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Neustar’s .co contract up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2019, Domain Registries

Colombia is looking for a registry operator for its .co ccTLD.

If you’re interested, and you’re reading this before noon on Wednesday November 6 and you’re at ICANN 66 in Montreal, hightail it to room 514A for a presentation from the Colombian government that will be more informative than this blog post.

Hurry! Come on! Move it!

The Ministry of Information Technology and Communications (MinTIC) has published a set of documents describing some of the plan to find a potentially new home for .co.

There doesn’t appear to be a formal RFP yet, but I gather one is imminent.

What the documents do tell us is that Neustar’s contract to run .co expires in February, and that MinTIC is looking into the possibility of a successor registry.

Currently, .co is delegated to .CO Internet, a Colombian entity that relaunched the TLD in 2010 and was acquired by Neustar for $109 million in 2014.

But under a law passed earlier this year, it appears as if MinTIC is taking over policy management for .co and may therefore seek IANA redelegation.

There’s no indication I could see that there’s a plan to reverse the policy of allowing anyone anywhere in the world to register a .co, indeed MinTIC seems quite proud of its international success.

The documents also give us the first glimpse for years into .co’s growth.

It had 2,374,430 names under management in September, after a couple of years of slowing growth. The documents state that .co had an average of 323,590 new regs per year for the first seven years, which has since declined to an average of 32,396.

.co is not the cheapest TLD out there, renewing at around $25 at the low end.

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US official Heineman joins GoDaddy

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2019, Domain Policy

Former US government official Ashley Heineman has joined the staff of GoDaddy.

Heineman was until quite recently a policy specialist at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the US representative on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

But GoDaddy confirmed to DI today that she’s now left NTIA and joined the market-leading registrar.

I don’t know what her job title is yet. One assumes it’s related to policy or legal issues.

Heineman spent 15 years at NTIA and has been the ICANN GAC rep for the US for the last few years.

She’s had a respectably hands-on role, for a GACer, including being a member of the ongoing “EPDP” cross-community working group conducting a post-GDPR review of Whois policy.

Judging by my embarrassing error at the weekend, the US is currently being represented on the GAC by the NTIA’s Vernita Harris.

I’ve also heard rumors from ICANN 66 that another former NTIA official has also recently moved into the domain name industry. I’ll blog it up just as soon as I get confirmation.

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Web.com got pwned

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2019, Domain Registrars

Web.com, which owns top 20 registrars Network Solutions and Register.com, got itself and millions of its customers hacked a few months ago.

The company disclosed last week that malicious hackers broke into its network in late August, making off with customer account information.

The attack was not discovered until October 16.

The compromised data included “name, address, phone numbers, email address and information about the services that we offer to a given account holder”, Web.com said.

“We encrypt credit card numbers and no credit card data was compromised as a result of this incident,” it added.

Customers are being told to change their password next time they log in to their services.

It’s not clear how many registrants were affected. The NetSol accreditation has over seven million domains in the gTLDs alone, while Register.com has almost 1.8 million.

Web.com said it brought on a private security firm to investigate the attack, and informed US law enforcement.

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Surprise! ICANN throws out complaints about .org price caps

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has rejected two appeals against its decision to lift price caps and introduce new anti-cybersquatting measures in the .org space.

In other news, gambling is going on in Rick’s Cafe.

NameCheap and the Electronic Frontier Foundation both filed Requests for Reconsideration with ICANN back in July and August concerning the .org contract renewal.

NameCheap argued that ICANN should have listened to the deluge of public comments complaining about the removal of price caps in Public Interest Registry’s .org contract, while EFF complained about the inclusion of the Uniform Rapid Suspension rights protection mechanism.

Reconsideration requests are usually handled by the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee but this time around three of its four members (Sarah Deutsch, Nigel Roberts, and Becky Burr) decided to recuse themselves due to the possibility of perception of conflicts of interest.

That meant the committee couldn’t reach a quorum and the RfRs went to ICANN’s outside lawyers for review instead, before heading to the full ICANN board.

This hasn’t happened before, to my recollection.

Also unprecedented, the board’s full discussion of both requests was webcast live (and archived here), which negates the need for NameCheap or the EFF to demand recordings, which is their right under the bylaws.

But the upshot is basically the same as if the BAMC had considered the requests in private — both were denied in a unanimous (with the three recusals) vote.

Briefing the board yesterday, ICANN associate general counsel Elizabeth Le said:

There was no evidence to support that ICANN Org ignored public consultation. Indeed both renewals went out for public comments and there were over 3,700 comments received, all of which ICANN reviewed and evaluated and it was discussed in not only the report of public comments, but it was discussed through extensive briefings with the ICANN board…

Ultimately, the fact that the removal of the price caps was part of the Registry Agreements does not render the public comment process a sham or that ICANN failed to act in the public benefit or that ICANN Org ignored material information.

