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First dot-brand gTLD to go generic after TLS deal

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The would-be dot-brand gTLD .observer will actually open as an unrestricted generic after the contract was bought out by Top Level Spectrum.

TLS, which has a small portfolio of gTLDs already, bought out the ICANN contract from UK newspaper publisher Guardian News and Media a couple of months ago, it emerged today.

The Observer is the title of the Guardian’s sister paper, published on Sundays.

But TLS CEO Jay Westerdal said it will be sold as a generic with pricing under $10 per name, as a thematic stable-mate for its gripe-oriented gTLD .feedback.

The price of the TLD has not been revealed, but Westerdal characterized it as a sub-$1 million deal.

It’s the first instance of a dot-brand, albeit one that that not yet gone live, being taken over by a portfolio gTLD player.

Westerdal said he’s looking for more, similar acquisition opportunities.

The gTLD is currently in pre-delegation testing, with no published go-live date.

The Guardian had signed a Registry Agreement containing Specification 9. That allows registries to disregard the Code of Conduct — which obliges them to treat registrars equally.

It seems likely this will have to be removed from the RA before .observer can go to the masses as a proper generic.

Correction: what NTIA said about .com pricing

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The US government has not confirmed that it expects to keep Verisign’s .com registry fee capped at the current level until at least 2024, despite what DI reported on Monday.

At this URL we published an article reporting that the US government had confirmed that it was going to keep .com prices frozen at $7.85 for the next eight years.

That was based on a misreading of a letter from the Department of Commerce to Senator Ted Cruz and others, which merely explained how the price cap could be maintained without expressing a commitment to do so.

The letter actually said very little, and nothing of news value, so I thought it best to simply delete the original piece and replace it with this correction.

I regret the error.

Thanks to those readers who got in touch to point out the mistake.

US claims option to delay IANA transition as Cruz launches free speech doomsday clock

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Policy

The US government has told ICANN that it may extend the current IANA functions contract for a year, should something unexpected happen this month.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration wrote to ICANN (pdf) yesterday, to provide “preliminary notice” that it could extent the contract until September 30, 2017, if a “significant impediment” should occur before October 1, 2016.

It appears to be a formality. NTIA said:

the department intends to allow the IANA functions contract to expire as of October 1, 2016, barring any significant impediment. This notice preserves the Government’s rights under the contract during this interim period should there be a change in circumstance.

Under the contract, NTIA is allowed to extend the term for another year in the last 15 days of the current term, but it has to give 30 days notice to ICANN if it wants to do so.

NTIA assistant secretary Larry Strickling told ICANN (pdf) a couple weeks ago that it plans to allow the IANA contract to expire — thereby removing NTIA’s piddling influence in root zone management — October 1.

But the move is facing continued criticism from increasingly unhinged elements of the American political right, who have got it into their heads that the transition means Russia and China will be able to take over ICANN and crush free speech online.

The campaign has been spearheaded by Senator Ted Cruz and whoever pulls the strings of Wall Street Journal columnist L Gordon Crovitz, and has roped in a multitude of hard-right think-tanks.

The latest publicity push for the campaign saw Cruz yesterday launch a countdown clock on its Senate web page.

Countdown

Cruz’s site states:

If that proposal goes through, countries like Russia, China, and Iran could be able to censor speech on the Internet, including here in the U.S. by blocking access to sites they don’t like.

None of that is true, needless to say.

But the anti-transition sentiment is strong enough that it’s not impossible that there will be a “significant impediment” to the transition before October 1 — a legal injunction against the Federal government, perhaps — and the extension will enable ICANN to run IANA under the current regime for another year.

Tata ponders “buy a school” strategy to release .tata from limbo

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2016, Domain Policy

Tata Group is reportedly considering buying a school for the Moroccan province of Tata in order to unlock the .tata gTLD.

The huge Indian conglomerate has been prevented from acquiring its own dot-brand because it matches the name of the tiny region, which is as protected geographic string under ICANN rules.

Without the express permission of Morocco, Tata will not get its desired domain.

According to the New Indian Express newspaper, the company has now reached out to the Indian government in an attempt to open diplomatic channels with Morocco and finally resolve the issue.

The paper cites an unnamed “official” as stating that buying a new school for the province may be the best way to “open the door” to a formal non-objection.

That has precedent.

New gTLD registry Punto 2012, managed to get a non-objection for its .bar application from Montenegro by offering to pay $100,000, spread over 10 years, to fund a school in the Bar region of the country.

Tata came close to acquiring .tata in 2014.

It was the final new gTLD application to pass its evaluation, after it managed to produce a letter from Morocco that was taken as a non-objection.

But Morocco’s digital minister subsequently objected, denying that the government had permitted the use of the string.

Tata’s application was then returned to its Geographic Names Review, which it flunked last December.

Since then, the bid has been marked “Will Not Proceed”, a status that usually only changes when an application is withdrawn.

.hotel losers gang up to threaten ICANN with legal bills

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2016, Domain Registries

The six losing applicants for the .hotel new gTLD are collectively threatening ICANN with a second Independent Review Process action.

Together, they this week filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, challenging its decision earlier this month to allow the Afilias-owned Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl application to go ahead to contracting.

HTLD won a controversial Community Priority Evaluation in 2014, effectively eliminating all rival applicants, but that decision was challenged in an IRP that ICANN ultimately won.

The other applicants think HTLD basically cobbled together a bogus “community” in order to “game” the CPE process and avoid an expensive auction.

Since the IRP decision, the six other applicants — Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry — have been arguing that the HTLD application should be thrown out due to the actions of Dirk Krischenowski, a former key executive.

Krischenowski was found by ICANN to have exploited a misconfiguration in its own applicants’ portal to download documents belonging to its competitors that should have been confidential.

But at its August 9 meeting, the ICANN board noted that the timing of the downloads showed that HTLD could not have benefited from the data exposure, and that in any event Krischenowski is no longer involved in the company, and allowed the bid to proceed.

That meant the six other applicants lost the chance to win .hotel at auction and/or make a bunch of cash by losing the auction. They’re not happy about that.

It doesn’t matter that the data breach could not have aided HTLD’s application or its CPE case, they argue, the information revealed could prove a competitive advantage once .hotel goes on sale:

What matters is that the information was accessed with the obvious intent to obtain an unfair advantage over direct competitors. The future registry operator of the .hotel gTLD will compete with other registry operators. In the unlikely event that HTLD were allowed to operate the .hotel gTLD, HTLD would have an unfair advantage over competing registry operators, because of its access to sensitive business information

They also think that HTLD being given .hotel despite having been found “cheating” goes against the spirit of application rules and ICANN’s bylaws.

The RfR (pdf) also draws heavily on the findings of the IRP panel in the unrelated Dot Registry (.llc, .inc, etc) case, which were accepted by the ICANN board also on August 9.

In that case, the panel suggested that the board should conduct more thorough, meaningful reviews of CPE decisions.

It also found that ICANN staff had been “intimately involved” in the preparation of the Dot Registry CPE decision (though not, it should be noted, in the actual scoring) as drafted by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The .hotel applicants argue that this decision is incompatible with their own IRP, which they lost in February, where the judges found a greater degree of separation between ICANN and the EIU.

Their own IRP panel was given “incomplete and misleading information” about how closely ICANN and the EIU work together, they argue, bringing the decision into doubt.

The RfR strongly hints that another IRP could be in the offing if ICANN fails to cancel HTLD application.

The applicants also want a hearing so they can argue their case in person, and a “substantive review” of the .hotel CPE.

The HTLD application for .hotel is currently “On Hold” while ICANN sorts through the mess.