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Nope, no Seattle meeting for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s planned public meeting in Seattle will have no face-to-face component, the board of directors decided yesterday.

In a resolution published last night, the board cited the global vaccine inequity and the ongoing difficulties with international travel and visas during the coronavirus pandemic.

But it added that it plans to go ahead with a hybrid online/in-person meeting for ICANN 73 in San Juan, Puerto Rico next March “if it is feasible to do so”.

The board noted that its last in-person AGM, held in late 2019, saw 68% of its participants come from outside the US, suggesting Seattle would go ahead with a majority of its community members absent.

It added that “it is likely that ICANN72 could be a meeting of in-person attendees from just a couple of regions, which does not serve global participants in ICANN’s multistakeholder model”

While some of the pandemic-related issues may be resolved by October, ICANN had to make the call now to avoid wasting money on a physical meeting it may have had to later cancel.

The results of the board vote have not yet been published. A similar resolution last year saw some directors vote in favor of a return to face-to-face meetings by October 2020.

The resolution states that ICANN org should use the next eight months to ensure the hybrid model planned for San Juan is as effective as possible for those who will still be unable or unwilling to attend in person due to the pandemic.

It adds that smaller regional meetings, where travel restrictions are less irrelevant, could still go ahead this year.

A recent poll showed a majority of community members from all regions were keen to return to in-person meetings for Seattle, but the majority was greater in North America than elsewhere.

A group of participants from the Asia-Pacific region recently wrote to ICANN to state that it was likely that nobody from that region would be able to show up in Seattle.

ICANN 72 will be the sixth consecutive public meeting to be held virtually.

“Diversity” warning over ICANN Seattle

Kevin Murphy, July 8, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has been told that it risks disenfranchising community members from outside the US if it goes ahead with a return to in-person meetings at ICANN 72 in Seattle this October.

APAC Space, a group comprising participants from the Asia-Pacific region, reckons there’s almost no chance that any of its members will be able to make it to Seattle, due to pandemic restrictions.

The group wrote (pdf):

Like the rest of the community, the APAC Space members are keen to see a return to face-to-face meetings, but we have serious concerns about continued, longterm disenfranchisement if this return is done in an inequitable way. If a hybrid meeting does go ahead in Seattle, we are reasonably confident that there will be minimal, if any, in-person attendance from the APAC region

APAC Space goes on to note that ICANN 73 next March is also scheduled to take place in the same region, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The letter continues:

We are concerned that holding a hybrid meeting in which participants from only some regions can participate in-person is not in line with ICANN’s goal to reflect regional and cultural diversity, and risks further disenfranchising regions that are already under-represented within ICANN’s processes.

A recent ICANN survey found that a majority of community members were keen to return to face-to-face meetings. While this was true everywhere, the majority was stronger among North Americans and Europeans.

ICANN’s board of directors is due to make a decision about Seattle later this month.

This article was updated July 9 to clarify authorship of the letter to ICANN.

There’s really only one question about the return to face-to-face ICANN meetings

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2021, Domain Policy

The struggles of remote working during unsociable hours and the possibility of a return to partially in-person meetings for Seattle in October were the subject of lots of well-deserved debate at the virtual ICANN 71 public meeting last week, but in reality I think there’s only one question that matters.

The question is posed by Americans to everyone else, and it goes like this: “You guys cool if we go ahead without you?”

Sure, lots of interesting and important questions were raised last week, particularly during the hour-long final session.

If ICANN decides to require proof of vaccination to attend in person, will it accept all brands of vaccine, or will it do a Bruce Springsteen and exclude those who have received the AstraZeneca jab, which is not currently approved in the US?

Is it a problem for overseas travelers that the number of vaccinated Americans currently appears to be plateauing, as ludicrous political divisions see primarily “red state” folks refuse to take their medicine?

What about attendees working for companies that have eliminated their travel budget for the rest of the year?

What if there’s a new flavor of Covid, worse than the current delta variant, in play in October? What if travel corridors into the US are still closed when ICANN 72 comes around? What if attendees have to self-isolate for weeks in expensive hotels upon their return to their home countries? Has ICANN done any research into this?

These are some of the questions that have been raised, and while they’re all very interesting I can’t help but feel that they’re completely irrelevant in the context of an ICANN meeting.

ICANN doesn’t know what the pandemic state of play internationally is going to be four months from now. Nobody does. Not the epidemiologists, not the healthcare leaders, not the governments.

ICANN isn’t a government. It isn’t the United Nations. It’s a technical and policy coordination body that sometimes appears to have a sense of its own importance as inflated as its budget. Its powers to assure an internationally diverse community can gather in literally the same room in October are close to non-existent.

But it’s a pretty safe bet that domestic travel in the US will still be permitted in October (did it ever even really stop?) and therefore it’s a pretty safe bet that community members based in America will be able to bump elbows in Seattle.

The only question remaining therefore is: how much of the rest of the world is ICANN willing to risk excluding to make that happen?

It’s a question its board of directors will answer in July. I don’t envy them the responsibility.

ICANNers itching to get back to face-to-face shindigs

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2021, Domain Policy

A majority of ICANN community members want a return to in-person meetings as soon as possible, and overwhelmingly don’t care how many pandemic-related restrictions are put in place to get it done.

That’s according to the results of an online survey ICANN carried out, which ultimately had 665 responses, or 514 if you exclude responses from ICANN staff.

The survey found that over half of all respondents were keen to fling open the doors for ICANN 72 in Seattle this October, even if it meant reduced attendance and global diversity due to pandemic restrictions on travel.

