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Beckstrom probed over bizarre spam complaint

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman looked into a complaint that former CEO Rod Beckstrom allegedly spammed community members the day after he left the organization, it has emerged.

Whoever filed the complaint evidently did not like Beckstrom one bit.

According to Ombudsman Chris LaHatte, who rejected the complaint, the complainant said:

I wish to file a formal complaint about the below SPAM originating from ICANN’s servers. Since Mr. Beckstrom has left yesterday it is clear that he cannot have had access to ICANN infrastructure any longer. If however this were the case, one would have to consider YET ANOTHER serious breach. In any case I do not wish to receive communications of any kind from this person, Mr. Beckstrom. Please confirm receipt of this complaint, commence an investigation and advise me of the outcome.

LaHatte found that the email in question was “a courteous farewell and introduction to the new CEO” sent to between 50 and 60 people, all movers and shakers in the ICANN community.

According to LaHatte, who blogged about the complaint today:

After discussing this matter with the ICANN staff, it is clear that this email was in fact not spam in the common meaning of the term. Spam is usually considered bulk emailing sent indiscriminately to very large numbers of recipients. By way of contrast, 60 emails specifically tailored for groups of recipients is hardly unusual within a large organisation such as ICANN.

I know Beckstrom was not a massively popular individual with some in the ICANN community, but this complaint seems to be way out of proportion for a simple unwanted email.

Somebody out there needs to take a chill pill.

Former ICANN VP calls bull on Beckstrom’s exit speech

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2012, Domain Policy

If you were following DI on Twitter during the opening ceremony of ICANN 44 yesterday, you may have noticed I only tweeted one direct quote from incoming CEO Fadi Chehade.

I pulled this one line out of what was a fairly long and passionate address because I had a “hunch” what might be coming up next when outgoing CEO Rod Beckstrom took the stage for the final time.

Now, former ICANN vice president of corporate affairs Paul Levins has called out his old boss for taking credit where credit may not be due.

Beckstrom said, during his opening remarks:

My first day on the job, I was given a blank sheet of paper and I was told that the Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Commerce of the US government was not going to be renewed by ICANN.

And I was told, “You better come up with something better and you have to get it done in 90 days because the MoU is going to expire.”

Together we worked and we created the Affirmation of Commitments.

The MoU and the AoC which replaced it have been ICANN’s primary statements of legitimacy with the US government, spelling out its responsibilities to the internet community.

Levins, writing on CircleID last night, calls Beckstrom out on the statement.

We were not starting with a blank piece of paper. It’s to his credit that he allowed that to continue, but it’s not healthy to perpetuate a belief that what replaced the Joint Project Agreement — the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) — was miraculously developed in the space of only weeks prior to the expiration of the JPA — that an accountability rabbit was pulled from the hat.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

It was ultimately the result of ten years of community effort.

But in the lead up to the JPA expiry, the direct negotiating and writing team was me, Theresa Swinehart and importantly — from the Department of Commerce (DoC) — the willing, creative and sincere cooperation of Fiona Alexander and Larry Atlas the then Senior Advisor at the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Communication at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The first written draft of the AoC had been produced over the eight months prior to Beckstrom’s arrival, Levins writes.

It’s fairly well known that Levins was one of the first people to lose his job under Beckstrom, but several others who were on ICANN staff at the time have confirmed to DI that the AoC was developed as Levins says.

His op-ed doesn’t strike me, in that light, as a full case of sour grapes.

Levins, who seems to be one of the many ICANN attendees who was impressed by Chehade’s debut address yesterday, signs off his editorial with what could be considered advice to both Chehade and Beckstrom:

…truth and sincerity is what should continue to drive the AoC’s ongoing implementation. But it should also drive the corporate memory of its creation.

Humility was a personality trait that ICANN specifically asked for when it advertised the CEO’s job earlier this year.

Judging by the reactions of ICANN 44 attendees who listened to Chehade’s speech yesterday — and have met him — humility is something Chehade appears to possess in buckets.

Everybody I’ve spoken to so far is impressed with the new guy, though some have also pointed out that they felt the same way this time in 2009.

ICANN CEO job ad in The Economist [image]

Kevin Murphy, January 6, 2012, Domain Policy

Having spent the last six months mulling over the qualities its ideal CEO would possess, ICANN has started advertising the position to a wider audience.

EconomistThis ad (click to enlarge) appears in the January 7-13 issue of The Economist.

ICANN says it is looking for “public interest-minded individual with a combination of financial management, diplomatic and organizational skills”.

The successful candidate will have “excellent management and leadership skills, positive and steady personality” and a “solid record of public, corporate, and/or academic experience at high international level”.

