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Two more new gTLD bids dropped

Uniregistry and LʹOréal, two of the highest profile new gTLD applicants, both withdrew applications today.

Uniregistry has pulled out of the .marketing race, leaving it a two-way battle between Tucows and Donuts. It’s the first application withdrawn by the company, which has applied for 54 gTLDs.

Its .marketing bid was due to get its Initial Evaluation results today. By withdrawing before this happens, the company gets a much bigger refund from ICANN.

LʹOréal, meanwhile, has withdrawn is fourth dot-brand, .maybelline, which is due its IE results next week. The company has 10 applications, a mixture of brands and closed generics, outstanding.

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Nominet fires CCO over baby death “cover-up”

Nominet has terminated its recently appointed chief commercial officer, Jill Finney, who was today alleged to have been involved in the “cover-up” of baby deaths at a British hospital.

The allegations concern Finney’s previous job as deputy CEO of the Care Quality Commission, which regulates the UK’s National Health Service.

According to reports today, Finney was one of three people responsible for suppressing an internal CQC report detailing its own failure to spot problems at a maternity unit.

Poor standards of care at the hospital in question led to the deaths of as many as 16 babies and two mothers, the Guardian reported today.

It’s a big story in the UK, where a tendency for NHS executives to put the reputations of their hospitals over transparency and patient care has become a political football.

In a statement, Nominet, which regularly faces its own complaints about transparency and accountability, said:

The increasing public scrutiny over our CCO’s former role at CQC has made it impossible for her to continue with her role and responsibilities at Nominet.

With regret, we felt it necessary to terminate Jill Finney’s employment with immediate effect. Ms Finney will be paid one month’s salary in lieu of notice.

Finney joined Nominet directly from the CQC in February. Her name had been associated with transparency failures at the CQC even then, which made the hire seem odd at the time.

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Next new gTLD auction set for August 13

Innovative Auctions today announced that its second new gTLD auction is scheduled for August 13 and that several companies have already signed up to participate.

The news follows the settlement of the first round of auctions, which saw $9.01 million shared between losing applicants and Innovative for the rights to six new gTLD strings.

“[A]ll of the participants from this auction who have additional strings in contention have signed on to use the process to resolve their remaining contentions,” Innovative said.

That would mean Afilias, Merchant Law Group and XYZ.com, which took part in this month’s auctions, are all likely to attempt to settle their outstanding contention sets with Innovative.

That’s another roughly 40 strings on top of Donuts’ already-committed monster portfolio.

Of course, the auctions will only be able to go ahead if all of the other applicants in each contention set also agree to participate, which in some cases will be a non-starter.

The money from the first auctions has already been distributed to the losing applicants, according to Innovative.

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Tickets on sale for newdomains.org conference

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2013, Domain Services

After a year’s hiatus, the newdomains.org conference organized by United-Domains is back this October.

Registration has now opened for the two-day event, which is entirely focused on the new gTLD market. The agenda is still forming and United is looking for speakers.

The conference will take place in Munich at the Sofitel Munich Bayerpost hotel from October 28 to 29. Unlike the 2011 event, I believe this time the official Oktoberfest jollities will be over.

Early bird registration comes to €583 ($780) when you include VAT. Prices go up to €821 July 15.

Afilias, Verisign, Donuts, PIR, InternetX, Sedo, Nic.at have already signed up to sponsor.

While in 2011 newdomains had to compete with .nxt for your new gTLD conference dollar, this time it’s competing with Momentum’s gTLD Strategy Congress, coming to London in September.

Like .nxt, the first newdomains.org suffered from coming before the Big Reveal and became a bit of a vendor echo chamber as a result, but was nevertheless a breath of fresh air compared to ICANN meetings.

By October we might have seen the first new gTLDs go live, so this year it will likely be a different story. DI will be in attendance.

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Nominet brings back second-level .uk proposal

Nominet has resurrected Direct.uk, its plan to allow people to register domain names directly under .uk.

But the proposal, which was killed off in February, has been significantly revised in response to complaints from domain investors and others.

The idea is one of a collection being announced by Nominet this afternoon.

It’s also proposing to shake up how it accredits .uk registrars and, borrowing a page from the current ICANN playbook, how .uk registrant Whois information is verified.

Second-level domains make a comeback

If the Direct.uk proposal is approved and you own a .co.uk, .me.uk or .org.uk domain name, you’ll get rights to the matching .uk name, according to Nominet COO Eleanor Bradley.

“The registrant of oldest current domain name at the third level will have first right of refusal to register that name at the second level,” she said.

When a .uk is contested by, for example, the owners of matching .co.uk and .org.uk domains, the older registration would win the name.

The clock on registration period is reset to the date of the current registration if the domain has ever dropped before, but not if it’s been transferred between registrants, she said.

This change may settle some of the concerns emerging from the domain investor community, which was outraged by Nominet’s original plan to give trademark holders first rights to .uk names.

