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Still no new TLDs agreement with GAC

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee have yet to resolve their differences over the new top-level domains program, putting a question mark over the current approval timetable.

In a joint statement released early this morning, following a teleconference on Friday, the ICANN board and GAC confirmed that their talks have not yet concluded.

But ICANN still thinks approval of the program’s Applicant Guidebook could come by June 20, the second day of the forthcoming Singapore meeting:

The latest discussion and ICANN Board and GAC agreement on the benefits of having a face-to-face meeting in Singapore pave the way to possible Board consideration of program approval on 20 June 2011.

This seems to serve as confirmation that the board and GAC will meet for a last-ditch attempt at compromise on June 19. ICANN has already moved around schedules to accommodate the meeting.

Outstanding areas of disagreement continue to include rights protection mechanisms for trademark holders and processes for governmental objections to controversial TLD applications.

Negotiations so far have comprised at least four days of face-to-face talks over the last few months, which had mixed results.

ICANN has given a lot of ground already, but it seems that it has not gone far enough for the GAC. Chair Heather Dryden said in the statement:

the GAC appreciates the time taken by the Board to discuss remaining issues on the call and looks forward to continued progress as a clear signal that the Board is committed to enabling the formulation of true community consensus in developing policy that is in the global public interest as well as increasing the overall accountability and transparency of the organization.

The current talks take place against the backdrop of the renewal of ICANN’s IANA contract with the US Department of Commerce and NTIA, which gives ICANN many of its powers.

Larry Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, has publicly indicated that he may use the renewal as leverage to squeeze concessions from ICANN.

Two weeks ago, he said that he was “unclear” about whether June 20 was a realistic target for Guidebook approval.

Recently, Strickling also met with European Commissioner Neelie Kroes where they found common ground on new gTLDs and ICANN’s accountability and transparency goals.

RegistryPro gets new CEO

RegistryPro, the .pro top-level domain manager, has appointed Karim Jiwani as its new CEO.

Jiwani seems to have been headhunted from Afilias, where he was senior director of business development. He has over 12 years experience in the business, according to a press release.

The .pro extension is one of those TLDs it’s easy to forget exists, but its recent press releases make it appear like a bit of a dark horse, on an unprecedented growth spurt.

According to its monthly ICANN registry reports, RegistryPro saw a staggering 142% growth in registrations between January 2010 and January 2011, recently passing through the 100,000 domains mark for the first time in its seven-year history.

However, on closer inspection, this uptick was largely due to a bulk registration of over 43,000 domains made via Hostway, RegistryPro’s parent company, last June.

The growth spurt appears to be a direct result of RegistryPro’s reservation of all remaining one, two and three-letter .pro domains, which it is selling off as premium names.

All possible combinations at three characters and under works out to roughly 43,000 domains.

With the new leadership, Hostway also seems to be positioning RegistryPro as a contender in market for providing back-end registry services for new gTLDs. Its CEO, Lucas Roh, said:

Our registry is poised to grow significantly in the coming years, as the awareness continues to grow for .PRO domains and our backend registry services for other TLD’s. We wanted someone that could expertly grow the registry and take it to the next level. Karim has proven experience in the domain industry and is well respected in the community. With his knowledge and passion, he is well equipped to take the company to the next level in providing registry services to registrars and other TLD’s.”

Afilias seems to be a breeding ground for registry CEOs lately. In February, the Public Interest Registry grabbed vice president Brian Cute to head up its .org business.

African Union yanks .africa bid support, seeks registries

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2011, Domain Policy

The African Union has called for registry operators to express their interest in managing the proposed .africa top-level domain.

It has also confirmed that it is not currently backing DotConnectAfrica’s longstanding bid to apply to ICANN to operate .africa.

DCA has for some time been touting its support from a number of African governments, including the AU, which is required for a geographic TLD bid to be approved by ICANN.

But the AU said in a statement last week:

The AU Commission was at some point approached by an organization now known as DCA seeking endorsement and support for in its bid to use of the domain name.

The AU Commission would like to hereby categorically state that it is not supporting any one individual or organization in this bid.

The statement glosses over the August 2009 letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, which offers to aid DCA with its efforts to gain government support for .africa.

