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Surprise! Verisign to increase .net fees

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2012, Domain Registries

Verisign has just announced that it will increase its .net registry fee by 10% next year.

The changes, which will become effective July 1, 2013, see the charge for a one-year registration increase from $5.11 to $5.62.

The increase, which is permitted under Verisign’s contract with ICANN, was inevitable given the fact that the company has just lost the right to increase .com prices.

US Department of Commerce intervention in .com means that prices there are frozen for the next six years, so Verisign can be relied upon to seize every alternative growth opportunity available to it.

The last time .net’s fee was increased was January 2012, when it went up by 10% to the current $5.11.

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Two ICANN directors update their conflicts profile after .africa complaint

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN directors Mike Silber and Chris Disspain have updated their official statements of interest — used to identify potential conflicts on the board — after a complaint from a .africa applicant.

The new SOI statement more clearly specifies the relationship between South African ccTLD policymaker ZADNA — for which Silber acts as treasurer — and Uniforum, which has applied for the .africa gTLD.

(December 28 Update: Silber, in the comments below, states that the update to his SOI was in no way a response to the DCA complaint.)

It also gives a bit more information about Disspain’s employer, .au policymaker AuDA, and ARI Registry Services, which is providing the back-end registry services for dozens of new gTLD applicants.

Here’s Silber’s new SOI summary, with the relevant new text highlighted:

Member of the Management Committee and Treasurer of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) South Africa. He is also, a Director and Treasurer of the .za Domain Name Authority, the ccTLD administrator for .za. The .za Domain Name Authority has concluded an arms-length operating agreement with Uniforum t/a the .za Central Registry for Uniforum to operate the .za registry. Under the agreement, Uniforum will collect and pay transaction fees to .za Domain Name Authority. Uniforum is acting as the registry service provider for various new gTLD applicants.

Here’s Disspain’s, again with my emphasis:

Director and CEO of .au Domain Administration Limited, the .au ccTLD manager; .au has sponsorship agreement with ICANN under which .au pays ICANN a yearly amount based on the amount of names under management. Former Officer of ICANN, Paul Levins, is a Director of .au Domain Administration Limited. .au Domain Administration Limited licenses AusRegistry Pty Ltd to run the registry for the second level names in .au. Under the Registry License agreement, AusRegistry pays fees to auDA; companies affiliated with AusRegistry are affiliated with new gTLD applications.

AusRegistry is technically ARI’s parent, but they share many of the same senior executives.

The updated statement comes shortly after a complaint filed with ICANN’s Ombudsman by .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica about Silber and Disspain’s alleged conflicts of interest over the gTLD.

While the indirect connection between Silber and DCA’s rival .africa applicant Uniforum is clear, it was not obvious to Ombudsman Chris LaHatte what Disspain’s conflict was supposed to be.

LaHatte found no actions that constituted conflicts of interest from either director, but he appeared to nudge the board to providing fuller disclosure, which is what seems to have happened here.

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Amazon, Uniregistry, Verisign… here’s who won the new gTLDs lottery

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2012, Domain Services

Amazon, Uniregistry and Verisign were among the luckiest companies competing in yesterday’s New gTLD Prioritization Draw, our preliminary analysis indicates.

ICANN spent nine and a half hours last night pulling lottery tickets from a drum in order to determine the order in which it will evaluate, negotiate and delegate new gTLD bids.

Applicants representing 1,766 applications bought tickets, a 92% turnout. Internationalized domain names were given special priority, but all other participants were treated equally.

A few hundred people — including Santa Claus, there to represent Uniregistry’s .christmas bid — showed up, with many more participating remotely.

Not many people stayed the course, however. In introductory remarks, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade promised that the Draw would be “as boring as possible”, and it kept to his promise.

“I think it went really well,” ICANN’s new new gTLD program manager, Christine Willett, told DI today.

“I think people were really pleased and pleasantly surprised with how transparent it was,” she said. “We could have done it much faster electronically, but it wouldn’t have been as transparent.”

I’ve spent much of today drilling into the results of The Draw, using the DI PRO New gTLD Application Tracker, and here are some of my findings.

Uniregistry won the most contention sets.

Uniregistry, the portfolio applicant owned by domainer Frank Schilling, won more contention sets, in percentage terms, than other volume applicants.

This table shows the performance of the top 10 applicants (as measured by the number of contention sets they’re in).