He or she will have to be committed to “integrity, trust, humility, technical excellence and public service”.

The salary is described as “commensurate with the scope and importance of the position”.

Rod Beckstrom, who intends to leave ICANN in July, is known to receive a base salary of $750,000 and bonuses that have bumped his total take-home to over $800,000.

ICANN chair says new gTLD program “will run smoothly”

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN chairman Steve Crocker has again said he expects the new generic top-level domains program to kick off next week as planned, and that he expects it to “run smoothly”.

His comments came in a New Year email sent to the rest of the ICANN board of directors, as well as the chairs of the community’s various policy-making bodies.

Here’s an extract focusing on new gTLDs:

In terms of immediacy, the opening of the window for applications for new gTLDs is January 12, ten days from now. This is occupying a large fraction of our attention and is also the source of much attention from our stakeholders and others watching us. An enormous amount of work has gone into the program and I, among many, many others, are eager to see what will happen. The opening of the window on January 12 will be a noteworthy day, but the closing date, three months later and the publication date for the names a bit later will also be quite noteworthy. I know there is a bit of controversy over some specific aspects of the program, but I am confident the program is well constructed and will run smoothly.

The message goes on to outline two other major issues facing ICANN in the near term: the renewal of the IANA contract with the US Department of Commerce and CEO Rod Beckstrom’s imminent departure.

It also touches on broader themes, notably ICANN’s effectiveness as an organization:

We often emphasize our commitment to a multi-stakeholder model. There’s no question this is important. However, from my point of view, we are organized around broad participation from all parties because it’s a system that has worked well in the Internet ecology. And “working well” means the job gets done. If we are not effective and reasonably efficient at doing the job we were created to do, the details of our processes will matter very little. We have many processes in place to measure ourselves in terms of transparency, accountability and other attributes of fairness. I applaud and support all of these, but I would like us all to keep in mind that in addition to these very important measures that we also focus on making sure that we deliver the service our community needs.

This echoes remarks Crocker made at ICANN’s last meeting, in Dakar last October, when he stamped his authority down on the registrar community, which stood accused of dragging its feet over improvements to how it deals with law enforcement.

“If all we have is process, process, process, and it gets gamed or it’s ineffective just because it’s not structured right, then we have failed totally in our duty and our mission,” he said at that time.

Beckstrom: next ICANN CEO should be an outsider

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has called on the organization to replace him with somebody from outside of the domain name industry.

His remarks, at the opening ceremony of its meeting in Dakar yesterday, came as the organization’s decisions are coming under increasing scrutiny from outside the domain name industry.

“I hope that the person who replaces me will be of the highest integrity and has no recent or current commercial or career interests in the domain industry, because ICANN’s fairness, objectivity and independence are of paramount importance to the future of the internet,” Beckstrom said.

“We are not here in the domain name business,” he said. “We are here to serve the global public interest.”

Beckstrom generally uses his ICANN meeting opening remarks to fire-fight the latest pieces of criticism directed at the organization and yesterday was no exception.

His comments should be read in the light of ongoing claims that the new gTLDs program was approved prematurely due in part to the business interests of former chair Peter Dengate Thrush.

Dengate Thrush left ICANN in June, shortly after helping to approve the program, and promptly took up a position with gTLD applicant Minds + Machines.

Organizations opposed to the program, such as the Association of National Advertisers, have seized on the controversy as a stick to bash ICANN with.

Since June, there have been calls for ICANN to revisit its conflicts of interest and ethics policies, which it seems to be taking very seriously.

Every member of the ICANN board of directors has already been ruled out of the CEO search, for example.

Beckstrom elaborated on his comments at a press conference yesterday.

“My view very strongly is that the organization can and should be led a party who does not have a vested personal business interest or history specifically in the domain name industry,” he said, “lest the efforts of the organization be potentially skewed in such a direction from a policy or operational standpoint, in terms of being more sensitive to the needs of the industry as opposed to the global public interest.”

Chairman of the board Steve Crocker said Beckstrom’s opinions were valuable, but his own, representing only one input into the process of creating CEO search criteria.

“We obviously want to balance two factors,” he said. “We’re very concerned about conflicts of interest and at same time we want the widest and most capable pool of candidates possible.”

There have previously been calls for ICANN to hire somebody already familiar with its operation, in order to reduce the learning curve for Beckstrom’s replacement at a time when the organization is in the midst of the new gTLD evaluation process.

ICANN directors ruled out of CEO search

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s directors have been barred from applying for the soon-to-be-vacated CEO position.

The board elected a panel of directors to get the CEO search underway last Tuesday, but noted:

no current or incoming member of the Board or liaisons may be considered as a candidate for the role of the CEO for the current CEO Selection process.

