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Hamburg to have second crack at hosting ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Policy

The City of Hamburg is to try again to bring in the ICANN crowd, after getting cancelled due to the pandemic last year.

German ccTLD registry DENIC, along with the city and local trade group eco, is taking a run at being selected as the host for ICANN 78, currently penciled in for October 2023, the company said this week.

It had been picked to host ICANN 69 in October 2020, but pandemic travel restrictions scuppered that opportunity.

The last six public ICANN meetings have been online-only, as will next March’s ICANN 73, which had been due to take place in Puerto Rico.

Hamburg’s chances would have to be said to be strong. Three other cancelled host cities — Kuala Lumpur, The Hague and Cancun — have already been confirmed for meetings in 2022 and 2023.

Of course, the ultimate decision-maker is a nucleic acid molecule wearing a spiky protein coat.

Three ICANN directors wanted to go to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2021, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors’ decision to scrap the in-person component of its next public meeting was not unanimous, it has emerged.

Three directors voted against the November 4 resolution, which said ICANN 73 would be ICANN’s seventh consecutive online-only gathering, according the a preliminary board report.

The plan for months was to have a “hybrid” meeting, with some face-to-face component at the convention center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as an intermediate step towards post-pandemic normality.

But at the time of the vote travel restrictions in the US were such that getting to Puerto Rico was tough even for fellow Americans, so ICANN’s meetings team had not been able to do on-site preparation.

Nine directors voted to make 73 virtual, with four absent during the vote, the preliminary report states.

Five directors have taken their seats since the coronavirus pandemic began, and have therefore never officially met with their board colleagues in person.

It’s not the first time the board has been split on this matter. Last year, directors Ron Da Silva and Ihab Osman voted to return to face-to-face for the October 2020 Hamburg meeting.

Da Silva is no longer on the board, but there are at least two other directors among the current line-up on the same page.

The voting breakdown will not be revealed until the board approves the November 4 minutes, which could be months if history is any guide.

ICANN abandons face-to-face plan for Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has canceled its plans for a “hybrid” ICANN 73, saying this morning that the meeting will go ahead as an online-only virtual meeting.

Its board of directors yesterday voted to abandon efforts to have a face-to-face component in Puerto Rico as originally planned, as I predicted a few days ago.

ICANN of course said it’s because of the coronavirus pandemic, and more particularly the associated travel restrictions and the lack of access to vaccines in some parts of the world from which its community members hail.

The US Centers for Disease Control currently rates Puerto Rico as its second-highest risk level, meaning ICANN’s meetings staff have been unable to travel there to do on-site planning. ICANN said:

While there has been progress that might make it feasible to plan for and convene a meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 2022, the current risks and uncertainties remain too high to proceed with an in-person meeting or with an in-person component.

Its board resolution stated:

Between the global inequity in vaccine availability across the world, continuing restrictions on persons from many countries or territories being allowed to enter the U.S., and backlogs in visa processing for those who are able to enter the U.S., ICANN org cannot estimate with any confidence the ability for attendees outside of the U.S. to attend ICANN73.

So 73 will be Zoom again. The time zone will remain UTC-4, Puerto Rico local time, which should make it less problematic for Europeans to attend.

The dates are still slated for March 5 to March 10 next year, but it seems likely that we’ll be looking at a March 7 kick-off, as March 5 is a Saturday and people don’t like working weekends if not somewhere they can also work on their tans.

ICANN said it “affirmed its intent” to attempt the hybrid model again for the mid-year ICANN 74 meeting, which is due to take place in The Hague, Netherlands, next June.

It’s bad news for ICANN participation, which has been declining in the new era of virtual meetings, but good news for its bank account. Virtual meetings cost a few million dollars less than in-person ones.

ICANN 73 will be “virtual first”

Kevin Murphy, August 6, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s public meeting next March will prioritize online participation, according to chair Maarten Botterman.

Botterman told members of the APAC Space community group this week that ICANN 73 will have “a meaningful ‘virtual first’ hybrid format to support the community’s ongoing priorities, policy advice, and development work”.

APAC Space, you will recall, had written to ICANN to protest the possibility of this October’s ICANN 72 meeting moving to a hybrid model with an in-person component that most Asia-Pacific community members would not be able to take advantage of due to ongoing pandemic-related travel restrictions.

But the ICANN board, in part due to these concerns, decided to keep 72 online-only rather than showing up in Seattle in person, while stating an intention to go hybrid for 73 if “feasible”.

ICANN 73 is due to take place in Puerto Rico, part of the North America region, next March. As a US territory, the venue will be easier to attend for Americans.

Indeed, APAC Space is skeptical about its members ability to attend 73 in person also.

