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In major snub, Verisign refuses to let ICANN audit .net

Kevin Murphy, January 11, 2013, Domain Registries

Verisign has delivered a significant blow to ICANN’s authority by refusing to take part in its contractual compliance audit program.

The snub runs a risk of scuppering ICANN’s plans to make compliance a cornerstone of its new management’s strategy.

In a letter to ICANN’s compliance department this week, Verisign senior vice president Pat Kane said that the company has no obligation to submit to an audit of .net under its ICANN contract.

Kane wrote:

Verisign has no contractual obligations under its .net Registry Agreement with ICANN to comply with the proposed audit. Absent such express contractual obligations, Verisign will not submit itself to an audit by or at the direction of ICANN of its books and records.

The company is basically refusing to take part in ICANN’s Contractual Compliance Audit Program, a proactive three-year plan to make sure all gTLD registries and accredited registrars are sticking to their contracts.

For registries, the plan calls for ICANN to look at things like compliance with Whois, zone file access, data escrow, monthly reporting, and other policies outlined in the registry agreements.

Verisign isn’t necessarily admitting that it thinks it would not pass the .net audit, but it is sending a strong signal that it believes ICANN’s authority over it has limits.

In the program’s FAQ, ICANN admits that it does not have explicit audit rights over all contracted parties, stating:

What’s the basis for including all contracted parties, when the ‘Right to Audit’ clause isn’t present in 2001 RAA and Registry Agreements?

One of ICANN’s responsibilities is to conduct audits of its agreements in order to ensure that all contracted parties are in compliance with those agreements.

If Verisign is refusing to participate, other registries may decide they don’t want to cooperate either. That wouldn’t look good for ICANN, which has made compliance a key strategic priority.

When Fadi Chehade started as CEO last September, one of his first moves was to promote compliance boss Maguy Serad to vice president, reporting directly to him.

He told DI that he would be “bringing a lot more weight and a lot more independent management from my office to the compliance function”.

At his inaugural address to the community in Prague last June, he spoke of how he planned to bring IBM-style contract management prowess to ICANN.

Compliance is also a frequently raised concern of the Governmental Advisory Committee (though generally geared toward rogue registrars rather than registries).

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Crocker sees new gTLDs going live “towards the end of the year”

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2013, Domain Policy

Not exactly the news that new gTLD applicants wanted to hear.

ICANN chairman Steve Crocker has put a tentative date of “towards the end of the year” for the first approval and delegation of new gTLDs, months later than some applicants were expecting.

In a video interview with ICANN media affairs chief Brad White, reviewing the organization’s goals for the year, Crocker said:

We will see some strings towards the end of the year I think actually approved and perhaps delegated into the root and so it will be interesting to see the how all that comes out what kinds of moves are made.

That time-frame is later than most industry experts speaking to Bloomberg BNA for a recent briefing paper had predicted. Some expected new gTLDs to start hitting the root as early as April.

Better news for applicants came in Crocker’s response to a question about whether ICANN was wedded to its 1,000 delegations-per-year limit, which could artificially throttle some applicants’ plans. He said:

I do not want to suggest that there will be a change, but I suspect there is plenty of capacity to increase that somewhat if it were necessary to do so.

The interview also discusses ICANN’s investment strategy for its new gTLD funds, its meetings strategy for the next few years, and the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (which Crocker said is “nearing completion”).

Watch the whole thing here:

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Fight over new sports gTLDs gets real ugly

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2013, Domain Registries

The battle for contested new gTLDs .rugby and .basketball is turning nasty.

Roar Domains, a New Zealand marketing firm whose gTLD applications are backed by the official international bodies for both sports, is promising to pull out all the stops to kill off its competition.

The company, which is partnered with Minds + Machines on both bids, has told rival portfolio applicant Donuts that it will attack its applications for the two TLDs on at least three fronts.

Notably, Roar wants Donuts disqualified from the entire new gTLD program, and plans to lobby to have Donuts fail its background check.

The company told Donuts last month:

while we have no desire to join the chorus of voices speaking out against Donuts, it is incumbent on us to pursue the automatic disqualification of Applicant Guidebook Section 1.2.1, and every opposition and objection process available to us.

Applicant Guidebook section 1.2.1 deals with background checks.

Donuts came under more scrutiny than most on these grounds during the new gTLDs public comment period last year due to its co-founders being involved at the sharp end of domain investment over the last decade.

Demand Media and eNom, where founder Paul Stahura was a senior executive, have lost many UDRP cases over the years.

A mystery lawyer who refuses to disclose his clients started pursuing Donuts last August, saying the company is “unsuited and ineligible to participate in the new gTLD program.”

Separate (pseudonymous?) public comments fingered a former Donuts director for allegedly cybersquatting the Olympics and Disney.

While Roar has not claimed responsibility for these specific previous attacks, it certainly seems to be planning something similar in future.

In addition, Roar and International Rugby Board, which supports Roar’s application for .rugby, say they plan to official objections with ICANN about rival .rugby bids.