With its support for DCA no longer applicable, the AU yesterday issued its official call for Expressions of Interest from experienced registry operators:

DotAfrica will serve a community which spans over a large portion of region, therefore providing registrants with accrued possibilities for establishing their Internet presence. It is expected that the Africa small and medium size enterprises will greatly benefit from DotAfrica, as they thrive beyond their local markets to invade the regional and continental marketplace.

The EOI does not set out any guidance on what the AU expects to see in a proposal – it doesn’t even specify whether it’s looking for a sponsor or a back-end operator – it merely asks for audited financial statements and a potted corporate bio.

The deadline for the EOI is June 3.

The .africa bid has become fiercely political recently, with DCA throwing around accusations of corruption and back-room dealing.

Its outrage has been centered largely on an AU task force on .africa that was created last November, and its chairman, Nii Quaynor.

He is the registrant of dotafrica.org, which was previously used in a .africa bid that competed with DCA’s.

Other task force members are involved with AfTLD, the African ccTLD association that has also announced it is preparing a .africa bid.

In a blog post this week, DCA calls for the task force to be abandoned.

.brand TLDs still face barriers

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2011, Domain Policy

Companies planning to apply for “.brand” top-level domains still have concerns that ICANN’s new gTLD program does not adequately cater to their unique requirements.

ICANN has so far resisted calls from the likes of the Coalition for Online Accountability to create clearly delineated categories of gTLD, instead favoring the one-size-fits-all approach.

But one type of gTLD where the Applicant Guidebook has started to introduce exceptions to the rules is the so-called “.brand”.

In its latest draft, for example, the Guidebook’s Code of Conduct for vertically integrated registries/registrars does not apply to single-registrant TLDs such as .brands.

The Guidebook also makes it mostly clear that ICANN does not intend to re-assign .brands to different registry operators in the event that the brand decides to discontinue the TLD.

But those who are working with potential .brand applicants still have concerns.

Co-existence

Arguably biggest outstanding problem to emerge from the latest set of comments filed with ICANN is the notion of “co-existence”, raised by the likes of Valideus, ECTA and the Business Constituency.

The Guidebook currently calls for TLDs that are potentially confusing in meaning or appearance to be lumped into the same “contention sets” from which only one winner will emerge.

The worry is that this will capture companies with similar sounding brands. ECTA called for a mechanism to exclude .brands from these requirements:

The Draft Applicant Guidebook 6 does not take into account either co‐existence agreements or natural co‐existence. Currently a successful application from NBC in round one would preclude ABC or BBC or NBA in future years. Equally, should both EMI, the music company and ENI, the energy company apply, they would be placed in a Contention Set and could in theory face each other in an auction. In the real world these companies co‐exist.

It’s an interesting point, and not one that’s received a great deal of airplay in recent discussions.

There’s also the problem that companies with two-letter brands, such as HP or BP, are essentially banned from getting their .brand, because there’s a three-letter minimum on new TLDs.

Geographic name protections

The ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has pushed hard for the protection of geographical terms at the second level in new gTLDs, and has won significant concessions.

One of the results of this is that if Canon, say, has .canon approved, it will be unable to immediately use usa.canon or japan.canon domains names – one of the most logical uses of a .brand.

ICANN plans to enable registries to loosen up these restrictions, but the Guidebook does not currently spell out how this will happen, which leaves a significant question mark over the value of a .brand.

ECTA wrote in its comments to ICANN:

This prohibition severely limits brand owners unnecessarily. On the contrary a .brand domain should provide clients with an intuitive replacement for ccTLDs. It would seem to be more logical if Internet users could replace www.mycompany.de with www.de.mycompany rather than having to type www.mycompany/de.

Registrar discrimination

The BC has called for the Guidebook to be rephrased to made it clear that .brand TLDs should not have to offer their domains through a multitude of registrars on “non-discriminatory” terms.

The BC wants this language adding to the rules: “Single-Registrant TLDs may establish discriminatory criteria for registrars qualified to register names in the TLD.”

Given .brands will have essentially one customer, it would be a pretty crazy situation if more than one registrar was approved to sell them. It may be a hypothetical risk, but this is a strange industry.

UDRP

All new gTLD registries will have to abide by the Uniform Dispute Resolution Process. The problem is that successful UDRP cases generally result in a domain name being transferred to the complainant.

