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ICANN approves reworked GAC advice over US concerns

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2014, Domain Policy

No sooner had we reported on the US government’s complaint about ICANN’s reinterpretation of GAC advice on new gTLDs than it emerged that ICANN has already approved the plan.

The ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee on Wednesday approved a resolution on how to implement the so-called Category 1 advice the Governmental Advisory Committee came up with in Beijing last April. The resolution was published today.

The Category 1 advice calls for stronger regulation — stuff like forcing registrants to provide industry credentials at point of sale — in scores of new gTLDs the GAC considers particularly sensitive.

Despite US Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling calling for more talks after ICANN substantially diluted some of the GAC’s Beijing communique, the NGPC has now formally approved its watered-down action plan.

Under the plan, registrants in gTLDs such as .lawyer and .doctor will have to “represent” that they are credentialed professionals in those verticals when they register a domain.

That’s as opposed to actually providing those credentials at point of registration, which, as Strickling reiterated in his letter, is what the GAC asked for in its Beijing communique.

The full list of eight approved “safeguards” (as interpreted from GAC advice by ICANN) along with the list of the gTLDs that they will apply to, can be found in this PDF.

US unhappy with ICANN, urges more delay to many new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2014, Domain Policy

The US government is not pleased with ICANN’s rather liberal interpretation of Governmental Advisory Committee advice on new gTLDs and wants more talks about “safeguards”.

Not only that, but it wants to start talking to ICANN about extending safeguards applicable to new gTLDs to old gTLDs, presumably including the likes of .com, too.

A letter to ICANN from Department of Commerce assistant secretary Larry Strickling, obtained by DI today, calls for more talks before ICANN finalizes its handling of the GAC’s Beijing communique.

Strickling notes, as DI has previously, that ICANN softened the meaning of the advice in order to smooth its implementation.

as can be the case when translating GAC Advice to contractual provisions, the NGPC [the ICANN board’s New gTLD Program Committee] made adjustments to the GAC Advice that the United States believes could cause enforcement problems and as such merits further discussion. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), on behalf of the United States, is planning to raise these concerns for discussion at the March GAC meeting in Singapore and requests that ICANN take this fact into account before moving forward with applications for strings impacted by the relevant portions of GAC advice

The letter (pdf) was sent February 4, just a day before the NGPC held a meeting — the results of which we do not yet know — that had the GAC Advice on its agenda.

The New gTLD Applicants Group had urged the NGPC to finally put the GAC Advice to rest, highlighting the “heavy burden that the delay in the implementation of GAC Category 1 Advice has imposed upon affected applicants” in a letter last week.

The Category 1 advice, you may recall, comprised eight “safeguards” mandating policies such as industry engagement and registrant authentication, applicable to at least 386 gTLD applications.

Back in November, ICANN announced how it planned to handle this advice, but changed its meaning to make it more palatable to ICANN and applicants.

Those changes are what Strickling is not happy with.

He’s particularly unhappy with changes made to the GAC’s demand for many gTLDs to be restricted to only card-carrying members of the industries the strings seem to represent.

The GAC said in Beijing:

At the time of registration, the registry operator must verify and validate the registrants’ authorisations, charters, licenses and/or other related credentials for participation in that sector.

In other words, you’d have to provide your doctor license before you could register a .doctor domain.

But ICANN proposed to implement it like this:

Registry operators will include a provision in their Registry-Registrar Agreements that requires Registrars to include in their Registration Agreements a provision requiring a representation that the Registrant possesses any necessary authorisations, charters, licenses and/or other related credentials for participation in the sector associated with the Registry TLD string.

The doctor under this policy would only require the doctor to check a box confirming she’s a doctor. As Strickling said:

The NGPC has changed the GAC-coveyed concept of “verification and validation” to “representation”

Requirements for registries to mandate adherence to government regulations on the protection of financial and healthcare data are also his targets for further discussion.

What all this boils down to is that, assuming ICANN paid heed to Strickling’s letter, it seems unlikely that NTAG will get closure it so desperately wants until the Singapore meeting in late March — a year after the original Beijing communique — at the earliest.

In other words, lots of new gTLD applicants are probably going to be in limbo for a bit longer yet.

But Strickling also has another bombshell to drop in the final sentence of the letter, writing:

In addition, we will recommend that cross community discussion begin in earnest on how the safeguards that are being applied to new gTLDs can be applied to existing gTLDs.

So it seems the GAC is likely to start pressing to retroactively apply its new gTLDs advice to legacy gTLDs too.

Registrant verification in .com? Stricter Whois checks and enforcement? That conversation has now started, it seems.

Applicant says .islam ban would damage ICANN

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2013, Domain Policy

If ICANN decides to reject Asia Green IT’s applications for .islam and .halal it would “be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility”, according to AGIT.

The two potential new gTLDs are currently in limbo, awaiting a decision by the ICANN’s board of directors’ New gTLD Program Committee, following stalemate within the Governmental Advisory Committee.

The Organization for Islamic Cooperation has objected to the applications, saying it represents 1.6 billion Muslims and that it’s “concerned” about the potential “misuse” of the names.

Mehdi Abbasnia, managing director of the Turkey-based company, recently wrote to ICANN too (pdf) to ask that ICANN speedily approve its applications, given that two formal OIC-backed Community Objections have already failed.