The IRB told Donuts, in a letter shortly before Christmas:

As the global representative of the sport and the only applicant vested with the trust and representation of the rugby community, we are unquestionably the rightful steward of .RUGBY.

Without the support of the global rugby community your commercialization efforts for .RUGBY will be thwarted. We are also preparing an objection to file against your application in accordance with ICANN rules to which you will be required to dedicate resources to formulate a response.

Roar and the IRB are also both lobbying members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, which has the power to file potentially decisive GAC Advice against any application.

Roar told Donuts recently:

Roar serves as the voice and arm for FIBA [the International Basketball Federation] and IRB in the New gTLD area. We are pleased to have obtained four Early Warnings on behalf of our applications, and fully expect the GAC process to be completed to GAC Advice.

The Early Warnings against the two other .rugby applicants were filed by the UK government — the only warnings it filed — while Greece warned the two non-Roar .basketball applicants.

Roar is also involved with the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) on its .basketball bid.

While commercial interests obviously play a huge role, there’s a philosophical disagreement at the heart of these fights that could be encapsulated in the following question:

Should new gTLDs only be delegated to companies and organizations most closely affiliated with those strings?

In response to the UK’s Early Warning, Donut has written to UK GAC representative Mark Carvell asking for face-to-face talks and making the case for a “neutral” registry provider for .rugby.

Donuts told Carvell:

We believe gTLDs should be run safely and securely, and in a manner that is fair to all law-­abiding registrants, not only those predetermined as eligible. A neutral third party, such as Donuts, can be best capable of achieving this outcome.

Donuts believes a neutral operator is better able to ensure that the gTLD reflects the full diversity of opinion and content of all Internet users who are interested in the term “rugby.”

As the IRB is a powerful voice in rugby, an IRB‐managed registry might not be neutral in its operations, raising questions about its ability to impartially oversee the gTLD. For example, will IRB/Roar chill free speech by censoring content adversarial to their interests? How would they treat third parties who are interested in rugby but aren’t part of the IRB? What about IRB critics or potential rival leagues?

Despite these questions, no .rugby applicant has said it plans to operate a restricted registry. There are no applications for .basketball or .rugby designated as “Community” bids.

The IRB/Roar application specifically states “anyone can register a .rugby domain name.”

Both .basketball and .rugby are contested by Roar (FIBA/IRB/M+M), Donuts (via subsidiaries) and portfolio applicant Domain Venture Partners (aka Famous Four Media, also via subsidiaries).

Roar is a sports marketing agency that is also involved in bids for .baseball, .soccer, .football and .futbol. The New Zealand national team football captain, Ryan Nelsen, is on its board.

Here are the letters (pdf).

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.info and .biz contracts extended after expiring

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have had their key gTLD registry contracts temporarily extended after they expired on New Year’s Eve.

The .info and .biz agreements, which were both signed with ICANN in 2006, both ended on December 31 2012.

Both deals, of course, have a presumption of renewal. They’ve been extended for six months while renewal terms are finalized.

I understand that the delay in getting new contracts negotiated and approved is due largely to all the other stuff going on at ICANN right now.

(New gTLD applicants planning to negotiate a non-standard contract with ICANN, take note.)

According to ICANN, drafts of the the next versions of the .info and .biz contracts will be posted for public comment this month.

I’d expect to see some of the same minor technical and legal changes made as those that were made to Verisign’s .net contract, which was renegotiated in 2011.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether .info and .biz will keep the same rights to increase registry fees, in light of the US Department of Commerce’s move to freeze .com prices.

However, .com is a special case and Commerce does not have a built-in right to examine .biz and .info contracts.

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DI to participate in New York new gTLD conference

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Services

The agenda for the two-day Digital Marketing & gTLD Strategy Congress in New York this March has been published, and I’m happy to say that DI is involved.

The Congress is being organized by Momentum Consulting Group and I expect it to have a bigger focus on dot-brand gTLDs than any other event of its kind to date.

The keynote speaker on day one is Georges-Edouard Dias, the chief digital officer for L’Oreal, which has applied for 13 gTLDs. Executives from Interbrand and Citi will also be speaking.

I’ve agreed to host a “fireside chat” after lunch on the first day, with Sally Costeron, ICANN’s senior adviser to the CEO on stakeholder engagement. Audience participation will be encouraged.

The subject of the discussion is: “How TLDs Empower Consumers, Offer Choice and Provide New Opportunities for Brands”. Here’s what the conference brochure (pdf) says:

At the core of the new TLD program was the desire for choice, competition and innovation. The new TLD program will help the Internet become more global (including Chinese, Arabic, etc letters). This keynote will outline ICANN’s commitment to a long term strategy with a plan for a system and structure to support the objectives.

Several sessions are also planned on domain registration and branding strategies for companies that have not applied for their own new gTLDs.

Conference tickets range from $1,295 to $1,695, depending on when you book. The next price increase is coming January 18.

