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Now .mobi wants to auction ultra-short domains

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Afilias-owned dotMobi has applied to ICANN to auction off one and two-letter .mobi domain names, following in the footsteps on other top-level domain registries.

The company had a plan to selectively allocate some such domains based on a Request For Proposals approved by ICANN almost two years ago, now it wants to be able to auction off whatever domains remain.

dotMobi said (pdf):

Once the previously approved RFP round has concluded, dotMobi will conduct an auction of any remaining domains according to a schedule determined by dotMobi. For any domains not allocated during either the RFP or auction rounds, dotMobi will announce a release date and will invite open, first-come-first-served registrations.

Requests to allocate one and two-character domains have previously been submitted and approved by Neustar (.biz), Afilias (.info), puntCAT (.cat), Tralliance (.travel) and RegistryPro (.pro).

Telnic (.tel) has a similar proposal still under board review.

Such auctions offer a one-time windfall for the registry operator. NeuStar’s .biz auction raised a reported $360,000 last year.

As DomainNameWire reported yesterday VeriSign has withdrawn its application for one-letter auctions in .net. Its proposal would have seen expired one-character domains returned to registry control, allowing them to be re-auctioned.

.CO fastest-growing new TLD in years

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2010, Domain Registries

.CO Internet today announced that it has taken over 500,000 .co domain name registrations in the less than two months since the names went into general availability.

By my reckoning, that makes .co the fastest-growing new TLD launch since .eu, back in 2006. EurID managed to take 1,691,069 .eu registrations in its first month of availability, a hard act to follow.

But .co easily beats .mobi, which took about eight months to reach the 500,000 registrations landmark after it launched in September 2005.

Fellow 2005-round launch DotAsia never (or has yet to) hit the 500k mark. It peaked at 245,196 in March 2009 and has been on the slide ever since, according to HosterStats.com.

If you go back as far as the 2000 round, you’ll find Afilias’ .info TLD took almost three months to hit 500,000 names. Three months after that, it had added another quarter-million.

But it only took Neustar (then Neulevel) a measly 30 days to pass the same milestone with .biz. Ten years on, it has over two million names on its books.

Afilias adds DNSSEC to .info zone

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2010, Domain Tech

The .info domain has become the latest gTLD to be signed with DNSSEC, the security standard for domain name lookups.

Afilias, which runs the .info registry, said today that it has signed its zone and added the necessary records to the DNS root.

DNSSEC is designed to prevent cache poisoning attacks, which can be used to hijack domain names and carry out phishing campaigns.

For registrants, DNSSEC in .info doesn’t mean much in practical terms yet. If you have a .info, you’ll have to wait for registrars to start to support the standard.

At the moment, only 19 second-level .info domains, including afilias.info and comcast.info, have been signed, as part of a “friends and family” testbed program.

The .org zone, which Afilias also provides the back-end for, was signed in June.

Neustar added full DNSSEC support for .biz in August, according to an announcement this week.

For .com and .net, VeriSign is currently planning to roll out the technology in the first quarter of 2011.

Registrars “unprepared” for DNSSEC

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2010, Domain Tech

Only one in 10 domain name registrars believes it is fully prepared to offer DNSSEC services today, according to new research out from Afilias, the .info registry.

The Registrar DNSSEC Readiness Report (pdf) also shows that a perceived lack of customer demand for the technology has translated into ambivalence at most registrars.

DNSSEC is a standard extension to DNS that helps prevent domain name hijacking through man-in-the-middle attacks.

The survey shows that 9.86% of registrars say they are “fully prepared” to offer DNSSEC to customers now, with 52.2% saying they were “somewhat” prepared. The remainder were not at all prepared.

A little over a quarter of respondents rated DNSSEC a “high” priority for the next 12 months, with less than 3% saying it was an “extremely high” priority.

Two of the biggest reasons for the lack of urgency were lack of customer demand – 59% of registrars said they saw no demand at all – and difficulties developing key management systems.

Despite this, when asked the question “Should TLD registries support DNSSEC?”, a whopping 80% responded in the affirmative.

I expect interest in the technology will pick up early next year, when VeriSign signs the .com zone.

The Afilias survey was conducted electronically earlier this month. The sample size was quite small, with only 71 respondents, and most of them were on the smaller side by domain count.

The report was released to coincide with Afilias’ launch of a broad effort to add DNSSEC support to all of the TLDs for which it provides registry services.

The company already offers the technology in .org, and that will now be extended to gTLDs including .info and ccTLDs such as .in. You can read the release at CircleID.

Stalemate reached on new TLD ownership rules

Kevin Murphy, July 26, 2010, Domain Policy

An ICANN working group tasked with deciding whether domain name registrars should be able to apply to run new top-level domains has failed to reach a consensus.

For the last several months, the Vertical Integration working group has been debating, in essence, the competitive ground rules of the new TLD market, addressing questions such as:

  • Should existing ICANN registrars be allowed to run new TLD registries?
  • Should new TLD registries be allowed to own and control ICANN registrars?
  • Should new TLD registries be allowed to sell domains directly to end users?
  • What if an approved registry can’t find a decent registrar willing to sell domains in its TLD?
  • Should “.brand” TLDs be forced to sell via ICANN accredited registrars?
  • Should “registry service providers” be subject to the same restrictions as “registries”?
  • Where’s the harm in allowing cross-ownership and vertical integration?

