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Will ITU object to phone number .tel domains?

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Should Telnic be allowed to let people register their phone numbers as .tel domain names?

That’s the question ICANN is currently posing to the internet-using public, after it determined that allowing numeric-only .tel domains does not pose a security and stability threat.

If you can register a phone number in almost every other gTLD (except VeriSign’s .name), then why not in .tel? On the face of it, it’s a no-brainer.

But Telnic’s request represents a huge U-turn, reversing a position it has held for 10 years, that runs the risk of drawing the attention of the International Telecommunications Union.

Telnic originally applied for .tel during ICANN’s very first new gTLD round, back in 2000.

The third-party evaluator ICANN hired to review the new TLD applications clearly assumed that .tel domains would be mainly text-based, noting that Telnic, unlike other .tel bids:

does not make use of phone numbers in the sub-domain name, but instead uses names to designate the intended destination of VoIP calls… the Telnic application appears to have the least impact on PSTN numbering.

The report added, parenthetically: “It should be noted that Telnic’s application does not explicitly renounce the future use of numbers”.

That all changed after November 2000, when the ITU wrote to ICANN to express concerns about the four proposed telephony-related TLDs:

it is the view of ITU that it would be premature for ICANN to grant any E.164-related TLD application as this may jeopardize these cooperative activities or prejudice future DNS IP Telephony addressing requirements.

E.164 is the international telephone numbering plan, which the ITU oversees. It also forms the basis of the ENUM protocol, which stores phone numbers in the DNS under e164.arpa.

ICANN’s board of directors used the ITU letter to reject all four telephony TLDs, which irked Telnic. The would-be registry filed a Reconsideration Request in an attempt to get the decision reversed.

In it, Telnic attempted to persuade ICANN that the ITU had nothing to worry about with its “text-based” and strictly non-numeric TLD. The company wrote (my emphasis):

* All-digit strings will be permanently embargoed.

* Broad terms and conditions and safeguards will be implemented covering any abuses that could possibly lead to any PSTN confusion, conflict or similarity.

* Measured use of numbers might be permissible where there is no direct, marginal, implied or similar confusions/conflicts with PSTN codes or numbers – and where digits form an incidental part of a text string (e.g. johnsmith11.tel).

ICANN’s reconsideration committee denied the request.

In 2004, when ICANN’s sponsored TLD round opened up, Telnic applied for .tel again. This time, it was careful to avoid upsetting the ITU from the very outset.

Indeed, the second paragraph of its application stated clearly:

Digits are to be restricted to maintain the integrity of a letters/words based top-level domain and to avoid interference with established or future national and international telephone numbering plans.

The application referred to the namespace as “text-based” throughout, and even used the need for policies regulating the use of digits to justify the sponsoring organization it intended to create.

The application stated:

The .Tel will not:

Allow numeric-only domains to be registered, and therefore will not conflict with any national or international telephone numbering plan.

It also said:

Domain name strings containing only digits with or without a dash (e.g. 08001234567, 0-800-1234567) will be restricted and reserved to maintain the integrity as a letters/words based top-level domain

Despite these assurances, it was obvious that the ITU’s concerns about numeric .tel domains continued to bother ICANN right up until it finally approved .tel in 2006.

During the board meeting at which Telnic’s contract was approved, director Raimundo Beca pressed for the inclusion of language that addressed the constraints on numeric domains and chair Vint Cerf asked general counsel John Jeffrey to amend the resolution accordingly.

While that amendment appears to have never been made, it was clearly envisaged at the moment of the board vote that .tel was to steer clear of numeric-only domains.

Telnic’s contract now specifically excludes such registrations.

Given all this history, one might now argue that Telnic’s request to lift these restrictions is kind of a Big Deal.

A Telnic spokesperson tells me that, among other things, the current restrictions unfairly exclude companies that brand themselves with their phone numbers, such as 118-118 in the UK.

He added that Telnic request has been made now in part because VeriSign has requested the lifting of similar restrictions in .name, which ICANN has also concluded is not a stability problem.

However, as far as I can tell .name was not subject to the same kinds of ITU-related concerns as .tel when it was approved in 2000.

Telnic proposes one safeguard against conflict with E.164, in that it will not allow the registration of single-digit domains, reducing the potential for confusion with ENUM strings, which separate each digit with a dot.

If the ITU does rear its head in response to the current .tel public comment period, it will come at a awkward time, politically. Some ITU members have said recently they want the ITU to form a committee that would have veto power over ICANN’s decisions.

But Telnic says, in its proposal, that it does not know of anybody who is likely to object to its request.

Perhaps it is correct.

