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The slow crawl to closed generics at ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2022, Domain Policy

Last Monday saw the 10th anniversary of Reveal Day, the event in London where ICANN officially revealed the 1,930 new gTLD applications submitted earlier in 2012 to a crowd of excited applicants and media.

Dozens of those applications were for closed generics — where the registry operator is the sole registrant, but the string isn’t a trademark — but now, a decade later, the ICANN community still hasn’t decided what to do about that type of gTLD.

At ICANN 74 last week, the Generic Names Supporting Organization and Governmental Advisory Committee inched closer to agreeing the rules of engagement for forthcoming talks on how closed generics should be regulated.

The GNSO’s working group on new gTLDs — known as SubPro — had failed to come to a consensus on whether closed generics should even be allowed, failing even to agree on whether the status quo was the thousand-year-old earlier GNSO policy recommendations that permitted them or the later GAC-influenced ICANN retconning that banned them.

But ever since SubPro delivered its final report, the GAC has been reminding ICANN of its 2013 Beijing communique advice, which stated: “For strings representing generic terms, exclusive registry access should serve a public interest goal.”

At the time, this amounted to an effective ban, but today it’s become an enabler.

ICANN has for the last several months been coaxing the GNSO and the GAC to the negotiating table to help bring the SubPro stalemate into line with the Beijing communique, and the rules of engagement pretty much guarantee that closed generics will be permitted, as least in principle, in the next application round.

GAC chair Manal Ismail told ICANN (pdf) back in April:

discussion should focus on a compromise to allow closed generics only if they serve a public interest goal and that the two “edge outcomes” (i.e. allowing closed generics without restrictions/limitations, and prohibiting closed generics under any circumstance) are unlikely to achieve consensus, and should therefore be considered out of scope for this dialogue.

Remarkably, the GNSO agreed to these terms with little complaint, essentially allowing the GAC to set at least the fundamentals of the policy.

Last week, talks centered on how these bilateral negotiations — or trilateral, as the At-Large Advisory Committee is now also getting a seat at the table — will be proceed.

The rules of engagement were framed by ICANN (pdf) back in March, with the idea that talks would begin before ICANN 74, a deadline that has clearly been missed.

The GNSO convened a small team of members to consider ICANN’s proposals and issued its report (pdf) last week, which now seems to have been agreed upon by the Council.

Both GNSO and GAC are keen that the talks will be facilitated by an independent, non-conflicted, knowledgeable expert, and have conceded that they may have to hire a professional facilitator from outside the community.

That person hasn’t been picked yet, and until he/she has taken their seat no talks are going to happen.

ICANN said a few months ago that it did not expect the closed generics issue to delay the SubPro Operational Design Phase, which is scheduled to wind up in October, but the longer the GAC, GNSO and ICANN dawdle, the more likely that becomes.

All that has to happen is for a group of 14-16 community members to agree on what “public interest” means, and that should be easy, right? Right?

Over 900 people show up for ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2022, Domain Policy

Has community participation in ICANN meetings rebounded now that in-person meetings have returned? That’s one possible interpretation of data released by the Org today.

ICANN said that ICANN 74, which concluded yesterday, had 1,817 attendees, of whom 917 showed up in The Hague in person, their first opportunity to travel to an ICANN meeting since November 2019. The remaining 900 participated remotely via Zoom.

If we take the top-line number, that’s the highest attendance of the pandemic era, and comparable to the Montréal meeting immediately prior to the arrival of the Covid-19, ICANN 66, where 1,894 people showed up.

But the top-line number from Montréal does not include off-site Zoom participants, which were counted separately and amounted to 1,752 people.

So the number of people “attending” ICANN meetings one way or the other has either returned to pre-pandemic levels, or has been cut in half, or even quartered, over the last two and a half years, depending on how you’re counting.

The fact that the 66 was an Annual General Meeting, with a longer, more cluttered agenda and more opportunities to engage for a broader range of people than the mid-year Policy Forum, probably had some impact on the numbers.

The 2019 Policy Forum, held in Morocco, attracted 1,186 in-person attendees and 2.909 off-site Zoom participants.

Regardless of whether you think Zoom users count as full participants or not, 917 bums on seats is the smallest attendance for any meeting since ICANN started counting.

Hamburg selected for next year’s ICANN AGM

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

Better late than never? ICANN has picked Hamburg for its 25th annual general meeting, due to be held in October next year.

The ICANN board of directors made the selection at its meeting this weekend, just-published resolutions show.

The choice is hardly surprising. Hamburg had been the venue for the 2020 AGM, but it was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. The city, along with DENIC and eco, said last December they were bidding for a second crack.

The specific venue was not disclosed, but the aborted 2020 meeting was due to take place at the Congress Center Hamburg, so one assumes that’s where the community will be headed next year.

While it will be ICANN’s 25th AGM, and I guess some kind of celebration will be in order, sadly ICANN 78 will be the wrong side of the country and in the wrong month to easily coincide with Oktoberfest.

The meeting is schedule for October 21 to 26 2023.