It’s an extraordinarily complex set of questions, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the working group, which comprised a whopping 75 people, has managed to reach agreement on very few answers.

Its initial report, described as a “snapshot” and subject to change, states:

It is impossible to know or completely understand all potential business models that may be represented by new gTLD applicants. That fact has been an obstacle to finding consensus on policy that defines clear, bright line rules for allowing vertical integration and a compliance framework to support it

Having lurked on the WG’s interactions for a few months, I should note that this is possibly the understatement of the year. However, the WG does draw four conclusions.

1. Certain new gTLDs likely to be applied for in the first round will be unnecessarily impacted by restrictions on cross-ownership or control between registrar and registry.

I believe the WG is referring here primarily to, for example, certain “cultural” TLDs that expect to operate in linguistic niches not currently catered for by registrars.

The operators of the .zulu and .kurd TLDs would certainly find themselves without a paddle if the rules obliged them to find an ICANN-accredited registrar that supports either of their languages.

There are other would-be registries, such as .music, that call themselves “community” TLDs and want to be able to sell directly to users, but my feeling is that many in the WG are less sympathetic to those causes.

2. The need for a process that would allow applicants to request exceptions and be considered on a case-by-case basis. The reasons for exceptions, and the conditions under which exceptions would be allowed, vary widely in the group.

There’s not a great deal to add to that: the WG spent much of the last couple of weeks arguing about “exceptions” (that they could not agree on) to a baseline rule (that they could not define).

3. The concept of Single Registrant Single User should be explored further.

An “SRSU” is a subset of what a lot of us have been calling a “.brand”. The proposed .canon TLD, under which Canon alone owns .canon domains, would likely fall into this category.

The WG’s report suggests that SRSU namespaces, should they be permitted, should not be subject to the same restrictions as a more open and generic TLD that sells to the average man on the street.

The alternative would be pretty crazy – imagine Canon owning the registry but being forced to pay Go Daddy or eNom every time it wanted to add a record to its own database.

I do not believe that a hypothetical .facebook, in which Facebook is the registry and its users are the registrants, falls into the SRSU category. Which is also pretty nuts, if you’re Facebook, forced to hand your brand over to the world’s domain name registrars.

4. The need for enhanced compliance efforts and the need for a detailed compliance plan in relation to the new gTLD program in general.

One principle that has come through quite clearly whilst lurking on the WG mailing list is that the degree of distrust between participants in this industry is matched only by the lack of confidence in ICANN’s ability to police bad actors effectively.

Domain name companies are masters of the loophole, and ICANN’s enforcement mechanisms have historically been slow enough that yesterday’s scandal often becomes today’s standard practice.

This sums it up pretty well:

Some members feel that loosening vertical integration/ownership controls may let the proverbial “genie out of the bottle that can’t be put back” should competitive harms result in the marketplace. Others believe that adopting restrictions on vertical integration or cross ownership is the wrong approach altogether, and that the focus should be on protecting against harms, and providing sanctions where harms take place.

The WG currently has six policy proposals on the table, which vary from the “no VI allowed” of the current Draft Applicant Guidebook to “some VI allowed” to “full VI allowed”.

There was a poll of WG members a few weeks back, to see which proposal had most support. It was inconclusive, but it left three proposals clearly in the lead.

The so-called Free Trade proposal, which advocates no limits on cross ownership, was originally authored by Sivasubramanian Muthusamy of ISOC India Chennai.

The proposal as it currently stands puts the focus on ICANN troubleshooting undesirable activities through compliance programs rather than ownership restrictions.

Opposed, a proposal known as RACK+, offered up primarily by Afilias, some of its partners, and Go Daddy, favours a much more restrictive policy that is more aligned with business models established under the last ten years of gTLDs dominated by .com.

RACK+ would impose a 15% ownership limit between registries, registrars and registry service operators, ostensibly in order to prevent registrars abusing privileged registry data.

But under RACK+, all TLDs, including .brands and obscure community TLDs, would be obliged to accept registrations only through ICANN registrars, on a non-discriminatory basis.

This would probably render the .brand TLD market stillborn, if adopted by ICANN, I reckon.

A third proposal, called JN2+, originally authored by representatives of NeuStar and Domain Dimensions, occupies a spot somewhere in the middle ground.

It also proposes 15% ownership caps between registrars, registries and registry service providers, but it contains explicit carve-outs for SRSU-style .brands and “community” TLDs.

Because I’m a wimp, and I have no desire to be drawn into the kinds of arguments I’ve been reading and listening to recently, I’m going to quote Milton Mueller here, saying JN2 “had the highest acceptability ranking of all the proposals” when the WG was polled.

(Sorry.)

I find it rather surprising that the WG seems to be calling for more policy work to be done on ICANN’s compliance programs before the issue of vertical integration can be fully resolved.

If anything, this seems to me to be yet another way to risk adding more delay to the new TLD program.

There’s a public comment period now open, here. And here’s the report itself (pdf)