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Iran’s Arabic domain choice approved

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Iran’s choice of Arabic-script top-level domain has passed the string approval stage of ICANN’s internationalized domain name process, making a delegation likely before long.

The manager of Iran’s existing Latin-script ccTLD, .ir, applied for ایران and ايران, which mean “Iran” in Persian. The two look identical to me, so I’m assuming they just use different Unicode code points.

In Punycode, the two strings are .xn--mgba3a4f16a and .xn--mgba3a4fra. Both have been given the stamp of approval, meaning Iran will now have to apply to IANA for delegation.

According to ICANN, there are currently 18 IDN ccTLD strings approved and awaiting delegation, belonging to Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, Syria and Taiwan.

Some of these countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, already have IDNs live in the DNS root, but also have multiple backup variants that have been approved but not yet delegated.

So far, of the 33 strings that have been applied for, only two have been rejected. One of those was Bulgaria’s .бг, which was considered too confusingly similar to Brazil’s .br.

Will ITU object to phone number .tel domains?

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Should Telnic be allowed to let people register their phone numbers as .tel domain names?

That’s the question ICANN is currently posing to the internet-using public, after it determined that allowing numeric-only .tel domains does not pose a security and stability threat.

If you can register a phone number in almost every other gTLD (except VeriSign’s .name), then why not in .tel? On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer.

But Telnic’s request represents a huge U-turn, reversing a position it has held for 10 years, that runs the risk of drawing the attention of the International Telecommunications Union.

Telnic originally applied for .tel during ICANN’s very first new gTLD round, back in 2000.

The third-party evaluator ICANN hired to review the new TLD applications clearly assumed that .tel domains would be mainly text-based, noting that Telnic, unlike other .tel bids:

does not make use of phone numbers in the sub-domain name, but instead uses names to designate the intended destination of VoIP calls… the Telnic application appears to have the least impact on PSTN numbering.

The report added, parenthetically: “It should be noted that Telnic’s application does not explicitly renounce the future use of numbers”.

That all changed after November 2000, when the ITU wrote to ICANN to express concerns about the four proposed telephony-related TLDs:

it is the view of ITU that it would be premature for ICANN to grant any E.164-related TLD application as this may jeopardize these cooperative activities or prejudice future DNS IP Telephony addressing requirements.

E.164 is the international telephone numbering plan, which the ITU oversees. It also forms the basis of the ENUM protocol, which stores phone numbers in the DNS under e164.arpa.

ICANN’s board of directors used the ITU letter to reject all four telephony TLDs, which irked Telnic. The would-be registry filed a Reconsideration Request in an attempt to get the decision reversed.

In it, Telnic attempted to persuade ICANN that the ITU had nothing to worry about with its “text-based” and strictly non-numeric TLD. The company wrote (my emphasis):

* All-digit strings will be permanently embargoed.

* Broad terms and conditions and safeguards will be implemented covering any abuses that could possibly lead to any PSTN confusion, conflict or similarity.

* Measured use of numbers might be permissible where there is no direct, marginal, implied or similar confusions/conflicts with PSTN codes or numbers – and where digits form an incidental part of a text string (e.g. johnsmith11.tel).

ICANN’s reconsideration committee denied the request.

In 2004, when ICANN’s sponsored TLD round opened up, Telnic applied for .tel again. This time, it was careful to avoid upsetting the ITU from the very outset.

Indeed, the second paragraph of its application stated clearly:

Digits are to be restricted to maintain the integrity of a letters/words based top-level domain and to avoid interference with established or future national and international telephone numbering plans.

The application referred to the namespace as “text-based” throughout, and even used the need for policies regulating the use of digits to justify the sponsoring organization it intended to create.

The application stated:

The .Tel will not:

Allow numeric-only domains to be registered, and therefore will not conflict with any national or international telephone numbering plan.

