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Governments still want new TLD morality veto

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee still wants to block “controversial” new top-level domains on morality grounds.

In a letter to ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, a copy of which I have obtained, the GAC makes it clearer than ever that it wants national laws to play a part in approving new TLDs.

It also suggests that national governments should be able to pre-screen strings before applications are filed, to give applicants “early warning” that they are stepping into controversial waters.

The letter draws the battle lines for what could be some heated debate at ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena next month.

Given that the letter does not appear to have been published by ICANN yet, I will quote liberally.

Under the heading “Universal Resolvability of the DNS”, GAC interim chair Heather Dryden, the Canadian representative on the committee, wrote:

Due to uncertainties regarding the effectiveness of ICANN’s review and objections procedures, a country may feel compelled to block a new gTLD at the national level that it considers either objectionable or that raises national sensitivities.

To date, there do not appear to be controversial top level domains that have resulted in significant or sustained blocking by countries.

The GAC believes it is imperative that the impact on the continued security, stability and universal resolvability of the domain name systems of the potential blocking at the national level of the new gTLD strings that are considered to be objectionable or that raise national sensitivities be assessed prior to introducing new gTLDs.

The letter carries on to say that the GAC will “seek advice from the technical community” on the issue.

Dryden wrote that there should be a “prior review” process that would be able to identify strings that are “contrary to national law, policy or regulation” or “refer to religions, ethnicity, languages or other cultural identifiers that might raise national sensitivities”.

It sounds like the GAC envisions a pre-screening process, before new TLD applications are officially filed, similar to the “expressions of interest” concept that ICANN abandoned in March.

What TLDs this process would capture is unclear. The GAC letter notes by way of example that “several governments restrict the registration of certain terms in their ccTLDs”.

In practical terms, this would raise question marks over TLDs such as “.gay”, which would quite clearly run contrary to the policies of many national governments.

(As I reported earlier this month, the recently relaunched .so registry currently bans “gay”, “lesbian” and related terms at the second level.)

There’s more to be reported on the the implications of this letter, particularly with regards the work of ICANN’s “morality and public order” policy working group and the GAC’s relationship with ICANN in general.

Watch this space.

Afilias to raise .info prices

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias has notified ICANN that it plans to raise the maximum annual registration fee for a .info domain next year.

The new price, which will come into effect July 1, 2011, will be $7.42. It’s been $6.75 since November 2008, although the registry often offers deep discounts on new registrations.

Afilias’ contract with ICANN allows it to raise prices by up to 10%, which it appears to be doing in this case.

At least two other other gTLDs have already said they plan to up their maximum prices next year.

NeuStar’s .biz fee will rise by $0.45 to $7.30 in April. PIR’s .org will start costing registrars a maximum of $7.21 at the same time.

Czech people don’t want IDNs

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2010, Domain Registries

While Russia’s recently launched all-Cyrillic domain names may be going down a storm, it seems the idea of internationalized domain names does not have international appeal.

A survey of businesses and individuals in the Czech Republic shows a serious lack of support for IDNs under the .cz TLD.

A shocking 87% of organizations, along with 62% of internet users, surveyed by registry CZ.NIC said they were not in favor of .cz IDNs.

Czech uses the Latin alphabet, of course, albeit with a liberal dose of diacritics – the local name of the country is Česká Republika – so there’s less of a pressing need for IDNs than in other nations.

The survey results were less surprising to those in the know. Ondrej Filip, executive director of the .cz registry, said in a statement:

The repeated refusal of IDN was not a surprise. The last three surveys had very similar results and there have been no signs over the last two years pointing towards a change in this trend. Quite the opposite – in the long term, the negative attitude of the Czech Internet public toward IDN is growing.

The results showed slightly growing support for IDNs among individual users and growing opposition from businesses. Some objected on the basis that it would make life hard for foreign visitors.

ICANN told to ban .bank or get sued

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2010, Domain Registries

A major financial services lobby group has threatened to sue ICANN unless it puts strict limitations on “.bank” top-level domains.

BITS, the technology policy arm of the Financial Services Roundtable, said financial domains should be banned from the first round of new TLDs, until rules governing security are developed.

In a November 4 letter to ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom, BITS said:

If these critical issues are not fully resolved and ICANN chooses not to defer financial TLD delegation, BITS, its members and its partners are prepared to employ all available legislative, regulatory, administrative and judicial mechanisms.

