New gTLD registries will have to wait a bit longer before they’re allowed to start selling two-character domain names, after ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee controversially issued new guidelines on their release.
The registries for hundreds of gTLDs will be affected by the delays, which could last a few months and were put in place by the ICANN board of directors at the request of the GAC at the ICANN 52 meeting in Singapore last week.
The two-character domain issue was one of the most contentious topics discussed at ICANN 52.
Exasperated registries complained to ICANN’s board that their requests to release such domains had been placed on hold by ICANN staff, apparently based on a letter from GAC chair Thomas Schneider which highlighted concerns held by a small number of governments.
The requests were frozen without a formal resolution by the board, and despite the fact that the GAC had stated more than once that it did not have consensus advice to give.
Some governments don’t want any two-letter domains that match their own ccTLDs to be released.
Italy, for example, has made it clear that it wants it.example and 1t.example blocked from registration, to avoid confusion.
Others, such as the US, have stated publicly that they have no issue with any two-character names being sold.
The process for releasing the names went live in December, following an October board resolution. It calls for a 30-day comment period on each request, with official approval coming seven to 10 days later.
But despite hundreds of requests going through the pipe, ICANN has yet to approve any. That seems to be due to Schneider’s letter, which said some governments were worried the comment process was not transparent enough.
This looked like a case of ICANN staff putting an unreasonable delay on part of registries’ businesses, based on a non-consensus GAC position that was delivered months after everyone thought it was settled law.
Registries grilled the board and senior ICANN executives about this apparent breakdown in multi-stakeholder policy-making last Tuesday, but didn’t get much in the way of an explanation.
It seems the GAC chair made the request, and ICANN implemented a freeze on a live business process, without regard to the usual formal channels for GAC advice.
However, the GAC did issue formal advice on two-letter domains on Wednesday during the Singapore meeting. ICANN’s board adopted the advice wholesale the next day.
This means that the comment period on each request — even the ones that have already completed the 30-day period — will be extended to 60 days.
The delay will be longer than a month for those already in the pipe, however, as ICANN still has to implement the board-approved changes to the process.
One of those changes is to alert governments when a new registry request has been made, a potentially complex task given that not every government is a member of the GAC.
The board’s resolution says that all comments from governments “will be fully considered”, which probably means we won’t be seeing the string “it” released in any new gTLD.
The GAC has also said it will publish a list of governments that do not intend to object to any request, and a list of governments that intend to object to every request.
ICANN has heard an angry response from gTLD registries after delaying the release of two-character domains in new gTLDs, apparently at the whim of a small number of governments.
ICANN has yet to approve any of the over 350 requests for the release of two-letter domains filed by registries under a process approved by its board last October and launched in December.
The reason, according to registries, is that members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee — probably a minority — have objected and ICANN staff has “unilaterally” put a halt to the process.
Some governments — Spain, Italy and Cote d’Ivoire among them — are concerned that two-letter domains, such as es.example or it.example, may cause confusion with existing ccTLDs.
But the GAC itself was unable to find a consensus against the release of two-letter domains when it discussed the issue back in October. It merely asked for comment periods to allow individual governments to object to specific domains.
So ICANN’s board asked staff to create an “efficient procedure” to have requests swiftly approved, taking some of the stress off of the regular Registry Services Evaluation Process.
Two-letter domains have a premium dollar value for open registries, while multinational dot-brands expect to find them useful to market to the territories in which they operate.
Under the streamlined approval process, each request is subject to a 30-day comment period, and would be approved or not within seven to 10 days.
Right now, the oldest requests, which were filed in early December, are almost a month overdue for a response. The Registries Stakeholder Group told ICANN, in a letter (pdf):
We write to raise serious concern about what appears to be a recent closed-door, unilateral decision by ICANN staff, which took place over a period of weeks, to defer action on pending requests for two-character labels. This action was apparently initiated as a result of recent correspondence you received from the Chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee — but which critically does not represent formal consensus advice or even purport to represent the opinion of the GAC as a whole
It’s a case of governments strong-arming ICANN staff into changing policy, the registries claim.
GAC chair Thomas Schneider’s letter (pdf) says that an unspecified number of governments have “concerns” that the approval process was launched quite quickly and without any formal consultation with the GAC.
He goes on to make a laundry list of recommendations for making the process more amenable to governments, before requesting a “stay” on approvals until the GAC has further discussed the issue.
To date, registries representing a little over 300 strings have completed their 30-day comment periods, yet there have been only four comments from governments.
Italy and Cote d’Ivoire want ICANN to deny all requests for it.example and ci.example, because they may be confused with ccTLDs.
Spain, meanwhile, filed specific objections against the release of es.bingo, es.casino and es.abogado (lawyer), saying that these are regulated industries in Spain and should only be given to registrants who “have the required credentials”.
