Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

First 27 new gTLDs pass evaluation

Kevin Murphy, March 22, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has started reporting the results of Initial Evaluation in its new gTLD program as promised, delivering a passing grade to 27 applications today.

So far, no bids appear to have explicitly flunked IE, judging by ICANN’s web site.

However, some of the applications in the top 27 in the prioritization queue are still flagged as being in IE — the Japanese Chinese-script dot-brand .淡马锡 and Samsung’s .삼성.

ICANN said:

For some applications Initial Evaluation results were not yet available for one or more possible reasons such as: pending change requests, clarifying questions, or follow-up with applicants regarding missing information. The results for these applications will be published as soon as the relevant processes are completed.

Due to the way the queue was rigged, all 27 passes are for internationalized domain names, such as Verisign’s .net transliteration .大拿 and Amazon’s Japanese .fashion (.ファッション).

Those that have passed IE and have no objections and no contention can now pass in to predelegation testing and contract negotiations with ICANN.

All IE results are expected to be released by August.

6 Comments Tagged:

Go Daddy poaches another Yahoo exec

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2013, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy has hired another Yahoo executive to join its senior management.

James Carroll, senior vice president of the consumer and global platform group, is to head Go Daddy’s international business, according to All Things D.

Go Daddy is of course now headed by former Yahoo Blake Irving, who has made international expansion one of his key growth strategies.

Irving hired Carroll at Yahoo too, All Things D reported.

With Yahoo apparently undergoing a shakeup under its new CEO Marrissa Meyer, it’s not impossible we might see more execs winding up at Go Daddy before long.

1 Comment Tagged: ,

Google starts supporting DNSSEC

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2013, Domain Tech

Google has started fully supporting DNSSEC, the domain name security standard, on its Public DNS service.

According to a blog post from the company, while the free-to-use DNS resolution service has always passed on DNSSEC requests, now its resolvers will also validate DNSSEC signatures.

What does this mean?

Well, users of Public DNS will get protected from DNS cache poisoning attacks, but only for the small number of domains (such as domainincite.com) that are DNSSEC-signed.

It also means that if a company borks its DNSSEC implementation or key rollover, it’s likely to cause problems for Public DNS users. Comcast, an even earlier adopter, sees such problems pretty regularly.

But the big-picture story is that a whole bunch of new validating resolvers have been added to the internet, providing a boost to DNSSEC’s protracted global roll-out.

Google said:

Currently Google Public DNS is serving more than 130 billion DNS queries on average (peaking at 150 billion) from more than 70 million unique IP addresses each day. However, only 7% of queries from the client side are DNSSEC-enabled (about 3% requesting validation and 4% requesting DNSSEC data but no validation) and about 1% of DNS responses from the name server side are signed. Overall, DNSSEC is still at an early stage and we hope that our support will help expedite its deployment.

One has to wonder whether Google’s participation in the ICANN new gTLD program — with its mandatory DNSSEC at the registry level — encouraged the company to adopt the technology.

2 Comments Tagged: ,

Trademark Clearinghouse lowers prices

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2013, Domain Services

The Deloitte-managed Trademark Clearinghouse has slashed its bulk submission prices in response to feedback from registrars.

A newly revised TMCH price list leaves the basic fees of $145 to $95 per mark per year untouched, but makes it much easier for large trademark owners and brand protection companies to qualify for discounts.

The system for securing bulk discounts is based on “Status Points” that accumulate as trademarks are submitted, with five pricing tiers available.

The changes mean submission agents need to rack up 1,000 points in order to become eligible for the first discount tier, instead of 3,000. The cheapest tier is accessible at 90,000 points instead of 100,000.

The TMCH has also doubled the number of bonus points awarded for submitting trademarks during the “early bird” phase, which runs until the first new gTLD sunrise period begins, making it easier to hit discount milestones.

TMCH Cost CalculatorAccording to the Trademark Clearinghouse Cost Calculator, which has been updated with the new numbers, savings could be substantial.

For example, a submission agent that submits 10,000 marks for five-year registrations during the early bird period will pay $5,232,125, which is $742,950 cheaper than under the old pricing scheme.

