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New TLD competition group throws in the towel

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2010, Domain Registries

The ICANN working group tasked with deciding whether registrars should be allowed to apply for new top-level domains has failed to reach agreement after over six months of talks.

This means it will be down to the ICANN board of directors to decide, possibly at its next meeting, what the rules should be on vertical integration and cross ownership in new TLDs.

It’s been pretty clear from the Vertical Integration Working Group’s recent discussions that there would be no chance of the group reaching a consensus on the headline topics in the remaining time allotted to it.

Within the last two hours, the GNSO Council has been notified that the group has failed to reach consensus.

Should ICANN-accredited registrars be allowed to apply for new TLDs? Should registries be allow to sell direct to consumers? Should registrars be able to own stakes in registries? Vice versa? How much? Whither the .brand?

All these questions will now have to be resolved by the ICANN staff and board.

Currently, the Draft Applicant Guidebook limits registry/registrar cross-ownership to 2%, effectively barring existing registrars from applying to run new TLD registries.

While the VI working group has been working on the problem since February, positions quickly became entrenched based on the commercial interests of many participants. There has been no substantial progress towards compromise or consensus in months.

But the group did manage to reach rough agreement on a number of peripheral problems that will have a lesser economic impact on the incumbent registries and registrars.

For example, the board will likely be told that “single registrant, single user” TLDs, a variant of the .brand where the registry is the only registrant, should be looked into further.

On the core issue of cross ownership, three proposals are on the table.

One, the Free Trade Proposal, would eliminate such restrictions entirely. Two others, RACK+ and JN2+, would increase the limits to 15%.

The RACK+ proposal is the closest to the status quo in terms of barring vertical integration, while JN2+ contains explicit exceptions for .brand TLDs and smaller community registries.

Given the lack of consensus, it’s quite feasible that the ICANN board may decide to cherry pick from two or more proposals, or come up with something entirely novel. We’ll have to wait and see.

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New TLDs get their own conference

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Registries

Former ICANN staffer Kieren McCarthy is organizing a conference dedicated to new top-level domains, set to run in San Francisco for two days next February.

The .nxt conference will be hosted by the Internet Society’s SF Bay Area chapter. Pricing is expected to be in the $300 to $500 range.

The organizers are currently looking for speakers, exhibitors and attendees from registries, registrars, potential TLD applicants, consultants and marketers.

McCarthy told me that the idea is to focus more on the business opportunity side of things, rather than the policy-making that dominates ICANN meetings.

“Once all the argument is over and the rules are set, I thought it would be great to have a conference focused on what we were all going to do with the Internet,” he said in an email.

The agenda is expected to be split into four tracks: policy, implementation, models and marketing, tackling subjects such as how to run a registry and how to effectively market a TLD.

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Delhi Commonwealth Games wins UDRP

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Policy

With five days to go before the Commonwealth Games kicks off in Delhi, the organizers may be under fire for expecting athletes to live like squatters, but they have managed to beat off one cybersquatter.

(Do you see what I did there?)

The Organising Committee of the games has been handed delhi-commonwealth-games.com in a UDRP proceeding against an anonymous registrant handled by WIPO

It looks like a fairly straightforward case. The web site, which has content, appears on the first page of Google for [delhi commonwealth games]. The WIPO panelist said its use of commercial links showed bad faith.

The official domain of the games is the rather less SEO-friendly cwgdelhi2010.org.

Interestingly, the Committee became aware of the domain in April 2009 and its first move was to ask the registrar, Directi, to block it, which it refused. It was well over a year later when the UDRP claim was filed.

Delhi was awarded the Commonwealth Games in 2003. The domain was registered in 2006.

The city has recently come under fire for its apparent lack of preparation, offering arriving athletes accommodation well below par from a health and safety perspective.

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ICANN will not attend White House drugs meeting

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has declined an invitation from the Obama administration to attend a meeting tomorrow to discuss ways to crack down on counterfeit drugs web sites.

The meeting, first reported by Brian Krebs, was called with an August 13 invitation to “registries, registrars and ICANN” to meet at the White House to talk about “voluntary protocols to address the illegal sale of counterfeit non-controlled prescription medications on-line.”

The meeting is reportedly part of the administration’s Joint Strategic Plan to Combat Intellectual Property Theft, which was announced in June.

It also follows a series of reports from security firms that called into question domain name registrars’ willingness to block domains that are used to sell fake pharma.

ICANN tells me that, following talks with White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, it was agreed that it would “not be appropriate” for ICANN to attend.

The decision was based on the fact that ICANN’s job is to make policy covering internet names and addresses, and not to regulate the content of web sites.

ICANN’s vice president of government affairs for the Americas, Jamie Hedlund, said the meeting was “outside the scope of our role as the technical coordinator of the Internet’s unique identifiers.”

I suspect it also would not have looked great on the global stage if ICANN appeared to be taking its policy cues directly from the US government rather than through its Governmental Advisory Committee.

Demand Media-owned registrar eNom, which has took the brunt of the recent criticism of registrars, recently signed up to a service that will help it more easily identify and terminate domains used to sell counterfeit medicines.

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Saudi IDN landrush begins

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Registries

SaudiNIC has kicked off the landrush phase for its recently approved Arabic-script country-code top-level domain, السعودية.

The registry is using the term “landrush” to describe what other registries would call general availability. As of yesterday, it’s first-come-first-served.

Registrants must be Saudi citizens or owners of Saudi trademarks, and the registration process requires the necessary documents to be filed. It’s Arabic-script only.

There won’t be much of an aftermarket; flipping domains is frowned upon and each registrant has to show a “reasonable relationship” to the domain they want to register.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that the launch may have been delayed, which I am attempting to confirm. The registry web site is still announcing yesterday as the launch date.

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