General counsel John Jeffrey and director Avri Doria both noted that the board may not have looked at each individual comment, but rather grouped together based on similarity. Doria said:

Whether one listens to the content once or listens to it 3,000 times, they have understood the same content. And so I really just wanted to emphasize the point that it’s not the number of comments, it’s the content of the comments.

This seems to prove the point I made back in April, when this controversy first emerged, that letter-writing campaigns don’t work on ICANN.

As if to add insult to injury, the board at the same meeting yesterday approved paying an annual bonus to the ICANN Ombudsman, who attracted criticism from NameCheap and the Internet Commerce Association after dismissing many of the public comments as “more akin to spam”.

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Somber mood as ICANN 66 opens in Montreal

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2019, Domain Policy

The opening ceremony of ICANN’s 66th public meeting set a somber tone, as leaders bade farewell to recently departed and departing colleagues.

Outgoing chair Cherine Chalaby and CEO Göran Marby delivered eulogies respectively to senior vice president Tarek Kamel, and long-time industry/community participant, Don Blumenthal, both of whom died over the last several weeks.

Apparently choking up at one point, Chalaby described Kamel as a “good friend” and “great man” who “always made time for me, always encouraged me, and always advised me with great sincerity”.

Marby later announced that ICANN will create a new annual award, named after Kamel, which will honor “individuals significantly contributing to capacity building and creating diversity within our community”.

He also said that the dinner held by the CEO with the technical community at the end of every ICANN meeting will in future be named after Blumenthal, a long-serving member of the security community.

“His expertise, hard work and humor will be sorely missed,” Marby said.

Chalaby himself is leaving ICANN under less sad circumstances on Thursday, when the third and final of his terms comes to an end and he leaves the board of directors for good. He’s been on the board for nine years and chair for two.

Marby presented him with ICANN’s Leadership Award in recognition of his time served.

Chalaby will be replaced by Maarten Botterman.

ICANN 66 runs through Thursday in Montreal, Canada.

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America has Amazon’s back in gTLD fight at ICANN 66

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2019, Domain Policy

The United States looks set to stand in the way of government attempts to further delay Amazon’s application for .amazon.

The US Governmental Advisory Committee representative, Vernita Harris, said today that the US “does not support further GAC advice on the .amazon issue” and that ICANN is well within its rights to move forward with Amazon’s controversial gTLD applications.

She spoke after a lengthy intervention from Brazilian rep Ambassador Achilles Zaluar Neto, who said South American nations view the contested string as their “birthright” and said ICANN is allowing Amazon “to run roughshod over the concerns and the cultural heritage of eight nations and tens of millions of people”.

It was the opening exchange in would could prove to be a fractious war of words at ICANN 66 in Montreal, which formally opens tomorrow.

The .amazon applications have been controversial because the eight countries in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization believe their unwritten cultural rights to the word outweigh Amazon’s trademark rights.

Forced to the negotiating table by ICANN last year, the two sides each posed their own sets of ideas about how the gTLD could be managed in such a way as to protect culturally sensitive terms at the second-level, and taking ACTO’s views into account.

But an ICANN-imposed deadline for talks to conclude in April was missed, largely as a result of the ongoing Venezuela crisis, which caused friction between the ACTO governments.

But today, Brazil said that ACTO is ready and willing to get back to the negotiating table asked that ICANN reopen these talks with an impartial mediator at the helm.

As things stand, Amazon is poised to get .amazon approved with a bunch of Public Interest Commitments in its registry contract that were written by Amazon without ACTO’s input.

Neto said that he believed a “win-win” deal could be found, which “would provide a positive impetus for internet governance instead of discrediting it”. He threatened to raise the issue at the Internet Governance Forum next month.

ICANN’s failure to reopen talks “would set a bad precedent and reflect badly on the current state of internet governance, including its ability to establish a balance between private interests and public policy concerns”, he said

But the US rallied to Amazon’s defense. Harris said:

The United States does not support further GAC advice on the .amazon issue. Any further questions from the GAC to the Board on this matter we believe is unwarranted… We are unaware of any international consensus that recognizes inherent governmental rights and geographic names. Discussions regarding protections of geographic names is the responsibility of other forums and therefore should be discussed and those relevant and appropriate forums. Contrary to statements made by others, it is the position of the United States that the Board’s various decisions authorizing ICANN to move forward with processing the.application are consistent with all relevant GAC advice. The United States therefore does not support further intervention that effectively works to prevent or delay the delegation of .amazon and we believe we are not supportive and we do not believe that it’s required.