Giving the .uk and .co.uk to different people would stand to confuse internet users, they said, not to mention devaluing their portfolios.

It wasn’t just domainers that stood to lose out under the old plan, however.

British domainer Edwin Hayward compiled a some examples of big brands that have invested in generic .co.uk domains but do not own matching trademarks, meaning they would not necessary get the second-level.

Barclays owns bank.co.uk and Kellogg owns breakfast.co.uk, for examples. Under the new Nominet proposal, it looks like these companies would get first dibs on the matching .uk addresses.

“We feel we’re responding to the feedback we heard, but it’s also our strong view that registrations at the second level are really important for what we do to maintain the relevance of .uk going forward,” Bradley said.

Plans to ramp up Whois verification

The revamped plan will also see Nominet drop its demands for mandatory extra security features under second-level .uk names.

Some critics had said that this would ghettoize .co.uk by suggesting it’s not secure.

Instead, the company is proposing blanket Whois verification for the whole of .uk — second and third-level — and a suite of optional security services to be provided in-house and via partners.

The Whois checks will take the form of email verification, in much the same way as ICANN has proposed for gTLDs in its new Registrar Accreditation agreement.

Nominet also plans to check physical mailing addresses against public databases to make sure they’re genuine. This apparently already happens to an extent.

Three tiers of registrar

The company today also unveiled plans for three types of registrar: Self-Managed, Channel Partner and Accredited Channel Partner.

Self-Managed would be domainers and big corporate users that manage their own portfolios. Channel Partners would be the vanilla registrars we know today, and Accredited would have been certified as having a certain level of security and Whois quality, among other things.

Existing registrars could do nothing and become Channel Partners, or migrate to one of the other two tiers, Bradley said.

Those in the Self-Managed and Accredited tiers would get free inter-registrant transfers, she said. Accredited registrars would also be trusted to handle their own Whois verification.

The proposals are still currently proposals, but it sounds like Nominet is determined to get it right this time.

The Direct.uk consultation is not expected to be over until November, so we’re not likely to see any movement until next year.

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Demand Media commits Designs.com to new gTLDs

Demand Media has announced a new web publishing service that it says is designed specifically for new gTLD registrants, at the category-killing domain Designs.com.

Designs.com will provide users with tools to quickly build web sites for their new domains, with no coding experience required, according to the site.

Conceptually, there’s nothing new about selling do-it-yourself web site building services alongside domain names of course; they’ve been around for over a decade.

But Demand says it’s tailoring the product to niche gTLDs, promoting certain features depending on the gTLD string in which the customer has bought. From a press release:

“A consumer using .FAN needs features related to sharing, ‘liking’ and growing a community, while a professional using .ARCHITECT needs features related to a strong visual portfolio and self-promotion,” explained Nick Nelson, general manager of Designs.com for Demand Media. “Until today, tools and templates have been designed for no-one in particular. New gTLDs are for specific audiences, so we must have tools that create a web presence with the same tailored approach, making the website and web address inseparable.”

It’s exactly the kind of marketing effort that new gTLDs are going to need if they’re going to be successful, particularly if they’re targeting greenfield opportunities such as small business owners.

Based on the little we know today, it almost sounds like innovation.

The Designs.com service will be made available via partnering registrars, according to the company. We can only assume that eNom and Name.com are a shoo-ins.

On the registry side, there’s nothing stopping the company adding the service to pretty much every new gTLD for which, as a registrar, it is accredited.

Demand has 26 active new gTLD applications and has rights to buy into about 100 of Donuts’ gTLDs, should they be approved by ICANN and win their contention sets.

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Google beaten in new gTLD contention set

When it comes to new gTLDs, Google is not invulnerable.

Japanese web portal NTT Resonant, a subsidiary of the country’s incumbent national telco, has drawn first blood against the search giant, apparently forcing Google to withdrawn its application for .goo.

NTT has also applied for .goo, the name of its primary portal site, which competes with Google for Japanese-language searchers.

The company had filed a formal legal rights objection with WIPO. The withdrawal demonstrates that the mechanism can protect trademark owners, at least insofar as it can scare off competing applicants.

Google’s bid was marked as withdrawn on ICANN’s web site overnight. It’s the fourth withdrawal from the company, following three misjudged geographic applications, leaving it with 97 active bids.

There are now 82 withdrawn and 1,848 live applications. The maximum number of delegated strings remains steady at 1,365. More program status stats can be found over on DI PRO.

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Verisign steps up anti-gTLD campaign with attack on ICANN’s war chest

Verisign wants ICANN to publish a list of all the reasons it might be sued over the new gTLD program, claiming security and stability risks might be one of them.

In the latest salvo fired in its war against new gTLDs, the company now suggests that the $115 million “risk fund” surplus that ICANN has accumulated is for fending off lawsuits when it breaks the internet.

In a letter (pdf) sent Friday, Verisign asks ICANN to justify the existence of this war chest in light of the fact that it has managed to secure legal indemnities from pretty much everyone involved in the program.