ApplicantSetsWon%TLDs Won
Donuts1585736.08.college .tires .memorial .trading .doctor .mobile .phone .data .city .casino .school .realty .auto .coach .theater .broadway .realestate .film .eco .fyi .site .help .coupons .ski .search .salon .studio .rent .red .racing .radio .plus .photography .money .team .loans .gifts .flowers .vote .juegos .jewelry .wine .娱乐 .guide .garden .free .football .energy .discount .construction .church .charity .boats .beauty .baseball .band .audio
Google581220.69.diy .family .docs .lol .fun .pet .show .vip .talk .drive .mom .moto
Top Level Domain Holdings561628.57.style .book .home .llc .store .love .lawyer .law .dog .deals .casa .science .review .网址 .dds .country
Famous Four Media501530.00.tennis .golf .basketball .poker .run .taxi .hockey .diet .delivery .cricket .chat .bingo .cam .fit .sport
Uniregistry451737.78.inc .sale .art .tech .shopping .restaurant .property .hosting .yoga .gratis .video .furniture .fashion .cars .auction .save .gift
Amazon351028.57.buy .cloud .play .you .group .yun .wow .dev .deal .coupon
Directi28828.57.online .movie .hotel .blog .ping .website .world .click
Afilias Limited16212.50.app .mls
NU DOT CO LLC13215.38.design .web
Demand Media10330.00.rip .map .fishing

Getting the best draw number in a contention set is of course not indicative of any skill or of the quality of the applications, it just means the applicant got lucky.

Neither is it an indication of whether the applicant is likely to ultimately win their contention set; myriad other factors are in play.

There may even be some advantages to poorer draw numbers. We’ll get to that later.

Amazon is the luckiest portfolio applicant.

Amazon was the most successful applicant in the Draw of any company applying for 20 or more gTLDs, as measured by average prioritization numbers.

ApplicantAverage Priority
Amazon777
Afilias878
TLDH909
United TLD (Demand Media)910
Donuts946
Uniregistry961
Directi (Radix)994
Google (Charleston Road Registry)1,050
Famous Four Media1,222

The average for each applicant is of course affected positively by the number of IDN applications it filed, and negatively by the number of applications for which it opted out by not buying a ticket.

Amazon applied for 11 IDNs, increasing its average score, while Google did not buy tickets for 24 of its applications, substantially reducing its portfolio’s mean priority.

Likewise, Famous Four Media did not buy tickets for 12 of its applications.

Dot-brands fared less well, on average, than open gTLDs.

Single-registrant TLDs (which includes dot-brands and generic strings with single-registrant models, such as Google’s .blog application) had an average priority of 983, compared to 921 for TLDs we’ve identified as having “open” registration policies.

Verisign’s clients did better than most other registry back-ends.

Of the registry back-end providers named in more than 20 applications, China’s KNET fared best, with an average draw number of 328, according to our data. That’s to be expected of course, due to the inherent bias in the process towards IDN applications.

Of the rest, Verisign topped the list at 913 (to be expected again, given its own dozen IDN gTLD applications), followed closely by KSRegistry at 915. Minds + Machines got 930, Demand Media 942, Internet Systems Consortium 947 and Neustar 953.

OpenRegistry was unluckiest, with an average of 1,207, preceded by Google with 1,050 and GMO Registry with 1,027. CORE scored 1,000, ARI Registry Services 1,007, CentralNic 983 and Afilias 994.

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Santa Claus shows up to ICANN new gTLD raffle

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2012, Gossip

ICANN’s New gTLD Prioritization Draw has an unexpected visitor.

Santa Claus himself has showed up, apparently as a representative of Uniregistry’s uncontested bid for .christmas.

Santa

Here he is fraternizing in the lobby of the LA airport Hilton with ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis.

And here he is with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

Santa

The surprise* guest is believed to be responsible for all the sherry missing from ICANN media chief Brad White’s mini-bar.

The Draw kicks off at 1pm California time (9pm UTC) today and is expected to last at least eight hours.

*It may not have been a total surprise, given that Santa appears to have sensibly preregistered for the event.

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Another deadline missed in registrar contract talks

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2012, Domain Registrars

ICANN and domain name registrars will fail to agree on a new Registrar Accreditation Agreement by the end of the year, ICANN has admitted.

In a statement Friday, ICANN said that it will likely miss its end-of-year target for completing the RAA talks:

While the registrars and ICANN explored potential dates for negotiation in December 2012, both sides have agreed that between holidays, difficult travel schedules and the ICANN Prioritization Draw for New gTLDs, a December meeting is not feasible. Therefore, negotiations will resume in January 2013, and the anticipated date for publication of a draft RAA for community comment will be announced in January as well.

The sticking point appears to still be the recommendations for strengthening registrars’ Whois accuracy commitments, as requested by law enforcement agencies and governments.

