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ICANN advised against director salaries

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s legal staff advised its board of directors against rushing to grant themselves a pay packet, according to documents released today.

At its San Francisco meeting last month, ICANN’s board voted to adopt a package of 27 measures designed to improve the organization’s accountability and transparency.

One of the recommendations, provided by the Accountability and Transparency Review Team in December, asked the board to quickly implement a “compensation scheme” for ICANN’s voting directors.

Other than salaried president Rod Beckstrom, currently only the chairman, Peter Dengate Thrush, is paid for his work on the board.

But briefing documents provided to the board prior to the San Francisco vote, published today (pdf and pdf), reveal that ICANN staff recommended adopting only 26 of the 27 ATRT recommendation.

The original ATRT recommendation #5 reads:

The Board should expeditiously implement the compensation scheme for voting Directors as recommended by the Boston Consulting Group adjusted as necessary to address international payment issues, if any.

And the ICANN staff recommendation to the board reads:

Staff recommends that the Board not implement ATRT Recommendation #5 – a compensation scheme for voting Board Directors – at this time, but give adoption and implementation further consideration as detailed in the staff’s proposed implementation plan

Regardless, the board voted to adopt all 27 ATRT recommendations in San Francisco, including the board compensation plan idea. This was broadly welcomed by the community.

The precise reasoning behind the staff’s recommendation is not clear – the rationale has been redacted from the briefing documents – but director Bruce Tonkin gave a hint during remarks at the open board meeting in San Francisco, saying:

There are legal requirements for how a board could pass a motion to decide to compensate board members, which is one of the recommendations, and then there are obviously budget implications of doing that.

So just the legal steps that need to be followed will take a bit of time. Not years, but will take some months.

The ATRT report was fairly comprehensive, covering everything from how ICANN selects its board to how it interacts with its Governmental Advisory Committee, to what information it publishes on its web site.

The report also gave ICANN deadlines to hit on many recommendations, many of them June 2011.

But it appears from the just-published briefing documents that ICANN intends to miss those deadlines in several cases, due to the complexity of the work involved, by a few months to as much as a year or more.

In other, simpler, cases, ICANN has already met the recommendations. Many of ICANN’s policy-making processes are still due to get a shake-up, but some changes will take longer than expected.

New TLDs have a timetable again

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN has approved a timeline for the introduction of new top-level domains again. Barring surprises, it looks like this could be the final one.

These are the key dates in the timetable passed by the ICANN board of directors at its meeting here in San Francisco on Friday:

March 25 – Governmental Advisory Committee feedback on the San Francisco consultation due to be provided to ICANN for consideration.

April 15 – ICANN will publish the relevant edited extracts of the final Applicant Guidebook for 30 days of public comment.

May 20 – ICANN’s final consultation with the GAC. This will be held via teleconference and it’s not clear yet if observers will be allowed on the call.

May 30 – ICANN publishes the final Applicant Guidebook.

June 20 – The ICANN board of directors will meet on the first day of the Singapore public meeting to (presumably) approve the Guidebook.

June 22 – Large quantities of free alcohol consumed at the Singapore meeting’s Gala event.

This timetable seems to give plenty of time for the Guidebook’s remaining kinks to be worked out, and there seems to be considerable resolve in ICANN’s leadership to get this thing put to bed by Singapore, which will be Peter Dengate Thrush’s last as ICANN chair.

New TLDs timeline to launch

There are still a couple of questions remaining, however. It’s not yet clear when the first-round application window will open and therefore when the first new TLDs will be available.

ICANN has always said that the 60 to 90-day window would open after ICANN has concluded four months of marketing and global outreach – it wants to be certain that nobody can complain that they lost their brand because didn’t know the new gTLD program existed.

It’s been stated that the plan was to kick the outreach program off shortly after the Guidebook is approved, but there was some speculation in the halls at the San Francisco meeting last week suggesting that it could actually coincide with its publication.

If that happens, that would knock just a few weeks off the wait before applications open, so it’s nothing to get particularly excited about.

It seems we’re looking at the application window opening in early November at the latest, which suggests to me ICANN may opt for a 90-day window, in order to avoid having the deadline for applying falling during or just after the holiday period.

With the least-controversial applications expected to take at least eight months to process, we’re looking at October 2012 before the first new TLDs are delegated to the root.

With sunrise periods, landrush periods, marketing and so on, I doubt any new TLDs will be generally available before the first quarter of 2013. Single-user “.brands” could go into use sooner.

And of course, if somebody takes ICANN to court and successfully enjoins it, this may all wind up looking woefully optimistic.

