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ICANN on “knife edge” after accountability impasse

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2015, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors and the community group tasked with improving its accountability have failed to come to a compromise over the future direction of the organization, despite an intense two-day argument at the weekend.
As the often fractious Los Angeles gathering drew to a close, ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the board was sticking to its original position on how ICANN should be structured in future, apparently unmoved by opposing arguments.
Other directors later echoed that view.
The Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) has proposed a raft of measures designed to ensure ICANN can be held to account in future if its board goes off the rails and starts behaving crazy.
Basically, it’s trying to find a back-stop to replace the US government, which intends to remove itself from stewardship of the DNS root zone next year.
A key proposal from the CCWG is that ICANN should be remade as a member organization, a specific type of legal structure under California law.
A Sole Member, governed by community members, would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.
But the ICANN board thinks that’s too complicated, that it would replace the board with the Sole Member as the ultimate governing body of ICANN, and that it could lead to unintended consequences.
It’s suggested a replacement Multistakeholder Enforcement Model that would do away with the Member and replace it with a binding arbitration process.
Its model is a lot weaker than the one proposed by the CCWG.
Much of the LA meeting’s testing first day was taken up with discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of these two models.
The second day, in an effort to adopt a more collegial tone, attendees attempted to return to the basics of how decisions are made and challenged in ICANN.
The result was a discussion that dwelt slightly too long on technicalities like voting thresholds, committee make-ups and legal minutiae.
There seems to be a general consensus that the meeting didn’t accomplish much.
Towards the end of the first day, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Larry Stricking urged attendees to get their acts together and come up with something simple that had broad community support. He said:

At this point, we do not have a view that any particular approach is absolutely okay or is absolutely not okay. But what I can tell you is that the work that we need to see, the thoroughness, the detail, and I put this in the blog, it is not there yet. So that I don’t feel comfortable even taking what we saw in these reports and trying to opine on them because there are too many open questions

On Saturday, fellow government man Ira Magaziner, who was deeply involved with ICANN’s creation as a member of the Clinton administration, issued a stark warning.
“I think you can fail. And I think you’re right on a knife’s edge now as to whether you’ll succeed or fail,” he said.
He warned that the IANA transition is going to become a political football as the US presidential election enters its final year and unorthodox candidates (I think he means the Republican clown car) are putting forward “somewhat nationalistic” points of view.
“I think you have a limited amount of time to get this done and for the US government to consider it and pass it,” he said.
That basically means the transition has to happen before January 2017, when there’ll be a new president in the White House. If it’s a Republican, the chances of the transition going ahead get slimmer.
Sure enough, within 24 hours the first reports emerged that Republican hopeful Ted Cruz, backed up by a few other senators, is asking the Government Accountability Office whether it’s even within the power of the US executive to remove itself from the IANA process.
In a letter, Cruz asked:

1. Would the termination of the NTIA’s contract with ICANN cause Government property, of any kind, to be transferred to ICANN?
2. Is the authoritative root zone file, or other related or similar materials or information, United States government property?
3. If so, does the NTIA have the authority to transfer the root zone file or, other related materials or information to a non-federal entity?

If this kind of anti-transition sentiment catches popular opinion, you can guarantee other jingoistic candidates will fall in line.
So ICANN’s on the clock, racing the US political process. In Magaziner’s view, the meat of the disagreements needs to be resolved by the end of the Dublin meeting — three weeks from now — or not long thereafter.
He seems to be of the view that the CCWG has overreached its remit. He said:

The task of accountability that was assigned to this group was, as the chair said this morning, to replace the ultimate backstop of the US government with a community-based backstop. The committee was not charged to completely rewrite the way ICANN works. I’m sure ICANN can be improved and there ought to be an ongoing process to improve the way it works, but this particular committee and NTIA didn’t ask you to completely redo ICANN.

The LA meeting didn’t seem to help much in moving the accountability debate closer.
On Saturday afternoon, Crocker spoke to confirm that the board is sticking to its guns in opposing the Sole Member model.
“We certainly did not understand and don’t believe that creating a superstructure to replace them [the US government] in a corporate sense was intended, desired, needed, or appropriate,” he said.
“So in the comments that we submitted some time ago, we did represent a board position. We did a quick check this morning, and 100% agreement that what we said then still stands,” he said.
That’s a reference to the board feedback on the CCWG proposal submitted September 11.
Now, the CCWG has to figure out what to do before Dublin.
Currently, it’s combing through the scores of public comments submitted on its last draft proposals (probably something that should have happened earlier) in order to figure out exactly where everyone agrees and disagrees.
It seems ICANN 54, which starts October 16, will be dominated by this stuff.

