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Demand Media hit with first new gTLD objection

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2013, Domain Policy

With the deadline for filing objections against new gTLD applications fast approaching, the first such objection has been revealed.

Starting Dot, which has applied for .immo and other strings, has filed a String Confusion Objection against Demand Media’s .immobilien bid, according to the International Center for Dispute Resolution.

“Immobilien” is German for “homes” in the real estate context, while “immo” is a shorthand for the same term in a number of European languages.

The objection itself does not appear to have been published, but one can only assume that it’s based on the similarity of meaning between the two strings, rather than visual or audible confusion.

While it’s the first objection to be published, based on conversations with many interested parties I’m expecting a LOT more.

The deadline for filing objections using any of the four available mechanisms, is Wednesday.

Chehade commits to grow the number of domain registrars in Africa

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has told African policymakers that he wants to make it easier for companies on the continent to become accredited registrars, saying he wants to grow the number five-fold in a year.

During a “Multistakeholder Internet Governance” meeting in Addis Ababa earlier this week, Chehade said he wants to see 20 more African registrars, in addition to the paltry five accredited today.

It can be hard for African firms to become accredited under ICANN’s rules due to assurances needed from banks and insurance companies, he said.

We committed to do our best. Dr Tarik Kamel and I made commitments yesterday. We will be talking to the African Development Bank, we will work with [the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa], we have relationships in the insurance industry. We will put our personal relationships — and I hope all of us cooperate on that — to change this.

We made a public commitment, that I may regret, that we will try as fast as we can by Durban to at least have some initial answers to facilitate this for the African community, because hopefully with your help and your assistance within a year we won’t be saying we have five accredited registrars, we’ll be saying we have 25.

The ICANN meeting in Durban, South Africa is slated for mid-July.

Chehade also told the audience that it didn’t make any sense that African domain registration money was flowing out of the continent due to the outdated registration practices of ccTLD operators there.

The speech largely focused on macro-policy issues of internet governance affecting the continent.

Naturalized American Chehade wore his Egyptian hat throughout, referring to Africans as “we”.

Listen to the whole 30 minutes here.

Registrars and ICANN hit impasse on new RAA

ICANN and its accredited domain name registrars have hit a brick wall in their long-running contract negotiations, after ICANN demanded the right to unilaterally amend the deal in future.

Documents published by ICANN this morning reveal that the two sides have reached agreement on almost all of their previous sticking points — including the extremely thorny issue of Whois verification — but have run into some fundamental, eleventh-hour disagreements.

As we’ve been reporting for the last couple of weeks, the big unresolved issue is ICANN’s unilateral right to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement in future, which registrars absolutely hate.

Death of the GNSO? Again?

The text of that proposed change has today been revealed to be identical to the text ICANN wants to insert into the Registry Agreement that all new gTLD registries must sign.

It gives ICANN’s board of directors the right, by two-thirds majority, to make essentially any changes they want to the RA and RAA in future, with minimal justification.

Registrars are just as livid about this as new gTLD applicants are.

The proposed change appears to be one of those introduced last month that ICANN said “[stems] from the call by ICANN’s CEO, Fadi Chehadé, to work to improve the image of the domain industry and to protect registrants”.

Chehadé has been on the road for the last couple of months trying to raise ICANN’s profile in various stakeholder groups in the private and public sectors around the world.

One of the memes he’s impressed upon contracted parties and others is that people don’t trust the domain name industry. Part of ICANN’s solution, it seems, is to grant its board more powers over registries and registrars.

But the Registrars Stakeholder Group reckons unilateral amendments would torpedo the multistakeholder process by emasculating the Generic Names Supporting Organization. It said:

The effect of such a clause in the primary agreements between ICANN and its commercial stakeholders would be devastating to the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model.

First, it will effectively mean the end of the GNSO’s PDP [Policy Development Process], as the Board will become the central arena for all controversial issues, not the community.

Second, it creates an imbalance of authority in the ICANN model, with no limits on the scope or frequency of unilateral amendments, and no protections for registrars and more important registrants.

That’s the biggest barrier to an agreement right now, and it’s one shared by the entire contracted parties constituency of ICANN. Expect fireworks in Beijing next month.

Friction over new gTLDs

Registrars and registries are also angry about the fact that ICANN wants to force registrars to adopt the 2013 RAA, even if their 2009 or 2001 deals are still active, if they want to sell new gTLDs.

RrSG secretary Michele Neylon of Blacknight told DI today that it looks like ICANN is trying to “drive a wedge” between registrars and registries.

Here’s why:

ICANN is trying desperately to stick to its new gTLD program timetable, which will see it start signing Registry Agreements with new gTLD applicants in late April.

But it wants the base RA to include a clause obliging registries to only sell via registrars on the 2013 RAA.

Because the 2013 RAA is not yet finalized, registrars could potentially hold up the approval and delegation of new gTLDs if they don’t quickly agree to the changes ICANN wants.

According to Neylon, the documents released today have been published prematurely; with a little more time agreement could be reached on some of the remaining differences.