At the Toronto meeting in October, progress appeared to have been made on all 12 of the LEA recommendations, but the nitty-gritty of the Whois verification asks had yet to be ironed out.

Potentially confusing matters, ICANN has launched a parallel root-and-branch Whois policy reform initiative, a community process which may come to starkly different conclusions to the RAA talks.

Before the LEA issues are settled, ICANN doesn’t want to start dealing with requests for RAA changes from the registrars themselves, which include items such as dumping their “burdensome” port 43 Whois obligations for gTLD registries that have thick Whois databases.

ICANN said Friday:

Both ICANN and the registrars have additional proposed changes which have not yet been negotiated. As previously discussed, it has been ICANN’s position that the negotiations on key topics within the law enforcement recommendations need to come to resolution prior to concluding negotiations on these additional areas.

Registrars agreed under duress to start renegotiating the RAA following a public berating from the Governmental Advisory Committee at the ICANN Dakar meeting October 2011.

At the time, the law enforcement demands had already been in play for two years with no substantial progress. Following Dakar, ICANN and the registrars said they planned to have a new RAA ready by March 2012.

Judging by the latest update, it seems quite likely that the new RAA will be a full year late.

ICANN has targeted the Beijing meeting in April next year for approval of the RAA. It’s one of the 12 targets Chehade set himself following Toronto.

Given that the draft agreement will need a 42-day public comment period first, talks are going to have to conclude before the end of February if there’s any hope of hitting that deadline.

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ICANN drops .jobs shut-down threat

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN has withdrawn its breach notice against .jobs registry Employ Media, opening the floodgates for third-party job listings services in the gTLD.

In a letter sent to the company earlier this week, ICANN seems to imply that it was wrong when it threatened in February 2011 to shut down .jobs for breaking the terms of its registry agreement:

ICANN has concluded that Employ Media is not currently in breach, but is instead in good standing under the Registry Agreement, with respect to the issues raised in the 27 February 2011 Notice of Breach letter.

ICANN will not seek to impose restrictions on new or existing policy initiatives within .JOBS as long as such conduct is consistent with the .JOBS Charter and the terms of the Registry Agreement.

The surprising move presumably means that Employ Media will be dropping its Independent Review Panel proceeding against ICANN, which was due to start in-person hearings next month.

The original breach notice alleged that the registry had gone too far when it sold thousands of generic domain names to the DirectEmployers Association to use for jobs listings sites.

This .Jobs Universe project saw DirectEmployers launch sites such as newyork.jobs and nursing.jobs.

The project was criticized harshly by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, an ad hoc group of jobs sites including Monster.com, which lobbied ICANN to enforce the .jobs contract.

The .jobs gTLD was originally supposed to be for companies to advertise only their own job openings.

The reasoning behind ICANN’s change of heart now is a little fuzzy.

Ostensibly, it’s because it received a letter December 3 from the Society for Human Resources Management, Employ Media’s policy-setting “sponsoring organization”.

The letter states that all of DirectEmployers’ domain names are perfectly okay registrations — “being used consistently with the terms of the .JOBS Charter” — and have been since the .Jobs Universe project started.

The domain names were all registered by DirectEmployers executive William Warren, who is a SHRM member as required by .jobs policy, the letter states.

Nothing seems to have changed here — it’s been Employ Media and SHRM’s position all along that the registrations were legit.

So did ICANN merely sense defeat in the IRP case and get cold feet?

Read the letters here.

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Chehade kicks off massive Whois review

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has started the ball rolling on its potentially radical rethink of how Whois works with formation of a new “Expert Working Group” tasked with examining the issue.

As ICANN chair Steve Crocker told DI last month, this is the first stage of a root-and-branch reexamination of Whois databases, what they’re for, and how they’re accessed.

According to ICANN, which is referring to Whois as “gTLD registration data” presumably to avoid confusion with the Whois technical standard, the group will:

1) define the purpose of collecting and maintaining gTLD registration data, and consider how to safeguard the data, and

2) provide a proposed model for managing gTLD directory services that addresses related data accuracy and access issues, while taking into account safeguards for protecting data.

Whatever the new Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services comes up with between January and April next year will be punted to the Generic Names Supporting Organization for an ICANN board-mandated Policy Development Process.

The PDP could create policies binding on gTLD registries and registrars.

Jean-Francois Baril has been hand-picked to chair the group. He has no connection to the domain name industry but appears to have worked with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade on the RosettaNet standards-setting project.

Crocker and fellow ICANN director Chris Disspain will also join the group.