US gov: we can’t support ICANN accountability plan

Kevin Murphy, September 24, 2015, Domain Policy

The US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has waded into the ICANN accountability debate, possibly muddying the waters in the process.
In a blog post last night, NTIA head Larry Strickling said that community proposals for enhancing accountability were not yet detailed enough, and had not reached the desired level of consensus, for the NTIA to support them.
He urged everyone involved to simplify the proposals and to work on areas where there is still confusion or disagreement.
The comments were directed at the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing Accountability (CCWG), a diverse volunteer committee that has been tasked with coming up with ways to improve ICANN accountability after the US government severs formal oversight of the IANA functions.
That group spent a year coming up with a set of draft proposals, outlining measures such as stronger, harder-to-change bylaws and improvements to the Independent Review Process.
But the main organizational change it proposed is where the most conflict has emerged.
CCWG thinks the best way to give the community a way to enforce accountability is to change ICANN into a membership organization, a certain type of legal entity under California law.
It would have a Sole Member, a legal entity peopled by members of each part of the community, which would have to right to take ICANN to court to enforce its bylaws.
The ICANN board doesn’t dig this idea one bit. Its outside attorneys at Jones Day have counseled against such a move as untested, overly complex and potentially subject to capture.
On a recent three-hour teleconference, the board proposed the Sole Member model be replaced by a “Multistakeholder Enforcement Mechanism”.
The MEM would create a binding arbitration process — enforceable in California court — through which ICANN’s supporting organizations and advisory committees could gang up to challenge decisions that they believe go against ICANN’s Fundamental Bylaws.
Since this bombshell, a key question facing the CCWG has been: is the board’s view being informed primarily by its lawyers, or has Strickling been quietly raising NTIA concerns about the proposal via back-channels?
If it’s the former, the CCWG and its own outside counsel could robustly argue the community’s corner.
If it’s the latter, it’s pretty much back to the drawing board — because if the NTIA doesn’t like the plan, it won’t be approved.
Unfortunately, Strickling’s latest blog post avoids giving any straight answers, saying “it is not our role to substitute our judgment for that of the community”.
But his choice of language may suggest a degree of support for the board’s position.

As I stated in Argentina in June, provide us a plan that is as simple as possible but still meets our conditions and the community’s needs. Every day you take now to simplify the plan, resolve questions, and provide details will shorten the length of time it will take to implement the plan and increase the likelihood that the plan will preserve the security and stability of the Internet. Putting in the extra effort now to develop the best possible consensus plan should enhance the likelihood that the transition will be completed on a timely schedule.

The emphasis on “simplicity” could be read as coded support for the board, which has repeatedly said that it thinks the Sole Member model may be too complicated for the NTIA to swallow.
Both the board and Strickling’s latest post refer back to a speech he made in Buenos Aires in June, in which he said:

If a plan is too complex, it increases the likelihood there will be issues that emerge later. Unnecessary complexity increases the possibility that the community will be unable to identify and mitigate all the consequences of the plan. And a complex plan almost certainly will take longer to implement.

Strickling certainly knows that the board has been citing these comments in its objection to the Sole Member model, so the fact that he chose to repeat them may be indicative of which way he is leaning. Or maybe it isn’t.
Either way, I think it’s going to be tough for the CCWG to easily dismiss the board’s concerns.
CCWG members are currently on planes heading to ICANN headquarters in Los Angeles for a two-day face-to-face meeting at which the chairs “expect that a large portion of our time… will be reserved to answering the tough questions”.
Many believe that unless this meeting is extraordinarily successful, it’s going to be tough for an IANA transition proposal to be approved by the NTIA under the current US administration.

