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Most governments keep restrictions on country names in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 31, 2015, Domain Policy

Just one out of every 10 governments in the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee is happy for people to register its country name in new gTLDs.

That’s according to a new GAC database detailing which countries want to keep tabs on how their names are being used.

Out of 80 GAC members contributing to the database, just eight have said registries can sell their country names with no restrictions.

The eight countries and territories are the UK, the USA, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Sweden, Guernsey and Pitcairn.

New gTLD registries will therefore be able to auction off, for example, finland.guru or pitcairn.news, to whoever wants them.

Another 10 governments — Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Georgia, Montenegro, New Zealand, Romania, Spain and Switzerland — have relinquished oversight in the case of dot-brand registries that have signed Specification 13 of the ICANN Registry Agreement.

So if Sony wants to register brazil.sony to itself, it can without restrictions.

Under the new gTLD Registry Agreement, all country and territory names in the six official UN languages have to be reserved by all registries unless they can reach agreement with the applicable government.

The 18 governments mentioned above have basically waived this right to be notified in whole or in part.

The remaining 62 governments say they still wish to be notified when a registry wants to release its name.

GAC chair Thomas Schneider told ICANN (pdf) that countries not yet listed in the database should be treated as if they’re still restricted, so the actual number is closer to 200.

In short, this database is not a lot of help to dot-brands and other registries that want to start using or selling country names.

Critics have pointed out that many governments wanting to regulate their names in new gTLDs have not done so in their own ccTLDs.

Of the 62, ownership of country names is mixed. Italy owns italy.it and italia.it, for example, while germany.de and deutschland.de appear to be in private hands.

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Sharp wants dot-brand Whois requirement relaxed

Electronics firm Sharp wants to remove part of its new gTLD registry contract relating to Whois.

The company has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request to get its requirement to offer “searchable Whois” dropped. RSEP is the mechanism registries use to amend their contracts.

ICANN’s initial review has not found any security, stability or competition problems and has now opened the request up for public comment.

Because .sharp will be a dot-brand, all the domains would belong to Sharp and its affiliates, reducing the value of searchable Whois.

Searchable Whois is an enhanced Whois service that allows users to search on all fields (such as registrant, email address, etc) rather than just the domain name.

Such services are not mandatory under ICANN’s new gTLD rules, but applicants that said they would offer them could score an extra point in their Initial Evaluation.

In Sharp’s case, a one-point difference would not have affected the outcome of its IE. In any event, it did not score the extra point.

Sharp said it was requesting the change because it’s switching back-ends from GMO Internet to JPRS, which apparently does not or does not want to support searchable Whois.

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Neustar becomes “world’s largest registry” with $87m ARI buy

Consolidation in the domain name industry continued last night with Neustar’s $87 million acquisition of Bombora Technologies, the holding group for ARI Registry Services and AusRegistry.

Bombora CEO Adrian Kinderis told DI that the deal makes Neustar the “biggest registry services back-end provider on the market”, as measured by the number of TLDs on its platform, which now weighs in at over 400.

Kinderis and Neustar registry VP Sean Kaine said that the acquisition — conceived as so many deals are, Kinderis joked, in a “drunken ICANN bar” — is not so much about consolidation and more about growth opportunities.

Neustar will be able to cross-sell its suite of identity, security and marketing services, which Bombora does not offer, into ARI’s 100+ TLD client base. It will also be able to pitch ARI’s consulting services to its own clients.

Neustar also gets a “beachhead” in the Asia-Pacific region. While Bombora may not be a hell of a lot closer to Asia than Neustar, it’s in a much more convenient time zone.

Neustar currently faces the losing about half of its annual revenue — some $475 million — due to the loss of its contract to administer telephone number portability in North America.

That contract has been won by Ericsson, but Neustar has sued the US Federal Communications Commission in an attempt to keep it.

The Bombora acquisition won’t exactly fill the gap. The company had $20.6 million in revenue in 2014 and is expected to contribute $8 million to Neustar’s top line in 2015.

The deal is for AUD 118 million, which works out to roughly USD 87 million. Kinderis and business partner Simon Delzoppo will be the primary beneficiaries — between them they held a majority shareholding in Bombora.

The deal includes all of the company’s subsidiaries: ARI, AusRegistry and new gTLD operators such as dotShabaka.

