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Registrars say Amazon is “closing” open gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2016, 16:14:22 (UTC), Domain Registries

A group comprising some of the largest domain registrars has claimed Amazon is attempting to close off a new gTLD that it previously indicated would be unrestricted.

The 12-strong group, which includes Go Daddy, Network Solutions and Tucows, also claims that the company’s proposal for a “Registration Authentication Platform” is anti-competitive.

The complaints follow Amazon’s filing of a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN in March.

The RSEP speaks in broad terms about rejigging the conventional domain registration path so that all .moi sales are funneled through Amazon’s registry site, where registrants will have their eligibility verified and then be offered a set of add-on “technology tools” before being bounced back to their chosen registrar.

Amazon hasn’t said who will be eligible to register .moi domains, nor has it explained what technology tools it plans to offer. I expect the tools will include things such as hosting and security, where many registrars currently make money.

Unsurprisingly, many registrars are not happy about these vague proposals.

In a comment (pdf) to the RSEP filed yesterday, they said:

Ultimately, the use of pre-registration verification and “optional” value added services will negatively impact competition. By tying both practices in a TLD, a TLD Operator can create a “captive audience” via the pre-registration verification and then offering optional services. This will effectively bypass the existing registration and purchase process, putting TLD Operator in a privileged position. The TLD is set up to capture customers earned via the Registrars marketing efforts to promote its own tools and services.

It’s not unusual for “sponsored” or “restricted” gTLDs to implement registry-side verification, they admitted, but said that .moi is meant to be “open”.

They wrote:

While this practice is not explicitly prohibited under gTLDs, we believe that post-delegation inclusion of these practices should only be allowed in compelling circumstances because they are, in effect, retroactively “closing” what was applied for and approved to be operated as an open, generic TLD.

Amazon’s application for .moi, like all of its new gTLD applications, is not entirely clear on what the company’s plans are. There’s vague talk about eligibility, but no details and nothing substantial to suggest a tightly restricted zone.

The signatories to the registrar comment represent the majority of registered domain names. They are: Astutium, Blacknight Internet Solutions, Domain.com, EuroDNS, GoDaddy.com, OpenproviderNetEarth One, Key-Systems, Netistrar, Network Solutions, Nordreg, Realtime Register, Tucows Domains.

One registrar, Com Laude, whose sister company Valideus handles Amazon’s gTLD applications, wrote a comment (pdf) expressing the opposite view.

Com Laude says that it’s not unusual for registries to require registry-side verification. It points to .bank, .pharmacy and .travel as examples.

The company also claims that the 12 registrars are in essence complaining about the idea of vertical integration — where registries and registrars are under common ownership — which is already in place at companies such as Uniregistry and Rightside.

Com Laude’s Jeff Neuman wrote:

We do not believe that it is unacceptable for a company like Amazon to do what these other companies have been doing for some time. To apply different standards to Amazon Registry than it does for each of the other vertically integrated entities would single them out for disparate treatment – especially when there is no factual basis to believe that Amazon Registry has not adhered to its vertical integration-related obligations under the Registry Agreement.

What’s going on here, I suspect, is a bit of a proxy war.

Neither Amazon nor the registrars care a great deal about .moi, I think. The gTLD is merely a canary for Amazon’s 30-odd yet-to-be-launched gTLDs. The company has the rights to potentially more attractive strings, including .book, .song and .tunes.

Amazon originally wanted to make these strings “closed generics”, or what ICANN calls “exclusive access” gTLDs, where only Amazon could register names.

It has since disavowed such plans, but still hasn’t said who will be able to register names in its portfolio or how they will prove eligibility.

.moi was not originally identified as a closed generic by ICANN, but it could represent a model for what Amazon plans to do with the rest of its stable.

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Comments (7)

  1. Amazon could very easily keep the TLDs it wants as effectively “closed generics”, while maintaining “open access” status, simply by pricing each domain name at $1 million/yr.

    For domains it wants, it would be paying itself $1 million/yr. If it wants to have fun with the tax authorities, it could shift some of those fees to a low tax jurisdiction, to boot.

    For domains others want, it’d cost $1 million/yr, which I suspect no one will pay.

    Of course, if Amazon actually did this, the folks at Vox Populi (dot-sucks) would then point to the above pricing as ‘proof’ that .sucks pricing is reasonable. 🙂

  2. Rubens Kuhl says:

    Even though some business models were considered by potential objectors, ICANN has made clear that registries are not married for life with the business model they proposed in applications. They can be changed within the limits of the contract and consensus policies, possibly requiring RSEPs such as the one being analysed. Public comments can be made regarding competition issues or about Spec 11 clauses that include:
    “c. Registry Operator will operate the TLD in a transparent manner consistent with general principles of openness and non-discrimination by establishing, publishing and adhering to clear registration policies.

    d. Registry Operator of a “Generic String” TLD may not impose eligibility criteria for registering names in the TLD that limit registrations exclusively to a single person or entity and/or that person’s or entity’s “Affiliates” (as defined in Section 2.9(c) of the Registry Agreement). “Generic String” means a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.”

    I don’t see .moi as hitting Spec 11 3d (different from .book or some other famous Amazon strings), so while this is the first temperature sensing they are doing, it’s probably not the last before they launch their full line-up of domains.

  3. Randall Jones says:

    “The TLD is set up to capture customers earned via the Registrars marketing efforts to promote its own tools and services.”

    As opposed to Amazon marketing their TLDs and having their efforts result in customers captured by Registrar’s who will then promote their own tools and services.
    I think what these are Registrars are effectively saying is “don’t do to us what we do to Registries”.

    I also don’t see how this negatively impacts competition, Registries and Registrar’s are not in competition with each other, the Registry sets the product and the Registrar chooses to sell the product or not. Amazon are saying “this is the product, warts and all”, it should be down to each registrar to decide whether they wish to sell it

  4. Christopher Ambler says:

    How things change.

    In 2000, as part of our .Web application, we proposed that registries be given one year of exclusive sales opportunity as well as the ability to charge higher prices for “premium” names to bootstrap costs.

    Both proposals were not only rejected by ICANN but used as reasoning for rejecting the application. Thankfully .Web was not given to the other two applicants when Dr. Cerf objected to not awarding it to the pioneer – but I digress.

    Now, “premium” pricing is standard practice and closed TLDs are a thing and this is the debate.

    The history is documented – all transcripts are still available to anyone with the free time to read them.

    One day I’ll write a book. For now, I’m just enjoying watching the show. Pass the popcorn.

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