This is a bit of a reversal from the US position in 2013.

Back then, the GAC wanted to issue consensus advice that ICANN should reject .amazon, but the US, protecting one of its largest companies, stood in the way of full consensus until, in the wake of the Snowden revelations, the US decided instead to abstain, apparently to appease an increasingly angry Brazil.

It was that decision that opened the door to the six more years of legal wrangling and delay that .amazon has been subject to.

With the US statement today, it seems that the GAC will be unlikely to be able to issue strong, full-consensus advice that will delay .amazon further, when it drafts its Montreal communique later in the week.

The only other GAC member speaking today to support the US position was Israel, whose rep said “since it is an ongoing issue for seven years, we don’t believe that there is a need for further delay”.

Several government reps — from China, Switzerland, Portugal, Belgium and the European Commission — spoke in favor of Brazil’s view that ICANN should allow ACTO and Amazon back to the negotiating table.

The GAC is almost certain to say something about .amazon in its communique, due to drop Wednesday, but the ICANN board of directors does not currently have an Amazon-related item on its Montreal agenda.

UPDATE: The originally published version of this story incorrectly identified the US GAC representative as Ashley Heineman, who is listed on the GAC’s web site as the US representative. In fact, the speaker was Vernita Harris, acting associate administrator at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Had I been watching the meeting, rather that just listening to it, this would have been readily apparent to me. My apologies to Ms Heineman and Ms Harris for the error.

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New (kinda) geo-TLD rules laid out at ICANN 66

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2019, Domain Policy

The proposed rules for companies thinking about applying for a geographic gTLD in the next application round have been sketched out.

They’re the same as the old rules.

At ICANN 66 in Montreal today, a GNSO Policy Development Process working group team discussed its recently submitted final report (pdf) into geographic strings at the top level.

While the group, which comprised over 160 members, has been working for over two years on potential changes to the rules laid out in the 2012 Applicant Guidebook, it has basically concluded by consensus that no changes are needed.

What it has decided is that the GNSO policy on new gTLDs that was agreed upon in 2007 should be updated to come into line with the current AGB.

It appears to be a case of the GNSO setting a policy, the ICANN staff and board implementing rules inconsistent with that policy, then, seven years later, the GNSO changing its policy to comply with that top-down mandate.

It’s not really how bottom-up ICANN is supposed to work.

But at least nobody’s going to have to learn a whole new set of rules when the next application round opens.

The 2012 AGB bans two-letter gTLDs, for example, to avoid confusion with ccTLDs. It also places strong restrictions on the UN-recognized names of countries, territories, capital cities and regions.

It also gave the Governmental Advisory Committee sweeping powers to object to any gTLD it didn’t like the look of.

What it didn’t do was restrict geographic names such as “Amazon”, which is an undeniably famous geographic feature but which does not appear on any of the International Standards Organization lists that the AGB defers to.

Amazon the retailer has been fighting for its .amazon gTLDs for seven years, and it appears that the new GNSO recommendations will do nothing to provide clarity for edge-case applicants such as this in future rounds.

The group that came up with report — known as Work Track 5 of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group — evidently had members that want to reduce geographic-string protections and those who wanted to increase them.

Members ultimately reached “consensus” — indicating that most but not all members agreed with the outcome — to stick with the status quo.

Nevertheless, the Montreal session this afternoon concluded with a great deal of back-slapping and expressions that Work Track 5 had allowed all voices, even those whose requests were ultimately declined, to be heard equally and fairly.

The final report has been submitted to the full WG for adoption, after which it will go to the full GNSO for approval, before heading to public comment and the ICANN board of directors as part of the PDP’s full final report.

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Emoji domains get a 😟 after broad study

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Tech

Domain names containing emojis are a security risk and not recommended, according to a pretty comprehensive review by an ICANN study group.

The Country-Code Names Supporting Organization has delivered the results of its 12-person, 18-month Emoji Study Group, which was tasked with looking into the problems emoji domains can cause, review current policy, and talk to ccTLD registries that currently permit emoji domains.

The ESG didn’t have a lot of power, and its recommendations are basically an exercise in can-kicking, but it’s easily the most comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding emoji domains that I’ve ever come across.

It’s 30 pages long, and you can read it here (pdf).

Emojis are currently banned in gTLDs, where ICANN has to approve new Unicode tables before they can be used by registries at the second level, under its internationalized domain name policy, IDNA 2008.

