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Chehade sets out 12-point plan for next six months

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has set out his goals for ICANN over the next six months in an open letter to the community.

The ambitious 12-point to-do list includes finishing off the next Registrar Accreditation Agreement, finalizing the Trademark Clearinghouse, and launching “a community effort” to address the Whois debate.

The document was described by Chehade at the close of the Toronto meeting last month as his “scorecard” for “what I plan to prioritize and do between now and Beijing”.

The next big ICANN meeting is in Beijing next April.

The letter states that “operational excellence”, something the organization was frequently criticized for its lack of under its previous leadership, is ICANN’s “highest priority”.

The new gTLD program is naturally a big part of that. Chehade said that ICANN plans to:

Deliver on every aspect of the new gTLD program launch next year, meeting obligations and securing the necessary resources and personnel to lead the transition from what has been a policy-driven effort to implementation of a responsive and reliable operation. As a first step, we are working to advance the dialogue on implementation of the Trademark Clearing House. We must also execute the prioritization draw, evaluations, and pre-delegation tests flawlessly.

As part of that effort, a new gTLD services department will be created. Part of its task will be to monitor policy work to make sure the policies being created are “implementable”.

Chehade said that the divisive Whois issue, which he controversially referred to as an “easy” problem to solve during remarks in Toronto, will be subject to a new review:

To strengthen our commitment to the public interest, we will launch a community effort addressing the WHOIS debate in a strategic way, to resolve the longstanding open items in this area.

On the RAA, Chehade said that ICANN “will plan to reach consensus on a solid and enforceable Registrar Accreditation Agreement that is fair and balanced.”

The full letter, which also sets out goals for internationalization and the evolution of the multi-stakeholder model, can be downloaded here.

ICANN’s new gTLD fund at $352.3m

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN had $352.3 million in its new gTLD program bank account as of October 13, according to notes from a recent board meeting.

The numbers suggest that ICANN had only spent about $6 million on the program since the application window closed at the end of May.

With 1,930 applications at $186,000 a pop, excluding the seven refunds, ICANN should have grossed about $358 million.

The money is being held in a non-interest-bearing account, partly due to ICANN’s insistence that the program is not an exercise in self-enrichment.

Notes from the October 13 Board Finance Committee meeting also reveal that ICANN plans to revise its 2013 budget to account for the accelerated gTLD timetable.

The current budget was prepared before Digital Archery was scrapped and ICANN expected to process its applications in batches over two years. It now expects one batch lasting one year.

TLDH expects gTLD auctions in second half of 2013

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2012, Domain Registries

While some new gTLD portfolio applicants are trying to get their contention sets resolved as quickly as possible, Top Level Domain Holdings reckons auctions won’t happen until the second half of 2013.

In a trading update this week, the company also said that it expects to start seeing revenue from its first successful new gTLD applications next year, with contested bids producing revenue in 2014.

TLDH said in a statement:

Provided that the ICANN proposed timetable is broadly adhered to, the Board of TLDH believes that a number of the Group’s 17 uncontested gTLD applications on its own behalf and the 5 uncontested client gTLD applications are likely to be revenue producing in 2013, with the balance becoming so in the first half of 2014. TLDH has commenced discussions with the leading worldwide registrars, premium name specialists, and secondary market platforms for distribution of these gTLD names.

TLDH is also working with other gTLD applicant groups to define formats for private auctions and other name resolution arrangements in respect of the contested names that TLDH has applied for. The Board expects that these auctions are likely to happen in the second half of 2013.

As we reported last week, fellow portfolio applicant Donuts approached competing applicants at the Toronto ICANN meeting last month with a proposal for running private auctions in early 2013.

The idea was not warmly received by many, we hear, and TLDH evidently does not agree.

The company also revealed this week that it plans to move its headquarters to Dublin, Ireland, and expects to start hiring more staff and directors in the near future.

Clark Landry, who has been a non-executive director of TLDH for several years, has left the board, TLDH announced.

Caspar von Veltheim, who has been managing some of TLDH’s geographic gTLD bids in Europe, has joined the board as an executive director, the company added.

