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Mali’s domain could change hands next week

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will next week vote on whether to redelegate .ml, the country-code top-level domain for the war-torn nation of Mali, to a new registry operator.

The ccTLD is currently delegated to Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (Sotelma), a publicly traded telecommunications provider, but it’s not currently possible to register a .ml domain.

The reasons for a redelegation are never publicized by ICANN until after they are approved, when IANA publishes a redelegation report, so it’s not yet clear what’s going on this case.

Mali has been hitting headlines in Europe recently due to the French involvement in government efforts to retake the northern parts of the country from Islamist rebels.

Following the outbreak of hostilities a year ago, in March 2012 the Malian government was overthrown in a coup d’état that was widely condemned by the international community.

Following sanctions the military quickly ceded power to an interim president, who continues in the role today ahead of elections to find a more permanent successor, scheduled for July.

France, supported by allies including the UK, moved in to help Mali retake the north last month.

Sotelma is based in the capital, Bamako, which is not held by rebels.

The redelegation of .ml is on the main agenda — rather than the consent agenda, which is usually the case for redelegations — for ICANN’s board meeting next Thursday.

NAF picked to be first URS provider

Kevin Murphy, February 21, 2013, Domain Policy

The US-based National Arbitration Forum has been selected by ICANN as the first provider of Uniform Rapid Supsension services.

NAF, which is one half of the longstanding UDRP duopoly, submitted “an outstanding proposal demonstrating how it would meet all requirements presented in the [Request For Information]”, according to ICANN.

URS is meant to complement UDRP, enabling trademark owners to relatively quickly take down infringing domain names in clear-cut cases of cyberquatting.

Unlike UDRP, URS does not allow prevailing trademark owners to take control of the infringing domain, however. The names are merely suspended by the registry until they expire.

NAF already runs a suspension process, the Rapid Evaluation Service, for ICM Registry’s .xxx gTLD.

While exact pricing has not yet been disclosed, ICANN has previously stated that the successful RFI respondent had offered to process URS case for its target of between $300 and $500 per domain.

ICANN expects to approve more URS providers in future, saying that the system will be modeled on UDRP.

URS will only apply to new gTLDs for the time being, though there will inevitably be a push to have it mandated in legacy gTLDs such as .com in future, should it prove successful.

Iranian org not happy about .eco bids

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2013, Domain Policy

The Iran-based treaty organization ECO, the Economic Cooperative Organization, has registered its displeasure with ICANN that several companies have applied for .eco as a gTLD.

ECO is a multinational IGO focused on development formed by Iran, Pakistan and Turkey in 1985. It has seven other Asian and Eurasian member states.

In a letter to ICANN brass this week, the organization said it “expresses its disapproval and non-endorsement to all the applications for .ECO gTLD and requests the ICANN and the new gTLD application evaluators to not approve these applications.”

.eco has been proposed as a gTLD for environmental causes by four companies. It was one of the first new gTLD ideas to emerge, several years ago, and was once backed by Al Gore.

Under changes to the application rules currently under development at ICANN, ECO may enjoy a second-level ban on the string “eco”, possibly only temporarily, under all new gTLDs.

The criteria for this IGO name protection is expected to be based on the criteria for registering a .int domain name, which are reserved for certain categories of international treaty organizations.

Unless ICANN really pulls the rug out from under applicants, the protection would not extend to the top-level in the current application round, however.

ECO notes in its letter that as it qualifies for a .int, it should be protected.

However, eco.int is not registered and ECO uses a .org domain for its web site, begging the question of how seriously it takes its domain name brand protection strategy.

Read ECO’s letter here.

.transformers gTLD bid transforms into pile of burnt cash

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2013, Domain Registries

Toy-maker Hasbro has withdrawn its application for the .transformers new gTLD.

It was Hasbro’s only application, and it’s the first example of an applicant that paid to participate in ICANN’s new gTLD prioritization draw last December subsequently withdrawing its bid.

One of the longer and more eyebrow-raising applied-for strings, .transformers brings the number of withdrawn applications to 18, most of which were dot-brands. Now, 1,912 bids remain.

The bid had a prioritization number of 131, putting it toward the very top of the queue of non-IDN applications.

If many more applications with high prioritization numbers withdraw, it would raise serious questions about the validity of the argument that participating in the draw indicates a non-defensive bid.

Hasbro’s application suggested that it was filed mainly defensively, it’s “Mission/Purpose” stated as primarily: “To secure and protect the Applicant’s key brand (“TRANSFORMERS”) as a gTLD”.

Maybe it was worried that an electrical parts manufacturer might go for the same string?

It’s the sixth application to be withdrawn in a week, following General Motors’ pulling of its .gmc, .cadillac and .chevrolet bids and Hartford Fire Insurance’s withdrawal of .thehartford.

UPDATE (February 20): ICANN tells me that there are currently only three more new gTLD applications in its withdrawal pipeline.

PIR starts pre-registration for .ngo domain names

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2013, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry has become the first major gTLD registry to start taking pre-registrations for a not-yet-approved gTLD.

PIR said today that it’s allowing non-governmental organizations to register an “expression of interest” for .ngo and .ong domains.

Pre-registrations are of course free and non-binding. They’re mainly a way to opening the marketing communications channel with customers well in advance of the launch of a TLD.

PIR does not expect to launch .ngo or .ong until 2014. Its ICANN evaluation priority numbers for the two TLDs are 810 and 958, in the first half of the list.

Pre-registration is not a new concept, of course, but it’s one generally embraced more often by registrars (eNom and United Domains are the two most prominent examples) rather than incumbent registries.

For PIR to start engaging directly with potential registrants is one of the first signs that, in the wake of ICANN’s lifting of the ban on vertical integration between registries and registrars, the new gTLD market won’t be playing by the old rules.