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Minds + Machines to raise $4.7m for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings plans to raise £3 million ($4.7 million) in a stock sale to help finance the TLD aspirations of its main business, Minds + Machines.

The funds would almost double the cash reserves TLDH has on tap, which currently amount to $5.5 million, according to StockMarketWire.com.

Recently appointed CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement that ICANN’s recent decision to allow registries and registrars to vertically integrate had a bearing on the decision to raise funds:

Having reviewed ICANN’s Final Proposed Applicant Guidebook, and in view of the ICANN Board’s historic decision to do away with cross-ownership restrictions between registries and registrars, we believe that the timing is right for additional investment by TLDH. ICANN’s registry-registrar decision means that additional gTLD business models are now viable, and we have already seen a marked increase in interest from prospective new clients. We intend to make sure we have the resources to take advantage of this opportunity.

M+M is already associated with new TLD applications including .gay and .eco, both of which are expected to be contested by other applicants.

TLDH is listed on London’s small-cap Alternative Investment Market. The announcement of the placement can be found here.

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Will a Russian domain sell for more than Sex.com?

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Sales

The scandal-hit Russian domain name market may yet produce some of the most expensive domain name sales of all time. Premium .рф generics are already attracting eight-figure bids.

Bids of $10 million have apparently been placed on at least two domains, квартиры.рф and бетон.рф (apartments.rf and concrete.rf), in the controversial quasi-landrush auction managed by RU-Center, the largest Russian registrar.

IDNblog.com is reporting the apartments.rf asking price, and a reader was kind enough to send me a screenshot of the concrete.rf auction.

If these bids are for real, and these auctions were to close, they would immediately occupy the number two and three slots on the league table of all-time biggest-ticket domain sales

Before sex.com sold for $13 million, DNJournal’s top twenty list had fund.com in the top spot, at $9,999,950, followed by porn.com at $9,500,000 and diamond.com at $7,500,000.

The RU-Center auctions may not close, however.

As I reported yesterday, the registrar and five others are being investigated on antitrust grounds by Russian competition authorities, after allegedly registering tens of thousands of domains to themselves.

The auctions are currently frozen and the .рф registry, Coordination Center for ccTLD, has made noises about applying “sanctions” to the registrars that could include de-accreditation.

RU-Center, which confusingly does business at nic.ru, has defended its position in at least two articles here and here (in Russian, naturally).

As far as I can tell, none of these auctions will close until the registrar and the registry resolve their differences and/or the Russian government probe concludes.

However, it’s pretty obvious that the demand for Cyrillic generic IDNs is enormous in Russia, and could easily challenge .com on the big-sale league tables.

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Three registrars face the ICANN chop

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2010, Domain Registrars

ICANN has told three registrars they are in breach of their registrar contracts and will lose their accreditation next month unless they rectify the problems.

These registrars, all of which appear to have negligible numbers of gTLD domains under management, are affected:

Mister Name will be shut down if it does not pay its ICANN fees and escrow its Whois data.

Open System Ltd is accused of not having a functioning Whois service.

Best Bulk Domains Inc also doesn’t have a functioning Whois, ICANN said. It also has not been paying its dues and hasn’t maintained accurate contact information for itself.

All three have dates in mid-December to clean up their acts or lose their right to sell gTLD domains.

You can find ICANN’s compliance letters here.

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Gaming scandal hits Russian domain launch

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2010, Domain Registries

The launch of Russia’s .РФ country-code top-level domain, widely lauded as a runaway success story, has been tainted by a registrar gaming scandal.

Government antitrust authorities are investigating six registrars over claims that they registered tens of thousands of premium domains in order to auction them to end users, according to local reports.

The registrars in question are thought to have colluded, using each others’ services to register the names, hence the competition probe.

The largest registrar, Regional Network Information Center, aka RU-Center, is alleged to have registered 65,000 domains during the first days of the .РФ launch in order to profit from auctions.

These domains have been frozen pending resolution of the dispute. The registry, Coordination Center for TLD, is thinking about cancelling the registrars’ accreditations.

RU-Center is quoted as saying, laughably, that the premium domains were registered in order to prevent cybersquatting.

In a statement, the registry questions the public good of registering проститутки.рф, which apparently means “prostitute.rf” and is currently asking $190,000 at auction.

The investigation certainly takes the gloss off the launch, which has so far racked up well over 500,000 registered domains and was put forth as case study for internationalized domain names.

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Governments still want new TLD morality veto

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee still wants to block “controversial” new top-level domains on morality grounds.

In a letter to ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, a copy of which I have obtained, the GAC makes it clearer than ever that it wants national laws to play a part in approving new TLDs.

It also suggests that national governments should be able to pre-screen strings before applications are filed, to give applicants “early warning” that they are stepping into controversial waters.

The letter draws the battle lines for what could be some heated debate at ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena next month.

Given that the letter does not appear to have been published by ICANN yet, I will quote liberally.

Under the heading “Universal Resolvability of the DNS”, GAC interim chair Heather Dryden, the Canadian representative on the committee, wrote:

Due to uncertainties regarding the effectiveness of ICANN’s review and objections procedures, a country may feel compelled to block a new gTLD at the national level that it considers either objectionable or that raises national sensitivities.

To date, there do not appear to be controversial top level domains that have resulted in significant or sustained blocking by countries.

The GAC believes it is imperative that the impact on the continued security, stability and universal resolvability of the domain name systems of the potential blocking at the national level of the new gTLD strings that are considered to be objectionable or that raise national sensitivities be assessed prior to introducing new gTLDs.

The letter carries on to say that the GAC will “seek advice from the technical community” on the issue.

Dryden wrote that there should be a “prior review” process that would be able to identify strings that are “contrary to national law, policy or regulation” or “refer to religions, ethnicity, languages or other cultural identifiers that might raise national sensitivities”.

It sounds like the GAC envisions a pre-screening process, before new TLD applications are officially filed, similar to the “expressions of interest” concept that ICANN abandoned in March.

What TLDs this process would capture is unclear. The GAC letter notes by way of example that “several governments restrict the registration of certain terms in their ccTLDs”.

In practical terms, this would raise question marks over TLDs such as “.gay”, which would quite clearly run contrary to the policies of many national governments.

(As I reported earlier this month, the recently relaunched .so registry currently bans “gay”, “lesbian” and related terms at the second level.)

There’s more to be reported on the the implications of this letter, particularly with regards the work of ICANN’s “morality and public order” policy working group and the GAC’s relationship with ICANN in general.

Watch this space.

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