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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.