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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Another four applications have been withdrawn.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.

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.

Another new gTLD up for sale with $750,000 reserve

Another new gTLD contract is hitting the market, with Dotversicherung-registry offering .versicherung at auction next month.

The August 26 auction, to be managed by RightOfTheDot and Heritage Auctions, has a $750,000 reserve.

The string is the German word for “insurance”. The gTLD launched 10 months ago.

“There are over 3,000 domain names registered to the German speaking insurance industry at 99 euro’s a year with virtually no advertising, marketing or promotion,” RightOfTheDot’s Monte Cahn said.

Retail prices range from 150 euros to 250 euros a year.

The registry has 10,000 reserved keyword domains that will pass to the buyer, according to RightOfTheDot.

Flood of wait-and-see dot-brands expected this week

ICANN expects to sign as many as 170 new gTLD contracts with dot-brand applicants over the coming week.

Dot-brands that have been treading water in the program to date are up against a hard(ish) July 29 deadline to finally sign a Registry Agreement with ICANN.

VP of domain name services Cyrus Namazi told DI today that ICANN expects most of the backlog to be cleared in the next couple of weeks.

“The end of the July is a bit of a milestone for the program as a whole,” Namazi said. “A substantial number of contracts will be signed off and move towards delegation.”

“I think within a short period after the end of July most of these will be signed off,” he said.

There are currently 188 applications listed as “In Contracting” in the program. Namazi and myself estimate that roughly 170 are dot-brands, almost all of which have July 29 deadlines.

Namazi said that ICANN has planned for a last-minute rush of “hundreds” of applicants trying to sign contracts in the last month.

The July 29 deadline for dot-brands was put in place because of delays creating Specification 13 of the RA — that’s the part that allows dot-brands to function as dot-brands, by eschewing sunrise periods for example.

For most dot-brand wannabes, it was already an extension of nine months or more from their original deadline.

But it seems inevitable that some will miss the deadline.

Namazi said that those applicants that do miss the deadline will receive a “final notice” about a week later, which gives the applicant 60 days to come back to the process using the recently announced Application Eligibility Reinstatement process.

That creates a new deadline in early October. Applicants that miss that deadline might be shit outta luck.

“They’ll essentially just sit in a bucket that will not be proceeding,” Namazi said. “We don’t have a process to reactivate beyond that.”

So why are so many dot-brand applicants leaving it so late to sign their contracts?

The answer seems to be, essentially: lots of them are playing wait-and-see, and they still haven’t seen.

They wanted to see how other dot-brands would be used, and there’s not a lot of evidence to draw on yet. The number of dot-brands that have fully shown their cards could be counted on your fingers. Maybe even on just one hand.

“Some of them have a different level of enthusiasm for having their own TLD,” Namazi said. “Some of them don’t have their systems or process in place to accept or absorb a new TLD. Some of them don’t even know what to do with it. There may have been some defensive registrations in there. There were probably expectations in terms of market development for new TLDs that have gone a bit slower than some people’s business plans called for.”

“That has probably made some of the large brands more hesitant in terms of rushing to market with their new TLDs,” he said.

.sucks won’t discount its fee for $10 domains

Vox Populi Registry is looking for a free speech advocate partner willing to absorb hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in costs.

The .sucks registry has for many months promised that later this year it will introduce a Consumer Advocate Subsidies program that will enable people to get a .sucks for the deeply discounted price of $10 a year.

Currently, the standard recommended retail price of a .sucks is $249, with a registry fee of $199.

Users of the subsidy program would get their names for $10 or under but they’d have to agree to host a free forum on the site, open to anyone that wanted to criticize (or, I guess, praise) the subject of the domain.

It has been broadly assumed that the subsidy would be matched by a discount in the registry fee.

But it’s emerged that Vox Pop has no plans to lower its own fees in order to offer the subsidy.

Essentially, it’s looking for a partner willing to swallow a cost of essentially $189 a year for every subsidized domain name.

CEO John Berard said in a blog post this week, and has subsequently confirmed to DI, that the subsidy is a subsidy and not a discount.

Vox Pop will still demand its full wholesale registry fee for every .sucks domain that is sold. Berard blogged:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

“The partner has to be one committed to free speech and confident in its ability to rally contributions to underwrite the activity,” Berard told DI.

To me, this proposition suddenly looks hugely unattractive.

There are over 6,000 domains in the .sucks zone today, just a month after general availability began, and that’s with registrants paying $250 to $2,500 a year.

With a $10 free-for-all, the number of registrations would, in my view, spike.

Unless there was some kind of gating process in place, the subsidy partner would likely face hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring annual fees almost immediately. It could escalate to millions a year over the long run.

I’m trying to imagine how an organization such as Which? (which I’m guessing is the kind of organization Vox Pop is talking to) would benefit from this arrangement.

There is “quite an interest” in signing up to become the subsidy partner, Berard said. He said that in some cases potential partners are looking for marketing opportunities or ways to “enhance their reputation”.

Details of subsidy program are expected to be announced early in the fourth quarter.