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Employ Media answers .jobs critics

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2010, Domain Registries

The .jobs registry has responded to insinuations from its critics that it set out to break its own sponsorship rules with a plan to open up the TLD to generic and geographic domain names.

In a filing with ICANN (pdf), Employ Media denies that its liberalization program would permit people from outside the human resources sector to register domains, in violation of its Charter.

Employ Media categorically rejects such allegations as unfounded speculation, and made solely to delay the launch of the .JOBS Phased Allocation Program.

The program, which would see non-companyname .jobs registrations allowed for the first time, has already been approved, but a Reconsideration Request was filed by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition in an effort to get the decision reversed.

The Coalition is an ad-hoc group of jobs boards that believe Employ Media’s plans could harm their businesses by attracting users of nursingjobs.com (for example) to nursing.jobs.

Employ Media plans to allocate thousands of premium domains such as these to the DirectEmployers Association, in order to feed traffic to a huge free jobs board at universe.jobs.

The Coalition sent ICANN a list of questions for Employ Media, and ICANN followed up last week with 13 of its own questions, all of which seem to dance around the issue of whether this was kosher.

The registry’s responses, published by ICANN a couple of days ago (and subsequently disappeared), basically deny that it has done anything that would allow non-Charter registrants into its TLD.

It also seeks to put distance between itself and DirectEmployers:

At the time of the 5 August 2010 Board action [approving the program], Employ Media did NOT have any intention of registering names under the Phased Allocation Plan to any entity other than Employ Media.

That appears to be a roundabout way of describing its original plan to register all the premium names to itself, but to allow DirectEmployers to use them, basically hacking its own registry contract.

Universe.jobs, for example, is registered in Employ Media’s own name, but appears to be primarily operated by DirectEmployers (blog posts from Employ Media executives notwithstanding).

Survey reveals demand for .brand TLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Almost half of trademark-conscious companies are considering a “.brand” top-level domain, according to a survey carried out by World Trademark Review magazine.

The survey also found that there is much more interest in new TLDs among marketing folk than lawyers, which is perhaps not surprising.

So far, only a few potential .brand applicants have been revealed. Canon has been the most brazen about its plans, but others including IBM and Nokia have also dropped hints.

The WTR reported:

WTR’s survey of in-house trademark counsel, attorneys in law firms and marketing professionals found that an average of 54% responded “Yes”, “It’s likely” or “Maybe” when asked whether their company/client would apply for a new gTLD. Of these, 81% confirmed, like Canon, that the string would be their master brand.

A break-down of these numbers kindly provided by WTR show that “Yes” was easily the least common response, but that marketing professionals expressed more interest than lawyers.

Asked whether their company would apply to run a new TLD, only 6.8% and 9.5% of in-house counsel responded “Yes” or “It’s likely”, compared to 19.6% and 15.2% for marketers.

About 54% and 33% responded “No” to the same question, respectively. The remainder were on the fence with a “Maybe” response.

Lawyers in private practice, when asked the same question, were more confident than their in-house counterparts, with 18.9% saying it was “likely” at least one client would want a gTLD

Whichever way you cut it, this adds up to a pretty decent chunk of .brand applicants. ICANN has previously said it expects between 100 and 200 such applications in the first round.

About 350 people responded to the survey in total. The full results and analysis are published in the latest edition of WTR.

Review reveals ccTLD fast-track criticisms

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has launched a review of its internationalized domain name fast-track process, revealing a number of criticisms its country-code domain applicants have apparently had.

The IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process is a way for ccTLD operators to quickly start selling fully non-Latin domains in their own local script.

It’s so far been successfully used to delegate IDN ccTLDs in Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic scripts, among others.

ICANN now wants to know if it should make any improvements to the process and has opened a 60-day public comment period to solicit suggestions.

Because quite a lot of the Fast Track takes place behind closed doors, ICANN has also offered up a fairly revealing list of possible discussion topics.

It appears that the process has created new pressure points between ICANN and international governments, which are often formally affiliated with their ccTLDs.