Again: expect fireworks in Beijing.

Whois records will be verified

But the new RAA is not all friction.

ICANN and registrars have finally come to agreement on important topics where there was previously sharp divergence.

Registrars have agreed to a new Whois Accuracy Program Specification that is a lot weaker than ICANN had, working from a blueprint laid out by governments and law enforcement agencies, first asked for.

Under the 2013 RAA signed-up registrars will have to start verifying certain elements of the contact information submitted by their registrants.

Notably, there’ll be a challenge-response mechanism for first-time registrants. Registrars will ask their customers to verify their email address or enter a code that has been sent to them via SMS text message or phone.

Note the “or” in that sentence. ICANN and law enforcement wanted registrars to do email “and” phone verification, but ICANN appears to have relented after months of registrars yapping about costs.

In future practice, because email verification is far easier and cheaper to implement, I’d be surprised if phone verification is used in anything but the rarest of cases.

Other data points will also be verified, but only to see that they conform to the correct formats.

Registrars will have to make sure that mailing addresses meet the Universal Postal Union standards, and that phone numbers conform to International Telecommunications Union formatting, for example.

They’ll also have to verify that the street address exists (if they have access to that data) but there will be no obligation to make sure that address and phone number actually belong to the registrant.

Registrants that provide patently false information that fails registrar verification will get 15 days to correct it or face the suspension of their domains.

ICANN wants registrars to also verify their customer records (which are usually different to the Whois records and, anecdotally, more accurate anyway) too, but registrars have so far not agreed to do so.

Taken as a whole, at first reading it’s difficult to see how the new Whois verification spec will do anything to prevent fast-turnover abuse such as phishing, but it may go a small way to help law enforcement investigate longer-term scams such as counterfeit goods sites.

The proposed 2013 RAA, along with more explanatory documents than you could possibly read in a coffee break is now open for public comment, with the reply period closing shortly after the Beijing meeting.

Go Daddy cozies up new gTLD players, drops its own .home and .casa bids

Go Daddy has changed tack in its new gTLD strategy, dropping its own applications and positioning itself strongly as a registry-neutral channel to market.

The company spent yesterday wooing new gTLD applicants at a specially convened meeting in its native Arizona; there were representatives from about half of the applied-for gTLDs in attendance.

But apart from the fact that Go Daddy has withdrawn its applications for .home and .casa — and symbolically dropped the “.com” from its logo — the company is playing its strategy pretty close to its chest.

Director of policy planning James Bladel told DI that the meeting was more about “starting a conversation” with registries, rather than laying out Go Daddy’s specific plans for new gTLDs.

The company will be a hugely important channel to market for many gTLDs, and competition for store-front space on the Go Daddy home page is expected to be fierce.

Existing big-volume “new” TLDs, such as .info and .co, can attribute much of their success to Go Daddy.

It’s responsible for well over half of all .info domains registered today and .CO Internet’s success to date can no doubt be attributed in no small part to its strong relationship with the company.

But Bladel would not be drawn on Go Daddy’s specific plans for the next wave of gTLDs.

While the company has a patent on a method of allocating shelf space via an Adsense-style bidding technology, Bladel said Go Daddy has not yet decided whether to use that system.

The company could also use other methods, algorithmic rather than commercial, for selecting which TLDs to display to users, such as geographic location, he said.

Another conversation that needs to happen relates to launch timing.

Ideas may include staggering launches to benefit from joint marketing efforts, or pooling launches into big-draw “launch day” events, Bladel speculated, noting that the company is more interested in hearing ideas from gTLD applicants right now.

While Go Daddy will continue to push its application for .godaddy dot-brand, with the loss of .home and .casa it will no longer be in the mass-market gTLD registry game.

Registry-neutral registrars may actually be a rarity in the new gTLD era.

eNom will certainly walk away with interests in more than a few gTLDs, directly and via its deal with Donuts. Tucows, and Directi will also have some, depending on contention set results.

Apart from Go Daddy, the only other top-ten registrars without their own gTLDs could be United and FastDomains.

.mii becomes the first new gTLD to face rejection

The applied-for new gTLD .mii is too similar to the US military gTLD .mil and will therefore be rejected by ICANN.

While many applications have been withdrawn, this is the first involuntary rejection to be announced by ICANN.

The applicant for .mii was MiTek USA, described by DI previously as the filer of the stupidest new gTLD applications of the current round.

It also applied for .connector, .mitek and .sapphire, the names of its product categories and brands.

All four of its applications will be formally rejected when ICANN publishes its Initial Evaluation results.

MiTek didn’t bother to answer the most basic questions in the new gTLD application, simply stating “TLD will not be resold. Purchased for brand protection only.” on almost every line.

The decision by the String Similarity Panel to rule .mii confusingly similar to .mil confirms what we already knew from the .hotels/.hoteis ruling — the letters I and L are confusing.

String similarity testing compares upper and lower-case letters as well as, I believe, different typefaces.