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Some gTLD applicants welcome ICANN’s clash plan

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2013, Domain Registries

Some new gTLD applicants, including two of the bigger portfolio applicants, have grudgingly accepted ICANN’s latest name collisions remediation plan as a generally positive development.

ICANN this week scrapped its three-tier categorization of applications, implicitly accepting that it was based on a flawed risk analysis, and instead said new gTLDs can be delegated without delay if the registries promise to block every potentially impacted second-level domain.

You may recall that yesterday dotShabaka Registry said on DI that the plan was a “dog’s breakfast” and criticized ICANN for not taking more account of applicants’ comments.

But others are more positive, if not exactly upbeat, welcoming the opportunity to avoid the six-month delays ICANN’s earlier mitigation plan would have imposed on many strings.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling congratulated ICANN for reframing the debate, in light of Verisign’s ongoing campaign to persuade everyone that name collisions will be hugely risky. He told DI:

There has been a great deal of FUD surrounding name collisions from incumbent registry operators who are trying to negatively shape the utility of the new gTLDs they will be competing against.

I think it was important for ICANN to take control of the conversation in the name of common sense. These types of collisions are ultimately minor in the grand scheme and they occur each and every day in existing namespaces like .com, without the internet melting down.

I think anything that shapes conversation in a way that accelerates the process and sides with common sense is good, I have not yet thought of how this latest change can be gamed to the downside of new G’s.

Uniregistry has 51 remaining new gTLD applications, 20 of which were categorized as “uncalculated risk” and faced considerable delays under ICANN’s original plan.

Schilling’s take was not unique among applicants we talked on and off the record.

Top Level Domain Holdings is involved with 77 current applications as back-end provider — and as applicant in most of them — and also faced “uncalculated” delay on many.

CEO Antony Van Couvering welcomed ICANN’s plan less than warmly and raised questions about the future studies it plans to conduct, criticizing ICANN’s apparent lack of trust in its community:

Basically the move is positive. I characterize it as getting out of jail in exchange for some community service — definitely a trade I’ll make.

On the other hand, the decision betrays ICANN’s basic lack of confidence in its own staff and in the ICANN community. You can see this in the vagueness of the study parameters, because it’s not at all clear what the consultant will be studying or what criteria will be used to make any recommendations — or indeed if anything can be said beyond mere data collection.

But more important, they are hiring an outside consultant when the world’s experts on the subject are all here already, many willing to work for free. ICANN either doesn’t think it can trust its community and/or doesn’t know how to engage them. So they punt on the issue and hire a consultant. It’s a behavior you can see in poorly-run companies anywhere, and it’s discouraging for ICANN’s future.

Similar questions were posed and answered by ICANN’s former new gTLD program supremo Kurt Pritz, in a comment on DI last night. Pritz is now an independent consultant working with new gTLD applicants and others.

He speculated that ICANN’s main concern is not appeasing Verisign and its new allies in the Association of National Advertisers, but rather attempting to head off future governmental interference.

Apparently speaking on his own behalf, Pritz wrote:

The greatest concern is the big loss: some well-spoken individual going to the US Congress or the European Commission and saying, “those lunatics are about to delegate dangerous TLDs, there will be c-o-l-l-i-s-i-o-n-s!!!” All the self-interested parties (acting rationally self-interested) will echo that complaint.

And someone in a governmental role will listen, and the program might be at jeopardy.

So ICANN is taking away all the excuses of those claiming technical risk. By temporarily blocking ALL of the SLDs seen in the day-in-the-life data and by putting into place a process to address new SLD queries that might raise a risk of harm, ICANN is delegating TLDs that are several orders of magnitude safer on this issue than all of the hundreds of TLDs that have already been delegated.

Are you a new gTLD applicant? What do you think? Is ICANN’s plan good news for you?

New gTLD applicants get a way to avoid name collision delay

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2013, Domain Tech

ICANN has given blessed relief to many new gTLD applicants by wiping potentially months off their path to delegation.

Its New gTLD Program Committee this week adopted a new “New gTLD Collision Occurrence Management Plan” which aims to tackle the problem of clashes between new gTLDs and names used on private networks.

The good news is that the previous categorization of strings according to risk, which would have delayed “uncalculated risk” gTLDs by months pending further study, has been scrapped.

The two “high risk” strings — .home and .corp — don’t catch a break, however. ICANN says it will continue to refuse to delegate them “indefinitely”.

For everyone else, ICANN said it will conduct additional studies into the risk of name collisions, above and beyond what Interisle Consulting already produced.

The study will take into account not only the frequency that new gTLDs currently generate NXDOMAIN traffic in the DNS root, but also the number of second-level domains queried, the diversity of requesting sources, and other factors.