That would be an average cost of $104.64 per mark per year, compared to $119.50 under the old regime.

A listing in the TMCH is a prerequisite if a trademark owner wants to participate in new gTLD sunrise periods or take advantage of the Trademark Claims cybersquatting alert service.

We gather that the price reductions came largely as a result of feedback from registrars that plan to act as submission agents, rather than from trademark owners themselves.

Comment Tagged: , , ,

ICANN to adopt most of the new gTLD “strawman”

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has given a boost to trademark owners by saying it will implement most of the controversial “strawman” solution to extend protections under the new gTLD program.

In a video just posted to ICANN’s web site, CEO Fadi Chehade said that Claims 2 and the Limited Preventative Registrations proposals have been thrown out for the moment as matters requiring policy work.

But many more aspects of the strawman have been classed as “implementation” and will go ahead.

This means:

  • A mandatory 30-day notice period before sunrises begin.
  • Trademark Claims extended from 60 to 90 days.
  • Tradermark owners will be able to add up to 50 confusingly similar strings to each of their Trademark Clearinghouse records, provided the string had been part of a successful UDRP complaint.

Chehade said:

We are going to implement a 30 day notice period before each sunrise. We’re also going to extend the Trademark Claims period from 60 to 90 days. The Claims 2 period which was discussed frankly did not receive a lot of support from many of you so we’re going to let that go for now.

And then finally there was a lot of discussion about extending the Trademark Claims protection to abuse names and after much debate on whether this is a new program or an extension of what we’re doing we came to the conclusion it is an implementation extension and we will move forward with that.

In the video, Chehade also says that ICANN is on track to start publishing the first results of new gTLD initial evaluations this Friday, as expected.

But he warned that if applicants and registrars do not agree on the proposed Registry Agreement and Registrar Accreditation Agreement, ICANN might miss its April 23 deadline for approving the first gTLDs.

He said:

Let me be clear: if we do not come together towards an agreement on these things we might experience a delay in the program, which I have committed to you that we will be ready for on April 23rd. So from an ICANN staff standpoint and operations standpoint we remain ready to request new gTLDs for delegation on April 23rd. But without these agreements we might experience a delay.

He directly referenced the massive sticking point in these discussions: the fact that ICANN wants to introduce a unilateral right of amendment into both contracts.

Here’s the full video:

6 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Did Uniregistry over-sell the auction antitrust risk?

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2013, Domain Registries

Uniregistry’s revelation that it believes private auctions to resolve new gTLD contention sets may be illegal — based on its talks with the US Department of Justice — has caused widespread angst.

Following yesterday’s news, some commentators — some interested — questioned the company’s motive for revealing that Justice had declined to give private auctions a clean bill of health under antitrust law.

Others wondered whether Justice had been given the full facts, whether it had understood the new gTLD program, and whether Uniregistry had accurately reported Justice’s advice.

Given that yesterday’s piece was straight news, I figured it might be good to delve a little deeper into the situation and, yes, indulge in some quite shameless speculation.

What is it that Uniregistry is saying?

Here’s the argument, as I understand it.

“Bid-rigging” is illegal in many countries, including ICANN’s native US, where the Department of Justice prosecutes it fairly often, securing billions of dollars in damages and sometimes criminal sentences.

More often than not, it seems, the prosecutions are related to government contracts, where agencies are looking for a company to carry out a job of work for the lowest possible price.

Bid-rigging emerges when contractors decide among themselves who is going to win the contract. If two contracts are up for grabs, two companies may agree to submit separate high-ball bids so that they can guarantee getting one contract each.

This, of course, inflates the price the government agency pays for the work. There’s no true competition, so prices are artificially high, harming the tax-payer. That’s why it’s illegal.

The ICANN new gTLD program is a bit different, of course.

First, ICANN isn’t a government agency. While it has quasi-governmental powers, it’s a private corporation. Second, it’s looking for high bids, not low bids. Third, it doesn’t care if it doesn’t see any money.

There can be little doubt that private auctions technically harm ICANN, because the winning bidder’s money would be divided up between applicants rather than flowing into ICANN’s coffers.

