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DotFree starts taking .free domain preregistrations

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2010, Domain Registries

The DotFree Group, which plans to apply to ICANN to run .free as a top-level domain, has become one of the first would-be registries to open its doors for preregistrations.

From noon UTC today, the Czech company has made a tool available on its web site enabling users to reserve their desired strings by handing over their contact information.

Of course, there’s no guarantee any preregistration will actually turn into a .free domain – ICANN may turn down DotFree’s application or award the string to another bidder.

While the plan is to offer some .free domains free of charge, DotFree intends to hold tens (or hundreds) of thousands of “premium” strings for auction or paid-for registrations.

In other words, if you try to register any really juicy strings today, you’re out of luck.

DotFree is one of only a few unapproved TLD registries to accept preregistrations.

ICM Registry started taking .xxx preregs a few years ago, but only after it had already received ICANN’s approval (which was, of course, later revoked).

Another wannabe TLD operator, the MLS Domains Association, is charging “multiple listing service” real estate brokers many hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to own their own .mls domain name.

UPDATE: Messing around with the preregistration tool, I’ve noticed that it appears to ban any string that ends with the number 4. Presumably these will be “premium”, due to the “for” pun.

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.XXX debate could test GAC powers

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2010, Domain Policy

The long-running .xxx top-level domain saga has tested ICANN processes to their limits over the last decade, and it looks like it may do so at least one more time.

Digging a little deeper into the board’s decision to consult with its Governmental Advisory Committee before approving the TLD, it looks like the discussion will be quite broad-based.

The .xxx consultation could in fact have consequences for the board/GAC power balance, helping define the parameters of their future interactions.

This PDF, published at the same time as last week’s board resolution on .xxx, outlines three GAC positions that could have a bearing on the matter.

The first is its communiqué from the Wellington meeting in 2007, which noted that several GAC members were “emphatically opposed” to the introduction of .xxx.

The GAC operates on a consensus basis. When it can’t find consensus, its communiqués also reflect minority positions. So ICANN now wants to know whether the Wellington letter constitutes GAC “advice”.

The question remains whether a position taken by “several members of the GAC” can be equated with GAC advice on public policy matters. If it is not GAC advice, then the concern of inconsistency [of the .xxx contract with GAC advice] diminishes.

Some may be surprised to discover that, after over a decade, there’s no broad agreement about when something the GAC says constitutes official “advice” that ICANN, under its bylaws, must consider.

Attendees to the Brussels meeting this June will recall that the joint board-GAC meeting, transcribed here, spent most of its time labouring on this apparent oversight.

In consulting with the GAC on .xxx, there’s an outside chance that some answers with regards the definition of “advice” may be found.

It wouldn’t be the first time ICM Registry’s controversial application has forced ICANN to address shortcomings in its own accountability procedures.

Notably, the Independent Review Process, promised in the bylaws for years, was eventually implemented to allow ICM’s appeal after it had pushed the Reconsideration Request process to its limit.

ICANN’s latest resolution on .xxx also refers to a letter (pdf) GAC chair Heather Dryden sent to the board in August, which expressed a desire that no “controversial” TLDs should be added to the root.

While ostensibly addressing future TLD applications, rather than TLDs applied for under previous rounds, the letter did say that “objection procedures should apply to all pending and future TLDs”, which was widely interpreted as referring directly to .xxx.

Last week’s ICANN board documents say:

If the “pending” TLD refers to .XXX, the approval of the .XXX sTLD Registry Agreement without allowing for these types of objections would be inconsistent with GAC advice.

I’ve reason to believe that the “pending” language may have been inserted quite late into the drafting of the Dryden letter, and may not enjoy the unanimous support of GAC members.

Regardless, the letter implies that whatever “morality and public order” or “Rec6” objections process winds up in the new TLD Applicant Guidebook should also apply, retroactively, to ICM.

If ICANN were to agree on this point, a precedent would presumably be set that would allow the GAC to issue thirteenth-hour “advice” that moves the goal-posts for future new TLD applicants, removing a significant amount of predictability from the process.