It also said:

Domain name strings containing only digits with or without a dash (e.g. 08001234567, 0-800-1234567) will be restricted and reserved to maintain the integrity as a letters/words based top-level domain

Despite these assurances, it was obvious that the ITU’s concerns about numeric .tel domains continued to bother ICANN right up until it finally approved .tel in 2006.

During the board meeting at which Telnic’s contract was approved, director Raimundo Beca pressed for the inclusion of language that addressed the constraints on numeric domains and chair Vint Cerf asked general counsel John Jeffrey to amend the resolution accordingly.

While that amendment appears to have never been made, it was clearly envisaged at the moment of the board vote that .tel was to steer clear of numeric-only domains.

Telnic’s contract now specifically excludes such registrations.

Given all this history, one might now argue that Telnic’s request to lift these restrictions is kind of a Big Deal.

A Telnic spokesperson tells me that, among other things, the current restrictions unfairly exclude companies that brand themselves with their phone numbers, such as 118-118 in the UK.

He added that Telnic request has been made now in part because VeriSign has requested the lifting of similar restrictions in .name, which ICANN has also concluded is not a stability problem.

However, as far as I can tell .name was not subject to the same kinds of ITU-related concerns as .tel when it was approved in 2000.

Telnic proposes one safeguard against conflict with E.164, in that it will not allow the registration of single-digit domains, reducing the potential for confusion with ENUM strings, which separate each digit with a dot.

If the ITU does rear its head in response to the current .tel public comment period, it will come at a awkward time, politically. Some ITU members have said recently they want the ITU to form a committee that would have veto power over ICANN’s decisions.

But Telnic says, in its proposal, that it does not know of anybody who is likely to object to its request.

Perhaps it is correct.

ICANN rejects porn domain info request

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request from porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition for more information about the .xxx top-level domain application, including a list of its pre-registrations.

The organization sent a letter (pdf) to the FSC’s director Diane Duke last week, saying that the materials it requested about ICM Registry and IFFOR, its sponsorship body, are confidential.

This would make the information exempt from ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.

The FSC had specifically requested:

1. The list of the IFFOR Board members;
2. The list of proposed members of the Policy Council;
3. IFFOR’s Business Plan/Financials;
4. Business Plan/Financials Years 1‐5 utilizing 125,000 Initial Registrations;
5. The list of .XXX sTLD pre-registrants who have been identified to ICANN; and
6. ICM’s Proof of Sponsorship Community Support as submitted to ICANN.

According to ICANN, ICM was asked if it would like to lift the confidentiality restrictions and ICM did not respond.

The FSC believes that many of .xxx’s 180,000+ pre-registrations are defensive in nature, made by pornographers who would really prefer that the TLD is never approved, which ICM disputes.

Will the internet get two new ccTLDs (and lose one)?

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2010, Domain Registries

One country dropped off the map on Sunday, and two new countries were created. So does this mean we’re going to get two new country-code top-level domains?

The islands of Curacao and St. Maarten have reportedly become autonomous countries, after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, a collection of former Dutch colonies off north-east coast of Venezuela.

The reorganization sees a number of other islands join the Netherlands as municipalities, while Curacao and St. Maarten become countries in the own right, albeit still tied politically tied to the motherland.

It seems quite possible that these two islands will now get their own ccTLDs, for two reasons.

First, both states are now reportedly as autonomous as fellow former Dutch Antilles territory Aruba, if not more so. Aruba acquired this status in 1986 and had .aw delegated to it by IANA in 1996.

Second, St Maarten shares a landmass with St Martin, a former French colony. The French northern side of the island is already entitled to its own ccTLD, .mf, although the domain has never been delegated.

ICANN/IANA does not make the call on what is and isn’t considered a nation for ccTLD purposes. Rather, it defers to the International Standards Organization, and a list of strings called ISO 3166-2.

The ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency in turn defers to the UN’s Statistics Division and its “Countries or areas, codes and abbreviations” list, which can be found here.

How long a new ccTLD delegation takes can vary wildly.

