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After ICANN knockback, Amazon countries agree to .amazon talks

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2019, Domain Policy

Talks that could lead to Amazon finally getting its long-sought .amazon gTLD are back on, after a dispute between ICANN and eight South American governments.

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization last week invited ICANN CEO Goran Marby to meet ACTO members in Brasilia, any day next week.

It’s not clear whether Amazon representatives have also been invited.

The outreach came despite, or possibly because of, ICANN’s recent rejection of an ACTO demand that the .amazon gTLD applications be returned to their old “Will Not Proceed” status.

In rejecting ACTO’s Request for Reconsideration, ICANN’s board of directors had stressed that putting .amazon back in the evaluation stream was necessary in order to negotiate contractual concessions that would benefit ACTO.

Amazon is said to have agreed to some Public Interest Commitments that ACTO would be able to enforce via ICANN’s PIC Dispute Resolution Process.

The e-commerce giant is also known to have offered ACTO cultural safeguards and financial sweeteners.

ACTO’s decision to return to the negotiating table may have been made politically less uncomfortable due to a recent change in its leadership.

Secretary-general Jacqueline Mendoza, who had held the pen on a series of hard-line letters to Marby, was in January replaced by Bolivian politician Alexandra Moreira after her three-year term naturally came to an end.

ICANN’s board has said it will look at .amazon again at its meetings in Kobe, Japan, in March.

Governments blast ICANN over Amazon gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2018, Domain Services

ICANN seems to have found itself in the center of a diplomatic crisis, after eight South American governments strongly denied they approve of Amazon being given the .amazon gTLD.

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, along with the government of Brazil, blasted ICANN CEO Goran Marby for multiple alleged “untrue, misleading, unfortunate and biased statements”, in a December 7 letter  (pdf) published yesterday.

ACTO claims that ICANN was “premature” and “ill-informed” when its board of directors un-rejected Amazon’s gTLD applications in an October resolution.

In bruising terms, the letter goes on to criticize Marby for failing to set up promised talks between ACTO and Amazon and then characterizing “informal” conversations with Brazil’s Governmental Advisory Committee rep as if they represented ACTO’s collective view.

It’s just about as harsh a critique of ICANN management by governments I’ve read.

Amazon, the retailer, has been trying to get .amazon, along with transliterations in Chinese and Japanese scripts, since 2012.

Its applications were rejected — technically, placed in “Will Not Proceed” status — after GAC advice in July 2013. The advice was full-consensus, the strongest type, after the lone holdout, the United States, at the time trying to win support for the IANA transition, bowed out.

The advice came because the ACTO countries believe “Amazon” is a geographic string that belongs to them.

But Amazon filed an Independent Review Process appeal with ICANN, which it won last year.

The IRP panel declared that the GAC advice was built on shaky, opaque foundations and that the committee should not have a blanket “veto” over new gTLD applications.

ICANN has ever since been trying to figure out a way to comply with the IRP ruling while at the same time appeasing the GAC and the ACTO countries.

The GAC gave it a little wriggle room a year ago when it issued advice that ICANN should “continue facilitating negotiations between the [ACTO] member states and the Amazon corporation”.

ICANN took this to mean that its earlier advice to reject the bids had been superseded, and set about trying to get Amazon and ACTO to come to an agreement.

Amazon, for its part, has offered ACTO nations a suite of cultural protections, an offer to support future applications for .amazonia or similar, and $5 million worth of products and services, including free Kindle devices.

It has also offered to bake a collection of Public Interest Commitments — these have never been published — into its registry contract, which would enable ACTO governments to bring compliance actions against the company in future. 

That proposal was made in February, and ICANN has supposed to have been facilitating talks ever since.

According to a timeline provided by Marby, in a November letter (pdf) to ACTO secretary general Jacqueline Mendoza, ICANN has been working in this facilitation role since November 2017.

Problem is, at almost every step of the way it’s been dealing with Brazilian GAC rep Benedicto Filho, rather than with Mendoza herself, apparently on the assumption that when he made noises favorable to the Amazon proposal he was speaking for ACTO. 