For that reason, I think it’s unlikely that ICM will be told it is subject to the Rec6 process (whatever that may ultimately look like).

The consultation, however, may result in some clarity around where the GAC’s powers of “advice” begin and end, which is probably a good thing.

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Sunrise for .so domains starts tonight

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2010, Domain Registries

.SO Registry, manager of the internet’s newest open-doors top-level domain, will open its systems for sunrise registrations in a few hours, at midnight UTC.

The TLD is the country code for the Republic of Somalia, the mostly lawless east-African nation that is broadly recognized as a failed state.

For that reason, among others, the .so namespace is not likely to be as attractive to registrants as, say, the recent relaunch of Colombia’s .co.

Another reason, perhaps coupled to the fact that .so doesn’t really have a comparable English semantic value to .co, is that the registry appears to have done a rather poor job of publicizing the launch.

There has been no media activity as far as I can tell, and its web site does not currently list its approved registrars.

Key-Systems has press-released its involvement, and a quick Twitter poll earlier today revealed that EuroDNS, Blacknight and NetNames are also among the signed-up.

The back-end for the registry is being handled by Japanese operator GMO Registry.

During the trademarks-only sunrise period, which runs until November 30, companies have to commit to a minimum three-year registration, with a registry fee of $90, cheaper than most sunrise phases.

The .so registry has taken on most of the same sunrise policies as .co – its rules were written by the same people – with the noteworthy exception of the Protected Marks List.

.SO Registry is also the first to require trademark holders use CHIP, the new Clearing House for Intellectual Property, a venture launched earlier this month by sunrise specialist Bart Lieben, who recently joined the law firm Crowell & Moring.

After contested sunrise applications are wound up with a Pool.com auction, a landrush will follow, from December 16 to February 9, 2011. General availability is scheduled to kick off March 1.

.SO Registry recently published its restricted names list (pdf), which appears to be made up mostly of English-language profanities, as well as religiously and sexually oriented terms.

The term “gay” is among the restricted terms.

The registry also appears to have “wildcarded” about 20 strings on its restricted list, including %vagina%, %penis% and %lesbian%.

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New TLD applications to open May 2011

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has named the date for its planned launch of the new top-level domain application process.

According to a resolution passed at its board of directors meeting Thursday, ICANN is targeting May 30, 2011 for the opening of applications.

The proposed final version of the Applicant Guidebook is set to be published November 9, and is expected to be approved by the board at its meeting in Cartagena, December 10.

A four-month marketing and outreach period is expected to kick off January 10.

If you’re looking for the specifics of what the Applicant Guidebook will contain, you’re out of luck.

# Vertical Integration – No resolution

# GNSO New gTLD Recommendation 6 Objection Process – No resolution

# GAC Issues Letter including Geographic Names – No resolution

# Affirmation of Commitment Considerations – No resolution

Looks like we’ll have to wait until November 9 to find out what has been agreed on each of these issues.

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Afilias develops IDN email software

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Tech

Afilias, the .info registry, has created software that will enable emails to be sent and received using fully internationalized domain names.

The company has demonstrated a practical application using Jordan’s recently implemented Arabic TLD. There’s a video of the demo here.

The software, built on an open-source code base, comprises webmail, desktop, mail server and a management interface.

Afilias is looking for beta testers, and a spokesperson tells me it will also try to license the software to third parties.

IDNs are tricky because while users see characters in Arabic or Cyrillic, say, the underlying DNS handles them as encoded ASCII, with the translation happening the client.

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ICANN could fast-track final new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN is considering a fast-track process for the final version of its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook that could see it approved this December, documents have revealed.

Minutes and board briefing materials from ICANN’s August 5 board meeting, published yesterday, seem to demonstrate an eagerness to get the policy finalized by its Cartagena meeting.

Staff and board members favor a limited public comment period prior to the guidebook’s finalization, which could see it approved sooner rather than later.

Briefing documents (pdf, page 111 and on) say:

It is recommended that the Board consider the Final version of the Guidebook for approval at the Cartagena meeting. The final version will be posted for limited comment prior to the meeting.

The minutes of the meeting reveal a preference among staff and some directors, including chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, for this limited comment window.

