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Casino.com plotting top-level domain bid?

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Is this the first gambling-related new top-level domain applicant?

Casino.com, in this frankly odd press release, seems to be dropping hints that it would be interested in applying for a new TLD when ICANN opens up the bids next year.

Discussing the controversy over the porn-only .xxx domain, the release goes on to say:

In spite of this, online casino sites are considering the idea of a unique domain as well, hoping that it will give them the same impact as governments and schools by using .gov and .edu.

It would of course be a huge shock if there were no gambling TLDs proposed in the first round.

I expect a .poker or .casino TLD could be quickly flipped for millions, given the potential value of their sunrise auctions. Casino.com itself was sold for $5.5 million, back in 2003.

Of course, actually applying to ICANN for .poker could be an expensive gambit. With multiple applicants, it’s one TLD that could easily head to auction.

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Top-level domain count likely to top 300 this year

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Perusing the big stack of marketing literature that I picked up at ICANN Brussels in June, I noticed that few companies agree about how many top-level domains currently exist.

Mildly surprising really, given that the official count isn’t especially difficult to come by. According to IANA’s database, there are 292 delegated TLDs today.

That number breaks down like this:

251 ASCII ccTLDs
9 IDN ccTLDs
4 gTLDs
3 “restricted” gTLDs
1 “infrastructure” TLD
13 “sponsored” gTLDs
11 test IDN TLDs

Interestingly, according to IANA, there are only four vanilla, open gTLDs – .com, .net, .org and .info.

I wonder how many sites NeuStar has shut down because .biz is “restricted” to business users? Or how many .mobi domains have been put on hold for breaking the “sponsored” guidelines.

The list does not yet count the six IDN ccTLDs that ICANN’s board approved August 5. So there are actually 298 approved top-level domains today.

In the IDN ccTLD pipeline as of Brussels were also Qatar, Singapore and Syria, which had met string approval but were not yet delegated, and about 15 others that had not.

There are two (or three) more voting meetings for ICANN’s board this year, and so it seems likely that the delegated TLD count will break through the 300 mark before 2011.

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New TLD ownership rules punted to ICANN board

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Policy

The ICANN board will be asked to untangle the policy mess that currently bans domain name registrars from applying for new top-level domains, after a GNSO working group failed to reach consensus.

The Vertical Integration WG was tasked with figuring out whether registrars should be allowed to own new TLD registries and vice versa, but only managed to reach deadlock.

The GNSO Council is now likely to punt the issue to the ICANN’s September 24-25 retreat, asking the board to consider the issues raised by the WG’s non-committal interim report.

It’s a dismaying case of pass-the-parcel that highlights both the trickiness of the VI problem and the limits of ICANN’s bottom-up policy-making process.

ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook currently says that cross ownership between registrars and new TLD registries should be limited to 2% and that all new TLDs need to be offered to all accredited registrars.

This was in response to fears from some quarters that if a registrar also owned a new TLD registry, it would have an unfair advantage over other registrars, ultimately harming registrants.

The DAGv4 text was an overt, deliberately Draconian placeholder – it would ban all registrars and some registries, as well as making “.brand” TLDs unworkable – designed to force the GNSO find a better solution to the perceived problem.

The WG, which is ongoing, has so far failed to do so, and now seems set to pass the hot potato back from whence it came.

What all this means is that the ICANN board (and, let’s face it, staff) will be forced to assemble a workable VI policy for the first round of new TLD applications from the piecemeal suggestions of the WG; to do over two days or less what the WG failed to do over six months.

What the board will decide remains to be seen, but it could wind up governing the first round of new TLD applications, potentially making it a considerably smaller round.

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dotFree’s “free” domain names explained

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2010, Domain Registries

As I reported a couple of days ago, a Czech company called The dotFree Group wants to apply to ICANN for a .free top-level domain, and will offer domain names for free.

Now for the small print – not all .free domain names will be free, and there will be strict limitations on how many free domains any given individual is able to register.

Here is an email interview I conducted with dotFree chief executive Dominique Piatti, which I think covers the basics of the business model and contains a few surprises.

I’ve corrected a few typos, but other than that it’s unedited.

DI: Applying for a new TLD will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and running it over the longer term will cost more. How does dotFree plan to cover the cost of running a free TLD?