And that’s not the case, according to Mendoza and Filho, in the newly published letters.

Whatever input Filho had was in the context of “informal and general conversations in which it was repeatedly and clearly indicated that no country had any mandate to negotiate on behalf of the other members of ACTO”, Mendoza wrote.

Filho himself goes on to accuse Marby of several “gross misrepresentation[s]” and “flagrant inaccuracies”, in an increasingly strident set of three emails forward by Mendoza to Marby.

He claims that he informed Marby every step of the way that he was not authorized to speak on behalf of ACTO, and that the idea he was involved in “obscure and secret negotiations” is “offensive”.

It seems that either one or both men is bullshitting about the extent to which Filho represented himself as an ACTO rep, or there has been a genuine breakdown of communication. For want of any definitive evidence, it seems fair to give them both the benefit of the doubt for now.

The situation as it stands now is that ACTO has called off planned peace talks with Amazon, facilitated by Marby, and has filed a Request for Reconsideration in an attempt to overturn the ICANN board’s October resolution.

Mendoza says ACTO will not engage in talks concerning .amazon until this request has been processed. 

So the fate of .amazon now lies with ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which is responsible for rejecting processing reconsideration requests. The test is usually whether the requester has brought new information to light that was not available when the board made its decision.

BAMC can either figure out a way to accept the request and put .amazon back in its “Will Not Proceed” status, smoothing out the path to negotiations (re)opening but placing Amazon back in indefinite limbo, or it can reject it and risk ACTO walking away completely.

It’s a tricky spot to be in, and no mistake.

Amazon countries fighting back against .amazon gTLD

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2018, Domain Policy

When ICANN’s board of directors voted in late October to let Amazon have its controversial .amazon gTLD, it was not entirely clear what governments in the Amazon region of South America thought about it.

Now, it is: they’re pissed.

The governments of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization have cancelled planned peace talks with the retailer and ICANN boss Goran Marby and have filed an appeal against the board’s decision.

It even seems that the negotiations — aimed at obtaining ACTO’s blessing by stuffing the .amazon registry agreement with cultural safeguards and augmenting it with financial sweeteners — may be dead before they even started.

The rapid deterioration of the relationship between ACTO and ICANN plays out in a series of letters between Marby and ACTO secretary general Jacqueline Mendoza, published last week by ICANN.

After the board’s October 25 resolution, which gave .amazon a pardon from its longstanding “Will Not Proceed” death sentence, it took just 10 days for ACTO to file a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, asking the board to rethink its resolution.

In a cover letter to the November 5 request, Mendoza said that ACTO was still happy to have Marby facilitate talks between the governments and Amazon, “to develop a mutually acceptable solution for the delegation” of .amazon.

Amazon is said to have offered concessions such as the protection of culturally sensitive names, along with $5 million worth of free Kindles, in order to get ACTO to back down.

But the governments had yet to see any proposal from Amazon for them to consider, Mendoza wrote a month ago.

At some point Marby then agreed to meet with the ACTO governments — Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — in Bolivia on November 29.

He froze their reconsideration request pending this meeting, according to his November 20 letter (pdf), which also bulletted out the sequence of events that led to the ICANN resolution.

It seems ICANN has been working rather closely with, and had been hearing encouraging noises from, Brazil’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative, over the last 12 months. Indeed, it seems it was Brazil that said the reconsideration should be put on hold, pending the November 29 meeting.

But on November 22, Mendoza cancelled the summit (pdf), taking a hard line against the unfreezing of the applications.

Four days later, she told Marby and ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby that ICANN should be dealing with ACTO, not its individual members.

She said that a “positive reaction” to the reconsideration request and the request for the board resolution to be “cancelled” are “indispensable pre-requisites for such a meeting to take place”.

The short version: ICANN jumped the gun when it unfroze the .amazon gTLD applications, at least in ACTO’s view.

