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.sucks won’t discount its fee for $10 domains

Vox Populi Registry is looking for a free speech advocate partner willing to absorb hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in costs.

The .sucks registry has for many months promised that later this year it will introduce a Consumer Advocate Subsidies program that will enable people to get a .sucks for the deeply discounted price of $10 a year.

Currently, the standard recommended retail price of a .sucks is $249, with a registry fee of $199.

Users of the subsidy program would get their names for $10 or under but they’d have to agree to host a free forum on the site, open to anyone that wanted to criticize (or, I guess, praise) the subject of the domain.

It has been broadly assumed that the subsidy would be matched by a discount in the registry fee.

But it’s emerged that Vox Pop has no plans to lower its own fees in order to offer the subsidy.

Essentially, it’s looking for a partner willing to swallow a cost of essentially $189 a year for every subsidized domain name.

CEO John Berard said in a blog post this week, and has subsequently confirmed to DI, that the subsidy is a subsidy and not a discount.

Vox Pop will still demand its full wholesale registry fee for every .sucks domain that is sold. Berard blogged:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

“The partner has to be one committed to free speech and confident in its ability to rally contributions to underwrite the activity,” Berard told DI.

To me, this proposition suddenly looks hugely unattractive.

There are over 6,000 domains in the .sucks zone today, just a month after general availability began, and that’s with registrants paying $250 to $2,500 a year.

With a $10 free-for-all, the number of registrations would, in my view, spike.

Unless there was some kind of gating process in place, the subsidy partner would likely face hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring annual fees almost immediately. It could escalate to millions a year over the long run.

I’m trying to imagine how an organization such as Which? (which I’m guessing is the kind of organization Vox Pop is talking to) would benefit from this arrangement.

There is “quite an interest” in signing up to become the subsidy partner, Berard said. He said that in some cases potential partners are looking for marketing opportunities or ways to “enhance their reputation”.

Details of subsidy program are expected to be announced early in the fourth quarter.

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What split? TLD webinar series folded into the DNA

Kevin Murphy, July 21, 2015, Domain Services

A TLD operators’ webinar series initially cast as a community group has been folded in to the Domain Name Association.

The DNA has announced the creation of the DNA University, which promises to pick up where the TLD Operators Webinar left off.

Tony Kirsch of ARI Registry Services has been appointed inaugural “Dean” of the University.

The first webinar will be entitled “Premium Domain Name Planning” and will be held July 28 at 1500 UTC.

Future webinars, which are open to all registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants, will address subjects including IDNs, rights protection, contractual compliance, and many more.

The TLD Operators Webinar was originally called the TLD Operators Community and characterized as a new industry group, which led to gossip about a split within the DNA.

The program was hurriedly re-branded and re-domained to clarify that it was more, as ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis put it, “a one off effort by our consultancy team to get everyone together for a chat.”

Now it’s just a service under the DNA umbrella.

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Booking.com uses .africa precedent to challenge .hotels ruling

Kevin Murphy, July 21, 2015, Domain Policy

Booking.com has become the first new gTLD applicant to publicly cite the recent .africa Independent Review Process ruling in an attempt to overturn an adverse ICANN decision.

The challenge relates to the decision by ICANN, under the rules of the new gTLD program, to place applications for .hotels and .hoteis into a contention set due to their potential for visual confusion.

The two strings are heading to auction, where the winner will likely have to fork out millions.

In a missive to ICANN (pdf) last week, Booking.com outside attorney Flip Petillion said that the .africa IRP ruling shows that ICANN has to revisit its decision-making over .hotels.

The letter highlights a wider issue — how can ICANN follow community-established rules whilst sticking to its rather less well-defined Bylaws commitment to be “fair”?

Petillion wrote:

ICANN — and the BGC — has maintained the position 1) that the fact the process established by ICANN was followed is sufficient reason to reject that challenge and 2) that the fact that the process allowed neither for Booking.com to be heard nor for a review of the decision by the ICANN Board is of no relevance.

In the interim, IRP panels have confirmed that this process-focussed position is unsustainable. The ICANN Board has an overriding responsibility for making fair, reasoned and non-discriminatory decisions under conditions of full transparency.

He cites the .africa IRP decision to support this assertion.

Booking.com is the applicant for .hotels, while a different company, Travel Reservations (formerly Despegar Online), has applied for .hoteis, the Portuguese translation.

While both applicants are happy for the two gTLDs to co-exist on the internet, ICANN’s third-party String Similarity Review panel, part of the new gTLD evaluation process, ruled that they cannot.

They’re just too similar — in standard browser sans-serif fonts they can be indistinguishable — and would likely lead to user confusion, the panel decided in February 2013.

Booking.com challenged this decision with a Request for Reconsideration, which was dismissed.

It then filed an IRP, but that concluded this March with the panel awarding a grudging win to ICANN, which it orders should split the costs of the case.