M+M lays off dozens in focus on S&M, promises profit next year

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2015, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines has outlined its plan to refocus its business on sales and marketing, which has already resulted in a couple dozen job losses, as the latest stage of its profit runway.
The new gTLD company also outlined plans to return about half of its cash reserves — mostly obtained by losing new gTLD auctions — to its shareholders.
For the first half of the year, the London-listed company reported an EBITDA loss of $1.2 million, compared to income of $5.7 million a year earlier, on revenue that was up to $3.6 million from $113,000 in the comparable 2014 period.
The company said it is “committed to achieving its stated goal of crossing over into profitability in 2016” and blamed high operating costs for the loss, but said it has been restructuring to help it return to profit.
M+M said its headcount has been reduced from 58 to 44, but that it has added ten jobs in sales and marketing, which seems to indicate at least 24 people recently lost their jobs.
The bottom line was also affected by the fact that most of the company’s cashflow to date has been generated by auction losses, and there were more of those last year than this.
The company hit three of its six “key performance indicator” targets — domains under management market share, premium sales growth and standard sales growth — but fell short of the other three.
Average revenue per name for premiums was $184 versus a $200-$225 target, and average revenue per standard name was down from $28 to $10, largely due to a deep discount promotion for .work domains. Higher prices for soon-to-launch .law could increase the average, M+M said.
The company also announced that it will spent £15 million ($23.1 million) of its cash reserves on a share buyback.
That’s almost half of the $48.3 million is has in the bank. This time last year, M+M’s share price peaked at 12p; it’s currently at 8.55p.
The price saw a spike in May, shortly before then-chairman Fred Krueger was asked to resign by the board. Krueger has since sold off the majority of his substantial shareholding, despite explicitly saying that he would not.

New gTLDs growing faster than .com, latest Verisign data shows

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2015, Domain Registries

New gTLDs grew faster than .com in the last 12 months.
That seems to be one of the conclusions that can be drawn from Verisign’s Q2 Domain Name Industry Brief, which was published (pdf) yesterday, if you dig into the numbers a little.
The headline number is that the number of all domains across all TLDs was 296 million, up sequentially by 2.2 million domains. That’s annual growth of 16.4 million domains, Verisign said.
I thought it might be interesting to see where that growth came from, so I plugged the numbers from Verisign’s last five DNIB reports into a spreadsheet, reproduced in this table.
[table “35” not found /]

From these numbers, we can calculate the quarterly sequential growth, measured in domains, for the whole DNS, for .com, for new gTLDs and for ccTLDs.
That table looks like this:
[table “37” not found /]

It appears from this table that .com grew by more domains than new gTLDs over the last year — 4.8 million versus 4.36 million — but the numbers are a bit misleading due to the way Verisign sources its data.
For most ccTLDs, Verisign has always used the third-party research outfit ZookNic, which has its own way of estimating registration volumes.
For new gTLDs, Verisign uses the zone files as published daily by ICANN — the same source DI and others use to measure volume.
However, for .com Verisign uses its own in-house data source. It is, after all, the .com registry.
The numbers for .com you find in the DNIB reports are exactly the same as the numbers Verisign gives financial analysts and investors when it reports its quarterly earnings.
And the company changed the way it reports those numbers in Q1 this year.
See that unusually high addition of 2.2 million names in .com in Q1 in the above table? That reflects the addition of very nearly 750,000 hidden .com names in March this year.
At that time, Verisign started counting domains that are on “hold” statuses, largely due to new ICANN policies on unverified Whois information.
The last two DNIB reports have sourced .com numbers with this disclosure:

The domain name base is the active zone plus the number of domain names that are registered but not configured for use in the respective Top-Level Domain zone file plus the number of domain names that are in a client or server hold status.

The actual Q1 growth number for .com should in the 1.4 million to 1.5 million range, which would bring .com’s total growth over the last four quarters down to roughly 4.1 million names.
An apples-to-apples comparison of extant zone-file domain growth would show new gTLDs beating .com, in other words.
But is this a fair measure of demand?
No. It’s fairer to say that .com still outsells its competition by a long way.
New gTLDs had yet to experience any significant churn by Q2 this year, as most had been on the market for under a year, so the growth numbers are more or less untempered by the renewal cycle.
While Verisign’s .com growth is net, for new gTLDs it’s almost all gross.
Verisign says in the latest DNIB has it had 8.7 million new registrations across .com and .net in the second quarter, which would be roughly eight times as many as new gTLDs — all several hundred of them combined — managed to move.

