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ICANN approves ccTLD-killer policy

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN has formally adopted a policy that would enable it to remove ccTLDs from the DNS root when their associated countries cease to exist, raising the possibility of the Soviet Union’s .su being deleted.

Last Thursday at ICANN 75 in Kuala Lumpur, the board of directors rubber-stamped the ccNSO Retirement of ccTLDs Policy, which sets out how ccTLDs can be deleted in an orderly fashion over the course of several years.

The policy calls for ICANN and the ccTLD registry to form a “Retirement Plan” when the ccTLD’s string is removed from the ISO 3166-1 Alpha-2 standard, which defines which two-letter strings are reserved for which countries.

Strings are typically removed from this list when a country changes its name (such as Timor-Leste) or breaks up into smaller countries (such as the Netherlands Antilles).

The Retirement Plan would see the ccTLD removed from the root five years after ISO made the change, though this could be extended if the registry asks and ICANN agrees.

In February, I set out the case for why the policy may allow ICANN to retire .su, the thriving ccTLD for the Soviet Union, three decades after that nation was dismantled.

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.br tops five million names

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Registries

Brazil’s .br ccTLD has topped five million registered domains for the first time.

Stats provided by registry NIC.br show that the milestone was passed around September 14.

The last million names have been added in just the last few years — .br hit four million in late March 2019 and started a steep climb when the pandemic began a year later.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief has .br as the sixth-largest ccTLD, but the most up-to-date statistics have .br actually passing .ru, which has been bleeding regs for the last six months and now has fewer than five million, into fifth place.

NIC.br says that surveys show that seven out of every eight domains registered by Brazilians are .br names.

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ICANN returning to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN has put Puerto Rico back on its list of future meeting venues after cancelling this year’s trip to San Juan due to the pandemic.

The Org will summon the true believers to the Puerto Rico Convention Center from March 2 to March 7, 2024, for ICANN 79, it announced this week.

That’s two years after the cancelled meeting from this March, which ultimately went ahead online only.

It will be six years after ICANN last visited the island, in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

It will be ICANN’s third visit to the country, a US territory. It first held a meeting there in 2007.

ICANN was forced to cancel a Puerto Rico visit in 2016 due to an outbreak of the Zika virus (remember that?).

Of the in-person meetings canceled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, now all have been rescheduled or have already taken place.

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Ukrainians urged to “de-Russify” their domains

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Domain Registries

There’s reportedly a push in Ukraine to get registrants of Russian-transliterated TLDs to switch to their matching Ukrainian versions.

Ukraine’s .ua offers domains in dozens of second-level domains, many of which correspond to the names of cities, such as kyiv.ua and .kharkiv.ua.

But while pretty much everyone in the Anglophone world and elsewhere has started using the Ukrainian transliterations as standard in the six months since Russia invaded, Ukrainian domain registrants have been slow to follow.

According to local registry Hostmaster, today there are 38,564 names registered in the Russian .kiev.ua, but only 1,965 in the Ukrainian .kyiv.ua.

Now local hosting company and registrar HOSTiQ is now reportedly offering customers the chance to swap their Russian domains for the Ukrainian equivalents for free.

.ua as a whole has over 580,000 registered names.

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.au passes four million names as 2LDs surge

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2022, Uncategorized

Australia’s .au domains has surpassed four million registered names for the first time, boosted by second-level regs.

The milestone appears to have been hit in the last 24 hours, with the total count at 4,001,440 right now, according to the registry’s web site.

The ccTLD has added just shy of 300,000 registrations in the last month. On August 28, it had just over 3.7 million domains.

While auDA does not break down third-level versus second-level domains, the spike no doubt was caused by last-minutes claims of 2LDs under the Priority Allocation Process.

About 240,000 of the names registered in the last month were registered before the September 20 cut-off date for .com.au registrants to buy their matching second-level .au names.

Unclaimed names will be released into the available pool at 2100 UTC October 3, next Monday, which could potentially lead to another surge.

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.com and .net are the drag factor on domain industry growth

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Verisign’s own gTLDs .com and .net slowed overall domain industry volume growth in the second quarter, according to its latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

June ended with 351.5 million registrations across all TLDs, up 1 million sequentially and 10.4 million year-over-year.

Growth would have been slightly better without the drag factor of .com and .net, which were down 200,000 domains each sequentially, as Verisign previously reported in its Q2 financial results. There were 161.1 million names in .com and 13.2 million in .net.

The ccTLD world grew by 700,000 names sequentially and 2.6 million compared to a year earlier, the DNIB states.

New gTLD names were up by the same amount sequentially and 4.1 million year over year, ending the quarter at 27 million.