This could result in a situation where a third-party trademark holder manages to win control a domain name in a competitor’s .brand TLD, which would be intolerable for any brand owner.

The BC suggests that domains won in this way should be allowed to be set to “reserved and non-resolving” instead of changing hands.

Three strikes UDRP rule worries Demand Media

Kevin Murphy, May 16, 2011, Domain Policy

Demand Media and the Internet Commerce Association have called for ICANN to drop the “three strikes and you’re out” ban on applying for new top-level domains.

In the current version of ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, if you’ve lost three UDRP cases in the last four years you’re considered a cybersquatter and effectively barred from applying for a new TLD.

It’s not entirely clear, but it is quite possible that this provision may capture Demand Media and Go Daddy, which, via subsidiary companies, have lost several UDRP complaints.

In comments filed with ICANN yesterday, Demand senior vice president Jeff Eckhaus said that a simple “three strikes” benchmark does not prove a pattern of cybersquatting:

losing a few contested UDRP cases in what amounts to a tiny percentage of their total domain name portfolio certainly doesn’t seem to constitute a “pattern” as most people would define the term

by all reasonable standards, it is difficult to conclude that an entity or an individual has engaged in a history/pattern of cybersquatting when they own hundreds or thousands of domain names and have lost a few UDRP or similar proceedings.

The ICA, which represents high-volume registrants, also has a problem with the rule. Principal Phil Corwin wrote ICANN:

We continue to believe that the “three strikes” criteria is too inflexible and that applicant evaluation criteria should take into account the total size of an applicant’s domain portfolio as well as the percentage of adverse UDRP decisions rendered against them in comparison to all UDRP proceedings they have been involved with.

Demand also argues that three strikes is “extremely broad standard that we believe will unintentionally disqualify otherwise qualified applicants.”

That strikes me as quite a weak argument, which could be equally applied to any of the background checks in the Guidebook. A murder conviction will also “disqualify otherwise qualified applicants”.

I’m not sure it’s “unintentional” in either case. If you work from the assumption that ICANN expects Demand and other speculators to successfully apply for new TLDs, it is. If you assume it’s designed to make their lives more difficult, it isn’t.

But Corwin noted in his comments that ICANN can waive the ban in “exceptional circumstances”, and said he suspects this could be used to allow large registrars to pass the background checks.

In any event, as Andrew Allemann has pointed out at Domain Name Wire, the way the Guidebook is phrased there may well be a loophole that would allow Demand and others to slip through.

Go Daddy, which DNW also reports could be affected by the rule, does not appear to have filed any comments on the latest Applicant Guidebook yet.

Governments back Olympic domain bans

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has called for a ban on domain names containing terms relating to the Red Cross and Olympics movements.

Both organizations have for some time been calling for their trademarks to be added to the list of specially reserved strings that nobody will be able to register under new top-level domains.

The GAC “strongly supports” these demands.

In a piece of uncharacteristically straightforward advice (expect much more of this in the wake of the .xxx decision), GAC chair Heather Dryden wrote to ICANN:

The GAC advises the ICANN Board to approve these requests and to direct staff to reflect the Board’s approval in the May 30, 2011 version of the Applicant Guidebook.

It’s special pleading, of course, but there’s plenty of precedent for the Olympics, Red Cross and Red Crescent being given special protection under national laws, as Dryden notes in her letter.

I’d guess that this is a bone ICANN may be willing to throw, given that it has more important unresolved issues still to discuss with the GAC, some of which could delay the new gTLD program.

The Applicant Guidebook’s current list of reserved names includes the names of ICANN and related organizations, several terms used in networking, and country names.

Europe and US to meet on .xxx and new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2011, Domain Policy

European Commissioner Neelie Kroes is to meet with the US Department of Commerce, a month after she asked it to delay the launch of the .xxx top-level domain.

Tomorrow, Kroes will meet with Larry Strickling, assistant secretary of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, according to a press release:

This follows the controversial decision of the ICANN Board in March to approve the “.XXX” Top Level Domain for adult content. Ms Kroes will make clear European views on ICANN’s capacity to reform. In particular, Ms Kroes will raise ICANN’s responsiveness to governments raising public policy concerns in the ICANN Governmental Advisory Council [Committee] (GAC) , the transparency and accountability of ICANN’s internal corporate governance and the handling of country-code Top Level Domains for its most concerned public authorities.

