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VeriSign now front-runner for .bank

VeriSign has signed a deal with two major banking industry organizations to become their exclusive provider of registry services for any new top-level domains designed for financial services companies.

The deal is with the American Bankers Association and BITS, the technology policy arm of the Financial Services Roundtable. Together, they represent the majority of US banks.

While the announcement conspicuously avoids mentioning any specific TLD strings, .bank is the no-brainer. I suspect other announced .bank initiatives will now be reevaluating their plans.

The way ICANN’s new gTLD Applicant Guidebook is constructed, any TLD application claiming to represent the interests of a specific community requires support from that community.

There are also community challenge procedures that would almost certainly kill off any .bank application that did not have the backing of major banking institutions.

BITS has already warned ICANN that it would not tolerate a .bank falling into the wrong hands, a position also held by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

In an era of widespread phishing and online fraud, the financial services industry is understandably eager that domains purporting to represent banks are seen to be trustworthy.

Because we all trust bankers, right?

VeriSign is of course the perfect pick for a registry services provider. As well as running the high-volume .com and .net domains, it also carries the prestige .gov and .edu accounts.

“We’re honored to have been chosen by BITS and ABA as their registry operator for any new gTLDs deployed to serve the financial services industry and their customers,” said Pat Kane, VeriSign’s senior VP of Naming Services, in a statement.

Apart from the multilingual versions of .com and .net, I think this may be the first new TLD application VeriSign has publicly associated itself with.

ICANN doubles .xxx fees

ICANN has doubled the amount it will charge ICM Registry to register .xxx domain names, adding potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to its top line.

The two parties yesterday signed a registry agreement (pdf), but it has been revised in quite significant ways since the last published version.

In short: ICANN has substantially increased its revenue whilst substantially reducing its risk.

Notably, ICANN will now charge the registry $2 per .xxx domain per year, compared to the $1 anticipated by the version of the contract published in August 2010 (pdf).

With ICM hoping for 300,000 to 500,000 registrations in its first year, that’s a nice chunk of change. Porn domains could be a $1 million business for ICANN quite soon.

For comparison, successful applicants under the new generic top-level domains program will only have to pay $0.25 per domain per year, and that fee only kicks in after 50,000 domains.

If there’s a .sex or a .porn, they’ll pay an ICANN fee an eighth of ICM’s.

Text from the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook that allows ICANN to raise fees in line with US inflation has also been added to ICM’s contract.

ICANN said in a blog post that the increases “account for anticipated risks and compliance activities”. It appears to be expecting trouble.

A number of other changes address the legal risks and compliance problems ICANN seems to be anticipating.

The contract now allows ICANN to more easily impose monetary fines on ICM for non-compliance, for example.

A new mediation procedure has been added to resolve disputes, to come between face-to-face talks and formal arbitration.

The contract would also would oblige ICM to pay for ICANN’s legal costs in the event of a third-party dispute, such as an Independent Review Panel hearing, being filed.

While the original contract required ICM to indemnify ICANN against third-party lawsuits, the revised version also includes a broad waiver (pdf) “to resolve all outstanding dispute/possible litigation matters” between ICM and ICANN.

I am not a lawyer, but it appears that ICM has signed away a fairly comprehensive chunks of its rights, and has agreed to shoulder most of the risk, in order to get its hands on the potentially lucrative deal.

Greek IDN blocked due to non-existent domain

Greece’s request for .ελ, a version of .gr in its local script, was rejected by ICANN because it looked too much like .EA, a non-existent top-level domain, it has emerged.

Regular readers will be familiar with the story of how Bulgaria’s request for .бг was rejected due to its similar to Brazil’s .br, but to my knowledge the Greeks had not revealed their story until this week.

In a letter to the US government, George Papapavlou, a member of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, called the process of applying for an IDN ccTLD “long and traumatic”.

He said that Greece had to jump through “completely unnecessary” hoops to prove its chosen string was representative of the nation and supported by its internet community, before its application was finally rejected because it was “confusingly similar” to a Latin string.

“IANA has no right to question languages or local Internet community support. Governments are in the position of expressing their national Internet communities,” Papapavlou wrote.

The capital letters version of .ελ (ΕΛ) was considered to be confusingly similar to the Latin alphabet letters EA. The possibility of such confusion for a Greek language speaker, who uses exclusively Greek alphabet to type the whole domain name or address, to then switch into capital letters and type EA in Latin alphabet is close to zero. After all, there is currently no .ea or .EA ccTLD.

That’s true. There is no .ea. But that’s not to say one will not be created in future and, due to the way ccTLD strings are assigned, ICANN would not be able to prevent it on stability grounds.

Papapavlou called for “common sense” to be the guiding principle when deciding whether to approve an IDN ccTLD or not.

That is of course only one side of the story. Currently, ICANN/IANA does not comment on the details of ccTLD delegations, so it’s the only side we’re likely to see in the near future.

Porn affiliate network to shun .xxx

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, Domain Registries

The Free Speech Coalition has announced support for its .xxx boycott from what looks to be a significant player in the porn affiliate network market.

Gamma Entertainment, which runs programs such as LiveBucks.com, said it plans to defensively register some of its brands in .xxx.

But for every dollar the company spends with ICM Registry, it also plans to make a matching donation to the top-level domain’s opponents, such as the FSC.

Xbiz quotes Gamma president Karl Bernard: “Gamma is committed to using our resources to lead by example – by pledging our support in the efforts to combat ICM’s .xxx.”

The company will continue to focus development on its .com web sites, according to the article.

The FSC announced its boycott earlier this week, to signal its objection to ICANN’s approval of the TLD.

Short .tel domains coming June 1

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2011, Domain Registries

Telnic, the .tel registry, is to start selling short and numeric .tel domain names from June 1.

The company announced today that two-character and numeric-only .tel domains will first be subject to a premium-price landrush, followed by general availability from June 14.

It’s the first time you’ll be able to register domains containing only numerals, but you won’t be able to register anything with more than seven digits, including hyphens.

This would presumably rule out phone numbers including area codes in most if not all places.

All two-letter strings that correspond to existing country-code top-level domains are also reserved, as are all one-letter strings, whether they be numeric or alphabetic.

The release follows Telnic’s moderately controversial request to ICANN to liberalize its registration policies, which I previously covered here and here.