Piatti: We are working with Venture Capital companies together from Eastern Europe and have an estimated turnover of EUR 1.25 million for 2011. In addition to this we are generating substantial revenue with our current projects www.cz.cc (which is a free second-level domain name registry) and with the Domain Registrar Script which is currently in version 1.3.5 (www.registrar-script.cz.cc).

DI: .free could be a desirable TLD for domain investors. Will there be any limitations on how many .free domains an individual is allowed to register? What would prevent a single person registering hundreds of thousands of .free domains?

Piatti: Yes, currently we plan that each individual is allow to have 1 .free domain at no costs within their account. If a user plans to have more domain names he can upgrade to VIP status (eg. $5/year and you can hold up to 20 domains in your account) similar like we have it successfully tested with www.cz.cc over the past 12 months. We have an advanced fraud detection tool developed which identifies double accounts owned by the same person.

DI: Do you anticipate a .free aftermarket? Would somebody be able to register, for example, “poker.free” for free and then sell it to somebody else for hundreds of thousands of dollars?

Piatti: Yes, we launch .free the same way as any other TLD in the market with the difference that every individual can have a .free domain at no costs. We will launch similar to the most recent TLD’s like .co and .me with premium domains, auctions etc. Also, aftermarket sales are possible therefore.

DI: Would “premium” domains also be free, or would you charge for them like you do with premium .cz.cc names?

Piatti: All our premium domains will cost around $5/year and will not be free. There are around 200,000 premium domains planned.

DI: Do you anticipate selling .free domains via registrars like Go Daddy and eNom, or would you expect to sell direct to the end user?

Piatti: Both. In our business plan we have the ICANN accredited registrars as distribution channels listed but we will also distribute those .free domain names directly over our own website.

DI: Would there be a “landrush” period? Would you auction premium names or would it be first-come-first-served?

Piatti: The launch will be very similar to .co and .me with everything it takes to make .free a highly successful gTLD.

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Porno union will try to shaft .xxx

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2010, Domain Registries

The fight between ICM Registry and the Free Speech Coalition over the proposed .xxx top-level domain is not over yet.

The porn trade group has a plan to block ICM’s passage through the ICANN process, and has already stepped up efforts to rally the adult entertainment industry to its cause.

Last weekend at the AVN Show in Florida, FSC chair Diane Duke reportedly said:

ICM is saying this is a done deal… but it is not a done deal. We [the FSC] have a strategy to block the application. I have spoken with people from ICANN, and they agreed that this is not a done deal.

Asked whether lawsuits would be required, Duke reportedly answered: “There are other avenues to block this.”

These comments and others suggest that the FSC intends to use ICANN processes to, at the very least, delay .xxx’s delegation.

A public comment period will be launched soon on the proposed ICM-ICANN registry contract. This will likely be oversubscribed by FSC supporters.

If the contract ends up being bounced to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for consideration, there’s another opportunity for FSC lobbying.

Then, crucially, if ICANN votes to approve .xxx, the FSC could attempt to temporarily block the actual delegation to the DNS root by filing a Reconsideration Request.

Under my reading of the Reconsideration procedure, the actual delegation of the TLD could be delayed by anything between 30 and 120 days. Possibly longer.

The FSC would need to show at the very least that it would be harmed by .xxx’s introduction. If successful, the best case scenario for the FSC would see the resolution approving .xxx bounced back to the ICANN board for a second vote.

Beyond that, there’s always an Independent Review Panel. For that, the FSC would need to show that the .xxx approval breached ICANN’s bylaws or articles of incorporation, which seems to me to be a more challenging proposition. Also very expensive.

Another interesting quote from the AVN article – reportedly Allan Gelbard, lawyer to John “Buttman” Stagliano, said that the adult industry may be unduly worrying because:

anti-trust and trademark legal challenges would be brought immediately following the final approval by the ICANN board

Make of that what you will.

There’s also a new anti-.xxx blog, written by Theresa “Dark Lady” Reed, containing a new “satirical” video spoofing ICM.

To be honest, the funniest thing about it for me was the decision to cast a handsome, shiny-toothed American anchorman type as British ICM president Stuart Lawley.

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