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Summer of ICANN

Zane Bundy —  June 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

On New gTLD Program’s Third Anniversary, Webinar Sheds Light On Progress, Role of Program In The Future of Internet Governance

June marks the beginning of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere – longer days, shorter nights and (depending on your internal thermostat) either life-affirming warmth or misery-inducing heat.

This year, June is also notable for Internet governance milestones: Not only does it mark the third anniversary of ICANN’s New gTLD Program, but it’s the month in which ICANN holds its 50th public meeting in London.

In a webinar entitled, “Three Years Beyond the Dot: A Retrospective of the New gTLD Program”, FairWinds President and CEO Nao Matsukata considers the Program in relation to Internet governance and provides key questions to consider as the governance debate develops at home and abroad.

The webinar is divided into four main parts: Overview, Decision to Launch, Evaluation & Measurement, and Conclusion. In the first section, Matsukata plays a short, animated video about the program to get everyone on the “same page” in terms of what new gTLDs are and how the Internet is expanding.

He compared the Internet of the 90’s, when Google search was born and innovative new business models like Amazon and eBay were founded, to the Internet today. It is, he said, a substantially more global network that must grapple with increasingly complex and pressing governance issues, thanks in large part to the revelations of National Security Agency (NSA) spying made public by Edward Snowden in 2013.

In the second section, Matsukata describes the reasons ICANN decided to launch the program, noting that – as is indicated in slide 13, below – “These [three-, four-and five-letter domain names] are sold at prices that are absolutely out of the reach for most people to participate in… It is more and more difficult for even smaller companies to get certain names that might be helpful to them. So the idea behind expanding the space certainly fits the bill for those who are looking to get into the game at a price that’s much more affordable and manageable for small businesses and individuals.”

Slide describing decrease in the supply of 3, 4 and 5 letter domain names in the .COM space

In the third section of his presentation, Matsukata considers the progress of the program based on ICANN’s own promises in its Affirmation of Commitments and the preamble to the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook, as well as significant outcomes, such as trademark protections offered through the Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension System.

Matsukata touches upon the need for greater public awareness of the New gTLD Program, citing FairWinds’ own research, which suggests that – while awareness of new gTLDs is relatively low – willingness to trust .BRAND gTLDs is high (see figure below). He also suggested that multistakeholderism and the rule of law should be thought of as tools to achieve the U.S. objective of a free and open Internet.

Public awareness statistics regarding new gTLDs

To view the deck on SlideShare, click here.

 

 

Brand owners are finally in the clear.

That is, in terms of signing new top-level domain Registry Agreements with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The remaining kinks of an amendment designed to consider the specific trademark needs of brands have been settled

The final fix? Brand owners may now designate three ICANN-accredited registrars to serve as the exclusive registrars for their .BRAND top-level domain, according to a blog entry posted by ICANN Vice President, Domain Name Services Cyrus Namazi.

Namazi announced that the language of the amendment – Specification 13 – is now available for qualifying .BRANDs in full.

ICANN’s new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program Committee (NGPC) approved the long-sought and much-discussed Specification 13 on March 26. But the three-registrar provision raised a potential conflict with another policy devised by the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO) that prohibits discrimination against any accredited registrar.

GNSO – the policy-making arm of ICANN for gTLDs – could have objected  to the three-registrar provision. But it chose not to after considering the unique business case of .BRANDs and public comments submitted on the proposed Specification 13. Since registration is limited in a .BRAND, brands prefer to use a limited number of designated registrars. Specification 13 will now explicitly allow brands to do so.

As we’ve noted before, the incorporation of the entirety of Specification 13 into the Registry Agreement is beneficial for .BRAND applicants. For example, in addressing some of brand owners’ collective concerns with the new gTLD Registry Agreement, the approval of Specification 13 will allow .BRAND applicants to move through the contracting and delegation processes and launch with greater speed.