Amazon governments not playing ball with Amazon’s .amazon

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

Governments in South America are refusing to play nicely with Amazon over its controversial .amazon dot-brand.

Speaking at ICANN 74 in The Hague this morning, Brazil’s representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee said that ICANN’s decision to delegate .amazon to the retail giant a couple of years ago contravenes the multi-stakeholder process and is “incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples”.

Luciano Mazza de Andrade said that the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which is membered by the eight governments of the Amazonia region, wrote to Amazon in December to decline an offer to reserve a number of .amazon domains.

Amazon’s contract with ICANN contains a Public Interest Commitment that grants ACTO and its members one usable .amazon domain each, and 1,500 blocks overall for culturally sensitive strings.

The company had given ACTO a December 19 deadline to submit its list of strings, but it seems its members do not acknowledge the contract’s validity.

“Among other points it underlined that ACTO member states did not give consent to the process of adjudication of the .amazon top-level domain and that they did not consider themselves bound by said decision or the conditions attached to it including the above mentioned Public Interest Commitment,” Brazil’s rep said.

He added that “the adjudication of the top-level domain to a private company without our approval and authorization does not respect the applicable rules, expressly contravenes the multistakeholder nature of ICANN’s decision-making process of interest, and is incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples.”

ACTO has previously described the delegation of .amazon as “illegal and unjust”.

Amazon has a handful of live .amazon domains, which redirect to various services on amazon.com.

High fives, or elbows only? ICANN 74 intros traffic light system for socializing

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

People attending ICANN 74 in The Hague this week are being encouraged to outwardly express their social distancing preferences with their choice of meeting lanyards.

The Org has made lanyards with straps in four colors available to those who have shown up to ICANN’s first face-to-face public meeting in over two and a half years.

A red strap indicates that you should back off, because the wearer desires “extreme physical distancing and precautions”. Yellow is “elbows only” when it comes to greetings. Green means you can shake hands, high-five, and get a little more intimate.

There’s also black, for those who don’t want to wear their Covid-19 anxiety levels around their necks, can’t make their minds up, or think the system is silly.

Five days of masks and Covid-19 tests have been issued to attendees at the door, along with a supply of hand sanitizer. The masks are compulsory, and sanitizer use is being encouraged for those who are choosing to press the flesh.

In-person attendees are also being issued with wrist-bands, like you might get in hospital or at a music festival or nightclub, to prove their vaccination status has been verified.

I’m observing ICANN 74 remotely, and I’ve only viewed one session so far, but my impression based on that limited sample size is that most people seem to have opted for green or yellow lanyards.

It’s tempting to mock the system as another example of ICANN bureaucracy but I think it makes sense, particularly when you’ve got hundreds of people from dozens of countries, each at their own stages of pandemic recovery and with their own levels of endemic covidiocy, in the same building.

As registration closes, many ICANN 74 sessions at bursting point

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2022, Domain Policy

When I’m wrong, I’m wrong.

I speculated a couple of weeks ago that it was likely that ICANN had laid on enough meeting-room capacity to meet demand at next week’s ICANN 74 public meeting, but it turns out most sessions are already over-subscribed.

It’s the first in-person full meeting for ICANN since the pandemic began, and there are going to be some particularly cumbersome health and safety restrictions, including social distancing, which means mandatory reservations and fewer bums on seats.

By my count, 50 sessions next week are already fully booked, which appears to be more than half of the total. There doesn’t seem to be a published hard cap on the number of attendees overall, so there might be a lot of hanging around in corridors going on.

The large plenary sessions in the big room still have hundreds of available seats, but the smaller rooms are mostly fully reserved.

ICANN has said it will have waiting lists for sessions where people fail to show up, and there’s always the Zoom rooms as a backup for those on-site.

The deadline for registering to attend in person is today. Assuming that means close of business in California, you still have a few hours left to book your spot.

I’m not going. My broken leg still hasn’t fully healed, and limping around a massive maze of a venue for eight hours a day, setting off the metal detectors every time I go in or out (I’m now part robot), seems like my idea of hell.

Belarusian domains to change hands

The two ccTLDs representing the sanctioned nation of Belarus are to change hands ahead of next week’s public ICANN meeting in The Hague.

According to the agenda of the ICANN board’s June 12 pre-meeting session, both .by and the Cyrillic equivalent .бел will be transferred to a Minsk company called Belarusian Cloud Technologies.

Currently, the IANA records show a company called Reliable Software has been the registry manager since 2012, but according to the registry’s web site, Belarusian Cloud Technologies has been running the two TLDs since the start of 2022.

It seems asking ICANN’s permission may have been an afterthought, or the redelegation process is taking longer than expected.

Belarus is of course quite heavily sanctioned by much of the world right now, including ICANN’s native US, due to its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But ICANN deals with sanctioned nations’ ccTLDs all the time. Where it requires special permission from the US government, it reliably obtains it.

