OpenRegistry latest player in new TLD market

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2010, Domain Registries

OpenRegistry has become the domain name industry’s newest top-level domain registry operator.

The new company, which went by the name Sensirius while in stealth mode, announced itself officially at the ICANN meeting in Cartagena two weeks ago.

Jean-Christophe Vignes is giving up his operational role at EuroDNS to be CEO of the new company, which hopes to bring more modular, custom-tailored options to organizations that want to launch new TLDs.

For “open”, read “flexible” – OpenRegistry plans to differentiate itself by offering clients “a la carte” options, rather than the one-size-fits-all services it believes some competitors offer.

“We’ve noticed that no two clients are the same,” Vignes said. “Some of them are already pretty well taken care of when it comes to drafting applications and so on, and just need the registry solution, but others are happy to have the full suite of our services.”

The idea is that a city TLD or niche community TLD will not necessarily have the same needs as a full-blown mass-market gTLD, Vignes said.

OpenRegistry plans to make three packages available at first, according to its web site – all-inclusive, managed registry, and software-only. Prices appear to start at around 100,000 euros.

The software itself is based on the registry expertise used in the design of Belgium’s .be and EurID’s .eu, although it appears to be a fresh creation.

Vignes said that it will be able to natively handle start-up functions such as premium domain auctions and interfacing with the IP Clearinghouse.

The company does not intend to apply for its own TLDs, Vignes said, allowing it to focus on its clients.

But it does plan on being somewhat selective on which TLDs with which it works, with “feasibility studies” one of the services on offer.

Like the incumbent registry triumvirate of VeriSign, Afilias and Neustar, OpenRegistry hopes that the ICANN-accredited registrar community will be a good source of clients.

ICANN recently said it plans to lift restrictions on registrars applying for and running registries.

Possible new TLDs timeline revealed

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s decision to delay the approval of its new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook last week in Cartagena left one big question hanging:

When will the program open for applications?

ICANN had pencilled in May 30 for the launch, but the new delay appeared to make that impossible. In the absence of an announcement from ICANN, nobody really knows what the current timetable is.

A few possible answers have now emerged with the publication this week of ICANN staff briefing documents (pdf) used by the board to make their original decision to target May 2011.

An October 28 document entitled “New gTLD Launch Scenarios”, penned by ICANN’s Kurt Pritz and Carole Cornell, explores the board’s options for approving a launch timeline.

It notes that applications cannot be solicited until ICANN has finished its mandatory four-month outreach/marketing campaign, which in turn can’t kick off until the AGB has been approved.

I’ll let the rest speak for itself:

If the Board were to approve the Guidebook after the January/February meeting, the announcement and communications campaign launch would be made shortly thereafter. The first applications could be received as early as (but not earlier than) 1 July 2011.

If the Board elects that a full comment analysis and sixth version of the Guidebook be written, with approval at the Silicon Valley meeting, the approval would be followed by an April announcement and communications campaign launch. First applications could be received as early as (but no earlier than) August 2011.

And here’s a lovely graphic illustrating the options (click to enlarge):

New gTLD Launch Scenarios

Given that we now know that the ICANN board intends to meet with the Governmental Advisory Committee to address its outstanding issues in February, the final scenario – with a San Francisco approval and August launch – now seems more likely.

Most of the rest of the briefing document is heavily redacted.

What next for new TLDs? Part 4 – GAC Concerns

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2010, Domain Policy

Like or loathe the decision, ICANN’s new top-level domains program appears to have been delayed again.

But for how long? And what has to happen now before ICANN starts accepting applications?

In short, what the heck happened in Cartagena last week?

In this four-part post, I will attempt an analysis of the various things I think need to happen before the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) is approved.

In this fourth post, I will look at areas of the AGB that the Governmental Advisory Committee is still concerned about.

GAC Concerns

The GAC’s laundry list of objections and concerns has grown with every official Communique it has released during an ICANN public meeting over the last few years.

While it has not yet published its official “scorecard” of demands for the home-stretch negotiations, it has released a list of 11 points (pdf) it wants to discuss with the board.

These 11 points can be grouped into a smaller number of buckets: objections and disputes procedures, trademark protection, registry-registrar separation, and the treatment of geographical names.

I wrote about the trademark issue in part one of this post.

The GAC appears to have adopted many of the arguments of the IP lobby – it thinks the AGB does not currently do enough to ensure the costs to business of new TLDs will be minimized – so we might expect that to be a major topic of discussion at the GAC-Board retreat in February.

I’ll be interested to hear what it has to say about registry-registrar separation.

The GAC has been pushing for some looser cross-ownership restrictions, in order to foster competition, since 2007, and most recently in September.

It has previously been in favor of restrictions on “insider” companies with market power, but for a more relaxed environment for new entrants (such as “community” TLDs that may largely operate under agreements with their local governments).

This position looks quite compatible with ICANN’s new vertical integration policy, to me, so I’m not sure where the GAC’s concerns currently lie.

The issue of disputes and objections may be the trickiest one.

The GAC basically wants a way for its members to block “controversial” TLD applications on public policy grounds, without having to pay fees.

The “Rec6″ policy, previously known as “morality and public order objections” is one of the issues the ICANN board has specifically acknowledged is Not Closed.