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Second premium .info auction goes live on Go Daddy

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2013, Domain Registries

Go Daddy and Afilias are auctioning off a second batch of premium dictionary-word .info domain names.

The registrar has just gone live with a list of 138 domains, including stuff like home.info, autos.info, boat.info, fashion.info and computer.info.

The domains were all claimed in Afilias’ .info sunrise period back in 2001 but were subsequently found to be ineligible under the sunrise rules and reclaimed by the registry.

Bidding starts on January 15, with starting bids at about $100.

A first batch of domains from the same pool were auctioned in December, with some fetching five-figure sums — cancer.info led, selling for $16,005, with loans.info going for $12,205.

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Baseball league buys Rockies.com for $1.2m

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2013, Domain Sales

Major League Baseball has purchased the domain name rockies.com for $1.2 million, according to the deal’s broker, Venture Capital Group Ltd.

The domain did belong to Tourism Canadian Rockies, which plans to move to CanadianRockies.org, according to the company. The Colorado Rockies is a baseball team in the MLB.

Domain Name Wire reported that the domain was up for sale last September, with Andrew Allemann predicting a sale to the MLB at price of $200,000 to $400,000.

According to Allemann, the MLB now only needs four .com domains to complete its collection of team names.

Rockies.com now redirects to mlb.com.

January 11 Update: The sale price of $1.2 million is now looking very dubious indeed.

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Registrars sought as Pool.com shuts down drop-catching business

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN is looking for new homes for approximately 67,000 domain names, after a decision by Momentous to dump 85 of its domain name registrar accreditations.

The accreditations were used primarily for drop-catching, according to an email sent to registrars last Friday, and each has between 200 and 3,000 gTLD domains under management.

While most affected domains are recently caught drops, there may be some regular registrants scattered throughout the customer base, according to ICANN.

Momentous, owner of Pool.com, announced that it was getting rid of its drop-catching registrars in an email to customers late last year, as several domainer blogs reported at the time.

Pool plans to “refocus its business away from an emphasis on the secondary market”, the email said.

The company wanted to consolidate all of the domains in its NameScout registrar with the transfer fees waived, but ICANN declined its request, according to the email.

Some customers are not happy with how Pool has handled the situation.

The domainer “Acro” is currently pursuing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Momentous’ native Canada, according to a recent blog post.

The 85 accreditations are due to expire January 10. Registrars wishing to take over the portfolios had a deadline of this afternoon to express an interest with ICANN.

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Name.com “will carry as many TLDs as possible”

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2013, Domain Registrars

Demand Media executive vice president Taryn Naidu said newly acquired registrar Name.com plans to carry as many TLDs as possible, but urged new gTLD applicants to start distribution talks with registrars as soon as possible.

“It’s going to be challenging to offer all of them,” Naidu told DI today. “We’re asking registries to come talk to Name.com early and often to make sure they get the shelf space.”

“They have to come with a plan, and make sure they’re ready to go to market,” he said.

Demand Media announced the acquisition of Name.com earlier today. The deal, for an undisclosed amount, will see the 30-strong Denver, Colorado-based company join number two registrar eNom in the Demand stable.

Name.com is almost 10 years old and has almost 1.5 million domains under management, the majority of them in gTLDs. eNom has over 12 million domains spread across scores of registrar accreditations.

Naidu said that the forthcoming new gTLD market was a major reason for the deal.

While eNom is primarily a channel player, Name.com is all about the customer-facing retail side of the registrar business.

Owning Name.com could give Demand Media a faster way to market the dozens of new gTLDs that it has itself applied for, as well as the 300 it has partnered with uber-applicant Donuts on.

Naidu declined to comment on details of the Donuts relationship, but I’d be quite surprised if a commitment to carry its TLDs is not part of the deal.

He also said he’s not too worried about alienating eNom’s existing reseller channel, pointing out that main retail rivals such as Go Daddy and Tucows also have extensive reseller networks.

“In many regards having access to a retail player like this will help us serve our resellers by better understanding their needs,” he said.

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Squatter promises to hand over footballer’s domain “if I can slap you in the face”

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2013, Gossip

Funniest cybersquat ever?

A French squatter has nabbed zlatan.fr and promised to gift it to Sweden and Paris Saint-Germain footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic if he completes any of a series of bizarre challenges.

Among the many demands the anonymous squatter makes of Ibrahimovic is: “let me slap you in the face, without saying a word… and in public”.

He also requests a lock of the player’s hair, a bare-chested photograph for his girlfriend, and trial by FIFA 13.

If none of that catches Ibrahimovic’s fancy, the squatter said he will hand over the domain if the player simply asks him for it, in person and in French.

The domain was registered in December, not too long after Ibrahimovic made headlines for scoring what many described as the “best goal ever” in a friendly game against England.

Funnily enough, one of the challenges the squatter sets for Ibrahimovic is: “score a more-than-30-meter-backflip-goal in an official game. Just kidding… this is not realistic.”

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