In April, Kroes asked Strickling’s boss, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, to put a hold on the addition of .xxx to the domain name system root until the GAC had chance to discuss it further.

Strickling declined, saying that for the US to take unilateral action over the root would provide ammunition to its critics in the international community.

The US and EC are two of the most active and vocal participants in the GAC – at least in public. Whatever conclusions Strickling and Kroes come to tomorrow are likely to form the basis of the GAC’s short-term strategy as negotiations about new TLDs continue.

ICANN’s board is scheduled to meet with the GAC on May 20, for an attempt to come to some final conclusions about the new gTLD program, particularly in relation to trademark protection.

ICANN wants to approve the program’s Applicant Guidebook on June 20, but is likely to face resistance from governments, especially the US.

Strickling has indicated that he may use the upcoming renewal of ICANN’s IANA contract as leverage to get the GAC a stronger voice in ICANN’s decision-making process.

The 10 dumbest moments from that new TLDs Congressional hearing

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The US House of Representatives last week held an oversight hearing into ICANN’s new top-level domains program.

As I may have mentioned, the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet hearing was set up to be pretty one-sided stuff.

It was clear from the start that ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz was going to have his work cut out, given how the panel of five other witnesses was loaded against him.

But as the hearing played out, it quickly became apparent that the real challenge lay not with his fellow witnesses — most of whom were either sympathetic to ICANN from the outset or occasionally forced to leap to its defense — but with the members of the Subcommittee.

While some Congressmen had merely bought into the positions of the trademark lobby, others were so far out of their depth you couldn’t even see the bubbles.

Here, in purely my personal opinion and in no particular order, are the Top 10 Dumbest Moments.

1. Chairman Goodlatte buys the FUD

Subcommittee chairman Bob Goodlatte’s opening statement appeared to have been written with significant input from the intellectual property lobby.

At the very least, he seemed to have accepted some of the more extreme and questionable positions of that lobby as uncontroversial fact.

Two examples:

With every new gTLD that is created, a brand holder will be forced to replicate their internet domain portfolio.

The roll-out of these new gTLDs will also complicate copyright enforcement, making it harder and more costly to find and stop online infringers.

He also, on more than one occasion, advocated a “trademark block list” – the Globally Protected Marks List, an idea even the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee has now rejected.

2. Whois privacy services are Bad

A couple of Congressmen and a couple of witnesses stated that Whois accuracy needs to be enforced more stringently by ICANN, and that Whois proxy/privacy services help criminals.

I took the liberty of doing Whois queries on the official campaign web sites of all 25 members of the Subcommittee, and found that 11 of them use privacy services.

That’s 44% of the committee. Studies have estimated that between 15% and 25% of all registrations use proxy/privacy services, so Congressmen appear to be relatively hard users.

Here’s the list:

Rep. Steve Chabot, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Mike Pence, Rep. Jim Jordan, Rep. Ted Poe, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Rep. Ben Quayle, Rep. Ted Deutch, Rep. Jerry Nadler, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, Rep. Tim Griffin.

It also turns out that dei.com, the domain name Rep. Issa bragged about owning during the hearing, has phoney data in its Whois record.

Issa Whois

You can report him to ICANN here, if you’re so inclined.

It’s likely, of course, that these domains were registered by their staff, but I think we’re allowed to hold Congressmen to at least the same high standard they expect of the rest of us.

3. New TLDs will help porn typosquatters

Mei-lan Stark, an IP lawyer from Fox and the International Trademark Association, used the recent UDRP case over myfox2detroit.com as an example of abuse that could happen in new TLDs.

The domain directed visitors to a porn-laden link farm and was rightly deemed by WIPO to be confusingly similar to myfoxdetroit.com, the genuine Fox 2 Detroit site.

But, as Pritz pointed out later in the hearing, myfox2detroit.com is a .com domain. It’s not in a “new” TLD.

Fox, it transpires, has not registered the string “myfoxdetroit” in any other gTLD. Neither have the cybersquatters. It’s clearly not a brand that is, or needs to be, on Fox’s defensive registrations list.

That said, the “typo” myfoxdetroit.co, along with several other Fox .co domains, has been actually cybersquatted, so maybe Stark had a point.

