section on new gTLDs, just one minor amendment.

Whereas the old RFP said that IANA must show that ICANN “followed its policy framework” to approve a gTLD, the new version says it must have “followed its own policy framework”, which doesn’t seem to change the meaning.

Other amendments to the RFP appear to be formatting changes or clarifications.

The more substantial additions – including the terrorism and data rights sections – appear to be standard boilerplate text designed to tick some boxes required by US procurement procedure, rather than being written specifically for ICANN’s benefit.

You can download the original and revised RFP documents here.

AusRegistry drops the “Aus”, sets up in US

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2011, Domain Registries

AusRegistry International has rebranded itself as ARI Registry Services and will now offer new gTLD clients the option to host their domains in either Australia or the US.

ARIThe company has built itself a registry back-end in an undisclosed location on US soil to support the move.

Dropping the “Aus” appears to be specifically designed to address the perception that locating a gTLD in Australia is somehow technologically or politically risky, which ARI says isn’t the case.

ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis explained the decision in a press release:

We are the first to admit that the ‘Aus’ reference in our previous name incorrectly positioned us as a smaller, geographically focused organisation, which did create some issues with our plans for global expansion. Despite the fact we have an office and staff in the United States and clients situated in four of the seven continents around the world, there remained some belief that our services were somewhat isolated in Australia.

Potential gTLD applicants are concerned about issues such as “overzealous governments, privacy and ownership laws, political environments and financial benefits including currency fluctuations” that can vary according to the jurisdiction a registry is hosted in, ARI said.

A choice between the US and Australia may seem like a choice between one “overzealous government” and another, but it may at least put some insular American companies’ minds at rest.

While the move makes perfect business sense for ARI, I can’t help but feel that ICANN’s goal of increasing geographic diversity in the registry industry seems a little diminished this morning.

The rebranding does not affect the company’s parent, AusRegistry Group, which provides the back-end for Australia’s .au ccTLD.

ARI’s new domain is ariservices.com.

Watch ICANN’s president explain his departure

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2011, Domain Policy

Rod Beckstrom explained his decision to leave ICANN next year, and gave a status report on the new top-level domains program, in a recent video.

The interview with ICANN freelancer Jim Trengrove was taped August 31 and uploaded to an ICANN video channel, but does not appear to have been made easily viewable anywhere yet.

In it, Beckstrom gives his version of events leading up to his August 16 resignation announcement, which some interpreted as a decision made by the ICANN board.

“I was only willing to make a three-year commitment in the first place and that’s what we came up with,” Beckstrom says. “We had some discussions with the board to make some contract changes and we did not come to agreement so I decided not to seek renewal.”

“The last thing I wanted to do was leave this organization in the lurch,” he says, explaining the early announcement. “As soon as I made my decision I decided the very next day to communicate that.”

The 16-minute video also gives a quick update into the gTLD program.

“Is ICANN ready?” Trengrove asks (a question I posed myself the very same day). Beckstrom responds:

ICANN is preparing very well for the program… There’s a lot of work to get done every single day still to prepare this program for the January 12 launch, but I’m pleased to say I think the team is performing and I think we will be ready. At the same time, it is going to put more visibility on ICANN and bring new pressures so it’s hard to say exactly how ICANN will respond to all those but I think all the preparation to run a proper program is being put in place.

At the time the video was taped, the growing anti-gTLDs campaign from the advertising industry was already well-evident, which may be what Beckstrom is referring to.

He goes into some detail about his thinking when it came to the decision to cut off interminable new gTLD policy debate in favor of getting on with execution.

The interview also touches on ICANN’s emerging ethical conundrum, which was most recently exemplified by Sen. Ron Wyden’s call for an anti-“revolving door” policy.

Beckstrom says that enforcing ethical behaviour is “extremely important for ICANN’s credibility”.

If the embedded video above does not work for you, you can watch it here.

Olympic-backed .sport bidder looking for partners

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2011, Domain Registries

SportAccord, a worldwide coalition of sports federations with Olympic support, is looking for partners to help it with a possible .sport top-level domain bid.

In a request for proposals published today, the organization said it is looking not only for expertise and potential technical partners, but also financial backing:

The objective of SportAccord is to develop the best possible promotion of Sports Themed gTLDs by leveraging its unique relationship with its members, and to establish a usage policy that ensure respect of Sports key values.

SportAccord is therefore seeking to developing partnership with entities that could bring technical expertise and financial support to the common development of Sport themed gTLDs.

The 17-question RFP reveals that the organization has evidently done its homework.

Questions cover pertinent topics such as registrar integration, trademark protection, premium name monetization, and how to beat the ICANN threshold score for community-based applications.

The deadline for replying is September 30.

SportAccord, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, is an umbrella group comprising the international federations for over 100 sports, covering everything from football to tug of war.

The RFP states that the International Olympic Committee supports its gTLD initiative.

That’s an endorsement that may prove the deal-breaker for any .sport application. The IOC has been a vigorous defender of its rights in the new gTLD program.

Its lobbying efforts most recently compelled ICANN to build special protection for Olympic trademarks into the Applicant Guidebook itself (as well as lumbering the GNSO and ICANN staff with a bunch of unnecessary policy-development work).

Two other organizations have previously announced .sport applications

The loudest, Ron Andruff’s DotSport LLC, had appointed some of SportAccord’s member federations to its policy advisory council.

But SportAccord says in its RFP that “neither SportAccord nor any of its Members have made any commitment to support or participate in any sport themed gTLD.”

It looks like we may be looking at yet another push of the reset button on a well-lobbied gTLD.

The SportAccord RFP can be downloaded here.

Breaking: Ad industry piles on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2011, Domain Policy

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents over 500 companies including Facebook, Google, eBay and Microsoft, has told ICANN to put a stop to its new top-level domains program.

The cry calls just a couple of weeks after the Association of National Advertisers said it would lobby Congress and may take ICANN to court over the controversial program.

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the IAB, said in a press release:

ICANN’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber. There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem.

This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that ICANN will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.

The IAB’s membership is a Who’s Who of leading online media companies, purportedly responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the US.

It counts AOL, Digg, Amazon, the BBC, Bebo, CNN, Ziff Davis, LinkedIn, Time Warner, Slate, Thomson-Reuters, IDG, the Huffington Post and many other well-known names as members.

Demand Media, too.

If the ANA represents advertisers themselves, the IAB represents the places they spend their advertising money.

It looks like a large portion of corporate America is not happy about new gTLDs. ICANN may have found itself a new, extremely well-funded enemy.