Seat reservations and waiting lists on the cards for ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2022, Domain Policy

As if health screenings and cumbersome legal waivers weren’t irritating enough, it seems now even in-person attendees at ICANN 74 won’t necessarily be able to attend the meetings they want to attend in-person due to mandatory social distancing.

The Org announced last night that Covid-19 restrictions mean there will be a limit on how many people are allowed to enter a room, and you’ll have to reserved your seat in advance as a result. Waiting lists could be used in cases where rooms are over-booked.

Fortunately, the venue is the World Forum in the Hague and its rooms seem to be pretty big.

ICANN also seems to have done a pretty good job at matching room size to likely demand, so it seems very possible no waiting lists will be required.

The major plenary sessions likely to attract the most attendees are in a room with a capacity of 469, which would have been more than enough seats for almost every session at 2019’s Annual General Meeting in Montreal, which of course had no physical distancing.

The GNSO has a room for 80 people, the GAC has 157, and the ccNSO 74. These limits may have been onerous pre-pandemic, but I feel will be plenty for the likely turnout in The Hague.

That being said, seats are being claimed already three weeks in advance via the online scheduling tool, so if there’s a session you simply must attend it makes sense to grab your spot sooner rather than later.

New gTLDs or Whois access? What’s more important?

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2022, Domain Policy

Should ICANN focus its resources on getting the next round of new gTLDs underway, or making some baby steps towards a post-GDPR system of Whois access?

That’s a question the community is going to have to address when ICANN 74 rolls around next month, after the ICANN board presented it with a divisive question on two of the industry’s most pressing issues that split the GNSO Council along predictable lines at its monthly meeting last week.

It turns out that ICANN doesn’t have the resources to both design a new “SSAD Light” system for handling Whois requests and also carry on its new gTLDs Operational Design Phase, “SubPro”, at the same time.

If the community wants ICANN staff to start work on SSAD Light, work will be paused on the ODP for at least six weeks, ICANN has said. If they want the system also built, the delay to new gTLDs could be much, much longer.

Intellectual property lawyers are of course keen to at least start undoing some of the damage caused by privacy legislation such as GDRP, while registries and consultants are champing at the bit for another expansion of the gTLD space.

This split was reflected on the Council’s monthly call last week, where registry employees Maxim Alzoba, Kurt Pritz and Jeff Neuman were opposed by IP lawyers Paul McGrady and John McElwaine.

“Six weeks is a sneeze in a hurricane,” McGrady said. “We are right on the cusp of taking first steps to solve a problem that has plagued the Community since GDPR came out. I don’t think a six-week delay on SubPro, which again we’re years into and it looks like will be years to go, is a material change to SubPro… a very minor delay seems well worth it.”

At this point, ICANN is still planning to have the SubPro ODP wrapped up in October, thought it has warned that there could be other unforeseen delays.

Neuman warned that even a six-week pause could provide more than six weeks delay to SubPro. Staff can’t just down tools on one project and pick up again six weeks later without losing momentum, he said.

Pritz seemed to echo this concern. The Registries Stakeholder Group hasn’t finished discussing the issue yet, he said, but would be concerned about anything that caused “inefficiencies” and “switching costs”.

The discussion was pretty brief, and no votes were taken. It seems the conversation will pick up again in The Hague when ICANN meets for its short mid-year public meeting on June 13.

ALAC’s brutal takedown of that “aggressive” ICANN 74 coronavirus waiver

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee has accused ICANN of being aggressive, intimidating and insensitive by demanding attendees at next month’s public meeting in the Netherlands sign a far-reaching legal waiver.

In a remarkable submission to the ICANN board of directors, ALAC says the waiver, which basically amounts to a get-out-of-jail-free card for the Org, leaves a “lasting unpleasant taste in the mouths” of the volunteers who make up the ICANN community.

ALAC wants the board to clarify whether it had any involvement in the drafting of the waiver or in approving it but asks that it “take control of the situation and ensure that this waiver does not endanger both its relationship with the ICANN Community”.

The waiver requires in-person attendees to absolve ICANN of all blame if they catch Covid-19 — or anything else — “even if arising from the negligence or fault of ICANN”. Virtual attendees don’t have to sign it.

ICANN has suggested in a separate FAQ that it may not be worth the pixels it’s written with, which ALAC points out is inconsistent with the plan language of the waiver.

ALAC also includes a list of 10 reasons the waiver is a terrible idea. Here’s a few:

10. It is insensitive to the global community as it can be interpreted as an exportation of U.S.-based litigious culture.

4. This kind of blanket waiver could be unenforceable and, in that case, serves only as intimidation.

3. The waiver infringes on individual rights.

1. It leaves a lasting unpleasant taste in the mouths of participants contributing to ICANN’s multistakeholder model — which is presented as a source of pride and accomplishment to the internet governance community.

The waiver already the subject of a Request for Reconsideration by the heads of registrar Blacknight and the Namibian ccTLD registry, but ALAC’s comprehensive takedown, which has dozens of signatories, arguably carries more weight.

ALAC’s letter can be downloaded here. It’s not been published on ICANN’s correspondence page. Hat tip to Rubens Kuhl for the link.