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Is the new TLD program already delayed?

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has missed the first target date on its recently approved new top-level domains launch timetable.

The organization was due to publish its proposed final Applicant Guidebook for public comment yesterday, but has failed to do so.

Rumor has it that it could be tomorrow or Friday before the AGB is published.

Could there be a knock-on effect? Does this mean that the process as a whole, scheduled to see the first round of new TLD applications open May 30, 2011, is already delayed?

Be warned, I’m just thinking aloud here. This is pure, idle speculation.

Two thoughts occur to me.

First, does this delay mean that ICANN will not be able to vote on the AGB at its December 10 meeting, as planned?

Second, does this delay create a scenario in which the program’s opponents will be able to lobby for further delays?

The original, quite tight timetable called for a November 9 AGB publication date and the immediate launch of a 30-day public comment period.

Doors would have closed to feedback on December 9, the day before the next ICANN board meeting.

With the AGB publication deadline now missed, and if ICANN otherwise sticks to its plan, a 30-day comment window would still be open when the board convenes in Cartagena.

Since ICANN is not in the habit of voting on issues that are still subject to open comment periods, my guess is that its best bet now will be to tighten the schedule.

While the board has seemingly okayed 30 days for community input, I’m not sure how binding that is, and my reading of ICANN’s bylaws suggests that it could be quite easily be reduced to anything as short as 21 days.

A comment period that lasted beyond December 10 would enable an organization opposed to the new TLD program to submit comments after the vote has been cast, allowing no time for the board to consider them.

This seemingly counter-intuitive move would however create grounds for a subsequent Reconsideration Request if the AGB is approved in Colombia, potentially delaying the process.

Would this be a clever strategy? I doubt it. Reconsideration Requests rarely work, and are hardly the most effective way to have your views heard within ICANN.

Still, these are strange times, and anything seems possible.

One thing is certain, given the enthusiastic reception the recent publication of the timetable received, it will be dispiriting to many today to see that ICANN has already missed its first deliverable date.

ICANN drops the bomb – registries can buy registrars

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has just authorized the biggest shake-up of the domain name industry in a decade, lifting all the major cross-ownership restrictions on registrars and registries.

A surprise resolution passed on Friday at the ICANN board’s retreat could enable registries such as VeriSign to acquire registrars such as Go Daddy, and vice-versa.

The new rules will also allow registrars to apply for and run new top-level domains and, subject to additional conditions, may enable existing registries to eventually start selling direct to end users, potentially bypassing the registrar channel.

The implications of these changes could be enormous, and I expect they could be challenged by affected parties.

The board resolved that ICANN “will not restrict cross-ownership between registries and registrars”, subject to certain yet-to-be written Code of Conduct for preventing abuse.

These looser ownership restrictions will be included in the new TLD Applicant Guidebook. Existing registries will be able to transition to the new rules over time through contract changes.

ICANN will develop mechanisms for enforcing anti-abuse rules through contractual compliance programs, and will have the ability to refer cross-ownership deals to competition authorities.

These provisions may be enhanced by additional enforcement mechanisms such as the use of self-auditing requirements, and the use of graduated sanctions up to and including contractual termination and punitive damages.

The decision appears to have been made partly on the grounds that while almost all existing registry contracts include strict cross-ownership restrictions, it has never been a matter of formal policy.

A vertical integration working group which set out to create a bottom-up consensus policy earlier this year managed to find only deadlock.

ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said:

In the absence of existing policy or new bottom-up policy recommendations, the Board saw no rationale for placing restrictions on cross-ownership. Any possible abuses can be better addressed by properly targeted mechanisms. Co-ownership rules are not an optimal technique in this area.

Most members of the VI working group broadly favored some level of cross-ownership restriction, such as a 15% cap, while a smaller number favored the “free trade” position that ICANN seems to have gone for.

The companies campaigning hardest against cross-ownership being permitted were arguably Afilias and Go Daddy, though the likes of NeuStar and VeriSign also favored some restrictions.

Opponents of integrating registry and registrar functions argued that giving registrars access to registry data would harm consumers; others countered that this was best addressed through compliance programs rather than ownership caps.

The big winners from this announcement are the start-up new TLD registries, which will not be forced to work exclusively within the existing registrar channel in order to sell their domains.

Van Couvering takes over M+M parent

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2010, Domain Registries

Antony Van Couvering, chief executive of new top-level domains hopeful Minds + Machines, has taken over as CEO of its parent company, Top Level Domain Holdings.

He replaces Fred Krueger, who remains as chairman, according to StockMarketWire.com.

Casper von Veltheim, head of the German operation, will also become director of European operations.

The changes are related to the recent announcement of a timetable for the introduction of new TLDs, according to Krueger.

M+M plans to apply for a number of TLDs, including .gay, and provides consulting and back-end services to other TLD applicants.

Serbia’s Cyrillic domain approved

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2010, Domain Registries

Serbia has moved one step closed to having a localized version of its country-code top-level domain added to the DNS root, after ICANN approved its choice of string.

According to the Serbian National Register of Internet Domain Names (RNIDS), which manages .rs, ICANN has told it the Cyrillic string .срб has been approved (Serbian PDF).

The ccTLD would become the second Cyrillic namespace to be approved, after the Russian Federation, under ICANN’s internationalized domain name fast-track process.

Wikipedia tells me that Serbian is the only European language to use both Latin and Cyrillic characters, but that nowadays Cyrillic is the only official script.

I believe the Latin transliteration of the approved string is .”srb”.

RNIDS said it expects to start accepting registrations in the second half of 2011, following public consultations.

New TLD firms to ICANN: “Get on with it”

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2010, Domain Registries

A number of prospective domain name registries have called on ICANN to shorten the window for its first round of new top-level domain applications.

While we now know that ICANN is working towards a May 30, 2011 opening date for applications, its recently published timeline does not specify how long the application period will last.

However, last month’s draft document “Delegation Rate Scenarios For New gTLDs” (pdf) states that the window of opportunity for TLD applicants will last 90 days.

Now, many of the companies and organizations that have been waiting the longest to apply have asked ICANN to narrow that period to 30 days.

Jon Nevett, president of Domain Dimensions, in a comment on the delegation rate report, wrote:

In prior presentations and discussions with ICANN staff, a 30-day application window had been discussed. I’m not sure how the 30 days turned into a 90-day window in this report. Tacking a 90-day window on after a four-month communications period does not make sense and is extremely unfair to applicants.

After the publication of the final Applicant Guidebook (AGB), ICANN plans to conduct a four-month outreach and marketing effort before accepting applications. The current draft AGB predicts an eight-month processing period for the very simplest applications.

Nevett, and others that subsequently echoed his views, believe that the longer window punishes companies that have invested resources in new TLD applications over the last few years.

There have already been a number of delays to the program’s launch, which was originally scheduled to kick off in 2009, and then mid-2010.

Nevett wrote:

Let’s stop punishing applicants by sucking them dry of all of their working capital by creating a seven-month communications/application period followed by a minimum eight-month review period piled on the years that they already have been waiting. We could do better.

His views were supported in separate comments by commercial operators including of Minds + Machines and .MUSIC, along with geo-TLD efforts including dotBERLIN and dotAfrica.

While the comment period has seen no opposing views, one criticism previously offered by opponents of the new TLD program is that it will unfairly benefit “insiders” – those people who participate regularly in ICANN for their own business purposes.