.xxx domains could arrive by June

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors today approved the .xxx top-level domain, over the objections of governments and pornographers.

The vote was 9 to 3 in favor, with three directors recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest and the CEO abstaining (pretty typical for votes on .xxx over the years, I think it’s a liability thing).

Assuming the US government, which controls the DNS, doesn’t try the nuclear option of overruling ICANN, .xxx could make it into the root about 10 days from now.

Now expect ICM Registry to ramp up the marketing quite quickly – it’s aiming to launch the first of its three sunrise periods in mid-June, just three months from now.

We’re looking at a landrush certainly before the end of the year.

While ICM, in a press release today, said .xxx domains “will only be available to the adult entertainment industry”, the industry is self-defining, and president Stuart Lawley has previously stated that flipping porn domain names counts as an industry service.

Domain investors are welcome, if not necessarily encouraged, in other words.

I hear ICM has already reached out to registrars, giving them a mid-April deadline to apply to be evaluated.

The TLD launching on schedule will of course also depend on whether any legal action is taken to stop it. Diane Duke, executive director of the Free Speech Coalition, a porn trade group, said at a press conference yesterday that the FSC is thinking about suing.

She also said that it may arrange some kind of boycott, which strikes me as a terrible idea – how many pornographers will refuse to defensively register their .xxx domains out of principle? Very few, I suspect.

The FSC said last week that it was also looking into a Reconsideration Request or an Independent Review Panel procedure, which are the only two real avenues of appeal through ICANN.

An IRP could be more expensive than a lawsuit, and if precedent is any guide even a successful Reconsideration would be moot – it would take at least a month, by which time ICM’s registry contract would be long since signed.

It seems likely that ICM’s long, strange, expensive journey into the DNS may finally be at an end.

ICANN staff grilled over new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN’s San Francisco meeting kicked off this morning with staff members responsible for the new top-level domains program answering – and trying to answer – stakeholder questions.

The short version: it’s still not clear what the end result of San Francisco will be when it comes to new TLDs.

The big deal this week is ICANN’s ongoing consultation with its Governmental Advisory Committee, which remains the biggest hurdle before ICANN can approve the program.

GNSO stakeholders wanted to know the current state of play with this consultation, and how close ICANN is to wrapping up policy development and launching the new TLD program.

A key question is whether the two days of talks the board has scheduled for this week count as the final GAC consultation called for in ICANN’s bylaws.

If they are, the board and the GAC could wrap up their negotiations before the board meets on Friday, and the program is one step closer to approval. ICANN wants this.

If they’re not, we could be looking at further GAC talks stretching on into the weeks or months between now and the Singapore meeting in June. The GAC seems to want this.

ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said that the board and GAC met for one hour yesterday, but that they still have not agreed on the “bylaws” designation.

He said that the board “has a sense of urgency” about approving the program as soon as possible, and that the GAC is newly “energized”.

Staff were asked, by VeriSign’s Chuck Gomes and Minds + Machines’ Antony Van Couvering, whether such a consultation is needed at all.

After all, as has been discussed in articles on CircleID and .nxt recently, there’s no mention in the ICANN bylaws of a “consultation” per se.

Deputy general counsel Dan Halloran said that this is an area still open for discussion, but indicated that reaching common ground on the substantive issues is currently the priority.

There seems to be a feeling that the current talks represent not only a necessary step in approving new TLDs, but also a landmark piece of cooperation in the sphere of internet governance.

On the substantive issues, ICANN has currently marked each of the 80 points the GAC has made with the designation 1a, 1b or 2, depending on whether agreement has been reached, only reached in principle, or has not been reached at all.

The focus this week is going to be on the 23 “2s”. These are the issues, Pritz said, where ICANN has determined that to agree with the GAC would run contrary to the GNSO’s consensus positions.

Philip Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association, which represents domain investors, wanted to know whether “1a” topics are currently locked – the ICA is unhappy with a 1a concession ICANN has made regarding the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

The answer from staff was basically yes — a 1a is where ICANN’s board and staff think “we’re done”, Pritz said.

The plan for the rest of the week is to hold open discussions on the new TLD process on Monday and Wednesday, with corresponding bilateral GAC-board sessions on Tuesday and Thursday.

Stakeholder groups have been invited to make statements before and to inform these sessions.

Slim pickings in the ICANN 40 schwag bag

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2011, Gossip

Perhaps I checked in too early, before all the sponsors have showed up, but the schwag bag for the ICANN San Francisco meeting seems to offer surprisingly slim pickings.

Here’s what you can expect to clutter up your luggage if you’re in attendance at ICANN 40.