Who wants ICANN’s $60m gTLD windfall?

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has opened a formal public comment period to move forward discussions on how it should spend the almost $60 million it has so far received in new gTLD auction proceeds.
It’s not yet looking for concrete suggestions on how to spend the money — this is a pre-consultation consultation — it’s only looking for comments on the principles that should be considered when discussions take place.
ICANN has so far raised $58.8 million from “last resort” new gTLD auctions. With 27 contention sets remaining, that number could go up if one or more applicants refuse to participate in private auctions.
The GNSO Council has been moving to create a Cross-Community Working Group to discuss how the money should be spent, but clashed briefly with the ICANN board, which has said it will make the ultimate decision, earlier this year.
The new paper (get it here) basically asks questions along the lines of: who should decide where the money goes? How should conflicts of interest be handled? How much third-party expert opinion should be solicited? How much say should the board have? How much outreach should there be?
Underpinning it all is the implicit problem that the longer, more detailed and more convoluted the process, the less money there will be to actually distribute at the end.
Knowing the ICANN community’s propensity for convolution, I wouldn’t be surprised if it managed to spunk the whole lot on expert advice, working group travel, lawsuits and coffee.
(Okay, I would actually be surprised, but you get my point).
The paper also includes links to about 20 spending suggestions that have been made in various public fora over the last couple of years.
Some ideas include: giving it back to the applicants, funding open source DNS software, reducing the new gTLD application fee, marketing new gTLDs to registrants, and donating it to charity.
It does not appear to be true that ICANN slipped in one of its own management’s suggestions in an attempt to funnel off new gTLD money into the unpopular NetMundial initiative, as has been alleged elsewhere today. The NetMundial suggestion referred to in the paper actually came from Danny Aerts of Swedish ccTLD manager IIS.

More dirty tricks questions raised in .africa saga

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2015, Domain Policy

DotConnectAfrica leaned on a former employee and used suspected astroturf in an unsuccessful attempt to have the Kenyan government support its .africa bid, newly published documents reveal.
Evidence to the .africa Independent Review Process case published for the first time by ICANN Monday night shows how DCA CEO Sophia Bekele attempted to secure Kenyan backing via a former chair of its own advisory board, who had gone on to be an adviser for Kenya on the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.
Emails suggest that this adviser tried to support DCA, against the wishes of his superiors in the Kenyan government, while they were distracted by a contested presidential election result.
They also show that Bekele on at least two occasions sent “news” stories published on web sites she has links to to another senior Kenyan official.
The full story is not yet on the public record — ICANN is still refusing to un-redact anything that the GAC has deemed confidential, including discussions on the GAC mailing list — but some interesting questions have nevertheless emerged.
Kenya divided
Three sets of emails were published.
One was between Bekele and a newly appointed Kenyan GAC adviser, Sammy Buruchara, dating to the ICANN meeting in Beijing, April 2013.
That was the meeting at which the GAC decided, by consensus, to issue advice to the effect that DCA’s .africa application should be trashed.
If Kenya, or any other single government, had disagreed with that proposed GAC advice, it would not be “consensus” advice and would therefore be substantially weakened when the ICANN board came to consider it.
Until his GAC appointment, Buruchara had been chair of DCA’s Strategic Leadership Advisory Board. DCA press released his move in March 2013.
It’s significant that Buruchara was not Kenya’s GAC voting “representative” — that was Michael Katundu — rather merely an “adviser”.
When Bekele (pictured here with Buruchara, March 7, 2013) was cross-examined during the IRP hearings in May this year, she was asked:
Bekele Buruchara

Q. Are you and he friends?
A. No.

Emails show that Buruchara had forwarded the proposed text of the GAC advice to Bekele, who then suggested three paragraphs of text saying the advice was “inappropriate” because the African Union Commission, as backer of the rival ZACR .africa bid, was a GAC member.
That email was dated April 10 — the Wednesday of the Beijing meeting — as the GAC was preparing its communique for submission to the ICANN board the following day.
It’s not clear from the emails published so far what, if anything, Buruchara did in response.
However, the next day, April 11, it seems his Kenyan government superiors were on his case. Buruchara told Bekele:

The matter has been escalated to our Government in Kenya with false information that I am contradicting the AUC.
I have responded accordingly.
Due to the sensitivity of this matter, I wish to leave it at the level of my previous post to the GAC until the matter settles.
Currently I am expecting a call from the President any time.

