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Americans and ICANNers avoid Kigali in droves

Kevin Murphy, July 15, 2024, Domain Policy

The number of North Americans and ICANN staffers turning up to the latest community meeting hit their lowest numbers since records began, according to newly published ICANN statistics.

In-person attendance plummeted compared to the same meeting last year, and the total number of North Americans collecting lanyards was the lowest since ICANN started tracking these things in 2016.

The number of staffers showing up to ICANN 80 in Kigali, Rwanda last month also tied as the lowest-ever turnout for Org employees.

There were 214 North Americans at Kigali, compared to 612 at the Washington DC meeting a year earlier and 262 at the meeting in The Hague in 2022, which was the first post-pandemic non-virtual meeting.

The previous low was 310, at the ICANN 65 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.

It’s probably no surprise that many regular attendees stayed away. The shorter, mid-year Policy Forum meetings typically see the lowest in-person participation, and that’s particularly noticeable when the rotation has them held in Africa.

Flight web sites I checked show no direct flights from the US to Kigali. A connection at a European hub is required and you’re realistically looking at over 24 hours of travel time. Asian community members have it a little easier, with connecting hubs available in the Middle East.

For ICANN, the lower number of staff being sent may be indicative of the Org’s latest belt-tightening moves, which recently saw a number of staff laid off.

ICANN: We will NOT police content

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN seems to have killed off the idea of content-restricting Registry Voluntary Commitments being included in registry contracts, judging by a conversation today between its board of directors and Governmental Advisory Committee.

Speaking moments ago at a session at ICANN 80 in Rwanda, director Becky Burr said the board took legal advice and decided that the Org’s bylaws do not allow it to enforce contractual commitments that involve content regulation.

“The board was looking at the legal issues there to determine whether under our bylaws we were permitted to accept and enforce Registry Voluntary Commitments related to the restriction of content… on Saturday at our board meeting the board has resolved that we can’t,” Burr said.

“We will not accept into the contracts the new registry commitments that involve the restriction of content,” she said.

The RVC-like Public Interest Commitments found in 2012-round gTLDs are grandfathered in the current bylaws and will not be affected by the RVCs decision, she said.

Registries will be free to make RVC-like commitments outside of their ICANN contracts, but ICANN will not enforce them, she said. She also said the board has ruled out hiring a third party enforcer, citing US case law and the First Amendment to the US constitution.

Burr said that if an Independent Review Process panel struck down a single RVC it would risk invalidating all of the RVCs in all registry contracts.

The board’s resolution will be published later this week, but its legal advice will remain confidential, she said.

The decision is a win for registries and registrars, which earlier this year responded to an ICANN consultation by saying it should not permit RVCs that regulate content. The Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group had even raised the possibility of legal action if ICANN went ahead with RVCs.

The opposing view was put forth by the Business Constituency, the Intellectual Property Constituency, and the At-Large Advisory Committee, all of which are now presumably feeling bummed out by the board’s latest decision.

More sticker shock as new gTLD fees could top $300,000

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2024, Domain Policy

The base new gTLD application fee could top $300,000, according to an analysis released by ICANN at its meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, this morning.

The per-gTLD fee will likely range between $208,000 and $293,000, according to the latest estimate, but this does not include mandatory fees that have yet to be figured out that as a whole could amount to “tens of millions”.

ICANN is blaming inflation for most of the increase from the 2012 round, where the fee was $185,000. Staff said that if you take into account a 44% rise due to 14 years of inflation, the 2026 application fee could actually be lower in real-money terms.

The reason for the broad range provided is that ICANN still doesn’t have a good guess as to how many applications it will receive. The program is being run on a cost-recovery basis and ICANN has already budgeted for a spend of $70 million before the application window even opens.

If it only receives 500 applications, it could lose tens of millions of dollars even with a high application fee. With a fee of $242,000, ICANN would need 1,000 applications to make its money back, staff said during an ICANN 80 session today.

There were 1,930 applications in 2012, but demand in 2026 will depend a lot on how many desirable strings remain undelegated, particularly in non-English languages and non-Latin scripts, and how enthusiastic brand owners are about the dot-brand concept (or defensively registering their dot-brands).

The main unknown not included in the latest estimate is the cost of implementing the recommendations of the second Name Collision Analysis Project, which in May called for all gTLDs to be tested live in the DNS before being awarded to the applying registry.

Each of the NCAP2 recommendations could cost between “thousands” and “tens of millions” in total, which would be divided between all the applicants, staffers said. Scrawling on the back of an envelope, it looks to me like this could easily push the top end of the range well over $300,000.

The good news is that if ICANN gets a lot of applications and recovers its costs, it already anticipates giving applicants some of their money back. As an example, it said that if the fee is $220,000 and there are 2,000 applications, applicants could each get $35,000 back.

But that ray of sunlight was not enough to temper the concerns of community members in the room in Kigali today, several of whom sparred with CFO Xavier Calvez and new gTLD program lead Marika Konings over their calculations.

Registry services providers are already angry about the large increase in evaluation fees for the RSP program announced last month.

One thing that doesn’t seem to be under any dispute is that high fees will scare off some applicants, meaning the cost burden will be borne by fewer shoulders, meaning the fees did in fact need to be high; a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Rwanda picked for ICANN meeting

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN is inviting its community to Kigali, Rwanda, for its ICANN 80 public meeting.

The shorter “Policy Forum” meeting, the same format as the one that took place in Washington DC this month, will start from June 10 next year at the Kigali Convention Centre, ICANN’s board decided last week.

It’s the first time ICANN has visited Africa since before the Covid-19 pandemic and the first time Rwanda will have hosted a meeting.

ICANN has hosted meetings in Africa on 12 occasions over the last 25 years, in seven countries — Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Kenya, Ghana, Senegal and South Africa.

ICANN’s practice is to rotate meetings through each of its five geographic regions, but it rarely happens in a strict order and obviously the pandemic shook up scheduling.

Rwanda and questions about its safety and human rights record have been in the news here in the UK for the last couple of years due to the British government’s plan to deport illegal migrants there.

But the UK and US authorities class Rwanda as safe, as long as you stay away from contested border regions. Visas appear to be free upon arrival for all travelers, regardless of origin.