  • Baseball-style executive stress squeezy toy (VeriSign, .net)
  • Black polo shirt (IronDNS)
  • M&Ms-style candy (NameMedia)
  • Coffee mug (RegistryPro, .pro)
  • Badge/button (.green)
  • Mini beer-flagon-style shot glass thing (United Domains, newdomains.org)
  • Pack of tissues (.SO Registry, .so)
  • Post-it notes (VeriSign, .net)

Given the high sponsorship fees and the anticipated turn-out of 1,600 to 2,000 delegates, I was expecting much more. Perhaps some gold-plated breath mints or Armani cufflinks.

Never mind.

Still, nice to see .SO Registry pushing the boat out there. Tissues are always useful, but I was expecting at least a branded eye-patch.

I shall re-register under a fake name in a day or two to see if the quality of the schwag improves.

ICANN to skip stakeholders for more GAC talks

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN stakeholder groups will miss out on their usual formal sit-down with the board of directors at the San Francisco meeting next week, due to talks between the board and governments.

ICANN has confirmed the touted second day of Governmental Advisory Committee consultations, centering on new top-level domains and .xxx, for next Tuesday.

Tuesdays at ICANN meetings are informally referred to as Constituency Day, where the various interest groups that make up the “bottom” of ICANN’s policy-making process meet up.

Usually, the board moves between these meetings, gathering feedback on policy issues from stakeholders such as registrars, registries, ISPs, IP owners and non-commercial users.

According to some attendees, that won’t happen in San Francisco.

ICANN staff will still attend the constituency sessions, but the GAC consultation will take up the board’s undivided attention.

It make perfect sense, of course. There are only so many hours in the day, only so many days in the week, and ICANN is eager to put work on the new TLD program to bed as soon as possible.

But that logic is unlikely to prevent grumblings from some stakeholders.

ICANN takes firm stance on new TLD delays

ICANN wants to draw a line under its talks with its Governmental Advisory Committee on new top-level domains at the San Francisco meeting next week.

In a letter to his GAC counterpart (pdf), ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush said that he thinks the San Francisco talks should be “final”.

He said that ICANN has agreed to compromise with the GAC wholly or partially on all but 23 of its 80 recommendations for the program.

He also said that these remaining issues should be the focus of the two days the board has set aside to consult with the GAC in San Francisco.

a narrowed focus in San Francisco on the issues that are still in contention would be a best use of the Board and GAC’s time during the two days of consultations, and should represent the final stages in our required consultation.

That appears to contrast with the GAC’s position, expressed in Brussels last week, that the SF talks should not be given the final “bylaws consultation” designation.

Nobody, possibly not even ICANN and the GAC, knows what a “bylaws consultation” consists of, but everybody knows that it is the last thing that needs to happen before the ICANN board can adopt a policy that overrules the formal advice of governments.

ICANN has already officially resolved that the consultation should happen March 17, but GAC chair Heather Dryden objected to that date in an email sent during Brussels.

According to Kieren McCarthy, who has apparently seen the email or parts of it, Dryden wrote:

We believe there is now insufficient time to receive a final written response to our advice from the Board – as well as then analyse and prepare an adequate consensus response from GAC members – to reach resolution of enough outstanding issues such that we could reasonably enter any meaningful bylaws consultation on 17 March in San Francisco.

To delay the consultation would very likely delay the next draft of the Applicant Guidebook, currently set for April 14, and thus the launch of the program itself.

It was not clear from Brussels, but ICANN’s position that March 17 is the date now appears to be firm. The just-published agenda for the March 18 board meeting carries this line item:

Outcome of Bylaw Consultation with the GAC on the new gTLD Program

Things that have not happened generally do not have an “outcome”.

Cybersquatting is the major issue still unresolved. Fifteen of the the 23 areas where the board still disagrees with the GAC deal with trademark protection in new TLDs.

ICANN has agreed to balance the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy – which comes into play following clear-cut cases of cybersquatting – somewhat more in favor of trademark holders.

The amount of money, time and effort required to make a URS case will be reduced, and it’s likely that registrants will have their domains locked by default if they do not respond to the complaint.

Complainants will also get first right of refusal to take over a domain whose registration has been suspended due to a URS proceeding.

But ICANN plans to deny the GAC’s requests for a “loser pays” model and a number of other URS-related tweaks.

The GAC had also advised that the Trademark Clearinghouse database should be expanded to include trademark+keyword registrations. This would allow Kodak, to use the GAC’s example, to prevent cybersquatters from registering not only kodak.tld but also kodakcameras.tld.