There was even greater acceptance of — and indeed demand for — health measures such as social distancing, face masks, proof of vaccination, and on-site testing.

None of these proposed measures attracted less than 72% support, and no more than 11% of respondents objected to any individual measure.

While the majority of the respondents were from North America or Europe — which I think it’s fair to say are broadly considered to be well-vaccinated and in the closing days of their pandemic restrictions — ICANN has helpfully broken down some of the responses by geography.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, North Americans and Europeans were far more likely to approve of vaccination-related attendance rules, at 73% and 66% respectively. But a majority of those from Latin America, Asia and Africa were also tolerant of such restrictions.

North Americans were also much less likely to fear travel restrictions — ICANN 72 will be held on home turf, after all.

While the survey results show a clear inclination for reopening in-person meetings, with an online component for those unable to make it, the decision will be made by the ICANN board of directors next month.

The full survey results can be viewed here (pdf).

Mixed messages from ICANN on pandemic travel in 2021

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN still hasn’t formally cancelled its public meeting in Cancun, Mexico next March, but it appears to be planning for scheduled in-person gatherings to not resume until the fourth quarter of next year.

While nobody in their right mind seems to believe ICANN 70 will go ahead anywhere other than virtually — and ICANN’s top brass acknowledged in October that a face-to-face community forum appeared highly unlikely — the Org has still not announced that it will be the fourth consecutive meeting to be held via Zoom.

But two recently published documents show that ICANN doesn’t see travel getting back to normal any time soon, though its expected timing is ambiguous.

First, the proposed budget for fiscal 2022, which was published on Friday, envisages pandemic-related travel restrictions for only “the first nine months” of its current FY21, which ends June 30 next year.

That means that ICANN, at least in its travel budget, still thinks there’s a chance that international travel may be an option as early as April next year. Its travel budget for this year is $4.7 million, which certainly suggests one normal public meeting.

That would rule out Cancun, but leaves open the possibility that June 14-17 public meeting in The Hague could actually go ahead.

The budget also assumes a normal level of travel spending for the whole of FY22, which would mean ICANN 72 in Seattle — a mere domestic flight for most ICANN staff and a good portion of the domain industry — would also take place in-person next October.

But a resolution passed by the ICANN board of directors last Thursday appears to have a more pessimistic outlook.

The board at that meeting approved the continuation of contingency plans for signing the cryptographic keys at the root of the DNS that would eliminate the need for travel until the fourth quarter of calendar 2021.

Normal, quarterly root Key-Signing Key ceremonies require a small number of trusted “secret key holders” to be flown from around the world into facilities in the US, carrying physical keys, to ensure the integrity of the process.

But those rules were tweaked under coronavirus lockdown last April to allow IANA employees to sub in for these key-holders.

Understanding that the pandemic wasn’t going away any time soon, but perhaps with hindsight on the optimistic side, the KSK ceremony in April generated three quarters’ worth of keys in advance, enabling root DNSSEC until the end of March 2021.

Last Thursday, the ICANN board resolved to again bulk-generate keys during its next ceremony, to be held some time in the first quarter. The plan states:

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to continue to significantly impact operations well into 2021. To limit the impact on the ability to hold quarterly key ceremonies, the plan again provides for generating signatures for an extended nine-month period. This relieves the need to hold a subsequent key signing ceremony until the fourth quarter of 2021.

So, while the proposed budget thinks travel could return to normal by April, the KSK plans are thinking October could be the best-case scenario.

Vaccines appear to be the key, as you might expect:

Staff will continue to monitor the pandemic and prepare for all possible scenarios for this ceremony in accordance with the graduated approach. Should widespread vaccination programs prove to be successful, and international travel limitations be relaxed, it is conceivable a late-2021 ceremony could be conducted in its normal format with international in-person participation.

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the chances of a normal in-person ICANN meeting going ahead before Seattle are pretty slim.

For vaccination programs to be successful, we’re going to need a combination of competent governments capable of handling an unprecedented logistical challenge and a largely sane, rationale populace willing to go under the needle en masse. I’m afraid I don’t have that much faith in humanity.

Even if everything goes smoothly, we’re still looking at the vaccine rollout taking a long time indeed. I live in the UK, the first country to roll out vaccinations at scale, and I don’t anticipate getting the jab for six months or more.

An unofficial calculator tool estimates that a middle-aged Brit with no diagnosed preexisting conditions cannot reasonably expect to get a vaccine until July 2021, assuming the UK manages to quickly ramp up to one million vaccinations per week and 70% of those eligible choose to take the shot.

If that’s true elsewhere in the world, and vaccination becomes a passport to travel, then any hypothetical June face-to-face ICANN meeting could resemble a senior care home or retirement village even more than usual.

Not so much Club Med as a Saga Holiday.

And none of this takes into account the potential impact of the super-spreadable new coronavirus strain discovered to be hugely prevalent in the UK last week.

While it’s early days, it seems there’s a significant possibility that what I’m calling the limeyvirus (because what goes better with Corona than lime?) is going to significantly impact travel worldwide in the coming months.

ICANN picks Seattle for public meeting

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN will hold one of its 2021 public meetings in Seattle, Washington.

The organization’s board of directors directed the CEO to start talks with the yet-unnamed venue at its meeting at the weekend.

The meeting, ICANN 72, will be the 2021 Annual General meeting and will be held from October 23 to 28.

Believe it or not, it will be the first time a public ICANN meeting has been held on the mainland United States since the LA meeting in 2014.

That’s quite a feat, given that ICANN’s definition of “North America” basically only has two countries in it.