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Nominet gets new CFO

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2022, Domain Registries

Nominet has recruited Vodafone’s head of finance to be its new CFO.

The company announced today that Carolyn Bedford will join on December 1, and will also take an executive director seat on the board.

She replaces Ben Hill, who was one of several directors removed from the board in a member coup in March 2021.

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It’s ICANN versus the blockchain in Kuala Lumpur

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2022, Domain Policy

Internet fragmentation and the rise of blockchain-based naming systems were firmly on the agenda at ICANN 75 in Kuala Lumpur today, with two sessions exploring the topic and ICANN’s CTO at one point delivering a brutal gotcha to a lead blockchain developer.

Luc van Kampen, head of developer relations at Ethereum Name Service, joined a panel entitled Emerging Identifier Technologies, to talk up the benefits of ENS.

He did a pretty good job, I thought, delivering one of the clearest and most concise explanations of ENS I’ve heard to date.

He used as an example ICANN’s various handles across various social media platforms — which are generally different depending on the platform, because ICANN was late to the party registering its name — to demonstrate the value of having a single ENS name, associated with a cryptographic key, that can be used to securely identify a user across the internet.

Passive aggressive? Maybe. But it got his point across.

“We at ENS envisage a world where everyone can use their domain as a universal identifier,” he said. Currently, 600,000 users have registered 2.4 million .eth domains, and over 1,000 web sites support it, he said.

He described how ENS allows decentralized web sites, is managed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) and funded by the $5 annual fee for each .eth name that is sold.

Van Kampen had ready responses to questions about how it would be feasible for ENS to apply to ICANN to run .eth in the consensus root in the next new gTLD application round, suggesting that it’s something ENS is thinking about in detail.

While not confirming that ENS will apply, he described how a gateway or bridge between the Ethereum blockchain and the ICANN root would be required to allow ENS to meet contractual requirements such as zone file escrow.

What did not come up is the fact the the string “eth” is likely to be reserved as the three-character code for Ethiopia. If the next round has the same terms as the 2012 round, .eth will not even enter full evaluation.

But the real gotcha came when ICANN CTO John Crain, after acknowledging the technology is “really cool”, came to ask a question.

“What kind of safeguards and norms are you putting in place regarding misbehavior and harm with these names?” Crain asked.

Van Kampen replied: “Under the current implementation of the Ethereum Name Service and the extensions that implement us and the integrations we have, domains are unable to be revoked under any circumstances.”

“So if I understand correctly, under the current solution, if I’m a criminal and I register a name in your space, I’m pretty secure today,” Crain asked. “I’m not going to lose my name?”

Van Kampen replied: “Under the current system, everything under the Ethereum Name Service and everything registered via us with the .eth TLD are completely censorship resistant.”

Herein lies one of the biggest barriers to mainstream adoption of blockchain-based alt-roots. Who’s going to want to be associated with a system that permits malware, phishing, dangerous fake pharma and child sexual abuse material? Who wants to be known as the maker of the “kiddy porn browser”?

If I were Crain I’d be feeling pretty smug after that exchange.

That’s not to say that ICANN put in a wholly reassuring performance today.

Technologist Alain Durand preceded van Kampen with a presentation pointing out the substantial problems with name collisions that could be caused by blockchain-based alt-roots, not only between the alt-root and the ICANN root, but also between different alt-roots.

It’s a position he outlined in a paper earlier this year, but this time it was supplemented with slides outlining a hypothetical conversation between two internet users slowly coming to the realization that different namespaces are not compatible, and that the ex-boyfriend of “Sally” has registered a name that collides with current boyfriend “John”.

It’s meant to be cute, but some of the terminology used made me cringe, particularly when one of the slides was tweeted out of context by ICANN’s official Twitter account.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it strikes me as poor optics for ICANN, an organization lest we forget specifically created to introduce competition to the domain name market, to say stuff like “Market, you are a monster!”.

I’m also wondering whether “icannTLD” is terminology that plays into the alt-root narrative that ICANN is the Evil Overlord of internet naming. It does not, after all, actually run any TLDs (except .int).

The language used to discuss alt-roots came under focus earlier in the day in a session titled Internet Fragmentation, the DNS, and ICANN, which touched on blockchain alt-roots while not being wholly focused on it.

Ram Mohan, chief strategy officer of Identity Digital and member of ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, while warning against ICANN taking a reflexively us-versus-them stance on new naming systems, wondered whether phrases such as “domain name” and “TLD” are “terms of art” that should be only used to refer to names that use the consensus ICANN-overseen DNS.