Dengate Thrush’s letter says that this “remains an area for discussion”, but ICANN still currently plans to diverge from GAC advice.

Clinton confirmed for ICANN’s SF meeting

Kevin Murphy, March 1, 2011, Gossip

Former US president Bill Clinton has been confirmed as the star guest speaker of ICANN’s 40th public meeting, which kicks off in San Francisco in a little under two weeks.

According to a tweet minutes ago from CEO Rod Beckstrom, Clinton will address ICANN’s Gala event, March 16 in Union Square.

This is usually an evening drinks-n-canapes event or a sit-down dinner. The SF Gala is scheduled for 7pm.

Given the central, outdoor location, I’m sure security will be tight. We could be looking at another limited-numbers, invitation-only event.

Beckstrom has previously stated that Clinton’s fee will be covered by a special sponsorship deal, but the identity of the sponsor does not appear to have been revealed yet.

Winners and losers in the next Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2011, Domain Registries

Who’s going to be happy, and who won’t be, after ICANN publishes the next version of its Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains in April?

We now have a rough idea of the answers to those questions, following the publication this week of ICANN’s analysis of comments received between November and January.

The 163-page document (pdf) outlines where ICANN is still open to changing its rules for applying for a TLD, and where it believes the book is firmly shut.

As you might expect, at this late stage in the game, most of the analysis is essentially “thanks, but no thanks”, reiterating the reasons why the Guidebook currently says what it says.

But there are strong indications of which changes will be made to the “next” version of the Guidebook, which is currently expected to hit the ICANN web site April 14.

Here’s a high-level analysis of the winners and losers.

Impatient Applicants

Companies and entrepreneurs that have been tapping their feet for the last couple of years, hit by delay after delay, can probably take comfort from the fact that ICANN is still making encouraging noises about its commitment to the new TLDs program.

Noting that some issues are still in need of further work, ICANN staff writes:

it is ICANN’s intention to reach resolution on these issues. It would be irresponsible to use community resources to run a process without the intention to see it through to conclusion.

ICANN continues to approach the implementation of the program with due diligence and plans to conduct a launch as soon as practicable along with the resolution of these issues

Beyond what I noted in a post earlier this afternoon, there are no clues about the timetable for actually launching the program, however.

Trademark Holders

It’s a mixed bag for the intellectual property lobby, but on balance, given the length of its wish-list, I expect the trademark crowd will be more disappointed than not.

In general, ICANN is firm that the rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in the Guidebook are the result of community compromise, and not for changing.

This is sometimes the case even when it comes to issues ICANN plans to discuss with its Governmental Advisory Committee next week.

One of these is the Trademark Clearinghouse, the database of trademark rights to be used to reduce cybersquatting, of which ICANN says:

subject to further refinement through the GAC consultation and other comments received to date, the positions in the Clearinghouse proposals will be finalized substantially similar to as it was in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.

On the Globally Protected Marks List, a mechanism trademark holders want included in the Guidebook, ICANN is suitably mysterious:

It is clear that the trademark interests have continued to raise the GPML as possible RPM. While this discussion may continue, no further progress or decisions have been made.

The most substantial concession ICANN appears ready to make to trademark holders concerns the Uniform Rapid Suspension mechanism, a cousin of the UDRP that will be used to address clear-cut cases of cybersquatting in new TLDs.

A major concern from the IP lobby has been that the URS is too slow and complex to meet its original goals. ICANN disagrees that it does not do the job, but plans to streamline it anyway:

Discussions are continuing and some additional implementation detail revisions will likely be made, for example, creating a form complaint that reduces the 5000-word limit to 500 words. The 500-word limit might not, however, be placed on the respondent, as the respondent will be required to describe the legitimate basis upon with the domain name is registered. The respondents word limit be decreased from 5,000 to something less, possibly 2,500 words, in order to decrease the examinations panel‘s time requirements and thereby enhance circumstances for a relatively loss cost process. (Remember that in the vast majority of cases, it is expected that the respondents will not answer.)

This will certainly be a topic of discussion at the ICANN-GAC meeting in Brussels on Monday, so I expect IP attorneys are even now briefing their governments on how these proposed changes won’t go far enough for whatever reason.

Domainers

There’s bad news if you’re a high-rolling domain investor, looking at bagging a new TLD or three, and you also have a few UDRP losses against your name.

The background check ICANN will carry out on applicants for their history of cybersquatting stays, and it will still use the three-losses-as-UDRP-respondent benchmark.

However, ICANN has recognized that UDRP decisions are not always final. If you lost a UDRP but subsequently won in court, that decision won’t count against you.