And that could speed consumer adoption of new gTLDs, given the broad consumer base and digital presence of many brand applicants, and the benefits the .BRAND gTLD model presents for improved online security and consumer trust.

singapore49-logo-300x155-02jan14-enThe 49th public meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opens in Singapore next week, and FairWinds Partners will be on the ground attending formal and informal sessions, meeting with ICANN staff, and working toward solutions on key issues of interest to our clients.

The meeting likely will be abuzz with chatter about the Commerce Department’s decision to hand over control of ICANN to the multistakeholder community. We anticipate nascent discussions to begin defining how ICANN will establish its independence.

Those discussions will be on target as ICANN shifts from its focus on new top-level domains to the broader subject of Internet governance. New top-level domains will continue to dominate the business of stakeholder groups and constituencies. But ICANN’s pivot toward the big picture is reflected in the consolidation of all new top-level domain activities under its Global Domains Division.

The Global Domains Division has plenty of work ahead. Delays in how to resolve conflicting new top-level domain applications and other sticking points need to be resolved soon. FairWinds expects developments on:

  • Name collisions, where a new top-level domain may conflict with an internal domain already in use
  • ICANN auctions, specifically related to schedules and prices
  • Specification 13, which addresses issues of particular concern to brands
  • An orderly process for releasing geographic terms at the second level

To learn more about ICANN 49, new top-level domains, or FairWinds Partners, please check out FairWindsPartners.comBeyondtheDot.com, the Domain Name Strategy blog, @fairwinds,@gTLDstrategy@beyondthedot. Or call Taylor Frank at 202-223-5232.

Buenos Aires Brief

FairWinds Partners —  November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

buenosaires48-logo-328x140-12sep13-en_0_0ICANN’s 48th Public Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, marked an important transition point for the organization and for all members of the ICANN community.

Community members as well as ICANN staff have focused for the past several meetings on the successful implementation of the New gTLD Program. But by the close of the Buenos Aires meeting, it was clear that ICANN leadership had turned a corner and is beginning to focus on new initiatives beyond the New gTLD Program.

An important milestone in this transition has been the delegation of new gTLDs. The number of delegated gTLDs surpassed the number of legacy gTLDs like .COM, .NET and .ORG shortly before the Buenos Aires meeting opened. Before the first new gTLD, there were 22 top-level domains in the root. Now there are 31 newly delegated gTLDs, and dozens more could come online before the end of 2013.

A second indication of ICANN’s transition is President and CEO Fadi Chehadé’s drive to involve ICANN in the emerging global discussion around Internet governance. ICANN supported the September Montevideo statement on expanding the global nature of Internet governance. And Chehade and the ICANN Board of Directors made news in Buenos Aires through their involvement in upcoming global meetings on Internet governance.

Such a shift of focus is hardly surprising given ICANN’s broad mandate. However, many applicants are concerned that this transition comes too early and well before ongoing programs, such as the New gTLD Program, are fully and successfully implemented. For example, while the Public Meeting in Buenos Aires fostered positive progress on the .BRAND Registry Agreement, the continued delay of ICANN’s auctions has left hundreds of contention sets unresolved. Moreover, the lack of a finalized plan to mitigate name collision risks has left many gTLD applicants in a state of limbo.

More than ever, applicants must navigate a more complicated environment in completing the new gTLD process. ICANN’s focus has changed at the very moment applicants must begin considering ICANN a regulator.

What remains constant, though, is the fact that ICANN will continue to exert significant influence over brand owners’ new gTLD activities, and so brand owners must continue to keep a close eye on the organization in order to extract the most value from their new gTLD investments.

ICANN: Buenos Aires

FairWinds Partners —  November 15, 2013 — 1 Comment

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is holding its 48th public meeting in Buenos Aires from November 17 to 21, and FairWinds Partners will be on the ground gathering intelligence.

