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ICANN selects new gTLD backup providers

Neustar, Nominet and CNNIC have been picked to provide backup registry services for new gTLDs that fail.

ICANN has named the three companies as Emergency Back-End Registry Operators for the new gTLD program.

They’ll be responsible for taking over the management of any new gTLD that goes out of business, putting registrants at risk of losing DNS resolution and registry functions.

The idea is that the EBERO(s) would be paid out of funds placed in escrow by gTLD applicants, in order to gracefully wind down any failed TLD over the space of a few years.

In reality, I doubt there’s going to be much call for their services; M&A activity is a more likely outcome for gTLDs that fail to meet their sales expectations.

ICANN highlighted the geographic diversity of the three companies (Nominet is British, Neustar American and CNNIC Chinese) as a stability benefit of its selections.

The three were chosen from 14 respondents to an RFI published last year.

The absence of an EBERO was one of the shortfalls of the new gTLD program highlighted by Verisign in its recent letter warning ICANN about perceived security and stability risks.

While ICANN has acknowledged that the EBEROs are unlikely to be ready to roll before the first new gTLDs start to launch, it has noted that they don’t need to be.

If any new gTLD catastrophically fails during the first few months of launch, it will reflect extremely poorly on the financial and technical evaluations applicants have been undergoing for the last nine months.

Mystery web site proposes new gTLD “string change” system

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Somebody out there is bummed that they can’t afford to win their new gTLD contention set.

A new web site, StringChange.org, is planning to petition ICANN to allow new gTLD applicants to change the string they’ve applied for, for an extra $100,000 fee.

It’s not clear who’s behind the proposal, which was sent to every new gTLD applicant via email today. The page is unsigned and the domain is registered behind Whois privacy.

The site states:

We are proposing that ICANN allow the option of a “String Change” to applicants in contention, allowing these applicants, if they so choose, to change their string to another string and rewrite the appropriate parts of their applications. In doing so, these applicants would relinquish the right to their original string that is in contention, and be assessed a reevaluation fee of $100,000.

Many applicants would choose this over going to auction, being outbid, and never having the opportunity to launch a TLD and implement their business models. This also creates fairness for smaller groups to have the opportunity to launch and operate a TLD, especially when they are currently up against corporate giants such as Amazon or Google.

It goes on to say that a special “String Change round” of applications would begin in 2014, restricted to applicants who don’t fancy their chances punching it out with Google at auction in 2013.

The system would enable applicants that do not want to change their strings to get to market earlier, the site reckons.

It’s soliciting email addresses for its ICANN petition.

Good idea? Bad idea? Mediocre satire? Cheap attempt to see which applicants have gotten cold feet?

ICANN to water down contract powers with “Public Interest Amendments”

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has made a few tweaks to its proposed unilateral-right-to-amend powers in order to fend off open hostility from registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants.

The organization is set to announce “Public Interest Amendments”, a rebadged version of its hugely unpopular proposals for the Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

As previously reported, ICANN wants to be able to change both contracts in future, if there’s a “substantial and compelling need”, even if it does not have the majority support of the affected companies.

CEO Fadi Chehade has reportedly indicated that he won’t be budged on the need for some method for ICANN to make emergency changes to the contracts.

And during last night’s new gTLD applicants webinar, he made it clear that the RA and RAA will delay the launch of new gTLDs if registries and registrars cannot agree to ICANN’s terms.

But according to documentation seen by DI today — actually a flowchart of how the amendment process would work — these terms are going to be watered down, giving more power to commercial stakeholders.

Apart from the new Pubic Interest Amendment name, there appear to be three big changes.

First, there would be a way for registrars and/or registries to make a late-stage counter-proposal to the ICANN board if they didn’t like the look of a proposed amendment.

Second, any issues that fell within the so-called “picket fence” — the list of pre-agreed topics for which ICANN is allowed to make binding policy — would have to go into a formal GNSO Policy Development Process first.

Only if the PDP failed to reach consensus would the ICANN board of directors be able to step in and attempt to legislate unilaterally.

A practical effect of that would be to give contracted parties ample opportunity to delay amendments — possibly by years — that they weren’t happy with.

Third, PIAs would only cover changes designed to “ensure competition & consumer choice and promote consumer access to fair business practices” and explicitly “not to change ICANN fees, Consensus Policy Spec., or mechanism to change PIA process”.