In addition, reverse domain name hijacking findings will now also count against applicants to the same degree as UDRP losses.

I believe both of those concessions capture so few entities as to be more or less irrelevant for most potential applicants.

“.brand” Applicants

ICANN is in favor of companies applying to run “innovative” TLDs, such as “.brands”, but it is reluctant to carve out exceptions to the rules for these applicants.

The organization does not plan to give .brands a pass when it comes to protecting geographic names, nor when it comes to the requirement to register domains through an accredited registrar.

This seems to mean, for example, that if Microsoft successfully obtains .microsoft and wants to register usa.microsoft to itself, it will have to ask the US government for permission.

It also means .brands will still have to seek ICANN accreditation, or work with an existing registrar, in order to sell domains to themselves. It’s an added cost, but not an unworkable one.

Would-be .brand applicants did, however, win one huge concession: If they decide to turn off their TLD, it will not be redelegated to a third-party. ICANN wrote, with my emphasis:

In the limited case of .brand and other TLDs that operate as single-registrant/single-user TLDs it would probably make sense to not force an outgoing operator to transition second-level registration data (since presumably the operator could just delete all the names as the registrant anyway and then there would be nothing to transition), and therefore ICANN will put forward proposed language for community review and feedback that would provide for alternative transition arrangements for single-registrant/single-user gTLDs.

If .microsoft was unsuccessful and Microsoft decided to stop running it, Google would not be able to take over the ICANN registry contract, for example.

Poor People/Cheapskates

Some commenters wanted ICANN to reduce application fees in cases where the applicant is from a poorer nation, a non-governmental organization, or when they intend to apply for multiple versions of the same TLD.

They’re all out of luck.

The $185,000 baseline application fee is to stay, at least for the first round. ICANN thinks it could be reduced in future rounds, once more uncertainty has been removed from the process.

Currently, $60,000 of each fee is set aside for a “risk” (read: litigation) war-chest, which will be presumably less of an issue after the first round is completed.

Special Interests

The International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross, as well as financial services organizations, may receive the special concessions they asked for in the next Guidebook.

The IOC and Red Cross may be given the same protections as afforded to ICANN, regional internet registries, and generic terms such as “example” and “test”.

ICANN is considering the nature of these protections, and if appropriate, might augment the reserved names lists in special cases such as requested by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Red Cross, both of which are globally invested in representing the public interest.

It also emerged that ICANN is working with the financial services industry to clarify some of the security-related language in the Guidebook.

Community Applicants

Sorry guys, ICANN intends to keep the threshold score for the Community Priority Evaluation at 14 out of 16. Nor will you get a bonus point for already showing your cards by starting community outreach two years ago. Winning a CPE is going to be as tough as ever.

*

This is just a brief, non-exhaustive overview of the changes that are likely to come in the next Applicant Guidebook, setting the stage for the GAC talks next week and the San Francisco ICANN meeting next month.

One thing seems pretty clear though: this is end-game talk.

ICANN confirms TLD delays after sponsorship closes

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN has officially confirmed that it does not intend to launch the new top-level domains program at its meeting in San Francisco next month.

The news came just one day after the organization stopped accepting sponsorship deals, at the new controversially higher rate, for the meeting.

In a blog post, ICANN’s Jamie Hedlund said that a vote on the new TLD program would not be possible due to the upcoming consultation with the Government Advisory Committee in Brussels.

He wrote:

In addition to the Brussels consultation, the bylaws-defined consultation will take place on 17 March, the day before the Silicon Valley–San Francisco Board Meeting. Because of the timing of the bylaws consultation, the Board will not approve or announce the new gTLD program at that Board Meeting.

Now, the timing of this announcement could just be a coincidence, it could be related to ICANN’s fast-approaching deadline for publishing meeting documents, but the fact that it came the day after the sponsorship deadline for SF passed raised an eyebrow chez DI.

ICANN has known about the timing of the GAC consultation since at least January 25, when its board of directors approved the March 17 schedule.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush was quoted as saying new TLDs were likely off the menu for SF as early as February 3, and senior vice president Kurt Pritz echoed that view a week ago.

With March 18 no longer a possibility for the Applicant Guidebook getting approved, what does that mean for the new TLDs timetable?

Some observers believe that we’ll have to wait for the ICANN meeting in Amman, Jordan, in June, which could see the first-round application window open in October.

I’m not convinced we’ll have to wait that long. It seems possible that ICANN will eschew the fanfare of a public meeting and approve the final draft of the Guidebook over the phone whenever it’s ready.

The first new TLDs are expected to go live on the internet approximately 15 months after the Guidebook gets the nod.