A lot has happened in the world of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) since ICANN’s last meeting in July. Most significantly, ICANN has signed contracts with applicants for 115 new gTLDs. Twenty-three among that group have moved forward to launch sunrise periods, during which trademark owners may register second-level domains that match their marks. The internationalized domain name شبكة. which means .WEB in Arabic and is known as DotShabaka in English, was the first to launch its sunrise period and, therefore, likely will be the first new gTLD to launch publicly in the first days of 2014.

Despite the progress in rolling out new gTLDs, ICANN is still mulling a number of difficult decisions related to the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Advice issued at ICANN’s April meeting in Beijing. Members of the ICANN community and brand owners will be anticipating developments if not resolutions to these thorny issues.

  • Chief among the outstanding issues is the GAC’s “safeguard advice” pertaining to gTLDs that represent sensitive subjects or regulated businesses, such as .BANK or .CHARITY. ICANN has agreed that these gTLDs will be subject to additional constraints but has provided little guidance on what those constraints might be, so Buenos Aires attendees will be eager for some news.
  • ICANN has moved faster on the GAC Advice relating to generic strings. Its New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) has added language to the Applicant Guidebook that essentially prohibits closed generic gTLDs. Still to be resolved, however, is whether applicants for closed generic strings must open registration to the public or to a more limited cross section and the timing of when they must open their gTLDs.
  • A third area about which attendees will be anticipating some development involves geographic identifiers in new gTLDs, such as Mexico.Google or China.Walmart. Geographic identifiers must be approved by the GAC representative from the relevant country, but no process is in place for timely approval. FairWinds has been working to help create an orderly process by talking to GAC members about the need for a plan.
  • Finally, ICANN is still in discussions with brand owners about potential changes to the base contract to account for their brand specific needs. Although several issues, such as rights upon termination and transfer of a brand gTLD, are still under discussion, a number of brands have signed the contract as is, undercutting the bargaining power of all brands.

For on-the-scene FairWinds reports from the meeting, check our blog and Twitter feeds.

Among the hurdles brand applicants for new gTLDs must still clear is gaining access to geographic domain names at the second level. For example, will applicants be able to buy domains such as Canada.FairWinds or DE.FairWinds (DE is the two-character label for Germany).

According to the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, ICANN prohibits the registration of these geographic domain names unless the Registry Operator gets explicit approval from the corresponding country’s members of the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). This policy was adopted out of respect for geographic regions to prevent misuse and misrepresentation of their governments, cultures, people, or reputations. And the process for obtaining approval is an onerous one.

The Registry Operator must approach each GAC member individually to ask for permission to use their respective country names and two-character country code TLDs. The GAC member must in turn petition his or her home government, a process that undoubtedly will involve multiple layers of government, and therefore delay.  The registry operator and each petitioning GAC member will have to expend precious resources and energy to gain approval. And, considering that over one-third of the 1,400 applications headed for launch are from branded companies, many of them global, the process will quickly become cumbersome and perhaps unworkable.

The solution? An expedited process for evaluating brand-owner requests for geographic domain names, one that standardizes requests and validations through established evaluation criteria. Criteria could include examining the gTLD’s proposed business model, the string, and the applicant’s use cases for the requested geographic domain names.

FairWinds Partners has proposed this streamline solution in a letter sent to the GAC in advance of ICANN’s next meeting in Durban in mid-July. We look forward to a full discussion on the topic, as the community marches onward – hopefully with some efficiency – to the launch of new gTLDs.

Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” famously ends with an outdoor marriage scene; the characters earn their place in these scenes only after enduring tests and conflicts.  The audience let’s out a sigh of relief and all is right with the world.  And there we have (literary) tradition.

In the modern narrative of our digital lives, however, planning the wedding can be the test and conflict that ends in a relieved bride and groom getting married.

Wedding planning tests just how traditional you and your future spouse are – or rather, how traditional you are in relation to your future spouse.