4. Say Watt?

Rep. Mel Watt, the Subcommittee’s ranking member, couldn’t get a handle on why the pesky foreigners aren’t able to use their own non-Latin scripts in existing gTLDs.

I was beating my head against my desk during this exchange:

[After Stark finished explaining that she thinks IDN gTLDs are a good idea]

Watt: So, you think other languages. And that can’t be done in the .com, .net lingo as well?

Stark: Not today. Not the way the system is currently.

Watt: Yeah, well, not the way it’s done today, but what’s the difference? You all keep talking about innovation. Changing somebody’s name is not innovation. Allowing somebody to use a different name is not innovation. That’s not adding anything new to life that I can tell. Mr DelBianco, Mr Metalitz, help me here.

DelBianco: You’re right, just adding a new label to an existing page or content doesn’t really truly create innovation. However, 56% of the planet cannot even type in the domain name…

Watt [interrupting]: That’s not a function of whether you call something “Steve” or whether you call it “net” is it? You can put the Steve in front of the net, or you can put it dot-net, dot-Steve, dot-Watt, Steve, Steven…. you haven’t really created anything new have you?

DelBianco: You haven’t there, but 56% of our planet can’t use our alphabet when they read and write…

Watt [interrupting]: Tell me how this is going to make that better as opposed to what we have right now.

DelBianco: For the first time an Arabic user could type an entire email address in all Arabic, or a web site address in all Arabic.

Watt [interrupting]: Why can’t the current system evolve to do that without new gTLDs?

To Watt’s credit, he did put the witnesses on the spot by asking if any of them were opposed to new gTLDs (none were), but by the time his five minutes were up he was in serious danger of looking like a stereotypically insular American politician.

5. New TLDs are like T-shirts (or something)

Almost everything the NetChoice Coalition’s Steve DelBianco said, whether you agree with his positions or not, was sensible.

But when he started producing props from under the table, including one of the bright yellow custom “TLD-shirts” that AusRegistry International has been printing at recent ICANN meetings, I was giggling too hard to follow his train of thought.

Apparently the new TLDs program is like a T-shirt printing machine because, well… a T-shirt printing machine is more complicated than a label maker, which was the visual simile DelBianco used last time he appeared before the Subcommittee.

It was fun to see Congressmen treated like five-year-old kids for a minute. God knows some of them deserved it.

6. New TLDs will cost Fox $12 million

Stark stated that Fox has about 300 trademarks that it will need to enforce in new TLDs. Given ICANN has predicted 400 new TLDs, and estimating $100 per defensive registration, she “conservatively” estimated that Fox will have to pay $12 million to protects its marks in the first round.

Really?

The same ICANN study that estimated 400 applications being filed in the first round also estimated that as many as 200 of them are likely to be “.brand” TLDs in which Fox will not qualify to register.

A substantial proportion of applications are also likely to have a “community” designation and a restricted registrant policy that, in many cases, will also exclude Fox.

Does Fox really also need to register 300 brands in every city TLD or linguistic TLD that will be approved? Does Fox News broadcast in Riga? Does it have a Basque language TV station?

Not even World Trademark Review was convinced.

7. China is going to take over the internets

The Subcommittee spent far too much time talking around this meme before deciding that China is a sovereign nation that can do pretty much whatever it wants within its own borders and that there’s nothing much a House committee can do about it.

8. Literally everything that came out of Rep. Issa’s mouth

Former car alarm entrepreneur Darrell Issa talked confidently, as if he was the guy on the committee with the geek credentials, but pretty much everything he said was witless, impenetrable waffle.

He started with the premise that it costs a “fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a penny” to route traffic to an IPv6 address (why this is relevant, he didn’t say), then asked:

Why, when I go to Go Daddy, do I have to pay between $10 and $10,000 for a name and not from a tenth of a cent to 10 cents for a name?

Why in the world are there so many reserved [ie, registered] names? If I want a good name from Go Daddy… the good names, that I might want, have been already pre-grabbed and marketed in an upward way, higher. Why is it that they’re not driven down? Real competition would imply that those names are driven down to a penny for a user and prohibited from being camped on in order to resell.

Issa is a Republican, so I was quite surprised to hear him apparently advocate against the free market and the rule of supply and demand in this way, and with such a poor grasp of the economics.