We ought to have a conversation about “What is a TLD”? Is a TLD something that is in the IANA root? Is a domain name an identifier that is a part of that root system? i think we ought to have that conversation because the place where I worry about is you have other technologies in other areas that come and appropriate the syntax, the nomenclature, the context that all of us have worked very hard to build credibility in… What happens if that terminology gets taken over, diluted, and there are failures in that system? … The end user doesn’t really care whether [a domain] is part of the DNS or not part of the DNS, they just say “My domain name stopped working”, when it may not actually be a quote-unquote “domain name”.

Food for thought.

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ICANN to “stand up” to Russia at the ITU

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN is a non-political organization, but it cannot tolerate the platform of the Russian standing to be the secretary-general of the International Telecommunications Union.

CEO Göran Marby took a fairly bellicose tone in denouncing the platform at two sessions of ICANN 75 in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, warning that the election of Russian nominee Rashid Ismailov could not only destroy ICANN’s multistakeholder model but also internet interoperability in general.

Russia is pushing a position under which the powers of organizations such as ICANN, the Regional Internet Registries and standards-setting groups would be consumed by the ITU and managed in an multilateral, rather than multistakeholder, fashion.

Marby was asked a question about the election, due to take place at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest starting next week, during an open-mic Q&A with the community yesterday.

“We are not campaigning against, but we are reflecting on the fact that one of the candidates does not like what you do here, your ability to walk up to the microphone and ask that question. You can’t do that in the UN setting,” he said.

“There’s a really really big risk that we will lose that ability for you,” he said, adding that he is concerned “that people around the world might not be able to connect to one single interoperable internet”.

“We are strictly neutral when it comes to who becomes the Secretary General,” he said. “We vividly oppose one of the platforms, that the Russian potential Secretary General stands for.”

“We are not a political organization, but we stand up one time… when we see proposals that would disconnect people from the internet or actually make it impossible for you to be here and make policies, that is when we go out and react. That’s the only time,” he said.

During remarks earlier in the day at the ICANN 75 opening ceremony, Marby addressed the same topic in slightly more evocative terms.

“What we do is like fighting for peace. You don’t fight for peace when war has broken out, you fight for peace before. We have to continue to work for the multistakeholder model now before it’s challenged too much,” he said.

Was this a deliberate allusion to the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Marby and/or his speechwriter can’t have been blind to the connotations.

Ismailov’s opponent in the election is Doreen Bogdan-Martin, an American with a much more acceptable policy platform.

ICANN earlier in the year published a paper (pdf) analyzing Russia’s stance on global internet policy. Marby’s remarks this week echo a warning he gave a year ago at ICANN 72.

In an explicit response to the opening ceremony remarks, on Tuesday Russia’s representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee offered a passionate defense of the Russian candidate, telling the GAC and ICANN’s board that his platform is about the “harmonization of ICT”.

He said that the role of the ITU secretary general is a neutral one, and not representative of any particular state.

During the same session Ukraine pleaded for more support, specifically in the form of satellite internet terminals, following ICANN’s donation of $1 million to support infrastructure projects in the war zone.

A million people are without internet access, he said, and rebuilding fiber networks destroyed by Russian missiles will take months because the fields are often mined.

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Surprise new chair for ICANN announced

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2022, Domain Policy

The King is dead, long live the Queen!

(Too soon?)

ICANN announced today that Tripti Sinha will be taking over as chair of the organization’s board of directors this Thursday, with Maarten Botterman taking an unexpectedly early bath.

The news was delivered by Botterman this morning during the opening ceremony of ICANN 75, being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia this week. He added that Danko Jevtovic will take over from Leon Sanchez as vice-chair.

No reason for the decision, which appears to have been made at a board meeting yesterday, was given.

While Botterman’s second term on the board ends this week, he was only recently reselected by the Nominating Committee for a third and final three-year term, a term he appears to be intent on serving as a regular director.

Sinha becomes ICANN’s seventh chair since its inception, and the third (after Vint Cerf and Steve Crocker) to come very much from a technology rather than legal or policy-making background.

She’s currently CTO at the University of Maryland, where among other things she oversees the university’s operation of D-root, one of the internet’s 13 DNS root servers.

On the ICANN board, she already sits on five committees and chairs the Board Governance Committee.

She was born in India, but seems to have lived in the US for most of her adult life. It’s not clear whether she’s in the North America or Asia-Pacific column for purposes of geographic diversity under ICANN bylaws.

Jevtovic comes from the ccTLD world in Serbia, first with Yugoslavia’s .yu and then with Serbia’s current .rs domain.

Sinha’s new role comes with a salary bump from $45,000 to $75,000 and, one presumes, much more stress.

Both Sinha and Jevtovic are NomCom appointees with two years left on their second terms.

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