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ICANN may renew Verisign’s .com deal this weekend

ICANN’s board of directors is set to vote on Verisign’s .com registry agreement at a meeting in Prague this Saturday.

The meeting is scheduled for June 23, the day before ICANN 44 officially kicks off. Read the agenda here.

The contract has been controversial because it will continue to allow Verisign to raise prices by 7% in four out of the six years of its duration.

Opportunistic intellectual property interests have also called for Verisign to be obliged to follow new rights protection mechanisms such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

But I’m not predicting any big changes from the draft version of the agreement that was published in March.

If and when the ICANN board approves the contract, it will be sent off to the US Department of Commerce for, I believe, another round of public comment and eventual ratification.

If Verisign is to run into any problems with renewal, it’s in Washington DC where it’s most likely to happen.

Verisign selected for 220 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2012, Domain Registries

Verisign is the appointed back-end registry operator for 220 new generic top-level domain applications, according to the company.

Verisign itself has applied to ICANN for 14 new gTLDs, 12 of which are transliterations — ie, internationalized domain names — of .com and .net.

During its first-quarter 2012 earnings conference call, ongoing right now, CEO Jim Bidzos disclosed the numbers, saying:

VeriSign applied directly for 14 new gTLDs. Twelve of these 14 are transliterations of .com and .net. Also, applicants for approximately 220 new gTLDs selected Verisign to provide back-end registry services.

Many of these are dot-brands, Bidzos said.

Neustar, which also reported earnings yesterday, did not disclose how many applications it is involved in, other than to say that it has not applied for any as a front-end operator.

Timing of .com contract renewal is telling

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2012, Domain Registries

The timing of the publication of the renegotiated .com registry contract may give Verisign and ICANN the chance to duck some criticism about its price-raising powers.

According to ICANN’s announcement last night, the draft contract is up for public comment until April 26, a week before we find out how much new gTLD business Verisign has won.

Verisign is expected to have secured a large share of the burgeoning market for new gTLD back-end registry services.

It is whispered that a great many North American brands planning to apply for their own dot-brand gTLDs prefer Verisign as their registry provider, due to its reputation for stability.

That up-time is of course provided by a robust, distributed infrastructure paid for over the years by the same .com registrants now facing four more years of price increases.

It’s debatable whether Verisign can continue to make a convincing public interest case for .com price hikes if it’s also profiting by hosting dot-brands on the same boxes and pipes.

But because the public comment period closes April 26 and ICANN does not plan to publish the new gTLD applications until May 2, the argument that Verisign is using .com buyers to subsidize its dot-brand business will have to be made without hard data to back it up.

I doubt such arguments would be heard anyway, frankly. ICANN pretty much has its hands bound by the 2006 contract when it comes to messing around with pricing controls.

For those opposed to price increases, a more effective lobbying strategy might head straight to Washington DC, where the Departments of Commerce and Justice will both study the deal from September.

New .com contract revealed: Verisign gets to raise prices, ICANN makes millions more

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN and Verisign both stand to make oodles of cash from their renewed .com registry contract.

A proposed draft of the next .com Registry Agreement was published by ICANN late this evening.

It would enable Verisign to carry on raising its .com registry fee by 7%, in four of the next six years. This provision, which was in the 2006 agreement also, was not unexpected.

But the deal will also see Verisign pay ICANN millions of dollars more in transaction fees.

Instead of a quarterly lump sum, which is capped at $4.5 million in the current contract, ICANN will instead get a $0.25 fee for every year of a .com registered, renewed or transferred.

According to my quick-and-dirty calculations, that would have brought ICANN approximately $6 million in extra revenue — roughly $24 million in total — from .com domains last year.

(The most recent .com registry reports show billable transactions per month worth about $2 million to ICANN, using the new agreement’s calculation. However, under the current agreement ICANN can only collect $18 million per year, according to its last approved budget.)

The revised contract contains several other changes also. I’ll have more coverage of those tomorrow.

The deal, which is not expected to come into effect until the end of November, is now open for public comment until April 26.

It needs to be approved by the ICANN board of directors, the Verisign board and the US Department of Commerce before it is finally signed.

Thick .com Whois policy delayed

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN’s GNSO Council has deferred a decision on whether Verisign should have to thicken up the Whois database for .com and its other gTLDs.

A motion to begin an official Policy Development Process on thick Whois was kicked down the road by councilors this afternoon at the request of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency.

It will now be discussed at the Council’s face-to-face meeting in Costa Rica in March. But there were also calls from registries to delay a decision for up to a year, calling the PDP a “distraction”.

Verisign’s .com registry contract and the standard Registrar Accreditation Agreement are currently being renegotiated by ICANN, both of which could address Whois in some way.

Today, all contracted gTLD registries have to operate a thick Whois, except Verisign with its .com, .net, .jobs, etc, where the registrars manage the bulk of the Whois data.