But ccTLDs, which are not contracted with ICANN, have a lot more flexibility. There are 15 ccTLDs — almost all representing small islands or low-penetration African nations — that currently permit emoji domains, the ESG found.

That’s about 6% of Latin-script ccTLDs out there today. These TLDs are .az, .cf, .fm, .je, .ga, .ge, .gg, .gq, .ml, .st, .to, .tk, .uz, .vu, and .ws.

Five of them, including .tk, are run by notorious freebie registry Freenom, but perhaps the best-known is .ws, where major brands such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola have run marketing campaigns in the past.

The main problem with emojis is the potential for confusing similarity, and the ESG report does a pretty good job of enumerating the ways confusability can arise. Take its comparison of multiple applications’ version of the exact same “grinning face” emoji, for example:

Emoji comparison

If you saw a domain containing one of those in marketing on one platform, would you be able to confidently navigate to the site on another? I doubt I would.

There’s also variations in how registrars handle emojis on their storefronts, the report found. On some you can search with an emoji, on others you’ll need to type out the xn-- prefixed Punycode translation longhand.

In terms of recommendations, the ESG basically just asked ICANN to keep an eye on the situation, to come to a better definition of what an emoji actually is, and to reach out for information to the ccTLDs accepting emojis, which apparently haven’t been keen on opening up so far.

Despite the lack of closure, it’s a pretty good read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

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Industry veteran Jay Daley tapped to lead IETF

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Policy

The Internet Engineering Task Force has named domain industry veteran Jay Daley as its new executive director.

In a blog post last week, the IETF said that Daley beat 133 other “highly qualified applicants” for the job.

He’s the first person to hold the executive director title since the IETF formalized itself into an LLC entity owned by the Internet Society a year ago.

Daley’s most-recent activity in the domain industry was as interim CEO of Public Interest Registry between Brian Cute and Jon Nevett, a position he held for about six months last year.

He continues to sit on PIR’s board of directors

PIR is of course another ISOC subsidiary and its biggest funding source, due to the tens of millions of dollars of .org registry fees it donates every year.

Daley was previously CEO of .nz ccTLD registry NZRS and head of technology at .uk registry Nominet.

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Verisign likely to get its billion-dollar .com pricing windfall

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Registries

Verisign and ICANN appear to be on the verge of signing a new .com registry contract that could prove extremely lucrative for the legacy gTLD company.

Speaking to analysts following the announcement of Verisign’s third-quarter results late last week, CEO Jim Bidzos said talks with ICANN, which have their first anniversary this week, are “nearly complete”.

The new contract will take on the terms of the Cooperative Agreement between Verisign and the US Department of Commerce, which was amended a year ago to scrap an Obama-era price freeze.

Under the future contract, Verisign is expected to be able to raise its .com fee from its current $7.85 by 7% in four of the six years of the deal. As I wrote at the time, this could be worth close to a billion dollars.

This, for a company that already enjoys profit margins so generous that I regularly receive phone calls from perplexed analysts asking me to help explain how they get away with it.

Bidzos said on Thursday night:

let me remind you that under the 2016 amendment to our .com registry agreement with ICANN, which extended the term of the agreement, we and ICANN also agree to negotiate in good faith to do two things; first, we agree to reflect changes to the Cooperative Agreement in the com agreement, including pricing terms. Second, we agree to amend the com agreement to include terms to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the com registry or the internet.

We believe these discussions with ICANN are nearly complete. While it will be inappropriate at this time to provide more details, I can say that we were satisfied with the results so far. As noted, this is an ICANN process and we expect that before long ICANN will be publishing for public comment the documents we have been discussing.

The Cooperative Agreement also allows Verisign to launch a registrar business, just as long as that registrar does not sell .com domains.

Potentially, Verisign could get the right to launch a customer-facing registrar focused on selling .net, .org and newer gTLDs and ccTLDs.

Given we already pretty much know what the new pricing regime is going to be, the big mystery right now is why it’s taken ICANN and Verisign so long to renegotiate the contract.

One analyst asked Bidzos on Thursday whether ICANN has talked its way into getting a bigger slice of the registry fee, currently set at $0.25 per annual domain transaction.

That’s in-line with what almost all the other gTLD registries pay, and I can’t see ICANN demanding more without attracting a tonne of criticism. Verisign is already by some margin its biggest funding source.

Could ICANN have demanded that Verisign adopt the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting policy, which would be guaranteed to enrage domain investors?

Whatever else is to be added to the contract, it appears to be related to that amorphous term “security and stability”, which could mean basically anything.

When ICANN and Verisign agreed to talk about new terms “to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD”, what on Earth where they talking about?

It looks like we won’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

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