For example, some governments dislike the fact that Fast Track requires the applicant to show support for its chosen string from its local community. ICANN reported:

Some [applicants] do not find it necessary to demonstrate community support for the string nor the manager. The reason being that such decisions can be made by government entities, and the need for support undermines the authority of the government in the country or territory.

There also appears to have been a bit of push-back from governments on the issue of “meaningfulness”, where applicants have to show their requested string adequately represents their territory’s name.

ICANN said:

Some requesters have stated that this requirement is not necessary in cases where the strings requested are agreed to by the government and otherwise seem obviously meaningful.

In a concession to governments with sovereignty or financial concerns, ICANN does not charge an up-front fee for handling IDN ccTLD requests under the Fast Track.

Instead, it “recommends” a processing fee of $26,000 per string, which it invoices toward the end of the process, plus an ongoing 1-3% of IDN registration revenue.

So far, it has received $106,000 (covering presumably four strings, accounting for exchange rates), indicating that there are 11 IDN ccTLDs currently in the root that have not yet been paid for.

It will be interesting to see how many ccTLDs ultimately choose to pay up, and how many are happy for ICANN’s costs to be covered by fees paid by gTLD registrants like me and you.

The Fast Track review may also cover the topic of disputes and appeals. Currently, there is no dedicated mechanism by which a ccTLD that has had its requested string rejected can ask for reconsideration.

ICANN asks whether this should be changed.

Earlier this year, Bulgaria had its request for .бг (.bg) declined on the grounds that it looks too much like Brazil’s Latin ccTLD, .br and said it planned to appeal.

The ICANN public comment period, with the full list of suggested discussion topics, can be found here.

Native American domain gives .jobs critics ammo

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2010, Domain Registries

The coalition of companies opposed to the expansion of the .jobs top-level domain seems to think it has found a ‘gotcha’ in the recent registration of nativeamerican.jobs.

The domain leads to a site listing jobs that are identified, for whatever reason, as being particularly suitable for Native Americans. It’s based on an earlier site at ndianjobs.com

The .jobs TLD was originally intended to allow human resources departments to list their corporate job openings using only their own company name or brand in the domain.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of a number of jobs portals including Monster.com, now points to nativeamerican.jobs as an example of .jobs registry Employ Media breaking its charter commitments.

The Coalition wrote to ICANN yesterday in support of its effort to get ICANN to overturn its recent decision on .jobs liberalization.

In August, ICANN told the registry that it could start accepting non-company-name .jobs registrations through a “phased allocation process” that involves an RFP and possibly auctions.

But the Coalition contends that the amended registry contract does not allow Employ Media to break its Charter commitment to restrict registrations to purely human resources registrants.

It could not be clearer that Employ Media is using the Board’s approval of the Phased Allocation Program to transform the fundamental nature of the .JOBS sponsored top level domain from a site for employers to link directly with job seekers to a generic employment services theme park – in clear violation of the .JOBS charter, and without the smallest consideration of third party rights.

These “third-party rights” include the owner of nativeamericanjobs.com, who presumably did not have the chance to register the contested domain.

It’s not clear whether the Coalition statement is entirely correct, however.

Judging from Whois records, the domain nativeamerican.jobs was registered in May, prior to ICANN’s board approving the .jobs registry contract changes.

It was certainly registered prior to the closure of the initial RFP stage of Employ Media’s phased allocation program.

The Coalition has a Reconsideration Request pending. ICANN earlier this week asked Employ Media to respond to 13 questions about its plans.

ICANN asks .jobs registry to explain itself

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has asked .jobs registry manager Employ Media to clarify its plan to lift restrictions on who can register names in its top-level domain.

The ICANN board committee which handles Reconsideration Requests – essentially ICANN’s first-stop appeals court – has sent the registry a list of 13 questions (pdf), apparently distilled from a much longer list (pdf) supplied by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition.