Uniregistry seems to believe that a new gTLD applicant signing a private auction agreement — basically, competitors agreeing to pay or be paid to decide who wins a contract — that takes money out of ICANN’s pocket could be considered illegal collusion.

But ICANN has stated regularly that it prefers applicants to work out their contention sets privately, explicitly endorsing private auctions and/or applicant buy-outs.

ICANN, it seems, doesn’t care if it is harmed.

According to Uniregistry, however, that doesn’t matter. Its view, following its conversations with Justice, is that what ICANN says is completely irrelevant: the law’s the law.

As the company said yesterday:

the Department emphasized that no private party, including ICANN, has the authority to grant to any other party exemptions to, or immunity from, the antitrust laws. The decision means that the Department of Justice reserves its right to prosecute and/or seek civil penalties from persons or companies that participate in anti-competitive schemes in violation of applicable antitrust laws.

In other words, just because it’s very unlikely that ICANN would start filing antitrust suits against new gTLD applicants, the DoJ could feasibly decide to do so anyway.

Why would it do so? Well, consider that the thing ICANN is auctioning is a spot in the DNS root server, and the root server is ultimately controlled by the US Department of Commerce…

ICANN may not care about the money, but the thing it is selling off “belongs” to the United States government.

That’s the argument as I understand it, anyway.

Isn’t this all a bit self-serving?

Uniregistry’s press release and DI’s blog post yesterday were met with disappointment (to put it mildly) among some new gTLD applicants, auction providers and others.

They noted that Uniregistry had no documentary evidence to back up information it attributed to Justice. Some accused DI of reporting Uniregistry’s statement without sufficient skepticism.

It seems to be true that the company has not been a big fan of private auctions since the concept was first floated.

Uniregistry has applied for 54 new gTLDs, the majority of which are contested. Its main competitors are Donuts, with 37 contention sets, and Top Level Domain Holdings, with 21.

Who wins these contention sets depends on who has the most money and how much they’re prepared to pay.

Unlike Donuts, Uniregistry hasn’t gone to deep-pocketed venture capital firms. It’s reportedly funded to the tune of $60 million out of CEO Frank Schilling’s own pocket.

And unlike TLDH, which is listed on London’s Alternative Investment Market, Uniregistry doesn’t have access to the public markets to raise money. It seems to be better-funded, however.

Donuts raised $100 million to fund its new gTLD ambitions. It’s more than Schilling claims to have put into Uniregistry, but Donuts has spent much more on application fees.

Donuts is involved in 307 applications, many more than Uniregistry’s 54.

The money remaining for auctions is also spread much thinner with Donuts. It’s also in 158 contention sets, more than three times as many as than Uniregistry’s 45.

Private auctions arguably benefit Donuts because, depending on the auction model, it could reinvest the money it raises by losing an auction into a future auction. Its VC money would last longer.

The same logic applies to all applicants, but it becomes more of a pressing issue if you’re on a tight budget or have a large number of applications.

Uniregistry may have calculated that it stands a better chance of winning more contention sets against Donuts and TLDH if its competitors don’t get the chance to stuff their war chests.

Of course, Uniregistry could have simply refused to participate in private auctions in order to force an ICANN auction in its own contention sets. All new gTLD applicants have that power.

But by publicizing its antitrust concerns too, it may have also torpedoed private auctions for some contention sets that it’s not involved in.

That could limit the amount of money flowing from losing auctions to its competitors.

Another theory that has been put forwards is that Uniregistry went public with its Justice conversations — over-selling the risk, perhaps — in order to give its competitors’ investors jitters.

That might potentially reduce the capital available to them at auction, keeping auction prices down.

So did Uniregistry stand to benefit from playing up the risk of antitrust actions against new gTLD applicants? Probably.

Does it mean that its interpretation of its Department of Justice conversations is not completely accurate? Ask a lawyer.

16 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

DoJ says new gTLD private auctions might be illegal

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2013, Domain Registries

Companies hoping to resolve their new gTLD contention sets via private auction are about to get a rude awakening: according to the US Department of Justice, they might be illegal.