Verisign defends .com price increases

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2012, Domain Registries

Verisign has assured investors that it is confident its .com registry agreement is not in jeopardy, after seeing its stock plummet due to uncertainties over the deal.

In a statement yesterday, the company also defended the planned continuation of its price-raising powers.

It emerged last week that the US Department of Commerce is looking into the pricing arrangements of the new .com deal, which ICANN approved back in June.

Commerce has the right — in consultation with the Department of Justice and others — to approve or reject the contract based on its security/stability and pricing terms.

Whatever happens, it’s virtually unthinkable that Verisign will lose the contract. The company said:

While the review process with the Commerce Department may extend beyond Nov. 30, 2012, it could also be concluded by Nov. 30, 2012. In either case, Verisign expects to continue to run the .com registry.

It also said that its ability to increase prices by 7% in four of the six years of the contract is in fact in the public interest, saying in a lengthy statement:

The .com registry has an unequaled record of achievement, with full availability of DNS resolution in .com for more than 15 consecutive years. The economic activity supported by the .com registry is significant by any measure in an environment where the consequences of a failure of even a very short duration or degradation of the Domain Name System (DNS) resolution service, due to either a cyber attack or failure of hardware, software, or personnel, would have significant economic and non-economic impacts to the global economy.

The level of security and stability offered by Verisign is only possible with investments in overcapacity and redundancy, network security, intellectual property (IP) and in human capital: The engineers and employees at Verisign who operate the .com registry and ensure its security and stability. The pricing terms of the .com Registry Agreement enable Verisign to make these investments, develop the necessary IP, know-how and purpose-built systems, respond to new threats to stability as they emerge, and recruit and retain the specialized talent necessary to maintain our network, including dozens of globally distributed constellation sites and data centers in the U.S. and elsewhere.

In essence, Verisign is saying that the security and stability record — which Commerce evidently has already reviewed to its satisfaction — are inextricably linked to its ability to raise prices.

The company’s share price fell 18% in the aftermath of last week’s news, but recovered slightly yesterday — gaining about 11% — after the statement was released.

ICANN looking for new gTLD testing provider on very tight deadline

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2012, Domain Tech

ICANN is seeking one or more pre-delegation testing providers for its new gTLD program on a very ambitious timetable.

An RFP issued yesterday calls for a company that can scratch-build a testing suite to put new gTLD applicants through the ringer before they go live, and have it up and running by March 25, 2013.

Pre-delegation testing is the last stage of the new gTLD program’s approval process.

Some new gTLD applicants have recently called on ICANN to begin testing as soon as possible — before even Initial Evaluation has finished — in order to speed up time to market.

The Applicant Guidebook suggests that ICANN itself would be doing the testing, and some applicants had made that assumption, but that’s clearly not the case.

The RFP spells out exactly what is required of the testing providers.

First, they’re expected to build bespoke software to run the tests.

In addition to load-testing and verifying the registry’s compliance with standards such as EPP, DNSSEC and Whois, it also needs a custom-made user interface for applicants and back-end integration with ICANN’s wobbly TLD Application System.

ICANN also wants to be able to open-source the software, which seems to rule out any off-the-shelf testing suites.

RFP respondents also need to be able test 20 applicants’ back-ends per week — potentially scaling up to 100 per week — as soon as ICANN starts signing registry agreements next year.

ICANN does not expect to announce the winning provider(s) until December 5. The deadline for responses is November 20.

In short, it looks like a challenging project on a very tight deadline.

I wonder how much institutional knowledge there is out there of, say, DNSSEC, in companies that are not also involved in new gTLD applications as either applicant or back-end.

The pool of possible RFP respondents is likely very small indeed.

The ability to run tests on the testing suite itself may also be limited by the timetable and the possible shortage of guinea-pig registry back-ends.

Why ICANN has waited until this very late date to issue the RFP is a real head-scratcher.

ICANN is offering a 24-month contract with a possible 12-month extension. The RFP can be downloaded here.