This is from its Cartagena resolution:

Discussions will continue on (1) the roles of the Board, GAC, and ALAC in the objection process, (2) the incitement to discrimination criterion, and (3) fees for GAC and ALAC-instigated objections. ICANN will take into account public comment including the advice of the GAC, and looks forward to receiving further input from the working group in an attempt to close this issue.

GAC members on the Rec6 working group repeatedly highlighted objection fees as a deal-breaker – governments don’t want to have to pay to object to TLD applications.

This appears to been cast as some kind of sovereignty-based matter of principle, although I suppose it could just as easily be an “in this economic climate” budgeting concern.

ICANN’s position is that the GAC as a whole can object for free, but that individual governments have to pay. Fees for some objection procedures will run into tens of thousands of dollars.

The GAC also has beef with the AGB’s treatment of geographic strings.

This is an area where ICANN says the AGB already “substantially reflects the views of the ICANN community” but intends to take GAC comments into account.

ICANN has already made substantial concessions on the geographic names issue, but there may still be a few loopholes through which territory names could slip through the net and be approved without the endorsement of their local governments.

Finally, the GAC wants to include amendments to the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, previously recommended by law enforcement agencies, in the AGB discussion.

The appears to have come completely out of the blue, without any direct relevance to the new TLD program.

It’s a long list covering a lot of issues, and it could get longer when the GAC publishes its official “scorecard”. We’ll have to wait and see.

ICANN chief gets bonus

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN chief executive Rod Beckstrom is to be paid a bonus potentially as high as $195,000 this year.

Did you know that there were two ICANN board meetings held in Cartagena last week?

I didn’t, but I just spotted that resolutions from a December 8 meeting have been posted on the ICANN web site.

There are only two resolutions. They grant bonuses to Beckstrom and to outgoing ombudsman Frank Fowlie.

The board approved “a proportion” of both men’s “at-risk component”, which basically means their performance-related bonuses.

The resolutions do not specify how big a proportion was approved for either, but it is known that the maximum Beckstrom could have been awarded is $195,000.

His base salary is $750,000.

Drunk domain blogger gets mugged in Cartagena

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2010, It's Friday

ICANN people love defining things, and a few people at the meeting here in Cartagena have disputed whether this anecdote meets the strict definition of “mugging”.

Okay, I didn’t wind up with a knife in my ribs, they weren’t carrying firearms, and they didn’t get my wallet.

But they were going to beat me up (at the very least) if I didn’t give them what they wanted and it’s really just blind luck that I managed to blag my way out of it.

I often find that these kinds of stories are better related in first-person present tense.

So it’s 4am, and I’m blatantly flouting ICANN’s security advice by walking, rather than getting a taxi, back from .CO Internet’s rather nice afterparty to my considerably less-nice hotel.

But it’s only two or three short blocks, and I’m inside the walled city, so I reckon I’m safe.

Wrong.

Two thuggish-looking blokes quickly appear beside me and one of them starts mouthing off in unusually good English about how I owe him money for a coke deal I’m apparently somehow implicated in.

I’m not kidding.

I forget the details, but the gist of it is that I need to give them both an unspecified large amount of money for some drugs that I stole or something and that Bad Things will happen to my face if I refuse.

Unfortunately for the Escobar brothers, it turns out that at 4am, with half a bottle of Colombian fire-water in my belly, I’m invincible.

Or believe myself to be, anyway.

So I decide to play dumb, and just carry on walking. I figure I’ll pretend for as long as possible that I’m simple, or don’t speak English. My hotel is in sight by this point.

“Okay,” I say, confused look on my face, after he finishes his story.

“So you give us money?” he says.

“Okay,” I say, not giving him money.

“You give us money now.” he’s not asking this time.

“Okay,” I say. Walking a bit faster.

This goes on for two blocks. As dumb luck would have it, by the time he starts to loses his patience we’ve already reached my hotel.

Of course, at 4am, my two-star dive has its doors locked, and I have to ring the buzzer to get in.

Normally, the young girl on the desk buzzes me through two seconds later. Of course, normally I don’t show up in the dead of night accompanied by two burly Colombian guys yelling about drug money.

So she understandably doesn’t want to let me in.

Trying to buy time, and unsure whether this is a violent scam or a genuine case of mistaken identity, I tell the guy he can have his money in the morning. Just drop by, pick it up, no worries.

I buzz again, but she still doesn’t want to let me in.

“You give me money now.”

I usually carry a bunch of small-denomination bills in my pocket when I’m on unfamiliar turf, for precisely this kind of scenario, so I grab a wad of notes and stuff them into his hand.

“Okay, here’s your money.”

Buzz again. Still no response.

I’m trying not to notice that the money I’ve just given him amounts to about two US dollars, but he clearly has noticed and is quite angry.

I’m told I now owe him 57,000 pesos, which strikes me as unusually specific.

Fortunately, I never get to find out why he settled on that amount. The girl buzzes me through and, after a brief struggle, Scarface eats door.

End of anecdote.

To me, it sounds like a mugging. Drug guys threatened to beat me up and I gave them $2 – that fits the definition, right? It may be the lamest mugging in Colombian history, but it’s still a mugging.

Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Next time, I’ll try to get stabbed or something.