It attempts to link the risk fund to the possible security risks of introducing new gTLDs to the internet, which Verisign has been haranguing ICANN about for the last few months.

“We believe ICANN should be forthcoming about the risks it is shifting and the need for the substantial risk reserve fund, in particular,” the letter, signed by general counsel Richard Goshorn, says.

It’s been well known for a few years that $60,000 of each $185,000 new gTLD application fee was to be allocated to a risk fund created to cover unexpected extra program costs.

The reserve was designed to cover things like underestimating the costs or time needed to evaluate applications, but also, crucially, the lawsuits that ICANN expected but has not yet received.

The cash pile is often to referred to, usually with black humor, as the “legal defense fund”.

Now Verisign seems to be saying that the legal risks are not limited to trademark disputes or the usual antitrust nonsense, but to the security risks ICANN is “transferring” to others.

As we’ve been reporting for the last few months, Verisign has suddenly decided that new gTLDs pose a risk to the internet, largely due to the potential for clashes between newly delegated strings and the unnofficial domains that many organizations already use on their intranets.

For a great discussion on the merits of this argument check out this DI article and comment thread.

With the latest letter, Verisign suggests that ICANN knows it might be sued for messing up corporate intranets, but is keeping that fact quiet.

Referring to a report it issued in March, when its security concerns first emerged, it says:

We believe that ICANN may have established and be maintaining the Risk Reserve in such a high amount in anticipation of significant claims relating to one or more risks identified in the Verisign Report.

If ICANN does get sued on these grounds, the defense cost will effectively have been covered by new gTLD applicants (and therefore their customers, assuming the costs are passed on), Verisign says.

It’s therefore asking for ICANN to disclose the reasons why its risk fund is so big, “in particular, the details regarding what ‘possible litigation’ factored into ICANN’s decisions”.

In other words, Verisign is asking ICANN to publish a list of reasons people might sue it, something I can’t imagine its general counsel agreeing to any time soon.

Is this an effort to shame ICANN into taking its security concerns more seriously, or just more FUD designed to disrupt the new gTLD program and protect its .com dominance?

Opinions, no doubt, will be split.

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Are some new gTLD evaluations getting screwed up?

At least two new gTLD applicants reckon ICANN has screwed up their Initial Evaluation, flunking their applications due to missing or mishandled communications.

Following Friday’s batch of IE results, which saw four failures, one angry applicant got in touch with DI to complain about discrepancies in how his bids were scored.

Dot Registry has applied for five “corporate identifier” strings — .inc, .corp, .ltd, .llc and .llp — and has made decent progress convincing the powers that be that they will be operated responsibly.

On Friday, its .inc bid passed its Initial Evaluation with flying colors while .llc and .ltd were marked as “Eligible For Extended Evaluation”, a polite code phrase for #fail.

Both of the unsuccessful bids scored 0 on question 50, “Funding Critical Registry Functions”, which is an automatic failure no matter what the overall score on the financial evaluation.

Applicants are scored on question 50 from 0 to 3 by showing that they have a “Continuing Operations Instrument” to cover three years of operations in the event that their registry fails.

Most applicants have been submitting letters of credit supplied by their bank, which promise to pay ICANN these emergency funds should the need arise.

A zero score indicates basically that no COI was provided.

But CEO Shaul Jolles claims that Dot Registry submitted a single letter of credit to cover all five applications, later amended at ICANN’s request so that each string in the portfolio was broken out individually.

“We then received a note that they now have whatever they needed and it’s resolved,” he said.

He noted that .inc, which passed on Friday with maximum score of 3, is covered by exactly the same LOC as the two applications that scored a 0, which doesn’t make much sense.

A second applicant, which does not currently wish to be named, has told DI that it failed its financial evaluation on a question for which it received no Clarifying Questions.

CQs are the handy method by which ICANN gave applicants a second shot at getting their applications right. Hundreds have been issued, the vast majority related to financial questions.

The common complaint to both failing applicants is that at no point did ICANN inform the applicant that its application was deficient.

We understand both applicants are currently in touch with ICANN management in order to try to get their predicaments resolved.

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Innovative Auctions hires storied new employee

Kevin Murphy, June 15, 2013, Gossip

Innovative Auctions, which is running private new gTLD auctions, has hired a poker-playing former Google engineer and grandson of Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman.

Patri Friedman becomes the company’s 11th employee, according to an Innovative blog post.

According to his Wikipedia page, Friedman has had some success playing high stakes poker and was once a software engineer for Google, but his most recent gig was with the Seasteading Institute, where he’s still listed as chairman.

Seasteading is an ambitious project to create a floating libertarian nation state off the coast of Northern California, like something out of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Really.

At Innovative, he’ll be in charge of user experience and documentation, which seems quite dull in comparison.

Innovative has so far carried out just six new gTLD auctions. Presumably, it’s expecting to manage many more.

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