Any new gTLD applicant that does not wish to wait for this study will be able to proceed to delegation without delay, but only if they block huge numbers of second-level domains at launch.

The registries will have to block every SLD that was queried in their gTLD according to the Day in the Life of the Internet data that Interisle used in its study.

This list will vary by TLD, but in the most severe cases is likely to extend to tens of thousands of names. In many cases, it’s likely to be a few thousand names.

Fortunately, studies conducted by the likes of Donuts and Neustar indicate that many of these SLDs — maybe even the majority — are likely to be invalid strings, such as those with an underscore or other non-DNS character, or randomly generated 10-character strings of gibberish generated by Google Chrome.

In other words, the actual number of potentially salable domains that registries will have to block may turn out to be much lower than it appears at first glance.

Each SLD will have to be blocked in such a way that it continues to return NXDOMAIN responses, as they all do today.

Because the DITL data represented a 48-hour snapshot in May 2013, and may not include every potentially affected string, ICANN is also proposing to give organizations a way to:

report and request the blocking of a domain name (SLD) that causes demonstrably severe harm as a consequence of name collision occurrences.

The process will allow the deactivation (SLD removal from the TLD zone) of the name for a period of up to two (2) years in order to allow the affected party to effect changes to its network to eliminate the DNS request leakage that causes collisions, or mitigate the harmful impact.

One has to wonder if any trademark lawyers reading this will think: “Ooh, free defensive registration!” It will be interesting to see if any of them give it a cheeky shot.

I’ve got a feeling that most new gTLD applicants will want to take ICANN up on its offer. It’s not an ideal solution for them, but it does give them a way to get into the root relatively quickly.

There’s no telling what ICANN’s additional studies will find, but there’s a chance it could be negative for their string(s) — getting delegated at least mitigates the risk of never getting delegated.

The new ICANN proposal may in some cases interfere with their plans to market and use their TLDs, however.

Take a dot-brand such as .cisco, which the networking company has applied for. Its block list is likely to have about 100,000 strings on it, increasing the chances that useful, brandable SLDs are going to be taken out of circulation for a while.

ICANN is also proposing to conduct an awareness-raising campaign, using the media, to let network operators know about the risks that new gTLDs may present to their networks.

Depending on how effective this is, new registries may be able to forget about getting positive column inches for their launch — if a journalist is handed a negative angle for a story on a plate, they’ll take it.

ICANN director quits, no reason given

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2013, Domain Policy

Judith Vazquez has resigned from ICANN’s board of directors, a year before her term was due to expire, but ICANN has provided no explanation.

Vazquez joined the board in 2011, when she was appointed by the Nominating Committee. She had served two years of her three-year ICANN term and had one year left.

This week ICANN said, in a notice from general counsel John Jeffrey:

Judith Duavit Vasquez has formally notified me, as Secretary, that she has resigned from the ICANN Board. She has indicated that the effective date of her resignation will be Monday, 7 October 2013.

ICANN didn’t say why Vazquez, who was recruited by the Nominating Committee in 2011, had resigned.

Vazquez is a Filipino businesswomen with, according to her ICANN resume, experience developing the internet in her native country.

Vasquez was on the New gTLD Program Committee, which makes decisions for the board about new gTLDs.

Her company had originally applied for a new gTLD, which excluded her from the committee on conflict of interest grounds, but the the application was withdrawn before Reveal Day.

It will be up to this year’s Nominating Committee to find a replacement to fill in for the remainder of her term.

First-come, first-served sunrise periods on the cards

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2013, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries will be able to offer first-come, first-served sunrise periods under a shake-up of the program’s rights protection mechanisms announced a week ago.

The new Trademark Clearinghouse Rights Protection Mechanism Requirements (pdf) contains a number of concessions to registries that may make gTLD launches easier but worry some trademark owners.

But it also contains a concession, I believe unprecedented, to the Intellectual Property Constituency that appears to give it a special veto over launch programs in geographic gTLDs.

Sunrise Periods

Under the old rules, which came about following the controversial “strawman” meetings late last year, new gTLD registries would have to give a 30-day notice period before launching their sunrise periods.

That was to give trademark owners enough time to consider their defensive registration strategies and to register their marks in the Trademark Clearinghouse.

The new rules give registries more flexibility. The 30-day notice requirement is still there, but only for registries that decide to offer a “Start Date” sunrise period as opposed to an “End Date” sunrise.

These are new concepts that require a bit of explanation.

An End Date sunrise is the kind of sunrise we’re already familiar with — the registry collects applications for domains from trademark owners but doesn’t actually allocate them until the end of the period. This may involve an auction when there are multiple applications for the same string.

A Start Date sunrise is a relative rarity — where registrations are actually processed and domains allocated while the sunrise period is still running. First-come, first-served, in other words.