A replacement for Rod Beckstrom, who announced that he will step down when his contract expires next June, will now be overseen by a special CEO Search Process Management Work Committee.

The committee will comprise: Steve Crocker, Bertrand de La Chapelle, Erika Mann Chris Disspain, Cherine Chalaby, Ray Plzak and R. Ramaraj. George Sadowsky will chair.

I had previously put at least three of those on my speculative list of “insiders” who could conceivably apply for the CEO’s job.

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.

Who should be ICANN’s next CEO?

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2011, Domain Policy

With Rod Beckstrom now less than a year away from leaving the CEO job at ICANN, following his resignation this week, the rumor mill is already spitting out ideas about who should replace him.

While his contract is not set to expire until July 1, 2012, that does not necessarily mean Beckstrom’s replacement will not be named and in situ before then.

His predecessor, Paul Twomey, also gave about 10 months notice when he resigned in March 2009, and Beckstrom had taken over by July.

Twomey played out the remainder of his contract in an advisory capacity, to smooth the transition. He eventually left in January 2010.

So it’s quite possible ICANN’s executive search team will start its hunt sooner rather than later. But where should they look and what type of candidate should they choose?

It’s proved to be a well-compensated but often thankless job.

Candidates must be equally capable of sharing applause with world leaders one day and then sitting in a stuffy meeting room patiently taking shit from community members the next.

They need to be able to act not just as a figurehead but as a diplomat, negotiator and man manager, somebody confident handling large budgets and larger egos.

Candidates with cat-herding experience and a target tattooed on their foreheads will be a shoo-in.

It’s been pointed out ICANN’s four CEO appointees to date have alternated between, for want of better words, “insider” and “outsider” candidates. (The chair has a similar rule.)

Beckstrom came directly from the US government, whereas Twomey had been steeped in ICANN culture for four years as head of the Governmental Advisory Committee when he took over in 2003.

There’s no point speculating about “outsiders” at this point – ICANN could hire basically anyone – but people are already talking about known faces that might put themselves forward.

An insider may be a good call this time around, given the major challenges – new gTLDs and the renewal of the IANA contract, to name two – ICANN faces over the coming year.

As ICANN alum Maria Farrell, one of the people responsible for publicizing criticism of Beckstrom’s management style, noted yesterday, “we need someone who can hit the ground running.”

Put it another way, globally, there are probably about 500 key people involved in running the DNS and numbering systems. If the CEO doesn’t know these people already, and know where the bodies are buried – i.e. is not already one of the 500 – then she or he will be a liability for at least the first year.

That’s a pretty strong endorsement of an “insider” candidate – somebody who already knows their way around ICANN’s complex personality-driven machinery.

While there’s nothing stopping ICANN promoting somebody from within its own ranks, no names jump out as obvious candidates.

Most senior staffers are either Beckstrom-era appointees with less than two years under their belt, or hold specialist roles that would not necessarily make them CEO fodder.

An “insider”, in this case, is more likely to mean somebody from the broader ICANN community.

Two names that have popped up more than once during conversations since Beckstrom’s announcement are Chris Disspain (head of auDA in Australia) and Lesley Cowley (head of Nominet in the UK).

Both, it is whispered, were on the shortlist in 2009. Disspain now sits on the ICANN board of directors and Cowley is the newly installed chair of the ccNSO (replacing Disspain).

Both know ICANN pretty much inside-out and have many years experience managing the policy bodies for their own respective country-code top-level domains.

They are also native English speakers. That’s obviously a slight advantage – English is ICANN’s lingua franca – but not necessarily a deal-breaker.

Some say ICANN could look elsewhere in the world for its new leader. Nigel Roberts, CEO of ccTLD manager Island Networks, wrote yesterday:

ICANN should at least seriously consider this time to appoint a CEO from a non-Anglo-Saxon background to show the rest of the world it really is serious about its purported commitment to diversity.

While blind affirmative action would obviously be a terrible idea, I would have little difficulty imagining the likes of Accenture veteran Cherine Chalaby or career diplomat Bertrand De La Chapelle – ICANN directors native to non-Anglo nations – being put forward as candidates.

Both men have shown a dedication (ambition?) within ICANN, with British-Egyptian Chalaby unsuccessfully standing for chairman this year and BDLC quitting his job in the French government in order to take on his uncompensated role on ICANN’s board.

I hear good things about Chalaby, and his experience in the business world is extensive, though with just a year’s ICANN time served some may say he’s a little green. And if BDLC gets the job, we may have to extend ICANN meetings by a few days to cope with his verbosity.

