With little fanfare, ICANN last week formally approved new rules that could allow incumbent registry operators to own registrars that sell domains in their own gTLDs.
The policy would give the likes of Verisign, Neustar and Afilias the right to become affiliated with registrars that sell .com, .biz and .info names respectively.
These registries would have to sign up to the standard new gTLD registry agreement first, or submit to contract renegotiation in order to drop their current cross-ownership bans.
In either case, they would become bound by the new registry Code of Conduct, preventing them from offering preferential terms to their affiliated registrars.
The new rule came into effect following the ICANN board meeting on Thursday, at which this resolution was passed.
ICANN had already dropped cross-ownership restrictions for new gTLD registry operators, but held back from bringing in the same rules for incumbents due to concerns from competition authorities.
After exchanges of letters with the European Commission and US Department of Commerce, these concerns appear to have dried up, however. ICANN said in its resolution:
it appears that there is no longer any reason against extending the approved process to existing registry operators for their own TLDs.
This action will be an advantage for the ICANN community, as it will provide the opportunity for treating all registry operators equally with respect to cross-ownership restrictions.
Registries would have their requests for contract changes referred to competition authorities for comment before ICANN would approve them.
Based on previous comments, Verisign might have a struggle with respect to .com but the other incumbents might have an easier time renegotiating their deals.
Neustar has been particularly outspoken in its desire to get rid of the contractual language preventing it owning a .biz registrar, so we might see that company first to get into talks.
Both .biz and .info contracts are up for renewal before the end of the year.
Image Online Design, which unsuccessfully applied for the .web gTLD all the way back in 2000, has sued ICANN, alleging trademark infringement and breach of contract.
IOD, which says it has over 20,000 .web domains under management in an alternate root, says ICANN never officially rejected its .web bid, and that it should not have allowed other companies to apply for it.
It’s looking for an injunction preventing ICANN awarding .web to any other company, as well as seeking ICANN’s “profits” resulting from the alleged infringement of its mark.
There are seven .web applicants in the current round, but IOD is not among them.
The company paid $50,000 for its application in 2000, but it’s not happy with the $86,000 discount ICANN offered 2000-round applicants on their $185,000 fees if they wanted to resubmit their applications.
The IOD complaint claims:
Allowing other entities to file applications for a .web TLD while IOD’s .WEB TLD application was still pending is improper, unlawful and inequitable.
The complaint cites the November 2000 ICANN meeting in Marina Del Rey, during which the first proof-of-concept gTLDs were approved by ICANN’s board of directors.
It notes that then-chair Vint Cerf steered the board away from approving .web applications filed by Afilias and others because IOD was already operating .web in an alternate root at the time.
You can watch a video of that meeting here.
The complaint also alleges tenuous conflicts of interest between two .web applicants (Afilias and Google) and members of ICANN’s board of directors (current chair and vice-chair Steve Crocker and Bruce Tonkin in the case of Afilias, and long-gone chair Vint Cerf in the case of Google).
The suit comes just a few days after IOD’s fellow 2000 applicant and alternate root player, Name.Space, sued ICANN on similar grounds, trying to prevent 189 gTLDs being approved.
Directi says it sold 11,000 .pro domains via its ResellerClub channel in the first month after it started supporting the TLD.
That’s pretty impressive going, given that the whole of .pro was only about 155,000 domains at the last count, enough to put the registrar into fifth place for .pro domains under management.
ResellerClub’s wholesale price until October 31 is $2.99, with two free email accounts, according to the company.
The surge will prove useful to .pro registry Afilias, which expects to see over 40,000 domains — all of them US Zip codes registered to .pro’s former owner Hostway — drop this month.
Afilias chief technology officer Ram Mohan has been reappointed to ICANN’s board of directors for a fourth year.
He’s the Security and Stability Advisory Committee’s non-voting liaison, joining the board in 2009.
According to a notice (pdf) posted on ICANN’s web site yesterday, he’s been picked to continue in the role for another year.
Board liaisons, who are unpaid, serve annual terms and there are no limits on the number of years they can serve.
As arguably the most-conflicted person on the ICANN board in relation to new gTLDs, Mohan does not sit in on discussions of the program.
The DotGreen Community has asked ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for backing in the four-way fight for the .green generic top-level domain.
In a letter to the GAC, copied to ICANN’s board and published today, DotGreen does everything but ask outright for the GAC to object to its three competitors’ .green applications.
In it, Annalisa Roger, CEO of the not-for-profit company, makes a passionate case that .green should be operated by a company that has a genuine connection to and affinity with the environmental movement.
She heavily implies that the GAC should object to the other applicants.
Without deliberate decision or intervention, the .green TLD may be won at ICANN Auction to join enmass with a slew of portfolio TLDs, blending into one of the many industry portfolios, a common business model ICANN’s new gTLD program has spawned.
Those like you who are in a position to object, evaluate, or delegate should consider the obvious relationship of .GREEN with the Green Community, and the global Green Movement which represents net social benefits to include all people, their natural and synthetic environments, the economic systems they construct (such as Green Business Models), and conditions for future generations of life who stand to be affected by the choices we make, the policies we implement, and the projects we fund and allow to be born today.
The other .green applicants are Top Level Domain Holdings, Afilias, and a Demand Media subsidiary. Unlike DotGreen, they’re all portfolio gTLD applicants.
Roger says these companies are basically out to sell as many domains as possible and don’t have the same commitment to the environmental movement as DotGreen.
Despite the name and a great deal of support from green organizations, DotGreen did not file a “community” application, so the only way it can avoid auction is by persuading the other applicants to drop their bids, or by having them all eliminated by objections.
Asking the GAC to object is probably the cheapest way to do this.
While the GAC has made its interest in gTLDs with obvious regulatory implications — such as .bank — abundantly clear, I understand conversations have also started about strings with more tangential relationships to public policy, such as .food.
It’s not inconceivable that .green could fall into that category, though I don’t think it’s an easy sell.