Issa’s premise that it costs an imperceptible fraction of a cent to resolve a domain may be true, but only if you’re talking about a single resolution. VeriSign alone handles 57 billion such queries every day.

It adds up. And that’s just resolution, ignoring all the costs carried by the registries and registrars, such as payment processing, security, marketing, Whois (and, in the case of Issa’s domains, Whois privacy and accuracy enforcement), paying staff, rent, facilities, hardware, bandwidth…

Pritz told Issa as much, but he didn’t seem interested in the answer. He instead turned to CADNA’s Josh Bourne, to ask a meandering question that, after listening to it several times, I still don’t understand.

9. Rod Beckstrom gets paid millions

Rep. Maxine Waters was very concerned that ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has a salary of over $2 million, “guaranteed”.

She flashed up a copy of what I believe was probably Mike Berkens’ The Domains article about ICANN salaries, from early 2010, but she clearly hadn’t read beyond the headline.

Beckstrom’s salary is $750,000 per annum. He can (and does) get a bonus if he hits his undisclosed performance targets, but it still adds up to less than $1 million a year and pales in comparison to what he’s probably going to earn when he leaves ICANN.

As Berkens accurately reported, Beckstrom has a three-year contract, so he gets a minimum of $2.2 million in total over the period he’s employed as ICANN’s CEO.

People can (and do, continually) question whether he’s earning his money, particularly when he does things like not turning up to Congressional hearings, but his salary is not set at anywhere near the level the Subcommitee heard.

10. This is so important we need more hearings (btw, sorry I’m late)

Several Congressmen called for further hearings on new gTLDs. They’re shocked, shocked, that ICANN is considering doing such a thing.

Some of those calling for further scrutiny weren’t even in the room for much of the hearing, yet saw fit to decree that the subject was so important that they needed more time to investigate.

Whether this turns out to be just more political theater remains to be seen.

“Corruption” claims as .africa fight heats up

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The fight for the right to run .africa as a top-level domain has been heating up in recent weeks, culminating today in claims of “corruption” and “large-scale illegality”.

A organization called DotConnectAfrica has been mustering support for .africa for a few years, but since March it has faced a rival bid from AfTLD, an association of African country-code TLDs.

The contest has already degenerated into quite a fierce war of words, with allegations of corruption coming from one side and counter-claims of FUD coming from the other.

DCA claims the AfTLD initiative is using “double-dealing” to “unfairly” win the endorsement of the African Union, while AfTLD says DCA is using “intimidation” to get its way.

Under ICANN’s proposed rules, any entity that wants to apply for a TLD purporting to represent a large geographic region must secure the support of 60% of the nations in that region.

It’s not explicit, but it’s quite possible that African Union support may cover this requirement. Backing from the AU therefore could be the deal-breaker for .africa bidders.

DCA has a letter, signed by AU Commission chair Jean Ping, dated August 2009, which offers to support the DCA application.

But there’s good reason to believe that this support may have been revoked last year, and that the AU Commission has opened up its options once more.

The Commission last November annnounced (pdf) a new Task Force, charged with finding an entity to act as the official applicant for .africa when the ICANN new gTLD program opens.

DCA seems to believe that this Task Force has been captured by supporters of the rival AfTLD bid. In a press release today, it says:

there is a dangerous nexus between a certain cabal within the AU Task Force on Dot Africa and the AfTLD – and this nexus has been established in order to disingenuously facilitate ‘insider’ help for AfTLD’s Expression of Interest to the AU and prospective bid to ICANN.

The release goes on to make a number of allegations, such as:

AU Task Force members on DotAfrica are also advisors and confederates of AfTLD. DCA believes that such affiliations are unwholesome and foster corruption, nepotism, abuse of office, and large-scale illegality.

DCA appears to be concerned (to put it lightly), that some of the members of the AU Commission Task Force appear to have conflicts of interest.

The Task Force’s chair, Pierre Dandjinou, and its vice-chair, Nii Quaynor (a former ICANN director) have both previously put their names to a different and now apparently defunct .africa project that also intended to compete with DCA for .africa.

Another member of the Task Force, Abibu Ntahigiye, manager of Tanzania’s .tz domain, also appears to sit on the executive committee of AfTLD as its treasurer.

I’m not sure if any of this cross-pollination meets the definition of “corruption” or “illegality”, but I can understand why DCA is worried.