For example, I’m a big fan of Paperless Post. It’s visually pleasing, efficient, eco-friendly and cost effective. Win, win, win – right? WRONG, according to my fiancé, who – to my surprise – was adamantly against using digital invitations in favor of “real”, hard-copy, snail-mailed invitations. I gave in on the printed cards, though I did order them online from Paper Wedding Divas, but held my ground when it came to not mailing little rsvp cards and envelopes (the online rsvp was our compromise – I like to think this bodes well for our future).

Digital tools for weddings – especially websites with built-in RSVP portals, etc. – have exploded. It’s big business: there’s online version of the glossy magazine The Knot, online wedding registries like Honeyfund, apps for mobile to replace human wedding planners, and much, much more.  This online wedding universe is likely to continue expanding if or when the application for .WEDDING is approved and the gTLD, launched.  Three companies have applied for the new gTLD .WEDDING: Wedding TLD, LLC, Wild Madison, LLC and Top Level Domain Holdings, LTD. Only one will get it. Since each company has passed ICANN’s evaluation process, these companies – each of which appear, based on the public portion of their applications, to plan on selling domains for a profit if awarded the gTLD – will have to enter into some sort of auction or come to an agreement (perhaps one pays the other two to withdraw, for example).

Given the stakes – that is, the potential for profit in this space – my guess is that the applicants aren’t going to throw in the towel without a fight. As Wedding TLD, LLC pointed out in its application, “Within the United States alone, there are approximately 2.3 million weddings each year, generating over 70 billion dollars in commerce annually.” Fortunately I wasn’t thinking about my contribution to that dollar amount when I recently walked down the aisle – but smart phones and social media apps certainly made it possible for friends and family to post pictures online before I could say ‘I do’.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently released an update on the New gTLD Program Committee’s (NGPC) discussion about how and when it would address the Governmental Advisory Committee’s (GAC) advice from Beijing.

ICANN has stated that the NGPC’s goal is “to carefully consider GAC advice and community input and to make decisions that will allow the greatest number of new gTLD applications to move forward as soon as possible.” This may be difficult given that the GAC advice, if accepted, could significantly delay gTLD applications.

In its update, ICANN restates that the NGPC’s discussion was structured around the GAC Advice Framework to organize and prioritize individual advice items. ICANN is developing a scorecard to do just that.

The update also reveals that the NGPC has begun discussing the GAC Advice on Safeguards. ICANN is seeking input on this topic via an open Public Comment Forum, which closes on June 4, 2013.

ICANN also reminds us that over the next few weeks, the NGPC will be holding a series of calls “to discuss applicant responses to the GAC advice, the Safeguard advice and related public comment, and other matters including the GAC’s advice on singular and plural strings, its questions in Annex 2 [of its Advice], and its requests for briefing papers.”

ICANN recently held an Applicant Update Webinar led by Christine Willett, VP of Operations, as part of a series intended to provide information on the evaluation progress, program developments, and other topics of interest to new gTLD applicants. While the webinar didn’t produce any groundbreaking news, applicants should take note of key dates for ICANN auctions and Community Priority Evaluations.

New gTLD applicants in Contention Sets can request an ICANN auction after publication of Initial Evaluation results. Completion of the Initial Evaluation stage is expected by August, with ICANN planning to begin auction proceedings in September; this is likely because private auction providers have previously announced their intentions to begin their own auction processes in the coming weeks.

ICANN also announced that community-based new gTLD applicants can request Community Priority Evaluations (CPEs) starting in June. The CPE is a process by which to resolve string contention, which may be elected by a community-based applicant. CPE evaluations are then scheduled to take place in September.