Employ Media wants to be able to start allocating premium generic .jobs domain names to companies via an RFP process and possibly auctions, dropping the rule which states that only companyname.jobs domains are permitted in the TLD.

ICANN’s board of directors approved the company’s plan in August, and Employ Media opened its RFP process shortly thereafter. Then the Compliance Coalition filed its Reconsideration Request.

This ad-hoc coalition comprises a number of employment web sites, such as Monster.com, and the Newspapers Association of America, which believe Employ Media’s plans fall outside its remit and could pose a competitive threat.

It’s common knowledge that the registry was planning to allocate a big chunk of premium real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, which wants to run a massive jobs board called universe.jobs, fed traffic by thousands of generic industry or geographic .jobs names.

Essentially, the Coalition’s questions, echoed by the Board Governance Committee, seem to be a roundabout way of asking whether this violates the .JOBS Charter, which limits the registrant base to corporate human resources departments.

Notably, the BGC wants to know when a universe.jobs promotional white paper (pdf) was produced, how much input Employ Media had in it, and whether the ICANN board got to see it before making its decision.

(A bit of a ludicrous question really, given that the BGC is comprised of four ICANN directors)

It also wants to know which purported “independent job site operators” have welcomed the Employ Media plan (a situation reminiscent of the recent unsuccessful calls for ICM Registry to disclose its .xxx supporters.)

The BGC’s Question 9 also strikes me as interesting, given that it does not appear to be inspired directly by the Coalition’s list of questions:

Please state whether Employ Media took any steps to prevent or interfere with any entity or person’s ability to state its position, or provide information, to the Board regarding amendment of the .JOBS Registry Agreement before or during the 5 August 2010 Board meeting.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether we may see a rare reversal of an ICANN board decision based on a Reconsideration Request.

Law firm launches new TLD service

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Registries

The law firm Crowell & Moring has launched a practice dedicated to helping companies apply for – and sue other applicants for – new top-level domains.

The company also said today it has hired Bart Lieben, the Brussels-based lawyer who probably has more recent experience launching new TLDs than most others in his field.

Crowell says it will offer these services:

* gTLD Assessment Services
o Feasibility study and strategic advice for brand owners and others prior to filing an application

* gTLD Application Services
o Preparation and filing of ‘New gTLD’ applications

* gTLD Litigation
o Against other applicants during and after the application process
o Against third parties opposing an application

* gTLD Launch and Implementation Assistance
o On-going assistance, post filing and execution of ICANN contract by applicant

With the new TLD round looking like a near certainty for 2011, there’s money to be made in consulting, and it’s hardly surprising that the lawyers are moving in.

World Trademark Review reported earlier this month that Hogan Lovells has become the first such firm to gain ICANN registrar accreditation in an effort to help its clients navigate new TLDs.

The new Crowell unit is being headed by Brussels-based Flip Petillion (an occasional WIPO panelist on UDRP cases) and Washington, DC-based John Stewart.

New hire Lieben has previously helped with the launches of .mobi and .tel. He was involved heavily with .CO Internet’s sunrise, and is currently helping GMO Registry and .SO Registry with the forthcoming .so launch.

Next new TLD guidebook due early November

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2010, Domain Registries

The next version of ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook for wannabe new top-level domain registries could be published as early as the first week of November, and it could be proposed as the “final” draft.

In a note to the GNSO Council’s mailing list yesterday, ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz wrote:

There is a Board meeting on the 28th with new gTLDs as an agenda item, and right around that time, maybe a week later, the work on the Guidebook will be wrapped. Those two events will indicate both a Board and staff intent on whether to propose the Guidebook version as final.

In order for a 30-day public comment period to be completed prior to the start of ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, the Guidebook would have to be published before November 5.

That said, version four of the DAG had a 60-day comment period (and ICANN staff have yet to publish a summary and analysis of those comments three months after it closed).

As I’ve previously blogged, outstanding issues include humdingers such as the cross-ownership of registrar/registry functions, and the objections procedure formerly known as “morality and public order”.

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.