While a CEO could be hired from essentially anywhere in the world, a willingness to live and work in Marina Del Rey, California may also prove an advantage.

Even though Beckstrom is based just a few hundred miles away in Silicon Valley, I don’t doubt that his distance from ICANN headquarters has contributed to the perception that he’s out of touch with his troops, surrounded by an inner circle of trusted advisers.

That said, I believe that Twomey managed to get away with spending a lot of his time in his native Australia while he was CEO, to little complaint.

Experience in the business world will also be an advantage.

ICANN has a $70 million budget for this fiscal year, and it could well find itself handling double or triple that amount when the new gTLD program kicks off next year.

Would a candidate with experience with similar budgets make a better choice? If so, how many likely applicants would actually would fit that criterion?

There are not a great many “insiders” with CEO experience at organizations of a comparable size, and companies that large do not usually send their CEOs to ICANN meetings anyway.

A senior executive from a domain name company, perhaps a VP looking to get their teeth into their first C-level position, may be a more likely applicant.

But a hire from industry could also present a perception of conflict of interest problem, coming at a time when ICANN is coming under pressure to review its ethics policies.

If Peter Dengate Thrush’s move to Minds + Machines from ICANN’s chair raised eyebrows, imagine how it could appear if ICANN’s CEO was hired directly from a registry or registrar.

As fun as it would be, I think we can probably rule out Bob Parsons for the time being.

Beckstrom quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2011, Domain Policy

The CEO and president of ICANN has quit.

Rod Beckstrom tweeted within the last hour:

I have decided to wrap up my service at ICANN July 2012. Press release soon.

Many in the ICANN community kinda knew this was coming.

Over the coming hours, expect to read a lot of people question whether the words “I have decided” are strictly accurate.

UPDATE: I’ve covered the story in more depth for The Register.

ICANN fights government gTLD power grab

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has opposed a US move to grant governments veto power over controversial new top-level domain applications.

Cutting to the very heart of Obama administration internet governance policy, ICANN has told the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that its recent proposals would “undermine the very principle of the multi-stakeholder model”.

The stern words came in ICANN’s response to the NTIA’s publication of revisions to the IANA contract, the contract that allows ICANN to retain its powers over the domain name system root.

The NTIA’s Further Notice Of Inquiry contained proposed amendments to the contract, including this:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

This was widely interpreted as a US attempt to avoid a repeat of the .xxx scandal, when ICANN approved the porn gTLD despite the unease voiced by its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I noted in June, it sounds a lot like code for “if the GAC objects, you must reject”, which runs the risk of granting veto powers to the GAC’s already opaque consensus-making process.

In his response to the FNOI (pdf), ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom says that the NTIA’s proposal would “replace” the “intensive multi-stakeholder deliberation” that created the newly approved Applicant Guidebook.

He also pointed out the logical inconsistency of asking IANA to remain policy-neutral in one part of the proposed contract, and asking it to make serious policy decisions in another:

The IANA functions contract should not be used to rewrite the policy and implementation process adopted through the bottom-up decision-making process. Not only would this undermine the very principle of the multi-stakeholder model, it would be inconsistent with the objective of more clearly distinguishing policy development from operational implementation by the IANA functions operator.

NTIA head Larry Strickling has been pounding the “multistakeholderism” drum loudly of late, most recently in a speech in Washington and in an interview with Kieren McCarthy of .nxt.

In the .nxt interview, Strickling was quite clear that he believes ICANN should give extra authority to governments when it comes to approving controversial strings.

The NTIA concern – shared by other government entities including the European Commission – is that controversial strings could lead to national blocking and potentially internet fragmentation.

While Strickling declined to comment on the specific provisions of the IANA contract, he did tell .nxt:

If the GAC as a consensus view can’t support a string then my view is that the ICANN Board should not approve the string as to do so in effect legitimizes or sanctions that governments should be blocking at the root zone level. And I think that is bad for the Internet.

Where you’re dealing with sensitive strings, where you’ve engaged the sovereignty of nations, I think it is appropriate to tip the hat a little bit more to governments and listen to what they say. On technical issues it wouldn’t be appropriate but on this particular one, you’ve got to listen a little bit more to governments.

He also indicated that the US would not necessarily stand up for its principles if confronted by substantial objections to a string from other governments:

So we would be influenced – I can’t say it would be dispositive – if a large number of countries have a problem with a particular string, even if it was one that might not be objectionable to the United States government.

And that is out of interest of protecting the Internet’s root from widespread blocking at the top-level by lots of governments.

Does this mean that the US could agree to a consensus GAC objection to a .gay gTLD? A .porn? A .freespeech? It certainly sounds like it.