ACTO didn’t even receive Amazon’s latest proposal until November 23, the day after the talks were cancelled, according to ICANN.

And, judging by the latest missive in this infuriating thread, ICANN may have thrown in the towel already.

Marby informed GAC chair Manal Ismail (pdf) last Wednesday that the “facilitation process” ICANN had resolved to lead “has been unsuccessful” and “has not been able to reach its desired conclusion.”

While he added ICANN remains “open to assist and facilitate this matter, should it be considered useful”, there’s otherwise an air of finality about the choice of language in his letter.

As for the reconsideration request (pdf), it seems to be still active, so there’s a chance for the board to change its mind about .amazon’s status.

It will be interesting to see whether the request will be approved by the board for the sake of political expediency.

Reconsideration requests are almost unfailingly tossed out for failing to reach the threshold of providing the board with information it was not aware of at the time of its contested resolution.

In this case, ACTO claims that the board was wrongly informed that the ACTO members had seen and liked Amazon’s latest proposal, presumably because ICANN had been feeling positive vibes from Brazil.

It’s not impossible that the board might agree this is true, put .amazon back on ice, and try again at the “facilitation” route.

But should it? Part of me wonders why the hell ICANN resources — that is, registrants’ money — should be diverted to pay for ICANN to act as an unpaid lobbyist for one of the world’s wealthiest companies, which can’t seem to actually put a proposal on the table in a timely fashion, or for eight national governments who don’t seem to be even talking to each other on an issue they claim is of the utmost importance.

Bad.monster? Two more gTLDs have been acquired

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLDs have changed hands, DI has learned.

XYZ.com has picked up former dot-brand .monster from recruitment web site Monster.com, while newbie registry Intercap Holdings has acquired .dealer from Dealer.com.

Both ICANN contracts were reassigned last month.

Neither acquiring company has announced their purchases or published their launch plans yet.

That said, XYZ has already registered a few intriguing domains: bad.monster, good.monster, my.monster and go.monster.

It appears that go.monster — slogan: “It’s Alive!” — will be the registry’s launch site. It’s the only one I could get to resolve.

It’s the second example I can think of of a dot-brand gTLD being acquired by a registry that intends to run it as a generic.

In 2016, Top Level Spectrum acquired .observer from the newspaper of the same name.

Most dot-brands that don’t want their TLDs any more choose to retire them. That number is up to 45 now.

.dealer wasn’t technically a dot-brand — it had no Spec 13 in its contract — but its 2012 application certainly made it look like a dot-brand, with most of the domains reserved for Dealer.com and its affiliates. It looked defensive.

Shayam Rostam, chief registry officer of ICH, told me the plan for .dealer is to primarily target car dealers (also its former owner’s market) but that it will be unrestricted and open to all comers.

Intercap wants to get its January launch of .inc out of the way before turning its attention to .dealer, so we’re probably looking at mid-late 2019 for a launch, Rostam said.

It also needs to do some housekeeping such as moving the TLD to Uniregistry’s back-end.

What do y’all think about these TLDs? Could .monster be the next .guru? Could .dealer find a home in the burgeoning legal cannabis market? Comment below!

First non-brand gTLD to go dark

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2018, Domain Registries

The number of new gTLDs to voluntarily terminate their ICANN contracts has hit 45, with the first non-brand calling it quits.

It’s a geo-gTLD, .doha, which was meant to represent the Qatari capital of Doha.

There were no registered domains. Despite being delegated in March 2015, it never launched.

The registry was the country’s Communications Regulatory Authority, which also runs local ccTLD .qa.

No reason was given for the request — registries are allowed to terminate their contracts for any reason, with notice.

The registry’s web site hasn’t been updated in some time, so perhaps resources are an issue.

Given Doha is a protected geographic term, it’s unlikely to return in future unless the government changes its mind in future application rounds.

Dot-brand gTLDs to go the same way since I last reported the number include .blanco, .spiegel, .bond, .epost, .active and .zippo.