Botterman addressed this, saying:

We appreciate you have similar concerns about holding a hybrid meeting for ICANN73. At this time, relevant experts have a higher level of confidence that the global pandemic situation, in particular vaccination and infection rates, will be much improved by early 2022. While we will continue to closely monitor the situation, our intentions are to hold ICANN73 as a hybrid meeting with an in-person component if it is feasible to do so.

The five online-only meetings ICANN has held since the pandemic hit are generally regarded as being pretty good as far as Zoom meetings go, but there can be no replacement for the corridor conversations, cocktail events and private dinners that face-to-face meetings permit.

Even the ICANN board of directors is affected — due to the annual turnover, some members haven’t even met each other face-to-face in a board context.

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.

No ICANN meetings until 2021

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2020, Domain Policy

Community members itching to be able to suck up to (or berate) ICANN staffers in person rather than over the phone or videoconferencing will have to wait a little longer.

The Org announced today that all face-to-face meetings have been cancelled until the end of the year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It doesn’t affect any of the big public meetings — the AGM in October was relocated from Hamburg to Zoom a few months ago — but regular business travel and intersessional meetings are hit.

It also means ICANN staffers will continue to work from home until January at the earliest, ICANN said.

The health and safety of our community and staff are always our top concern, and we believe it is not prudent to travel or encourage gatherings until at least the end of 2020. The ongoing and long-term health impact of COVID-19 on our community and staff is a risk that we are not willing to take. In addition, the travel landscape has not yet stabilized, which makes any travel complicated and risky.

Call me a pessimist, but I’d be very surprised if this is the last time the travel ban is extended.

GoDaddy signs up for basically unrestricted .travel gTLD

Donuts has started to market the now practically prehistoric and newly liberalized gTLD .travel, and it’s signed up GoDaddy to offer domains there.
The registry, which acquired .travel from former owner Tralliance in February, announced a soft relaunch on its blog last week, highlighting that GoDaddy, Name.com and Encirca are now among its registrars.
GoDaddy appears to be only new signing there — Encirca and Name.com have been carrying .travel from long before Donuts got involved and are in fact its two largest registrars.
The big daddy of the registrar space appears to have become interested after Donuts “simplified” the process of registering .travel domains. Donuts said:

Since the acquisition, Donuts has simplified the registration process, enabling registrants to stay on the registrar’s website for the entirety of the registration/checkout process. Donuts believes that this streamlined registration process will increase registrations, as compared to the previous process, which was disjointed and complex for registrants.

What this seems to translate to is: .travel is essentially an unrestricted TLD, despite being applied for in 2003’s round of “sponsored” gTLDs.
If you attempt to register a .travel domain at GoDaddy today, the only additional friction en route to the purchase button is a simple, prominent check-box asking you to confirm you are a member of the travel community.
That’s apparently enough for Donuts to say it has fulfilled the part of its ICANN contract that says it has to carry out a “review of Eligibility prior to completion of all registrations.”
Under its previous ownership, .travel required registrars to bounce their customers to the registry web site to obtain an authentication code during the registration process.
.travel names are still pretty pricey — GoDaddy was going to hit me with a bill of over $110 before I abandoned my cart, and that was just a year-one promotional price.
The gTLD peaked at 215,000 domains 10 years ago but now sits at under 18,000, having seen slight declines every month for the past five years.

Donuts may make .travel names easier to buy after acquiring its first legacy gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has added .travel to its swelling portfolio of gTLDs, under a deal with original registry Tralliance announced today.
It’s the company’s first acquisition of a legacy, pre-2012 gTLD, and the first “community” gTLD to join its stable of strings, which now stands at 239.
.travel went live in 2005, a part of ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” TLD applications.
As a sponsored TLD, .travel has eligibility and authentication requirements, but executive vice president Jon Nevett told DI that Donuts will look at “tinkering with” the current process to make domains easier to buy.
The current system requires what amounts to basically a self-declaration that you belong to the travel community, he said, but you have to visit the registry’s web site to obtain an authentication code before a registrar will let you buy a .travel domain.
Given that the community captured by .travel is extremely broad — you could be somebody blogging about their vacations and qualify — it seems to be a barrier of limited usefulness.
Nevett said Donuts has no immediate plans to migrate the TLD away from the Neustar back-end upon which it currently sits.
The rest of its portfolio runs on its own in-house registry platform, and one imagines that .travel will wind up there one day.
While .travel is one of Donuts most-expensive domains — priced at $99 retail at its own Name.com registrar — Nevett said there are no plans to cut pricing as yet.
There may be discounts, he said, and possibly promotions involving bundling with other travel-related gTLDs in its portfolio.
Donuts already runs .city, .holiday, .flights, .cruises, .vacations and several other thematically synergistic name spaces.
.travel had about 18,000 domains registered at the last count, with EnCirca, Name.com, 101domain, Key-Systems and CSC Corporate as its top five registrars.
It peaked 10 years ago at just under 215,000 registrations, largely due to to speculative bulk registrations made by parties connected to the registry that were dumped a couple of years later.
It’s been at under 20,000 names for the last five years, shrinking by small amounts every year.
The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.