In April, the ICANN board adopted the IRP panel’s findings, saying that the two applicants should remain in the contention set.

Booking.com, along with Travel Reservations, filed a second RfR, challenging the board’s decision, but this was rejected by ICANN’s Board Governance Committee in June.

The ICANN board has not yet formally adopted the BGC’s recommendations — I expect it to consider them at its next scheduled meeting, July 28 — hence Booking.com’s last-ditch attempt to get ICANN to change its mind.

Petillion wrote:

Simply following the processes and procedures developed by ICANN cannot alone be sufficient grounds for declining to review a decision. If the requirements of fairness, reasoned decision making, non-discrimination and transparency have not been met in the implementation of the process and procedures, the ICANN Board must, when invited to, conduct a meaningful review.

In the .africa case, the IRP panel ruled that ICANN should have asked the Governmental Advisory Committee for its rationale for objecting to DotConnectAfrica’s .africa bid, even though there’s nothing in the new gTLD rules or ICANN Bylaws specifically requiring it to do so.

However, in the Booking.com case, the IRP panel raised serious questions about whether the String Similarity Review rules were consistent with the Bylaws, but said that the time to challenge such rules had “long since passed”.

In both cases, ICANN followed the rules. Where the two panels’ declarations diverge is on whether you can win an IRP challenging the implementation of those rules — for DotConnectAfrica the answer was yes, for Booking.com the answer was no.

In a new gTLD program that has produced long lists of inconsistencies; IRP panel decisions appear to be but the latest example.

The question now is how the ICANN board will deal with the BGC recommendation to reject Booking.com’s latest RfR.

If it summarily approves the BGC’s resolution, without doing some extra due diligence, will it be breaking its Bylaws?

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TLD to be removed from the DNS next week

The DNS has been growing by, on average 1.1 top-level domains per day for the last 18 months or so, but that trajectory is set to change briefly next week when a TLD is removed.

The ccTLD .an, which represented the former Netherlands Antilles territories, is expected to be retired on July 31, according to published correspondence between ICANN and the Dutch government.

Three territories making up the former Dutch colony — Sint Maarten, Curaçao, and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba — gained autonomy in 2010, qualifying them for their own ccTLDs.

They were granted .sx, .cw and .bq respectively. While the first two are live, .bq has not yet been delegated, though the Dutch government says it is close to a deal with a registry.

The Dutch had asked ICANN/IANA for a second extension to the removal deadline, to October 31, but this request was either turned down or retracted after talks at the ICANN Buenos Aires meeting.

Only about 20 registrants are still using .an, according to ICANN.

The large majority of .an names still showing up in Google redirect to other sites in .nl, .com, .sx or .cw.

.an is the second ccTLD to face removal this year after .tp, which represented Portuguese Timor, the nation now known as East Timor or Timor Leste (.tl).

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Read that controversial .africa letter

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, Domain Policy

Did the African Union Commission really use a letter written by ICANN to express its support for ZA Central Registry’s .africa bid?

Having now obtained and read it, I have my doubts.

I’m publishing it, so you can make your own mind up. Here it is (pdf).

That’s the letter that The Register’s Kieren McCarthy reported yesterday was “ICANN-drafted” and “duly signed by the AUC”

“Essentially, ICANN drafted a letter in support of ZACR, gave it to the AUC, and the AUC submitted the letter back to ICANN as evidence that ZACR should run dot-africa,” The Reg reported.

I don’t think that’s what happened.

What I see is a two-page letter that has one paragraph indisputably written by ICANN and whole bunch of other stuff that looks incredibly remarkably like it was written by the AUC and ZACR.

And that one ICANN paragraph was drawn from the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, where it was available to all governments.

The Reg reported that ICANN, in the unredacted ruling of the Independent Review Panel, admitted it drafted the letter.

What The Reg didn’t report is that ICANN merely admitted to sending the AUC a letter based on the aforementioned AGB template, and that it was subsequently heavily revised by the AUC.

It was not, I believe, a simple case of the AUC putting its letterhead and John Hancock on an ICANN missive.

I believe that ZACR had quite a big hand in the redrafting too. The stylized “.africa (dotAfrica)” is not how ICANN refers to gTLDs, but it is how ZACR refers to its own brand.

The letter was written in order to satisfy the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, which reviews new gTLD applications for the required government support.

The original AUC letter (read it here) was simply one paragraph confirming that ZACR had been appointed .africa registry, as the winner of an African Union RFP process.

It didn’t have enough information, or was not specific and formal enough, for the GNP, which issued a “Clarifying Question”.

In response to the CQ, it seems AUC reached out to ICANN, ICANN sent over something not dissimilar to its AGB template, the AUC and ZACR redrafted, edited and embellished it and sent it to ICANN to support their .africa application.

Did ICANN act inappropriately? Maybe. But I’m losing my enthusiasm for thinking about this as a massive scandal.

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