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M+M gets into bed with Neustar

Minds + Machines has committed to use Neustar’s registry services for some of its new top-level domain applications, the companies have announced.

M+M parent Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that the companies:

will work together exclusively in respect of all geographic gTLDs pursued by TLDH, apart from a short list of those already in progress. TLDH will oversee sales, marketing, registrar relations, ICANN compliance and other management functions, while Neustar will provide back-end registry and DNS services.

The deal may cover applications including .bayern, .berlin, and .mumbai, judging from the press release.

M+M will continue to use Espresso, its version of the CoCCA registry platform, for non-geo TLDs.

Under ICANN rules, geographical TLDs will require the support of the respective governments.

Reading between the lines, it appears that demand for proven scale and financial stability may have been the primary driver for the deal.

Neustar manages .us and biz, among others, while M+M has a far shorter track record. Neustar has annual revenue of over half a billion dollars, compared to TLDH’s approximately $100,000.

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ICANN independence request denied

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s request for greater independence has been rejected by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In its new Further Notice Of Inquiry (pdf) investigation into the IANA contract, through which ICANN is granted its internet management responsibilities, the NTIA said:

NTIA reiterates that it is not in discussions with ICANN to transition the IANA functions nor does the agency intend to undertake such discussions.

Transitioning the IANA functions would have meant less power over the domain name system for the US government and more for ICANN.

Privatizing the DNS was one of the original goals when ICANN was set up in 1998 — it was meant to happen before Clinton left office — but the US government has been dead set against such a move since at least 2005.

The latest decision was expected. NTIA assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling had flagged up the agency’s position in a recent speech.

Nevertheless, it’s a blow to ICANN and its CEO, Rod Beckstrom, who since the San Francisco meeting in March has been pushing for the IANA contract to be re-framed into a longer-term “cooperative agreement” to better reflect ICANN’s international nature.

But the NTIA said this would not be possible:

NTIA does not have the legal authority to enter into a cooperative agreement with any organization, including ICANN, for the performance of the IANA functions.

To drive the point home, the FNOI also calls for the functional aspect of IANA – the updates it makes to the DNS root database – to be clearly separated from the policy-making side of ICANN.

On the bright side, ICANN can rest assured that the NTIA seems to have put aside thoughts of breaking up the IANA functions and distributing them between different entities.

This notion was put to bed primarily because the organizations most likely to take over roles such as protocol and IP number administration (such as the NRO and the IAB) did not seem to want them.

The FNOI also suggests a raft of process and technology requirements that ICANN’s IANA team will have to abide by after the contract is renewed.

The process for redelegating ccTLDs is currently an absolute bloody mess – utterly opaque and with no historical consistency with how decisions for transferring ownership of TLDs are made.

The ccNSO is working on this problem, but its policy development is likely to take a year or two.

In the meantime, the NTIA will mandate through the IANA contract at least one major nod to ccTLD redelegation reform, in the form of the “respect rule” I blogged about earlier.

Under the heading “Responsibility and Respect for Stakeholders”, the proposed IANA Statement of Work says: “the Contractor shall act in accordance with the relevant national laws of the jurisdiction which the TLD registry serves.”

This provision is already included in most of the agreements ICANN has signed with ccTLD registries and ICP-1, the policy that governs its redelegation processes.

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US resurrects the controversial new TLDs veto

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government intends to give itself greater oversight powers over ICANN’s new top-level domains program, according to a partial draft of the next IANA contract.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has proposed what amounts to a Governmental Advisory Committee veto over controversial new TLDs.

The agency last night published a Further Notice Of Inquiry (pdf), which includes a proposed Statement Of Work that would form part of ICANN’s next IANA contract.

The IANA contract, which is up for renewal September 30, gives ICANN many of its key powers over the domain name system’s root database.

The new documents seem to fulfill NTIA assistant secretary Lawrence Strickling’s promise to use the IANA contract “as a vehicle for ensuring more accountability and transparency” at ICANN.

If the new draft provisions are finalized, ICANN would be contractually obliged to hold new gTLD applicants to a higher standard than currently envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook.

The FNOI notes that the US believes (my emphasis):

there is a need to address how all stakeholders, including governments collectively, can operate within the paradigm of a multi-stakeholder environment and be satisfied that their interests are being adequately addressed

The Statement Of Work, under the heading “Responsibility and Respect for Stakeholders” includes new text that addresses this perceived need:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

The current Applicant Guidebook does not require “consensus support from relevant stakeholders” before a new gTLD is approved.

It gives applicants the opportunity to show support from self-defined communities, and it gives communities the right to object to any application, but it does not require consensus.

Earlier this year, the GAC asked ICANN to beef up the Guidebook to make community support or non-objection a proactive requirement for applicants, but ICANN declined to make the change.

The .xxx Factor

The NTIA’s proposed “respect rule” alludes to the approval of .xxx, which the US and other governments believe was both not in the global public interest and unsupported by the porn industry.

Had the rule been applicable in March, ICANN could very well have found itself in breach of the IANA contract, and the NTIA could have been within its rights to block the TLD.

One way to look at this is as a US government safeguard against ICANN’s board of directors overruling GAC objections to new TLDs in future.

The Guidebook currently gives the GAC the right to object to any application for any reason, such as if it believed a proposed string was not supported by a community it purported to represent.

But the Guidebook, reflecting ICANN’s bylaws, also gives ICANN the ability to disagree with GAC advice (including its new TLD objections) and essentially overrule it.

Under the NTIA’s proposed IANA contract language, if ICANN were to overrule a GAC objection to a controversial application, the NTIA would be able to claim that the gTLD was approved without stakeholder consensus, in violation of the IANA contract.

The new gTLD program would have, in essence, a backdoor GAC veto.

While these changes are being made unilaterally by the US, they are certain to be supported by the European Commission and probably other members of the GAC.

Commissioner Neelie Kroes urged Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke to block or delay .xxx back in April, and subsequently met with Strickling to discuss their mutual opposition to the TLD.

Kroes and Strickling seem to agree agree that ICANN should not have signed the .xxx registry contract over the (weak, non-consensus) objection of the GAC.

The FNOI will shortly open for 45 days of public comment, so we’re not likely to know precisely how this is going to play out in the new IANA contract until August.

ICANN is now in the tricky position of trying to figure out how to incorporate this mess into the Guidebook, which it has indicated it plans to approve just over a week from now.

Singapore is going to be very interesting indeed.

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Find domain keywords with new VeriSign apps

Kevin Murphy, June 10, 2011, Domain Tech

VeriSign has released a suite of cute applications for visualizing keywords mined from newly registered domain names.

DomainView has been around for a few months as a tag cloud on the VeriSign web site, but it’s now also an embeddable web widget and a scrolling ticker plug-in for Firefox and Chrome browsers.

The service samples recently registered .com and .net domains for recurring keywords, and spits those keywords back out, along with a short list of related domains that are available to register.

The company is planning to release an iPhone app in the near future, and there’s an API for developers to use today.

I’ve installed the ticker. It’s a nice idea, but it does get a bit distracting after a few minutes. Thankfully, it can be hidden through the options menu.

You can find the new applications here.

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Go Daddy to sell .xxx domains

Go Daddy has become the latest registrar to agree to sell .xxx domain names.

It’s a bit of a big deal for ICM Registry, given how dominant Go Daddy is in the registrar channel.

There are about 50 .xxx registrars on this ICANN web page, which lists all the accredited registrars along with which top-level domains they’re approved to sell.

Go Daddy isn’t listed as a .xxx registrar yet, but its accreditation was just announced in a press release.

Read more at The Register.

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