Montenegro, for example, declared its independence on June 3, 2006. It was added to the ISO 3166 list on September 26 that year, applied for a ccTLD on December 24, and received its delegation of .me following an ICANN board vote on September 11, 2007.

Finland’s Aland Islands got .ax less than six months after applying in 2006. North Korea, by contrast, received .kp on the same day as Montenegro got .me, but had first applied in 2004.

IANA treats the deletion of a ccTLD much more cautiously, due to the fact that some TLDs could have many second-level registrations already.

The removal of the former Yugoslavian domain, .yu, was subject to a three-year transition process under the supervision of the new .rs registry.

The Dutch Antilles has its own ccTLD, .an, which is in use and delegated to University of The Netherlands Antilles, based in Curacao.

Will we see a gradual phasing-out of .an, in favor of two new ccTLDs?

dotMobi to sell 5,000 premium .mobi domains

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias-owned dotMobi is taking another crack at selling off over 5,000 “premium” .mobi domain names that it has had reserved since its launch in 2006.

The reserved list, which includes domains such as television.mobi, recipes.mobi and shopping.mobi, has been published, and the domains have been turned on.

They all (or most) now resolve to dotMobi web pages where interested parties can file an expression of interest in the domain, in order to be alerted when they become available.

The actual process by which the domains will be allocated has yet to be announced.

The biggest premium .mobi sale I’m aware of to date was flowers.mobi, which Rick Schwartz picked up for $200,000 in 2006. He plans to sell the domain, probably at a loss, later this month.

The list makes fascinating reading. To my untrained eye, many of the domains appear to be utterly bizarre inclusions.

Businesswoman? Out-of-town meeting? Need to quickly self-administer a Pap smear? Why not visit speculum.mobi for a list of nearby gynecological equipment suppliers?

The full list can be downloaded from here. The official dotMobi announcement is here.

NeuStar wins UrbanBrain .brand contract

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2010, Domain Registries

NeuStar has become the preferred provider of registry services to UrbanBrain, a consultancy that hopes to launch “.brand” top-level domains with major Japanese companies.

The companies said in a press release:

Under the alliance, Neustar and UrbanBrain will provide brand owners with the expertise and support required to prepare and submit their applications to ICANN, and will provide all of the registry services necessary for brands to launch and operate their own Internet extensions.

NeuStar already operates the .biz and .us registries under contract with ICANN and the US government respectively, as well as providing back-end services for a number of other TLDs.

UrbanBrain is currently associated with a proposed bid for .site.

The only formally announced commercial .brand to date is .canon. Canon is working with GMO Registry, another Japanese firm.

Telnic wants to sell numeric domain names

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2010, Domain Registries

Telnic, the .tel registry, wants ICANN to allow it to start taking registrations of purely numeric domain names.

While the company has not submitted a formal request, Telnic CEO Khashayar Mahdavi has asked for numbers-only domains in a separate public comment period.

VeriSign has asked ICANN for the ability to start accepting hyphens and numbers in domain names in the .name TLD, including purely numeric strings such as phone numbers.

Mahdavi, who apparently views .name as a key competitor, wrote in a comment submitted on the VeriSign request:

If ICANN decides to remove this restriction from .name then this change in policy should apply to .tel as well. Approving the release of this restriction on one TLD and leaving it in place for another provides the first with a substantial commercial advantage.

In order to avoid such an unjust result, we respectfully request that, if ICANN decides to approve VeriSign’s request to allow all-numeric strings (and strings with combinations of numbers and hyphens) to be registered as domain names in .name, it simultaneously allow Telnic to do the same in .tel.

Telnic’s charter, part of its ICANN registry contract, currently states “The .tel registry will not allow numeric-only domains to be registered at the registry level.”