This gives more flexibility to registries in their launch plans. They’ll be able to showcase mark-owning anchor tenants during sunrise, for example.

But it gives less certainty to trademark owners, which in many cases won’t be able to guarantee they’ll get the domain matching their mark no matter how wealthy they are.

Under the new ICANN rules, only registries operating a Start Date Sunrise need to give the 30 days notice. These sunrise periods have to run for a minimum of 30 days.

It seems that registries running End Date Sunrises will be able to give notice the same day they start accepting sunrise applications, but will have to run their sunrise period for at least 60 days.

Launch Programs

There was some criticism of the old RPM rules for potentially limiting registries’ ability to run things such as “Founders Programs”, getting anchor tenants through the door early to help promote their gTLDs.

The old rules said that the registry could allocate up to 100 names to itself, making them essentially exempt from sunrise periods, for promotional purposes.

New gTLD applicants had proposed that this should be expanded to enable these 100 names to go to third parties (ie, “founders”) but ICANN has not yet given this the green light.

In the new rules, the 100 names still must be allocated to the registry itself, but ICANN said it might relax this requirement in future. In the legalese of the Registry Agreement, it said:

Subject to further review and analysis regarding feasibility, implementation and protection of intellectual property rights, if a process for permitting registry operators to Allocate or register some or all of such one hundred (100) domain names (plus their IDN variants, where applicable) (each a “Launch Name”) to third parties prior to or during the Sunrise Period for the purposes of promoting the TLD (a “Qualified Launch Program”) is approved by ICANN, ICANN will prepare an addendum to these TMCH Requirements providing for the implementation of such Qualified Launch Program, which will be automatically incorporated into these TMCH Requirements without any further action of ICANN or any registry operator.

ICANN will also allow registries to request the ability to offer launch programs that diverge from the TMCH RPM rules.

If the launch program requested was detailed in the new gTLD application itself, it would carry a presumption of being approved, unless ICANN “reasonably determines that such requested registration program could contribute to consumer confusion or the infringement of intellectual property rights.”

If the registry had not detailed the program in its application, but ICANN had approved a similar program for another similar registry, there’d be the same presumption of approval.

Together, these provisions seems to give registries a great deal of flexibility in designing launch programs whilst making ICANN the guardian of intellectual property rights.

Geo gTLDs

For officially designated “geographic” gTLDs, it’s a bit more complicated.

Some geographic gTLD applicants had worried about their ability to reserve names for the governments backing their applications before the trademark owners wade in.

How can the .london registry make sure that the Metropolitan Police obtains before the Sting-fronted pop group (or more likely its publisher) snaps up the name at sunrise, for example?

The new rules again punt a firm decision, instead giving the Intellectual Property Constituency, with ICANN oversight, the ability to come up with a list of names or categories of names that geographic registries will be allowed to reserve from their sunrise periods.

It’s very unusual — I can’t think of another example of this happening — for ICANN to hand decision-making power like this to a single constituency of the Generic Names Supporting Organization.

When GNSO Councillors also questioned the move, ICANN VP of DNS industry engagement Cyrus Namazi wrote:

In response to community input, the TMCH Requirements were revised to allow registry operators the ability to submit applications to conduct launch programs. In response to the large number of Geo TLDs who voiced similar concerns, the IPC publicly stated that it would be willing to work with Geo TLDs to develop mutually acceptable language for Geo TLD launch programs. We viewed this proposal as a way for community members to work collectively to propose to ICANN a possible solution for an issue specifically affecting intellectual property rights-holders and Geo TLDs. Any such proposal will be subject to ICANN’s review and ICANN has expressly stated that any such proposal may be subject to public comment in which other interested community members may participate.

While ICANN is calling the RPM rules “final”, it seems that in reality there’s still a lot of work to be done before new gTLD registries, geo or otherwise, will have a clear picture of what they can and cannot offer at launch.

Mockapetris hired as ICANN security advisor

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2013, Domain Tech

DNS inventor Paul Mockapetris has been recruited by ICANN to act as senior security advisor to the Generic Domains Division under its president, Akram Atallah.

It’s not clear precisely what Mockapetris’ role will be, though it doesn’t appear to be a full-time position. He is still chairman and chief scientist of DNS software vendor Nominum.

ICANN recently recorded an interview with Mockapetris in which he pooh-poohed Verisign’s campaign against new gTLDs on security grounds, saying name collisions were not a new phenomenon.

It’s not the first time ICANN has hired a “name” as a security advisory.

One of the inventors of public key cryptography, Whitfield Diffie, became VP of information security under former CEO Rod Beckstom but quietly disappeared not too long after Fadi Chehade took over last year.