Expecting a call from the president was a big deal — Uhuru Kenyatta had been inaugurated just two days earlier following a month-long “hanging chads”-style legal challenge to his March 9 presidential election victory.
Buruchara elaborated in a subsequent email:

Someone from AUC called Ndemo and made a lot of noise to the effect that I have contradicted the Heads of State agreement in Abuja, which is obviously lies.
So Ndemo is beside himself with madness owing to the current transition process.
Anyhow I will try and manage the situation as I have not anywhere contradicted AUC’s position.

The “transition” he refers to is Kenyatta’s transition into government, not the ICANN/IANA transition.
“Ndemo” was actually Bitange Ndemo, then the Kenyan permanent secretary for information and communications, somebody Bekele had been simultaneously lobbying for Kenyan government support.
Buruchara was not in Beijing. The actual GAC rep, Katundu, went along with the GAC consensus against DCA.
In fact, Kenya had already issued a GAC Early Warning (pdf) against DCA, so it was significant that Buruchara was expressing support for the company.
In a second email thread, dated July 8, 2013, Buruchara seems to acknowledge that he aided DCA in some way but suggests that was only possible because of political instability in Kenya:

I am glad to note that DCA application passed all the stages except the GNP [Geographic Names Panel].
As you know I stuck my neck out for DCA inspite of lack of Govt support by Ndemo.
Going forward, I would certainly be ready to support DCA so long as the Kenya Govt is behind me as I do not think I will have the same chances as I had last time which was because the govt was in transition

In these July emails, which came less than a week after DCA’s application was rejected by the ICANN board, Bekele encourages Buruchara to file a challenge on behalf of Kenya, and to try to recruit other friendly governments to its cause.
Nothing ever came of that.
Buruchara’s alleged actions were one of the controversial points argued over in the DCA Independent Review Process case.
Many pages of the relevant evidence and argument related to Buruchara’s actions (or lack thereof) are still redacted by ICANN as “GAC Confidential”, so we don’t have all the facts.
However, the IRP proceedings revealed that Buruchara had emailed the GAC mailing list just before Beijing kicked off with reference to .africa.
According to DCA, Buruchara “explained that Kenya supported the AUC’s application for .AFRICA but did not think it was appropriate for the AUC to utilize the GAC to eliminate competition”.
Complicating matters further, there was a third Kenyan GAC “representative” in the mix, Alice Munyua.
She had been the Kenyan GAC rep, but according to DCA had left the position prior to Beijing. She was also involved in the ZACR application and the AUC .africa project.
The record shows that she spoke strongly against DCA’s application, as Kenyan GAC rep, during a meeting between the ICANN board and GAC in Beijing, April 9.
Buruchara, according to DCA, had told the GAC mailing list that Munyua was no longer a GAC rep and that the Kenyan government did not agree with her position. He was then evidently talked out of his position by other GAC members.
It’s not clear from the record whether Munyua was an authorized Kenyan GAC rep in Beijing or not. Archive.org shows her listed on the GAC’s member list in January 2013 but not May 2013.
It’s all very confusing, in other words.
What we seem to have in Beijing, at the least, is a Kenyan GAC delegation deeply divided and the possibility that one or more delegates tried to capitalize on political distractions back home.
With a partial record, it’s difficult to tell for sure.
.africa belongs to America
What’s more clear from the emails published by ICANN this week is that despite her claims to represent the African people, Bekele on at least two occasions told Kenyan officials that African governments had no right to .africa.
In one email to Ndemo, Bekele asserts that the US, rather than African governments, “owns” .africa. She wrote:

we do not believe that it is the place of African Presidents to give AU any sort of mandate for custodianship over a .africa resource that is owned by ICANN or US… the AU cannot do an RFP that is parallel to the ICANN process to appoint a registry on behalf of Africa as if they “own the resource”, which belongs to ICANN