I believe the restriction was conceived in order to avoid clashes with the international telephone numbering authorities and the ENUM protocol. Mahdavi wrote:

Telnic believes it is important to avoid conflict with ENUM , so it will continue to forbid the registration of single digit domain names in .tel. Such domain names would be necessary for creating an ENUM tree under .tel, so forbidding them makes a .tel-based ENUM system impossible.

When Telnic originally applied for .tel in 2000, one of the reasons it was rejected was the fact that the International Telecommunications Union wasn’t happy with the idea of phone numbers in domain names.

Now .mobi wants to auction ultra-short domains

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias-owned dotMobi has applied to ICANN to auction off one and two-letter .mobi domain names, following in the footsteps on other top-level domain registries.

The company had a plan to selectively allocate some such domains based on a Request For Proposals approved by ICANN almost two years ago, now it wants to be able to auction off whatever domains remain.

dotMobi said (pdf):

Once the previously approved RFP round has concluded, dotMobi will conduct an auction of any remaining domains according to a schedule determined by dotMobi. For any domains not allocated during either the RFP or auction rounds, dotMobi will announce a release date and will invite open, first-come-first-served registrations.

Requests to allocate one and two-character domains have previously been submitted and approved by Neustar (.biz), Afilias (.info), puntCAT (.cat), Tralliance (.travel) and RegistryPro (.pro).

Telnic (.tel) has a similar proposal still under board review.

Such auctions offer a one-time windfall for the registry operator. NeuStar’s .biz auction raised a reported $360,000 last year.

As DomainNameWire reported yesterday VeriSign has withdrawn its application for one-letter auctions in .net. Its proposal would have seen expired one-character domains returned to registry control, allowing them to be re-auctioned.

Price increase on the cards for .biz

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2010, Domain Registries

NeuStar is to raise its registry fee on .biz domain names by $0.45, to $7.30 year, according to a letter sent to ICANN by the company’s vice president of registry services.

The changes will come into effect April 1, 2011, following the mandatory notice period registries have to give their registrar partners.

NeuStar has just seen a monthly decrease in total .biz registrations, from 2,070,343 to 2,065,389 at the start of the month, according to HosterStats.com.

New TLD competition group throws in the towel

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2010, Domain Registries

The ICANN working group tasked with deciding whether registrars should be allowed to apply for new top-level domains has failed to reach agreement after over six months of talks.

This means it will be down to the ICANN board of directors to decide, possibly at its next meeting, what the rules should be on vertical integration and cross ownership in new TLDs.

It’s been pretty clear from the Vertical Integration Working Group’s recent discussions that there would be no chance of the group reaching a consensus on the headline topics in the remaining time allotted to it.

Within the last two hours, the GNSO Council has been notified that the group has failed to reach consensus.

Should ICANN-accredited registrars be allowed to apply for new TLDs? Should registries be allow to sell direct to consumers? Should registrars be able to own stakes in registries? Vice versa? How much? Whither the .brand?

All these questions will now have to be resolved by the ICANN staff and board.

Currently, the Draft Applicant Guidebook limits registry/registrar cross-ownership to 2%, effectively barring existing registrars from applying to run new TLD registries.

While the VI working group has been working on the problem since February, positions quickly became entrenched based on the commercial interests of many participants. There has been no substantial progress towards compromise or consensus in months.

But the group did manage to reach rough agreement on a number of peripheral problems that will have a lesser economic impact on the incumbent registries and registrars.

For example, the board will likely be told that “single registrant, single user” TLDs, a variant of the .brand where the registry is the only registrant, should be looked into further.

On the core issue of cross ownership, three proposals are on the table.

One, the Free Trade Proposal, would eliminate such restrictions entirely. Two others, RACK+ and JN2+, would increase the limits to 15%.

The RACK+ proposal is the closest to the status quo in terms of barring vertical integration, while JN2+ contains explicit exceptions for .brand TLDs and smaller community registries.

Given the lack of consensus, it’s quite feasible that the ICANN board may decide to cherry pick from two or more proposals, or come up with something entirely novel. We’ll have to wait and see.