ICANN slashes millions from its budget

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has cut $5 million from its annual budget, warning the community that difficult decisions have to be made amid a slowing domain name market.
Staff and community members will all be affected by the cuts, whether in the form of less generous pay raises or fewer travel opportunities.
Cuts have also been proposed to international outreach, tech support, contractual compliance and translation services.
The organization at the weekend published for comment its proposed budget for fiscal 2019. That’s the year that begins July 1, 2018.
It would see ICANN spend $138 million, $5 million less than it expects to spend in fiscal 2018.
Four of the five top-line areas ICANN reports expenses will be cut for a total of $12 million in savings, while one of them — personnel — is going up by $7.3 million.
This rounds out to a $5 million cut to the total FY19 ICANN budget. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Personnel costs going up from $69.5 million to $76.8 million, up $7.3 million.
  • Travel and meetings costs are to go down from $17.8 million to $15.6 million, a $2.2 million saving.
  • Professional services costs will go down from $27.7 million to $23.4 million, a $4.3 million saving.
  • Administration and capital costs will go down from $22.5 million to $17.8 million, a $4.7 million saving.
  • The contingency budget is going down from $5.3 million to $4.5 million, a $800,000 saving.

Personnel costs are going up due to a combination of new hires and pay rises, but the average annual pay rise will be halved from 4% to 2%, saving $1.3 million, ICANN documentation states.
Headcount is expected to level out at about 425, up from the current 400, by the end of FY19.
The travel budget is going down due to a combination of cuts to services provided at the three annual meetings and the number of people ICANN reimburses for going to them.
The Fellows program — sometimes criticized for giving people what look like free vacations for little measurable return — is seeing the biggest headcount cut here. ICANN will only pay for 30 Fellows to go its meetings in FY19, half the level of FY18. The Next Gen program, a similar outreach program for yoof participants, goes down to 15 people from 20.
The Governmental Advisory Committee will get its number of funded seats reduced by 10 to 40. The ALAC and the ccNSO also each lose a few seats. Other constituencies are unaffected.
At the meetings themselves, translation is to be scaled back to be provided on an as-requested basis, rather than automatically translating everything into all six UN languages. Key sessions will continue to have live interpretation.
Outside of the three main meetings, ICANN is pulling back on plans to expand its irregular “capacity building” workshops in “under-served” areas of the world.
It’s also slashing the “additional budget request” budget by 50%.
In terms of compliance, a proposed Technical Compliance Monitoring system that was going to be built this year — a way to make sure gTLD registries and registrars are stable and secure — appears to be at risk of being deprioritized.
ICANN said it “will develop an implementation plan in due time, depending on the RFP results and, if needed, work with the Board to identify necessary resources and funds to support implementation of the project.”
The documents published today are now open for public comment until March 8.
The cuts I’ve reported here can be found from page 19 of this document (pdf).
The reason for the cutbacks is that ICANN’s revenue isn’t growing as fast as it once did, due to the slower than expected growth of the domain name industry in general. I’ll get to that a later article.

URS arrives in three legacy gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Policy

The legacy gTLDs .cat, .pro and .travel will all be subject to the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy from now on.
Earlier this week, ICANN approved the new Registry Agreements, which are based on the new gTLD RA and include URS, for all three.
URS is an anti-cybersquatting policy similar to UDRP. It’s faster and cheaper than UDRP but has a higher burden of proof and only allows domains to be suspended rather than transferred.
The inclusion of the policy in pre-2012 gTLDs caused a small scandal when it was revealed a few months ago.
Critics, particularly the Internet Commerce Association, said that URS (unlike UDRP) is not a Consensus Policy and therefore should not be forced on registries.
ICANN responded that adding URS to the new contracts came about in bilateral negotiations with the registries.
The board said in its new resolutions this week:

the Board’s approval of the Renewal Registry Agreement is not a move to make the URS mandatory for any legacy TLDs, and it would be inappropriate to do so. In the case of .CAT, inclusion of the URS was developed as part of the proposal in bilateral negotiations between the Registry Operator and ICANN.

The concern for ICA and others is that URS may one day be forced into the .com RA, putting domainer portfolios at increased risk.