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Go Daddy files for business community patents

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2010, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy has applied for three US patents covering an “Online Business Community” that looks a bit like a social network for small businesses.

The patents describe a web site that enables companies and potential customers to interact through forums, community groups and ratings systems, as well as advertising, buying and selling.

In the applications, Go Daddy says it had noticed that:

presently-existing methods of conducting online business, however, do not permit businesses and potential customers alike to interact in one place to share business-related resources; advertise, buy, and sell goods and services; interact; hold discussions; and network.

The patents, if granted, would cover such a service.

While most or all of the features outlined in the applications can be found individually in other Go Daddy products, I don’t think the company currently has a service that combines them all in the way described by the patents. Go Daddy Marketplace probably comes closest.

The applications appear to cover the creation of ad hoc business communities, for example, as well as the formation of “partnerships” between members such as suppliers and customers.

They also appear to account for communication between members using technologies such as instant messaging or voice over IP, and for members to rate each other for trustworthiness.

The three applications, 20100262686, 20100262629 and 20100262502, were filed in June and published today.

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ICANN rejects porn domain info request

Kevin Murphy, October 13, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request from porn trade group the Free Speech Coalition for more information about the .xxx top-level domain application, including a list of its pre-registrations.

The organization sent a letter (pdf) to the FSC’s director Diane Duke last week, saying that the materials it requested about ICM Registry and IFFOR, its sponsorship body, are confidential.

This would make the information exempt from ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy.

The FSC had specifically requested:

1. The list of the IFFOR Board members;
2. The list of proposed members of the Policy Council;
3. IFFOR’s Business Plan/Financials;
4. Business Plan/Financials Years 1‐5 utilizing 125,000 Initial Registrations;
5. The list of .XXX sTLD pre-registrants who have been identified to ICANN; and
6. ICM’s Proof of Sponsorship Community Support as submitted to ICANN.

According to ICANN, ICM was asked if it would like to lift the confidentiality restrictions and ICM did not respond.

The FSC believes that many of .xxx’s 180,000+ pre-registrations are defensive in nature, made by pornographers who would really prefer that the TLD is never approved, which ICM disputes.

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Will the internet get two new ccTLDs (and lose one)?

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2010, Domain Registries

One country dropped off the map on Sunday, and two new countries were created. So does this mean we’re going to get two new country-code top-level domains?

The islands of Curacao and St. Maarten have reportedly become autonomous countries, after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, a collection of former Dutch colonies off north-east coast of Venezuela.

The reorganization sees a number of other islands join the Netherlands as municipalities, while Curacao and St. Maarten become countries in the own right, albeit still tied politically tied to the motherland.

It seems quite possible that these two islands will now get their own ccTLDs, for two reasons.

First, both states are now reportedly as autonomous as fellow former Dutch Antilles territory Aruba, if not more so. Aruba acquired this status in 1986 and had .aw delegated to it by IANA in 1996.

Second, St Maarten shares a landmass with St Martin, a former French colony. The French northern side of the island is already entitled to its own ccTLD, .mf, although the domain has never been delegated.

ICANN/IANA does not make the call on what is and isn’t considered a nation for ccTLD purposes. Rather, it defers to the International Standards Organization, and a list of strings called ISO 3166-2.

The ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency in turn defers to the UN’s Statistics Division and its “Countries or areas, codes and abbreviations” list, which can be found here.

How long a new ccTLD delegation takes can vary wildly.

Montenegro, for example, declared its independence on June 3, 2006. It was added to the ISO 3166 list on September 26 that year, applied for a ccTLD on December 24, and received its delegation of .me following an ICANN board vote on September 11, 2007.

Finland’s Aland Islands got .ax less than six months after applying in 2006. North Korea, by contrast, received .kp on the same day as Montenegro got .me, but had first applied in 2004.

IANA treats the deletion of a ccTLD much more cautiously, due to the fact that some TLDs could have many second-level registrations already.

The removal of the former Yugoslavian domain, .yu, was subject to a three-year transition process under the supervision of the new .rs registry.

The Dutch Antilles has its own ccTLD, .an, which is in use and delegated to University of The Netherlands Antilles, based in Curacao.

Will we see a gradual phasing-out of .an, in favor of two new ccTLDs?

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DiscountVouchers.com sells for $158k

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2010, Domain Sales

DiscountVouchers.co.uk has acquired the equivalent .com domain for £100,000 ($158,000).

The private sale, apparently sealed after owner Barry Garner offered it for sale in a forum post at Affiliates4U.com last week, does not appear to have closed yet, judging by Whois records.

The buyer, who claims the .co.uk site will handle £50 million to £100 million of sales to merchants in its first year, reportedly said the primary motivation behind the deal was brand protection.

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