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New TLD applications to open May 2011

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has named the date for its planned launch of the new top-level domain application process.

According to a resolution passed at its board of directors meeting Thursday, ICANN is targeting May 30, 2011 for the opening of applications.

The proposed final version of the Applicant Guidebook is set to be published November 9, and is expected to be approved by the board at its meeting in Cartagena, December 10.

A four-month marketing and outreach period is expected to kick off January 10.

If you’re looking for the specifics of what the Applicant Guidebook will contain, you’re out of luck.

# Vertical Integration – No resolution

# GNSO New gTLD Recommendation 6 Objection Process – No resolution

# GAC Issues Letter including Geographic Names – No resolution

# Affirmation of Commitment Considerations – No resolution

Looks like we’ll have to wait until November 9 to find out what has been agreed on each of these issues.

ICANN could fast-track final new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN is considering a fast-track process for the final version of its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook that could see it approved this December, documents have revealed.

Minutes and board briefing materials from ICANN’s August 5 board meeting, published yesterday, seem to demonstrate an eagerness to get the policy finalized by its Cartagena meeting.

Staff and board members favor a limited public comment period prior to the guidebook’s finalization, which could see it approved sooner rather than later.

Briefing documents (pdf, page 111 and on) say:

It is recommended that the Board consider the Final version of the Guidebook for approval at the Cartagena meeting. The final version will be posted for limited comment prior to the meeting.

The minutes of the meeting reveal a preference among staff and some directors, including chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, for this limited comment window.

The comments would be “limited” to new issues, for various reasons, including this:

A full process will bring forth every last attempt for parties to repeat positions to modify the process to be in line with their pecuniary or other interest. The optics might falsely indicate that there is no consensus around the model

ICANN’s obligation to consult its Governmental Advisory Committee would be carried out face-to-face at the Cartagena meeting, further speeding this up.

Tantalizingly, a flow-chart setting out the board’s options contains the possible launch dates for the first-round application window, but they’ve been redacted.

These documents date from August and the ICANN board has met twice since then, so things may have changed.

We’re likely to find out more about the timeline when the board resolutions from its meeting yesterday are published. I’m expecting this later today, so stay tuned.

Budapest joins the city TLD bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

A Hungarian consortium is set to apply for .bud, a top-level domain to represent Budapest.

The Dotbud campaign joins a long and growing list of city TLDs intended to represent European capitals, which currently includes the likes of .london, .berlin, .paris and .riga.

Judging from a machine translation of the organization’s web site, the registry plans to offer a 50% discount to registrants who follow it on Facebook which strikes me as a novel marketing technique.

Will .xxx be approved today?

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Will the adults-only .xxx top-level domain be approved today, or will the hot potato be tossed to governments for a decision?

That’s the question facing ICANN’s board of directors, which is set to discuss the controversial TLD for the umpteenth time today.

The last resolution it passed on .xxx called for a public comment period, followed by a decision on whether the registry contract is compatible with old Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

With the comment period closed, it appears that all that remains is to decide whether a new GAC consultation is required before the contract can be approved or rejected.

Some opponents of .xxx are demanding a GAC consultation.

Diane Duke, director of porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition, wrote to ICANN this week, urging it to refer the application back to the GAC.

As Duke knows, many international governments are opposed to .xxx.

A week ago, Australia’s socially conservative, pro-censorship broadband minister, Stephen Conroy, also asked ICANN for another GAC consultation, expressing his “strong opposition” to the TLD due to its “lack of identified public benefit”.

And Conroy is surely not alone. There can be few governments that would be happy to be seen to endorse pornography, regardless of its legal status in their jurisdictions.

The GAC is firmly of the view that “controversial” TLDs present a risk to the global interoperability of the internet. The fear is that strings such as .xxx could lead to blocking at national borders and ultimately fragmentation of the DNS root.

Whichever decision ICANN makes today, it is sure to cause controversy one way or another.

ICANN “intervention” needed on TLD ownership rules

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors is today likely to step in to create rules on which kinds of companies should be able to apply for new top-level domains.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush now says “intervention appears to be required” on the issue of registry-registrar cross-ownership, after a GNSO working group failed to create a consensus policy.

In an email to the vertical integration working group yesterday, Dengate Thrush thanked particpants for their efforts and added:

The board is faced, in the face of absence of a GNSO position, to examine what should be done. This is a matter we are actively considering.

My sense is that, while reluctant to appear to be making policy, the Board is unwilling to allow stalemate in the GNSO policy development process to act as an impediment to implementing other major policy work of the GNSO, which calls for the introduction of new gTLDS. Some kind of Board intervention appears to be required, and we are considering that.

Currently, placeholder text in the new TLD Draft Applicant Guidebook calls for a 2% cross-ownership cap and effectively bans registrars from applying to become registries.

Such a scenario would very likely make single-registrant “.brand” TLDs unworkable. Canon, for example, would be forced to pay a registrar every time it wanted to create a new domain in .canon.

It would also put a serious question mark next to the viability of geographical and cultural TLDs that may be of limited appeal to mass-market registrars.

Many in the VI working group are in favor of more liberal ownership rules, with larger ownership caps and carve-outs for .brands and “orphan” TLDs that are unable to find registrars to partner with.

But others, notably including Go Daddy and Afilias, which arguably stand to gain more economically from the status quo, favor a stricter separation of powers.

This latter bloc believes that allowing the integration of registry and registrar functions would enable abusive practices.

Dengate Thrush’s email has already raised eyebrows. ICANN is, after all, supposed to create policies using a bottom-up process.

Go Daddy’s policy point man, Tim Ruiz, wrote:

I am hopeful that you did not intend to imply that if the bottom up process does not produce the reults that some of the Board and Staff wanted then the Board will just create its own policy top down.

I hope that the Board keeps its word regarding VI as it was given to the GNSO. To not do so would make it difficult to have any confidence in the Board whatsoever.

It’s a tightrope, and no mistake.

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.