The comments would be “limited” to new issues, for various reasons, including this:

A full process will bring forth every last attempt for parties to repeat positions to modify the process to be in line with their pecuniary or other interest. The optics might falsely indicate that there is no consensus around the model

ICANN’s obligation to consult its Governmental Advisory Committee would be carried out face-to-face at the Cartagena meeting, further speeding this up.

Tantalizingly, a flow-chart setting out the board’s options contains the possible launch dates for the first-round application window, but they’ve been redacted.

These documents date from August and the ICANN board has met twice since then, so things may have changed.

We’re likely to find out more about the timeline when the board resolutions from its meeting yesterday are published. I’m expecting this later today, so stay tuned.

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ICANN ombudsman quits

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Policy

Frank Fowlie, ICANN’s ombudsman, has announced he will leave the post before the end of January next year.

A statement posted to the ICANN web site does not explain the reasons for his departure, but it does include this nugget:

“After six years with ICANN, I have logged 794 days in travel status, or about two years and five months away from home,” said Fowlie in announcing his departure to the ICANN staff. “It’s time for me to spend a bit more time at home with my wonderful wife.”

Read into that what you will.

ICANN will now look for a replacement. The ombudsman’s role is to hear complaints about ICANN’s actions. Former UN staffer Fowlie was the first to hold the position.

For no other reason than I think that it’s funny, here’s a link to a story about Fowlie getting shirty with a flight attendant.

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VeriSign to deploy DNSSEC in .com next March

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Tech

VeriSign is to start rolling out the DNSSEC security protocol in .net today, and will sign .com next March, the company said today.

In an email to the dns-ops mailing list, VeriSign vice president Matt Larson said that .net will get a “deliberately unvalidatable zone”, which uses unusable dummy keys for testing purposes, today.

That test is set to end on December 9, when .net will become fully DNSSEC-compatible.

The .com TLD will get its own unvalidatable zone in March, but registrars will be able to start submitting cryptographic keys for the domains they manage from February.

The .com zone will be validatable later in March.

The DNSSEC standard allows resolvers to confirm that DNS traffic has not been tampered with, reducing the risk of attacks such as cache poisoning.

Signing .com is viewed as the last major registry-level hurdle to jump before adoption kicks off more widely. The root zone was signed in July and a few dozen other TLDs, such as .org, are already signed.

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Budapest joins the city TLD bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

A Hungarian consortium is set to apply for .bud, a top-level domain to represent Budapest.

The Dotbud campaign joins a long and growing list of city TLDs intended to represent European capitals, which currently includes the likes of .london, .berlin, .paris and .riga.

Judging from a machine translation of the organization’s web site, the registry plans to offer a 50% discount to registrants who follow it on Facebook which strikes me as a novel marketing technique.

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Will .xxx be approved today?

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Will the adults-only .xxx top-level domain be approved today, or will the hot potato be tossed to governments for a decision?

That’s the question facing ICANN’s board of directors, which is set to discuss the controversial TLD for the umpteenth time today.

The last resolution it passed on .xxx called for a public comment period, followed by a decision on whether the registry contract is compatible with old Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

With the comment period closed, it appears that all that remains is to decide whether a new GAC consultation is required before the contract can be approved or rejected.

Some opponents of .xxx are demanding a GAC consultation.

Diane Duke, director of porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition, wrote to ICANN this week, urging it to refer the application back to the GAC.

As Duke knows, many international governments are opposed to .xxx.

A week ago, Australia’s socially conservative, pro-censorship broadband minister, Stephen Conroy, also asked ICANN for another GAC consultation, expressing his “strong opposition” to the TLD due to its “lack of identified public benefit”.

And Conroy is surely not alone. There can be few governments that would be happy to be seen to endorse pornography, regardless of its legal status in their jurisdictions.

The GAC is firmly of the view that “controversial” TLDs present a risk to the global interoperability of the internet. The fear is that strings such as .xxx could lead to blocking at national borders and ultimately fragmentation of the DNS root.

Whichever decision ICANN makes today, it is sure to cause controversy one way or another.

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