ICANN wants volunteers to fill the other positions and it seems to be eager to find outsiders who do not already represent entrenched ICANN constituency positions, saying:

Volunteer working group members should: have significant operational knowledge and experience with WHOIS, registrant data, or directory services; be open to new ideas and willing to forge consensus; be able to think strategically and navigate conflicting views; have a record of fostering improvements and delivering results; have a desire to create a new model for gTLD directory services; and be able to volunteer approximately 12-20 hours a month during January – April 2013 to the working group.

Individuals who have worked extensively in the areas of registration data collection, access, accuracy, use, privacy, security, law enforcement, and standards and protocols are also encouraged to consider working group membership. As the working group will be a collection of experts, it is not expected to be comprised solely of representatives of current ICANN community interests. Although members may not come directly from ICANN structures, the working group will have a deep understanding of, and concern for, the ICANN communities’ interests.

Obviously law enforcement and intellectual property interests will be keen to make sure they’re amply represented in the group, as will registries/registrars and privacy advocates.

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ICM seizes on Google’s porn algorithm change

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Registries

Grasping the opportunity for a bit of easy publicity, ICM Registry has seized upon a recent Google algorithm change to promote its .xxx gTLD’s brand.

It was reported earlier this week that Google has made it harder to accidentally stumble across sexually explicit imagery in Google Images by making its Safe Search filtering mandatory in the US.

The company defended itself from cries of censorship by pointing out that porn could still be found, as long as you are a bit more “explicit” about what it is you’re looking for, telling CNet:

If you’re looking for adult content, you can find it without having to change the default setting — you just may need to be more explicit in your query if your search terms are potentially ambiguous.

Now ICM is plugging .xxx as a “workaround” to this problem, saying in a press release today:

one can simply type a description of whatever porn one wants into any search bar followed by the letters “XXX.” Results are instant and on target. For example, if one is looking for adult content that includes a mainstream generic word like “Toys,” simply enter the search term “Toys XXX” and problem solved.

ZDNet gave similar advice in an article this week, and ICM says that traffic to its own search engine, search.xxx, saw a 50% spike in the last 24 hours as a result.

Could this be a portent for changes in user search behavior in the age of niche new gTLDs?

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Seven new gTLD applications withdrawn, two after GAC Early Warnings

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Registries

Seven more new gTLD applications have been officially withdrawn from the ICANN evaluation process, two of which were recently hit with governmental warnings, bringing the total to 13.

The applications yanked since DI’s last update are:

.ansons (CBM Creative Brands Marken GmbH)
.caremore (WellPoint, Inc)
.glean (Lifestyle Domain Holdings, Inc)
.gmbh (GMBH Registry, LLC)
.hilton (HLT Stakis IP Limited)
.skolkovo (Fund for Development of the Center for Elaboration and Commercialization of New Technologies)
.swiss (Swiss International Air Lines Ltd)

The withdrawal of .swiss means that a contention set is now no longer a contention set.

The other .swiss applicant is the Swiss government itself, which filed a Governmental Advisory Committee Early Warning against its rival last month and is now pretty much guaranteed a win.

The latest withdrawals also thin the field for .gmbh, reducing the number of applicants from six to five.

All of the .gmbh applications received GAC Early Warnings from Germany. The country is concerned that only legal GmbH entities — equivalent to “Ltd” or “LLC” companies — should be able to own these domains.

The .hilton, .glean, .ansons, and .caremore applications were all dot-brands.

So, to an extent, was .skolkovo. Skolkovo is an emerging high-technology campus outside of Moscow with big intentions to become the Russian Silicon Valley. It’s not known why its bid was pulled.

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Deloitte confirmed as first Trademark Clearinghouse provider

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has signed a contract with Deloitte, making the company the first official trademark validation agent for the forthcoming new gTLDs Trademark Clearinghouse.

The news emerged in a blog post from ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade today.

The TMCH is going to use the registry-registrar model, with IBM acting as the centralized, sole-source database operator, and Deloitte acting as the first “registrar”.

Marks entered into the TMCH will be eligible for Trademark Claims notifications and, in cases where proof of use has been provided, Sunrise registrations.

Chehade confirmed that Deloitte can charge a maximum of $150 per trademark per year, with discounts available for multiple marks and multiple years.

IBM’s contract and associated fees have not yet been set, due largely to the fact that the TMCH implementation model is still the subject of debate and controversy.

ICANN has confirmed, however, that it will retain “all intellectual property rights” to data stored in the Clearinghouse, meaning it may be able to migrate the database to a different provider in future.

Chehade also confirmed that ICANN has received “multiple” responses to its Request For Information for a Uniform Rapid Suspension service provider that come in under its $500-per-case price target.

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