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ICANN un-terminates domain name registrar

In what I believe is an unprecedented move, ICANN has renewed a domain name registrar’s accreditation having already sent it a public notice of non-renewal.

A Technology Company, aka ATECH, was told last month that its accreditation would expire July 12 because it had failed to pay over $5,600 in ICANN fees.

That letter (pdf) suggested that ATECH had been in breach since before April 2009.

On all previous occasions, whenever ICANN has posted a notice of termination or non-renewal on its site, it’s game over for that registrar.

Today, a brief note on ICANN’s web site says simply:

A Technology Company, Inc. cured all outstanding contract breaches as of 30 June 2010. A Technology Company, Inc.’s accreditation was renewed on 13 July 2010.

As I’ve previously noted, ATECH and .xxx registry hopeful ICM Registry share a common founder, although the two companies are no longer affiliated.

Investors circle ICM as .xxx enters home straight

ICM Registry’s board of directors has approved a $5 million funding round, following the recent decision by ICANN to put the .xxx top-level domain onto the path to approval.

ICM president Stuart Lawley tells me he’s underwritten the whole round himself, already injecting another $500,000 of his own money into the company.

Venture capital investors have already approached the company, following the Brussels decision two weeks ago, according to Lawley.

In Brussels, ICANN’s board resolved to re-enter contract negotiations with ICM, following years of wrangling with ICANN’s appeals and independent review processes.

While .xxx’s approval and entry to the DNS root is not a slam-dunk, the only major hurdle appears to be ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, and many believe the GAC is unlikely to stick its neck out on such a controversial issue.

While demand for .xxx domains is yet to be proven, there are already 162,000 pre-registrations, which would work out to a $10 million business, not including premium sunrise and landrush fees.

A report in Business Week last week said ICM could bring in $200 million per year in revenue on registrations alone.

I think that’s a pretty ambitious prediction, to be honest, and I can’t help but wonder in Business Week got ICM’s ten-year and one-year projections mixed up.

Even at $60 a pop, that’s still 3.3 million registered domains. The stars will have to align in unexpected ways for .xxx to reach that kind of penetration (pun intended).

ICM has previously projected near-term registrations in the low-mid hundreds of thousands.

ICM is currently owned by a close-knit group of investors, mainly Lawley’s circle and ICM’s management, with Lawley himself owning roughly 70% of the business.

Registrar linked to .xxx loses ICANN accreditation

A Technology Company Inc, a registrar previously linked to the .xxx top-level domain application, has lost its ICANN accreditation for non-payment of fees.

The company, which is also known as NameSystem.com or ATECH, was founded by Jason Hendeles, who is also the founder of ICM Registry, the company behind .xxx.

ICANN has informed ATECH (pdf) that its accreditation will expire and not be renewed on July 12 because it has failed to pay $5,639 in ICANN fees.

ATECH was one of the second wave of competitive registrars to go live, applying for its ICANN accreditation all the way back in 1999. It currently has just a few thousand domains under management.

Hendeles, currently ICM’s vice president of strategic business development, was behind ICM’s original .xxx bid, filed in ICANN’s 2000 round of new TLD applications.

ICM was subsequently taken over by British businessman Stuart Lawley, its current chief executive.

I’m told ATECH was sold to Alok Prakash of Oregon a few years ago.

UPDATE 2010-07-14: ATECH has evidently coughed up, and has regained its accreditation.

ICANN Brussels – .xxx approved but not approved

The controversy over the .xxx top-level domain has for the last few years, at least from one point of view, centered on opposing views of whether it was already “approved”.

ICM Registry has long claimed that ICANN “approved” it in 2005, and believes the Independent Review Panel agreed with that position. ICANN said the opposite.

Regardless of what happened in Brussels yesterday, when the board grudgingly voted to reopen talks on .xxx (to a surprisingly muted audience response), the question of whether .xxx is “approved” is definitely not over yet.

ICM tweeted shortly after the ICANN’s board’s decision:

@ICMRegistry: We are delighted to announce that the #ICANN Board has approved the .xxx top-level domain.

But a couple of hours later, ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush told us at a press conference that it categorically was not “approved”.

In terms of getting its point across to the media, ICM’s message trumped ICANN’s, judging by the headlines currently scrolling past me on Google News.

I guess this boils down to a question of definitions.

From the ICANN perspective, a TLD is presumably not “approved” until a contract has been signed and the board has resolved to add it to the root.

The board’s decision yesterday merely sets out the track towards that eventuality, with a few hurdles scattered along the way. In conversation with ICM people, I get the impression they believe the hurdles are low and easily surmountable.

Crucially for ICM, the issue of community support, the stick with which ICANN nearly killed .xxx back in 2007, is now off the table. There will be a quick review of ICM’s books and technical capabilities, but the views of the porn industry now seem pretty much irrelevant.

The only real way I can see .xxx being derailed again now is if the Governmental Advisory Committee issues future advice that unequivocally opposes the TLD.

As Kieren McCarthy noted in some detail over on CircleID, the GAC has never had a hell of a lot of substantial advice to impart about .xxx in its official communiques, so it’s difficult to see where a clash could arise based on its previous missives.

But with the GAC currently using bogus “morality and public order” arguments to jerk everybody around with regards the next new TLD round, it’s not entirely impossible that it could lob one final grenade in ICM’s direction.

This story ain’t over yet.

ICANN Brussels – some of my coverage

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2010, Domain Policy

As you may have noticed from my relatively light posting week, it really is a lot easier to cover ICANN meetings remotely.

The only drawback is, of course, that you don’t get to meet, greet, debate, argue and inevitably get into drunken fist-fights with any of the lovely people who show up to these things.

So, on balance, I think I prefer to be on-site rather than off.

I was not entirely lazy in Brussels this week, however. Here are links to a few pieces I filed with The Register.

Cyber cops want stronger domain rules

International police have called for stricter rules on domain name registration, to help them track down online crooks, warning the industry that if it does not self-regulate, governments could legislate.

.XXX to get ICANN nod

ICANN plans to give conditional approval to .xxx, the controversial top-level internet domain just for porn, 10 years after it was first proposed.

Governments mull net censorship grab

Governments working within ICANN are pondering asking for a right of veto on new internet top-level domains, a move that would almost certainly spell doom for politically or sexually controversial TLDs.