BITS counts all the major US banks among its membership, as well as many large insurance companies and share-trading services.

The organization is concerned that TLDs such as .bank could lead to consumer confusion and an increase in fraud online if delegated into the wrong hands.

While BITS said that it “prefer[s] a prudent solution”, it has threatened to file “legal complaints in one or more jurisdictions” and to lobby the US Congress for legislation.

It noted that ICANN’s IANA contract, which gives it the power to create new TLDs, expires next August, and said that it may lobby Congress for legislation mandating better security as a condition of the renewal.

BITS and other financial groups have already written to members of Congress, in September, expressing disappointment with the absence of a high-security TLD policy from ICANN and adding:

In recognition of the need for higher levels of security and stability in financial services gTLDs than in gTLDs generally, we urge you to support inclusion of language in cyber security legislation language that prevents ICANN from adding financial services gTLDs to the root zone unless the IANA contract specifies higher levels of security for such gTLDs.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the US government body responsible for insuring banks, has also written to the Department of Commerce, expressing its concerns about the possible introduction of a .bank TLD.

Currently, I’m not aware of any public initiative to apply for .bank, but it’s possible that restrictions on financial services TLDs could capture the recently launched German “.insurance” project.

The BITS correspondence was published (pdf) as an attachment to an ongoing Reconsideration Request lodged by Michael Palage, chair of the High Security Top Level Domain Verification Program Advisory Group.

The HSTLD group has been working on a set of technological policy specifications for registries managing high-security TLDs.

Palage is annoyed that ICANN’s board seems to have distanced itself from the HSTLD concept before the group has even finished its work, by resolving in September that:

ICANN will not endorse or govern the program, and does not wish to be liable for issues arising from the use or non-use of the standard.

The HSTLD group, by contrast, has a “clear majority in support of ICANN retaining a continued oversight role”, according to Palage. He wrote:

The ICANN Board’s unilateral actions also have a chilling effect on future bottom up consensus efforts because participants have no basis to know when the ICANN Board will take such unilateral actions in the future.

He’s not alone in worrying about recent top-level ICANN decisions that appear to put corporate legal liability ahead of the wishes of the community. I reported on the issue last week.

Go Daddy objects to numeric .tel domains

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2010, Domain Registries

Go Daddy has objected to Telnic’s plan to start selling numeric .tel domain names, saying that it, among other things, “smells a lot like gaming”.

Telnic applied to ICANN last month to revise its registry contract to enable it to start selling domains containing numbers and hyphens.

I speculated a month ago that the International Telecommunications Union might object to the proposal, for reasons I explained in some depth.

(Briefly, Telnic won the .tel sponsored TLD partly because it promised for years not to enable domains that could look like phone numbers.)

But the ITU had nothing to say, at least in terms of the ICANN public comment period.

Go Daddy’s Tim Ruiz did object last Saturday on related grounds, telling ICANN:

We believe that this request cannot be granted without requiring the rebidding of the .tel sTLD itself. It is unfair to other applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.

Since community, purpose, and use were such important aspects of the sTLD allocation decisions it seems inappropriate, fundamentally unfair, and even smells a lot like gaming, to allow an sTLD to change those aspects without an opportunity for others to bid competitively.

In response to Ruiz’s letter, Telnic chief executive Khashayar Mahdavi wrote to ICANN:

The restriction on all-numeric strings has nothing to do with the nature of .tel and was instead a measure put in place to address initial concerns about potential conflicts with ENUM… We believe time and the growing understanding of the .tel technology have proven such a conflict does not exist.

ENUM is a protocol for addressing voice services using the DNS. It uses dots between each individual digit of a phone number, which would be specifically disallowed under Telnic’s plans.

Mahdavi also expressed confusion as to why Go Daddy bothered to object – it is not currently a registry, it does not carry .tel domains and it will presumably not be affected by the relaxation of the .tel rules.

Is it possible the registrar is taking a principled stance?

Ruiz also noted:

We believe that certain other recent requests under the guise of the RSEP [Registry Services Evaluation Process] by sTLDs were also likely inappropriate for similar reasons

He didn’t specify which sTLDs he was talking about. Without wishing to put words into his mouth, I can think of at least one that fits the description.

The Telnic proposal has already passed ICANN’s staff evaluation. I expect it could come before the board next month at its Cartagena meeting.

In separate news, Telnic’s less-controversial proposal to start selling one and two-character .tel domains has now passed its ICANN evaluation (pdf).