Portfolio applicant Uniregistry, the company founded by domainer Frank Schilling, said today that the DoJ has told it that:

arrangements by which private parties agree to resolve gTLD string contentions solely to avoid a public auction present antitrust issues.

The company contacted the department last October to get a “business review” decision, basically asking the DoJ for an assurance that it would not be prosecuted if it participated in a private auction.

The DoJ refused to give that assurance.

Uniregistry counsel Bret Fausett told DI that private auctions might be seen as “bid rigging”, an illegal practice in which competitors fix the awarding of contracts.

Schilling said that Uniregistry asked the DoJ for its advice because “we don’t want to go to jail”.

According to the company:

On March 18, 2013, Uniregistry was informed that the Department of Justice has declined to issue a business review of various private gTLD contention resolution mechanisms. In making its decision, the Department emphasized that no private party, including ICANN, has the authority to grant to any other party exemptions to, or immunity from, the antitrust laws. The decision means that the Department of Justice reserves its right to prosecute and/or seek civil penalties from persons or companies that participate in anti-competitive schemes in violation of applicable antitrust laws.

New gTLD applicants are now being advised to consult their own lawyers before participating in a private auction.

The news will come as a huge blow to companies such as Right Of The Dot and Cramton Associates, which have been at the forefront of pushing the private auction concept to applicants.

It’s also going to be a massive blow to any company that had banked on getting a pay-off to withdraw their applications following a private auction.

The benefit of private auctions — over the ICANN-managed auctions of last resort — is that the losing applicants get a share of the winning applicant’s winning bid.

In an ICANN auction, all the money goes to ICANN, which has promised to use to money to fund worthy causes.

Uniregistry has issued a press release on its talks with the DoJ here (pdf).

24 Comments Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Tempted by the Caesar solution [Guest Post]

The ICANN leadership is in a hurry, so to get things done, it is cutting corners.

One such attempt at going straight around a bend, the proposed changes to the new gTLD registry contract giving the ICANN Board unilateral right of amendment, has raised the registries’ ire.

ICANN’s other group of contracted parties (i.e. entities that must contract directly with ICANN to operate), the registrars, are also up in arms following ICANN’s inclusion of the same proposal at the eleventh hour of ongoing negotiations on their contract.

ICANN’s new leadership team, headed by newly appointed CEO Fadi Chehadé, has been rightly praised since he took office in the second half of 2012. This team has a business background, and it is attempting to apply business logic and business solutions to a number of obvious problems with ICANN.

The main one is predictability. ICANN is just not good at setting timelines, or keeping to those timelines it does manage to set.

In the past, that used to be annoying to stakeholders. But since the Board approved the new gTLD program in 2008, this trait has become excruciating.

This program has spawned a new industry, bought new interests into the ICANN environment, generated large-scale investments on the premise of future TLDs, and shone the spotlight on ICANN’s weaknesses to such business ventures.

Having a constantly slipping timeline as the new gTLD program did through much of its implementation phase, from that 2008 Board green light to the June 2011 Board resolution finally turning it into an operational reality, is a nightmare for any business.

So trying to fix this is a worthy goal. But the ICANN model is not only about business. It is first and foremost about community-driven policy-development and oversight. The new gTLD program is the result of such a process. One that the new ICANN leadership is finding cumbersome enough to want to cut through.

There have been a few mistakes made in this area in the last few months, but they seemed like honest missteps from a motivated team of result-getters. A team that apologized for those mistakes when they became apparent. A welcome change at ICANN.

But now, almost six months into the new leadership’s reign the veil is starting to lift and the leadership’s real visage to appear.

Last week, ICANN’s policymaking body for gTLDs, the GNSO, was unanimous in its denunciation of the leadership’s attempts at making the ICANN train go faster than it was engineered to.

During the GNSO Council’s monthly teleconference, the various groups that make up the GNSO’s diverse community all seemed to speak with one voice.