Other important ICANN updates include:

  • The last set of Financial, Technical, and Registry Services Clarifying Questions (CQs) will be released on May 22, 2013
  • ICANN will be holding a Contracting Webinar Session in early June to inform applicants on material information needed for an executable Registry Agreement
  • ICANN has launched a new Contracting & Registry Agreement microsite
  • Pre-Delegation Beta Testing has begun and ICANN has clarified that applicants will need to have signed their Registry Agreement prior to Pre-Delegation Testing
  • Thanks to implementation of the Strawman Model, 50 domain labels found to have been previously abused have been added to existing verified TMCH records
  • ICANN will release a timeline for the earliest theoretical launch of new gTLDs

Much remains and will remain unknown until the ICANN Board decides how to proceed on the Registry Agreement, the latest draft of which is now open for public comment, and on the GAC Advice, which the board is now reviewing.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Washington DC Chapter of the Internet Society recently co-hosted a panel discussion on the dicey topic of “The Geopolitics of Internet Governance.”

Panelists addressed the questions of how to devise a more inclusive Internet Governance structure to replace the U.S.-centric one developed in the 1990s. The trick will be how to satisfy non-western states’ desire for a larger role and still maintain essential democratic principles such as the free flow of information and human rights.

The panel featured:

  • Phil Verveer, Former US Coordinator, International Communications and Information Policy, US Department of State
  • Veni Markovski, ICANN, Vice President for Russia, CIS and Eastern Europe
  • Jane Coffin, Director, Development Strategy, The Internet Society
  • Bill Smith, Senior Policy Advisor, Technology Evangelist, PayPal
  • Laura DeNardis, Associate Professor in the School of Communication, American University

Phil Verveer said that since the multi-stakeholder process creates inherent challenges, we need a better definition of “multi-stakeholder” to determine who participates and in what way. Among the considerations, he said, are that the U.S. created the Internet; the economic, social, political, and cultural influences the Internet has on the world; the dominance of U.S. sensibilities about content, which are not universally shared; and the threat of cybersecurity and the uncertainty of how to address it.

Veni Markovski, who lived in Bulgaria for 28 years, praised that country’s approach to the Internet. Hundreds of Internet providers are available to Bulgarians. And when the government tried to take control, the people sued and won. Markovski said education and development are key in the geopolitics of Internet governance. Different countries view the Internet in different ways, he said, and they all have different views of what it entails.

Jane Coffin agreed that education is essential to effective participation in Internet governance, noting that discussion is difficult when some languages, Russian, for example, don’t have a word for or an understanding of the concept of “multi-stakeholder.” Coffin felt strongly that the United Nations’ International Telecommunication Union (ITU) must play a role. She urged that the debate be broadened to include and listen to developing countries around the world.

Bill Smith observed that the agenda for almost every meeting on Internet governance over the past few years has been based on the Tunis agenda, and since the ITU is the only group mentioned in the agenda, it has tried to assert itself as the intergovernmental agency charged with defining Internet governance. Smith was critical of the ITU, doubting its ability to address important governance issues such as cybersecurity, spam, use and misuse of the Internet, privacy and personal data, and protection from abuse and exploitation.

Laura DeNardis observed that Internet governance debates can be “proxies” for debates over economic and political power, in part because it is entangled with national security, given its role in modern warfare. DeNardis described the complexity of Internet governance as a mosaic: complicated beyond the management abilities of any one entity.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the New gTLD Program issues were not raised until the Q&A session and, even then, were only touched upon lightly.

DeNardis said there is no technical need for new gTLDs and that they will create problems for trademark holders. On the other hand, she said businesses will find advantages in a larger domain name space and new possibilities for marketing innovations.

Markovski defended ICANN against a complaint that the New gTLD Program was implemented without diverse input, arguing that many governments around the globe participated via the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). Jamie Hedlund, VP, Stakeholder Engagement – North America, for ICANN – was in the audience. He said ICANN is the only multi-stakeholder institution with a role for governments and that 124 governments are members of the GAC. He said ICANN believes the GAC was highly effective and influential in shaping the New gTLD Program.

Hedlund emphasized that the GAC Communiqué, drafted at the ICANN 46 meeting in Beijing, will be taken seriously by the ICANN board. ICANN’s credibility hinges on the effective contributions of governments, he said, echoing GAC Chair Heather Dryden’s comments in her recent video interview.