The DCA press release follows an AfTLD meeting in Ghana last month at which attendees were urged to “don’t believe what others claim” and “entertain no intimidation” when it comes to the .africa contest.

A presentation (pdf) delivered by AfTLD general manager Vika Mpisane says: “AfTLD, just like the AU, recognizes no any alleged pre-endorsements of any alleged bidder by the AU.”

Mpisane has been quoted recently heavily implying that DCA plans to put its commercial interests before the good of Africans, saying:

On one side is the self-serving commercial interest that some entities are already championing; these are entities that are in it purely for the money; on the other side is a community-serving commercial interest that most of the African internet community prefers.

AfTLD says it recently closed an RFP for a back-end registry provider to join its bid for .africa (and .afrique, which it also plans to apply for) and will announce the winner soon.

The AU Commission is expected to launch an RFP for a registry manager to endorse.

US wants to delay new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, May 6, 2011, Domain Policy

With ICANN seemingly hell-bent on approving its new top-level domains program at its Singapore meeting, June 20, the US government wants to slam the brakes.

Congressmen from both sides of the aisle this week said the launch should be put on hold, and yesterday Lawrence Strickling, head of the NTIA, said he does not believe June 20 is realistic.

In a speech before the Global Internet Governance Academic Network, GigaNet, in Washington DC yesterday, Strickling said that ICANN needs to pay more heed to the advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee before it approves the program.

I commend ICANN for its efforts to respond to the GAC advice. Nonetheless, it is unclear to me today whether ICANN and the GAC can complete this process in a satisfactory manner for the Board to approve the guidebook on June 20, 2011, as ICANN has stated it wants to do.

While discussing the ongoing boogeyman threat of an International Telecommunications Union takeover of ICANN’s functions, he added:

Unless the GAC believes that ICANN has been sufficiently responsive to their concerns, I do not see how the Guidebook can be adopted on June 20th in Singapore in a manner that ensures continuing global governmental support of ICANN.

That’s incredibly strong stuff.

Strickling is suggesting that if ICANN rejects GAC advice about what goes into the new TLDs Applicant Guidebook, ICANN may be able to kiss international governmental support goodbye, potentially threatening the organization’s very existence.

And it wasn’t the only threat he raised.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is in the process of renewing and possibly amending ICANN’s IANA contract, which gives it the power to introduce new TLDs.

If anyone in any government is in a position to bargain directly with ICANN, it’s Strickling. He tackled this position of power head-on in his speech:

I heard from yesterday’s House hearing that some of the witnesses proposed that we use this contract as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency on the part of the company performing the IANA functions. We are seriously considering these suggestions and will be seeking further comment from the global Internet community on this issue.

I believe the only witness to raise this issue at the hearing was Josh Bourne of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse. He wants a full audit of ICANN before the IANA contract is renewed.

The Congressional “oversight” hearing in question, before the House Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition and the Internet, was not much more than a kangaroo court.

The Representatives in attendance read from prepared statements and from questions they frequently seemed to barely understand, stated fringe opinions as fact, asked inane questions that demonstrated the loosest of grasps on the subject before them, then came to the (foregone) conclusion that the new gTLD program should be delayed pending further work on protecting trademark holders.

I’m not saying these politicians need to be subject matter experts, but if the words “intellectual property” and “the internet” are in your job description, you ought be embarrassed if the words “new BGLTs, or whatever they’re called” come out of your mouth in public.

The Subcommittee has no direct power over ICANN, of course, beyond the fact that it belongs to the legislature of the country where ICANN is based.

But Strickling does.

In his speech yesterday, he also made it quite obvious that the NTIA currently has no plans to push ICANN further along the road to full independence by signing a Cooperative Agreement instead of a procurement contract for the IANA function.

That proposal was made by ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom, and supported by a small number of others in the industry, including Vint Cerf. But Strickling said:

The fact is, however, that NTIA does not have the legal authority to transition the IANA functions contract into a Cooperative Agreement with ICANN, nor do we have the statutory authority to enter into a Cooperative Agreement with ICANN, or any other organization, for the performance of the IANA functions.

The Beckstrom proposal always seemed like a long shot, but to have it dismissed so casually will surely be seen as a setback on the road to true ICANN independence from the US.