This is in tune with Bekele’s repeated outreach to the US Congress to intervene in the .africa controversy.
While DCA is based in Mauritius, Bekele has stated in interviews that she’s lived in California for the better part of two decades.
More astroturf?
The newly published emails also show Bekele unsuccessfully lobbying Ndemo for Kenyan government support, in part by sending him links to purportedly independent domain “news” blogs that are widely believed to be under her own control.
In February 2013, Bekele sent Ndemo links to articles published on domainnewsafrica.com and domainingafrica.com.
These two domains were originally registered by Bekele, at her California business address, on November 21, 2011.
The Whois details for both domains disappeared behind Go Daddy’s privacy service on May 12, 2012, records archived by DomainTools show.
Both web sites take strongly pro-DCA views in matters relating to .africa and ICANN. Neither covers African domain name news except to the extent it relates to DCA or .africa.
Given that Bekele has a admitted history of using bogus identities to fake support for DCA, it’s my view that the sites are nothing more than astroturf/sock-puppetry.
domainingafrica.com is the site that accused me of being part of a racial conspiracy.
It’s worrying that this site was also being used to lobby government officials.
It’s perhaps fitting that Bekele’s email signature, in the newly unredacted emails, is “Nobody believes the official spokesman… but everybody trusts an unidentified source.”
All documents in the IRP case of DCA v ICANN, many still significantly redacted, can be found here.

Radix targets a million .online names in 2-3 years

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2015, Domain Registries

Having just finished the most-successful new gTLD launch day to date, Radix Registry reckons it can get .online to seven figures in two to three years.
“We’re at 37,170 names as of an hour ago,” Radix CEO Bhavin Turakhia told DI at about 1000 UTC this morning.
That represents less than a full day of general availability. The company said last night that 28,000 names were registered in the first 30 minutes.
UPDATE: At the 24-hour mark, Radix tweeted this:


That beats .club’s 25,000-ish, which was Radix’s publicly stated goal, but it also tops .berlin’s 31,000 first-day names.
The CEOs of both these rival registries had publicly predicted their positions would be toppled and actively encouraged Radix to claim the crown.
Turakhia said that the majority of names registered came from pre-orders, largely at 1&1.
“Fourteen thousand names came from 1&1, 6,000 from Go Daddy, 2,700 from United Domains, 1,900 from Name.com and 1,400 from Tucows,” he said, partially breaking down the 37,170 figure by registrar.
He said the goal is to have a .online zone measured in the millions of names.
“I estimate that we should be able to get to a million names in a period of two to three years,” he said. “That’s on a conservative basis.”
Depending on how you count domains, .xyz may have already been the first to hit one million. Its zone never got as high as a million names, but it may have briefly crossed a million in terms of domains under management earlier this year.
At auction, .online sold for what is believed to be an eight-figure sum, originally to a joint venture of Radix, Tucows and Namecheap.
Radix bought out its partners earlier this year.
That was an increase in risk exposure Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani said made him nervous. He said launch day’s numbers show .online’s potential.
Turahkhia said that there are 680,000 names in the .com zone that end in “online” today, and a million that have “online” somewhere in the second level, showing that the string is desirable to registrants.
Radix said last night that its Early Access Period — during which names are sold for a higher price — ended with 1,130 sales.
Turahkhia said that of these, about 1,000 were registered in the last three days, during which time the price was $100. Regular .online pricing is around the same as .com ($14.99 at 1&1 and Go Daddy), but some registrars are selling for as much at $50.

ZACR hits a million .za names

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2015, Domain Registries

South Africa’s .za ccTLD has crossed the one million domain mark, according to the registry.
ZA Central Registry is currently reporting on its web site that 1,000,666 names have been registered.
The millionth name was reportedly vulindlela-hpt.co.za, registered to a consulting firm and inexplicably redirecting to the typo vulindlela-htp.co.za.
CEO Lucky Masilela reportedly said: “ZACR has now joined a small group of registry operators worldwide who administer a six-figure domain space.”
So perhaps the numbers the company are reporting are not entirely reliable. [/snark]