This would prevent ICANN unilaterally amending the contract to make its amendment powers even stronger in future, which had been one criticism of the proposed process.

“The board’s ability to introduce an amendment is very tightly defined and limited in scope, so it’s only used in extreme cases and under very strict conditions,” Chehade said last night.

It appears — though I can’t be certain — that ICANN has also decided that the full board of directors, including those with identified conflicts of interest, would be able to participate in votes on PIAs.

That would mean registry and registrar representatives to the board would get to vote on amendments affecting their stakeholder groups.

Chehade is currently explaining all of this to a cautiously optimistic Registry Stakeholder Group on a conference call, and I believe more information is due to be published later this week.

Tucows, Directi and Namecheap to combine .online gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Three applicants for the .online gTLD appear to have settled their differences in what I believe is the first public example of new gTLD contention set consolidation.

Tucows, Directi and Namecheap said today that that they plan to “work together to manage the .online registry.” From the press release:

applicants for the same TLDs have begun to compete, negotiate, and, in some cases, join forces to ultimately produce one winning bid.

The first such alliance was revealed today, when domain industry veterans Directi, Tucows and Namecheap announced that they would work together to manage the .online registry.

The companies are of course three of the most successful domain name registrars out there.

The press release does not specify how the combination will be carried out. Under ICANN rules, two of the applicants would have to drop their applications. It’s not possible to resubmit as a joint venture.

It also does not acknowledge that there are three other applicants for .online — Donuts and smaller portfolio applicants Dot Online LLC and I-REGISTRY Ltd — which are not party to the agreement.

Chutzpah alert! “Tube” domainer objects to Google’s .tube gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2013, Domain Registries

Remember the “mystery gTLD applicant” that had promised to campaign against Google’s closed generic gTLD applications?

It turns out the company behind the campaign is actually Latin American Telecom, one of the three applicants for .tube, and that part of its strategy is a Legal Rights Objection.

According to a copy of the LRO kindly provided to DI this week, LAT claims that if Google gets to run .tube it would harm its Tube brand, for which it has a US trademark.

If you haven’t heard of Latin American Telecom, it, despite the name, appears to be primarily a domainer play. Founded in Mexico and based in Pittsburgh, its main claim to fame seems to be owning Mexico.com.

The company says it has also been building a network of roughly 1,500 video sites, all of which have a generic word or phrase followed by “tube.com” in their domains, since 2008.

It owns, for example, the domains IsraelTube.com, MozartTube.com, LabradorTube.com, AmericanWaterSpanielTube.com, DeepSeaFishingTube.com… you get the idea.

They’re all cookie-cutter microsites that pull their video content from Vimeo. Most or all of them appear to be hosted on the same server.

I’d be surprised if some of LAT’s domains, such as BlockbusterTube.com, PlaymateTube.com, FortyNinersTube.com and NascarTube.com, didn’t have trademark issues of their own.

But LAT was also granted a US trademark for the word TUBE almost a year ago, following a 2008 application, which gives it a basis to bring an LRO against Google.

According to its LRO:

The proposed purposes of and registrant limitations proposed for .TUBE by Google demonstrate that the intended purpose of Google’s .TUBE acquisition is to deprive other potential registry operators of an opportunity to build gTLD platforms for competition and innovation that challenge YouTube’s Internet video dominance. It is clear that Google’s intended use for .TUBE is identical to Objector’s TUBE Domain Channels and directly competes with Objector’s pre-existing trademark rights

There’s quite a lot of chutzpah being deployed here.

Would LAT’s ramschackle collection of –tube domains have any meaning at all were YouTube not so phenomenally successful? Who’s leveraging whose brand here, really?

For LAT to win its objection it has to show, among other things, that its TUBE trademark is famous and that Google being awarded .tube would impair its brand in some way.

But the company’s LRO is vague when it come to answering “Whether and to what extent there is recognition in the relevant sector of the public of the sign corresponding to the gTLD”.

It relies surprisingly heavily on its Twitter accounts — which have fewer followers than, for example, DI — rather than usage of its web sites, to demonstrate the success of the TUBE brand.

I don’t think its objection to Google’s .tube application is a sure thing by any stretch of the imagination.

There is a third .tube gTLD applicant, Donuts, but it has not yet received any LROs, according to WIPO’s web site.