Abbasnia also wrote to DI on Friday (pdf) to reiterate many of the same points.

The two gTLDs are among only a handful originating it the Muslim world, he said, and the idea is to spur adoption of domain names among all Muslims.

Muslim communities the world over have a lot to gain from seeing their members empowered through namespaces that are better suited to their specific needs, easier for them to relate to and use and respectful of their culture and laws.

As Muslims ourselves, this is what we felt we could bring to our community when we first heard of the new gTLD program: our expertise as a technical enabler of TLDs by Muslims, for Muslims. We are looking to fuel the engine, not drive the car.

He added that AGIT prevailed in the objections filed against it, and the GAC failed to reach a consensus to object.

Some in ICANN circles have used the phrase “taking a second bite at the apple” to characterize attempts to overturn decisions and derail processes. In the case of our applications for .Halal and .Islam, the apple’s been eaten to the core!

The ball is now in the ICANN Board’s court. If it bows to the OIC’s pressure and blocks our TLD applications, not only will Muslims the world over be prevented from claiming their very own space on the Internet, but I believe it will also be dealing a blow to the new gTLD program’s credibility, and to the credibility of ICANN as a multi-stakeholder governance organization.

While I have no opinion on whether the two applications should be approved or not, I disagree with the apple metaphor.

AGIT is in receipt of formal “GAC Advice on New gTLDs” explaining a non-consensus objection. That’s clearly envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, and there a process for dealing with it: ICANN’s board talks to the GAC to understand the extent of its members’ concerns and then explains itself after it makes a decision one way or the other.

There doesn’t seem to be an abuse of process by the OIC or GAC here, just a very tricky question for the ICANN board to answer.

The plurals debate is over as ICANN delegates 17 more new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Policy

Another 17 new gTLDs were delegated to the DNS root last night, most of them belonging to Donuts.

Notably, Donuts now runs .photos and .careers, the first two delegated gTLDs where live applications also exist for the singular form of the string.

Uniregistry is currently contracted and awaiting the delegation of .photo, while dotCareer is already contracted for .career.

The debate about whether ICANN should permit singular and plural versions of the same string to coexist is now surely over.

Just a week ago, the Internet Association — a trade group comprising Amazon, Google, AOL, Yahoo, Salesforce, Zynga and many others — called on ICANN to rethink its policy of coexistence.

Calling the policy a “violation of user trust”, the Association said (pdf), “the existence of these domain names poses significant risks to the DNS, Internet companies, and their users”.

The Association noted that the Governmental Advisory Committee had strong concerns about singular and plural coexistence, due to the risk of consumer confusion.

String Confusion Objection panels have reached quite different conclusions about whether adding an “s” makes a string confusingly similar to another.

Personally, while I’m all for competition, I believe coexistence will lead to parasitical business models that will bring the domain name industry into further disrepute.

I know for a fact that some registries are considering the merits of tailgating their confusingly similar competitors.

But it seems ICANN’s decision was final.

There’s currently no mechanism for ICANN to un-approve a gTLD once it’s been delegated — failing serious wrongdoing by the registry — so it’s difficult to see how it could now decide that plural and singular forms of the same string should be mutually exclusive.

While I’m sure the Internet Association and others will carry on complaining, I think they’re now talking to deaf ears.

There were 17 new gTLDs delegated yesterday in total, 15 of which were in Donuts portfolio.

Donuts has also added the following to its portfolio: .cab, .camp, .academy, .center, .company, .computer, .domains, .limo, .management, .recipes, .shoes, .systems and .viajes (Spanish for “travel”).

CONAC, the China Organizational Name Administration Center had .政务 (“government”) and .公益 (“public interest”) delegated.

Ten more new gTLDs get ICANN contracts

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2013, Domain Registries

.bar, .pub, .fish, .actor, .caravan, .saarland, .yokohama, .ren, .eus and .рус all have new gTLD contracts with ICANN as of yesterday.

It’s an eclectic batch of TLDs. Unusually, only one belongs to Donuts.

Of note is .caravan, which on the face of it looks like an English-language generic, but which is actually a closed, single-registrant dot-brand.

While “caravan” is an English dictionary word in the UK and Australasia, in the US it’s a 50-year-old trademark belonging to Illinois-based applicant Caravan International.

The Governmental Advisory Committee never flagged up .caravan as a “closed generic” in its Beijing Communique, so ICANN never questioned how it would be used.

However, the application states that the company plans “to reserve all names within the TLD to itself”.

What we seem to have here is a case of a dictionary word in one part of the world being captured by a single-registrant applicant due to a trademark elsewhere.

Another notable new Registry Agreement signatory is Punto 2012, which has obtained a contract for .bar.

The gTLD was originally contested, but Demand Media’s United TLD withdrew following an RFP held by the government of Montenegro, which had an effective veto over the string “Bar” due to a match with the protected name of one of its administrative regions.

I gather Montenegro will be paid in some way from the .bar registry pot.

There are also a few new geographic/cultural registries this week: .eus for the Basque people of Spain, .yokohama for a Japanese city, .saarland for a German state and the Cyrillic IDN .рус for a subset of the Russian people.

The only .brand is .ren, for the Chinese social network Renren.

The remainder are English-language generics.