US gives ICANN an extra year to complete transition

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2015, Domain Policy

US government oversight of ICANN and the domain name system will end a year later than originally expected.
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said last night that it has extended ICANN’s IANA contract until September 30, 2016, giving the community and others more time to complete and review the transition proposals.
NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling wrote that “it has become increasingly apparent over the last few months that the community needs time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the U.S. Government and then implement it if it is approved.”
Simultaneously, NTIA has finally published a proposal — written by ICANN and Verisign — for how management of the DNS root will move away from hands-on US involvement.
The extension of the IANA contract from its September 30, 2015 end date was not unexpected. The current contract allows for such extensions.
As we recently reported, outgoing ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade had guessed a mid-2016 finalization of the transition.
Regardless, expect op-eds in the coming days to claim this as some kind of political victory against the Obama administration.
Part of the reason for the extension, beyond the fact that the ICANN community hasn’t finished its work yet, is legislation proposed in the US.
The inappropriately named DOTCOM Act, passed by the House but frozen for political reasons in the Senate by Tea Party presidential hopeful Sen Ted Cruz, would give Congress 30 legislative days (which could equal months of real time) to review the IANA transition proposals.
There are basically three prongs to the transition, each with very long names.
The “Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community” is the first.
That was created by the multistakeholder IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) and deals with how the IANA contract will be managed after the US government goes away.
The second prong comes from the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability, which deals with how ICANN itself can improve its accountability to the internet community without the Damoclean sword of US intervention hanging over it.
The CCWG’s latest draft report would strengthen the ICANN board against capture by, for example, making certain bylaws harder to amend and giving the community the right to fire directors.
Both of these proposals are currently open for public comment here.
The third prong, which only appears to have been published this week, deals with the nuts and bolts of how changes to the DNS root zone are made.
The current system is a tripartite arrangement between IANA, NTIA and Verisign.
When a TLD operator needs a change to the DNS root — for example adding a name server for its TLD — the request is submitted to and processed by IANA, sent to NTIA for authorization, then actually implemented on the primary root server by Verisign.
Under the new proposal (pdf) to phase the NTIA out of this arrangement, the NTIA’s “authorization” role would be temporarily complemented by a parallel “authentication” role.
The proposal is not written in the clearest English, even by ICANN standards, but it seems that the current Root Zone Management System would be duplicated in its entirety and every change request would have to be processed by both systems.
The output of both would be compared for discrepancies before Verisign actually made the changes to the root.
It seems that this model is only being proposed as a temporary measure, almost like a proof of concept to demonstrate that the NTIA’s current authorization role isn’t actually required and won’t be replaced in this brave new world.

New gTLDs not an illegal conspiracy, court rules

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has beaten off a lawsuit from alternate root provider name.space for a second time, with a US appeals court ruling that the new gTLD program was not an illegal conspiracy.
name.space sued ICANN in 2012, claiming that the program broke competition laws and that “conflicted” ICANN directors conspired with the industry in an “attack” on its business model.
The company runs an alternate DNS root containing hundreds of TLDs that hardly anyone knows about, cares about, or has access to.
Almost 200 of the strings in its system had matching applications in the 2012 new gTLD round; many have since been delegated.
The company’s complaint asked for an injunction against all 189 matching TLDs.
But a court ruled against it in 2013, saying that name.space had failed to make a case for breaches of antitrust law.
Last week, an appeals court upheld that ruling, saying that the company had basically failed to cross the legal threshold from simply making wild allegations to showing evidence of an illegal conspiracy.
“We cannot… infer an anticompetitive agreement when factual allegations ‘just as easily suggest rational, legal business behavior.’,” the court ruled, citing precedent.
“Here, ICANN’s decision-making was fully consistent with its agreement with the DOC [US Department of Commerce] to operate the DNS and the Root,” it wrote. “In transferring control to ICANN, the DOC specifically required it to coordinate the introduction of new TLDs onto the Root. This is exactly what ICANN did in the 2012 Application Round”.
“The 2012 rules and procedures were facially neutral, and there are no allegations that the selection process was rigged,” the panel ruled.
The court further ruled that ICANN is not a competitor in the markets for domain names as registry, registrar or defensive registration services, therefore it could not be subject to antitrust claims for those markets.
A few other claims against ICANN were also dismissed.
In short, it’s a pretty decisive victory for ICANN. General counsel John Jeffrey said in a statement that ICANN is “pleased” to have won.
All the major documents in the case, including the latest opinion, can be downloaded here.
While the lawsuit has been making its way through the courts, the .space gTLD has actually been delegated and the domain name.space is owned by its new registry, Radix.
There’s some salt in the wounds.