The RySG wants ICANN staff to immediately start approving requests that have passed through the comment process. The GAC says it will discuss the matter further at the ICANN 52 meeting currently going on in Singapore.
When RySG members raised the topic at a meeting the with ICANN board yesterday, directors avoided directly addressing the specific concerns.
Uniregistry has got into the ccTLD business, taking over management of the Cayman Islands’ .ky domain this week and planning a relaunch for later this month.
Uniregistry, which is based in Cayman, has replaced a US company called SilverSky, now part of BAE Systems, as the official registry for .ky.
CEO Frank Schilling told DI that the previous custodian was running a manual registration process but that the ccTLD will now run on the same platform Uniregistry uses for its new gTLDs.
The company will act as both registry and registrar for the names, though the space will be opened up to third-party registrars.
The wholesale fee will be $29, with Uniregistry’s registrar business retailing names for $39 a year, Schilling said.
The ccTLD will be relaunched later this month with a six-month period where only people with a self-professed (check-box) “nexus” to the Cayman Islands will be able to register names, Schilling said.
There won’t be a sunrise period in the classical sense, but UDRP will apply, he said.
An official announcement about dates and eligibility rules is due some time this month, about a week before the relaunch.
Currently, .ky has about 11,000 registrations, Schilling said. That may be considered surprisingly high, given Cayman’s small population (under 60,000) and the apparent lack of automation in place previously.
But Cayman is a tax haven, and overseas companies often choose to register .ky names to help convince the tax man where they really are based that they have a true connection to the territory.
Schilling said that the Cayman government’s registrar of companies will promote .ky domains to businesses that set up a presence there.
He added that its shipping register will plug the names to those who moor their “super yachts” in Cayman.
The deal with the Cayman government, which remains the “owner” of .ky as far as IANA is concerned, is the first of what Schilling said he hopes will be many ccTLD relationships.
Uniregistry has also bid to run Bermuda’s .bm, which is currently managed in-house by the country’s government, and is talking to other ccTLDs as well, Schilling said.
ICANN is thinking about expanding its controversial policy on name collisions from new gTLDs to new ccTLDs.
The country code Names Supporting Organization has been put on notice (pdf) that ICANN’s board of directors plans to pass a resolution on the matter shortly.
The resolution would call on the ccNSO to “undertake a study to understand the implications of name collisions associated with the launch of new ccTLDs” including internationalized domain name ccTLDs, and would “recommend” that ccTLD managers implement the same risk mitigation plan as new gTLDs.
Because ICANN does not contract with ccTLDs, a recommendation and polite pressure is about as far as it can go.
Name collisions are domains in currently undelegated TLDs that nevertheless receive DNS root traffic. In some cases, that may be because the TLDs are in use on internal networks, raising the potential of data leakage or breakages if the TLDs are then delegated.
ICANN contracts require new gTLDs to block such names or wildcard their zones for 90 days after launch.
Some new gTLD registry executives have mockingly pointed to the name collisions issue whenever a new ccTLD has been delegated over the last year or so, asking why, if collisions are so important, the mitigation plan does not apply to ccTLDs.
If the intent was to persuade ICANN that the collisions management framework was unnecessary, the opposite result has been achieved.
ICANN has won a court battle, and avoided a major political incident, over an attempt by terrorism victims to seize ccTLDs belonging to Iran, Korea and Syria.
A District of Columbia judge ruled this week that while ccTLDs may be a form of “property” under the law, they’re not “attachable” property.
Attachment is a legal concept used when creditors attempt to seize assets belonging to debtors.
The ruling overturns a request by a group of terrorism survivors, led by attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, to have .ir, .sy, .kp, سور, and ايران. transferred to them in lieu of payment of previous court rulings.
Darshan-Leitner has previously secured US court judgments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars against the three nations. Because the nations have not paid these penalties, she’s been using the courts to seize state-owned assets in the US instead.
But US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled (pdf) earlier this week:
the country code Top Level Domain names at issue may not be attached in satisfaction of plaintiffs’ judgments because they are not property subject to attachment under District of Columbia law.
However, he added in a footnote:
But the conclusion that ccTLDs may not be attached in satisfaction of a judgment under District of Columbia law does not mean that they cannot be property. It simply means that they are not attachable property within this statutory scheme.
Drawing on “sparse” case law, Lamberth’s rationale appears to be that domain names are not a product, they’re a service. He wrote:
The ccTLDs exist only as they are made operational by the ccTLD managers that administer the registries of second level domains within them and by the parties that cause the ccTLDs to be listed on the root zone file. A ccTLD, like a domain name, cannot be conceptualized apart from the services provided by these parties. The Court cannot order plaintiffs’ insertion into this arrangement.
The ruling, which may of course be challenged by the plaintiffs, helps ICANN and the US government avoid a huge political embarrassment at a time when the links between the two are being dissolved and relations with Iran are defrosting.