ARI clients will notice a change of branding — the ARI and Bombora brands are to go almost immediately — but no technical changes at first.

“We’re going to continue to operate two registry systems right now,” Kaine said.

One business where there will be even less visible change is AusRegistry, which operates .au.

The AusRegistry brand is staying and .au will continue to be run in Australia, per the terms of the company’s contract with ccTLD policy overseer auDA.

“The .au contract is very important to Bombora,” Kinderis said. “If we had thought there would be any negative impact to that contract we would not have embarked on a deal.”

Kinderis, whose new job title has yet to be agreed, said he expects to take a “prominent role” in Neustar’s registry business. He said he expects to stay with the company “for a long time yet”.

“I want to see Neustar snapping at the heels of Verisign and I’d love to be able to contribute to that,” he said. “We’ve been punching above our weight and now we’re one of the heavyweights.”

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As deadline looms, over 100 dot-brands still in contract limbo

With the minutes ticking down to the deadline for scores of dot-brands to sign registry agreements with ICANN, over 100 have not, according to ICANN’s web site.

New gTLD applicants had until July 29 to sign their contracts or risk losing their deposits.

I reported a week ago that roughly 170 would-be dot-brands had yet to sign on the dotted line, and my records show that only 35 have done so in the meantime.

Another four applications have been withdrawn.

One of the newly contracted parties is Go Daddy, which signed an RA for .godaddy last week. Others include .nike, .comcast and .mitsubishi.

Unless we see a flood of new contracts published over the next day or two, it seems likely well over 100 strings will soon be flagged as “Will Not Proceed” — the end of the road for new gTLD applications.

That may not be the final nail in their coffins, however.

Last week, ICANN VP Cyrus Namazi said that applicants that miss today’s deadline will receive a “final notice” in about a week. They’ll then have 60 days to come back to the process using the recently announced Application Eligibility Reinstatement process.

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IDN .com hits the root

Eleven variants of .com and .net in non-Latin scripts joined the internet today.

Verisign’s whole portfolio of internationalized domain name new gTLDs were added to the DNS root at some point in the last 24 hours, and the company is planning to start launching them before the end of the year.

But the company has been forced to backtrack on its plans to guarantee grandfathering to thousands of existing [idn].com domains in the new domains, thereby guaranteeing a backlash from IDN domainers.

The eleven gTLDs are: .कॉम, .ком, .点看, .คอม, .नेट, .닷컴, .大拿, .닷넷, .コム, .كوم and .קוֹם. Scripts include Arabic, Cyrillic and Hebrew.

Verisign signed registry agreements with ICANN back in January, but has been trying to negotiate a way to allow it to give the owners of [idn].com domains first rights to the matching domain in the “.com” in the appropriate script.

The company laid out its plans in 2013. The idea was to reduce the risk of confusion and minimize the need for defensive registrations.

So what happened? Trademark lawyers.

Verisign CEO Jim Bidzos told financial analysts last week that due to conversations with the “community” (read: the intellectual property lobby) and ICANN, it won’t be able grandfather all existing [idn].com registrants.

All of the new IDN gTLDs will be subject to a standard ICANN Sunrise period, which means trademarks owners will have first dibs on every string.

If you own водка.com, and somebody else owns a trademark on “водка”, the trademark owner will get the first chance to buy водка.ком.

According to SeekingAlpha’s transcript, Bidzos said:

Based primarily on feedback from domain name community stakeholders, we have revised our IDN launch strategy. We will offer these new IDN top-level domains as standalone domain names, subject to normal introductory availability and rights protection mechanisms, available to all new gTLDs. This revised approach will not require ICANN approval and is designed to provide end users and businesses with the greatest flexibility and, for registrars, a simple and straightforward framework to serve the market.

Finally, we believe this approach should provide the best opportunity for increased universal acceptance of IDNs. We expect to begin a phased rollout of the IDNs towards the end of this year, and we’ll provide more information on our launch plans when appropriate.

Senior VP Pat Kane added on the call that the grandfathering provisions, which would have required ICANN approval, have been “taken out”.

The question now is whether Verisign will introduce a post-sunrise mechanism to give rights to [idn].com.

That would not be unprecedented. ICM Registry ran into similar problems getting its grandfathering program for .porn approved by ICANN. It wound up offering a limited, secondary sunrise period for existing .xxx registrants instead.

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