In a blog post written after the call and entitled “Clearing Up the Logjam: Time for ICANN to Drop Request for a Unilateral Right to Amend the Agreements”, GNSO Councillor Jeff Neuman, a representative of the Registry Stakeholder Group and a past Vice Chair of the Council, said the following:

A very rare thing happened in the GNSO Council meeting this week—the ICANN community spoke with one voice. Registries, registrars, non-commercial interests, new TLD applicants, IP owners and businesses unanimously and unambiguously agreed that giving ICANN a “unilateral right to amend” the registry and registrar agreements is not compatible with ICANN’s bottom-up processes and poses a fundamental threat to the multi-stakeholder model. There is true consensus that this change should be rejected.

ICANN COO Akram Attalah participated in the GNSO Council meeting and explained that this was not a done deal and that the leadership was in listening mode.

Except it all seems to be going in one ear and out the other.

A couple of days later, on March 15, ICANN Staff gave the Council an unofficial response by publishing a paper in which it explains its rationale for the unilateral change suggestion. It says:

The Board-approved amendment process is drafted to address a key concern of ICANN in this changing marketplace. What if the gTLD registration market develops in a way that is anticonsumer, yet very favorable to the existing registries or registrars. In this situation, it would be against the business interests of the incumbent registries or registrars to adopt a change – even when the broader community supports the change. Particularly in light of the “perpetual” renewal terms that are already in place within the proposed agreements, this limited power of the Board is the only way to introduce this type of change over the life of the agreements.

The real message is clear. The current leadership does not trust the ICANN multi-stakeholder bottom-up policy development process. Period.

So in cases of extreme necessity, the Board must have absolute power to enact the changes it sees fit. Experienced ICANN community member and former GNSO Council Chair Avri Doria calls this leadership’s tenure ICANN 3.0, and charts ICANN’s progress thus: “ICANN 1.0 – Democracy, ICANN 2.0 – Oligarchy, ICANN 3.0 – Imperium.”

Is a term which describes the absolute power given to the rulers of ancient Rome suited to ICANN? Of course not. But if a little caricature can help turn the ICANN leadership away from this temptation to get things done at all costs, then maybe it is needed.

This is a guest post by domain name industry consultant Stephane Van Gelder of Stephane Van Gelder Consulting. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.

2 Comments Tagged: , , , ,

Del Monte v Del Monte is the first new gTLD trademark objection

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2013, Domain Registries

Two companies trading under the name Del Monte are involved in the first-to-be-revealed Legal Rights Objection, over the .delmonte gTLD, under the new gTLD program.

The World Intellectual Property Organization revealed the LRO — expected to be the first of many — this evening.

The applicant for .delmonte is a subsidiary of Fresh Del Monte Produce, Inc. The objector is Del Monte Corp.

Both companies are primarily known for canning fruit. According to Wikipedia, Fresh Del Monte was spun off from Del Monte in 1989 and continues to have a licensing arrangement to use the brand.

The deal apparently doesn’t extend to playing nicely over gTLDs, however.

Del Monte does business at delmonte.com, while Fresh Del Monte lives at freshdelmonte.com.

Legal Rights Objections allow trademark owners to challenge gTLD applications that look too much like their marks. It looks like Del Monte has a pretty good case, on the face of it.

3 Comments Tagged: , , , , ,

New gTLD registry hopeful CentralNic taken out by “total power failure”

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2013, Domain Registries

Emerging new gTLD back-end player CentralNic today suffered a two-hour blackout of its registry systems, due to a “total power failure” at its data center.

Its registry, which handles subdomain services such as uk.com and gb.com and the ccTLD .la, was offline from 0930 to 1130 UTC this morning, the company said.

Even though the company has all the necessary backup precautions you’d expect from a total-uptime domain name registry, for some reason they failed to kick in, it seems.

CentralNic said:

The data centre is equipped with fully resilient power supply including N+1 redundant [Uninterruptible Power Supply] arrays and backup diesel generators, and the exact cause of the outage, and why the UPS and diesel generator system did not take over to maintain power, is not yet known.

The company is the named back-end provider for 60 gTLD applications, including a handful of dot-brands.

Coming so soon before ICANN starts the pre-delegation testing of registry providers, the outage is embarrassing to say the least.

5 Comments Tagged: , ,