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Review reveals ccTLD fast-track criticisms

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has launched a review of its internationalized domain name fast-track process, revealing a number of criticisms its country-code domain applicants have apparently had.

The IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process is a way for ccTLD operators to quickly start selling fully non-Latin domains in their own local script.

It’s so far been successfully used to delegate IDN ccTLDs in Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic scripts, among others.

ICANN now wants to know if it should make any improvements to the process and has opened a 60-day public comment period to solicit suggestions.

Because quite a lot of the Fast Track takes place behind closed doors, ICANN has also offered up a fairly revealing list of possible discussion topics.

It appears that the process has created new pressure points between ICANN and international governments, which are often formally affiliated with their ccTLDs.

For example, some governments dislike the fact that Fast Track requires the applicant to show support for its chosen string from its local community. ICANN reported:

Some [applicants] do not find it necessary to demonstrate community support for the string nor the manager. The reason being that such decisions can be made by government entities, and the need for support undermines the authority of the government in the country or territory.

There also appears to have been a bit of push-back from governments on the issue of “meaningfulness”, where applicants have to show their requested string adequately represents their territory’s name.

ICANN said:

Some requesters have stated that this requirement is not necessary in cases where the strings requested are agreed to by the government and otherwise seem obviously meaningful.

In a concession to governments with sovereignty or financial concerns, ICANN does not charge an up-front fee for handling IDN ccTLD requests under the Fast Track.

Instead, it “recommends” a processing fee of $26,000 per string, which it invoices toward the end of the process, plus an ongoing 1-3% of IDN registration revenue.

So far, it has received $106,000 (covering presumably four strings, accounting for exchange rates), indicating that there are 11 IDN ccTLDs currently in the root that have not yet been paid for.

It will be interesting to see how many ccTLDs ultimately choose to pay up, and how many are happy for ICANN’s costs to be covered by fees paid by gTLD registrants like me and you.

The Fast Track review may also cover the topic of disputes and appeals. Currently, there is no dedicated mechanism by which a ccTLD that has had its requested string rejected can ask for reconsideration.

ICANN asks whether this should be changed.

Earlier this year, Bulgaria had its request for .бг (.bg) declined on the grounds that it looks too much like Brazil’s Latin ccTLD, .br and said it planned to appeal.

The ICANN public comment period, with the full list of suggested discussion topics, can be found here.

Trademark lobby keeps up pressure on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, October 24, 2010, Domain Policy

The International Trademark Association is continuing to press ICANN into commissioning a study of the potential economic “harms” its new top-level domain program could cause.

INTA executive director Alan Drewsen earlier this month sent ICANN a quick reminder (pdf) that it expects to see the study carried out before the new TLD application round launches.

The trademark lobby believes that new TLDs will increase costs to brand-conscious businesses through an increase in the number of defensive registrations and dispute proceedings they have to pay for.

ICANN hired some third-party analysts to look into the issue, and published a preliminary report in July that basically just speculated about studies that could be carried out in future.

The plan was to carry out a second-phase study, which was to begin after public comments on the first report had been analyzed and summarized by ICANN staff.

Three months after the public comment period closed, this analysis has not been published and there’s no news on phase two.

INTA’s latest missive also notes that the ICANN board does not appear to have discussed the economic study at its Trondheim meeting in September.

Drewson also refers back to previous correspondence, sent in early September by INTA president Heather Steinmeyer, in which she wrote:

trademark owners believe that such a study is not only a sensible recommendation, but an essential prerequisite before any rollout of new gTLDs.

It’s not clear to me whether ICANN also thinks the study needs to be completed before the new TLD program launches.

Such a study would presumably take some considerable time to compile, and noises from ICANN currently point to the program becoming finalized at some point in the next six months.

If the study were to conclude that new TLDs would be hugely financially damaging, after three years of work… well, red faces would be the very least concern.

Native American domain gives .jobs critics ammo

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2010, Domain Registries

The coalition of companies opposed to the expansion of the .jobs top-level domain seems to think it has found a ‘gotcha’ in the recent registration of nativeamerican.jobs.

The domain leads to a site listing jobs that are identified, for whatever reason, as being particularly suitable for Native Americans. It’s based on an earlier site at ndianjobs.com

The .jobs TLD was originally intended to allow human resources departments to list their corporate job openings using only their own company name or brand in the domain.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of a number of jobs portals including Monster.com, now points to nativeamerican.jobs as an example of .jobs registry Employ Media breaking its charter commitments.

The Coalition wrote to ICANN yesterday in support of its effort to get ICANN to overturn its recent decision on .jobs liberalization.

In August, ICANN told the registry that it could start accepting non-company-name .jobs registrations through a “phased allocation process” that involves an RFP and possibly auctions.

But the Coalition contends that the amended registry contract does not allow Employ Media to break its Charter commitment to restrict registrations to purely human resources registrants.

It could not be clearer that Employ Media is using the Board’s approval of the Phased Allocation Program to transform the fundamental nature of the .JOBS sponsored top level domain from a site for employers to link directly with job seekers to a generic employment services theme park – in clear violation of the .JOBS charter, and without the smallest consideration of third party rights.

These “third-party rights” include the owner of nativeamericanjobs.com, who presumably did not have the chance to register the contested domain.

It’s not clear whether the Coalition statement is entirely correct, however.

Judging from Whois records, the domain nativeamerican.jobs was registered in May, prior to ICANN’s board approving the .jobs registry contract changes.

It was certainly registered prior to the closure of the initial RFP stage of Employ Media’s phased allocation program.

The Coalition has a Reconsideration Request pending. ICANN earlier this week asked Employ Media to respond to 13 questions about its plans.

New TLDs dominate ICANN board agenda

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has published the agenda for next Thursday’s board meeting and unsurprisingly the new top-level domain process dominates.

The agenda breaks the discussion into several bullet points.

Of interest to absolutely everybody watching the new TLD process is the first bullet – “Update on Timeline”. Everyone wants to know when the Applicant Guidebook will be finalized.

Recently, it became apparent that ICANN seems to view the next draft of the guidebook as a possible candidate for “final” status. As I blogged earlier this week, it could be published in the next two weeks.

The issues of vertical integration of registry and registrar functions, the “Rec 6” objections process, and the Governmental Advisory Committee advice on geographic names are also on the agenda.

The meeting will also discuss the approval of Qatar’s internationalized domain name country-code TLD and the redelegation of the .qa ccTLD to a new entity.

Qatar’s chosen Arabic string was approved back in March, at the same time as other strings that have already been added to the root, so I can only assume that the redelegation issue was what caused the hold-up.

The perennially controversial .xxx application is also due to be wheeled out for another hearing.

ICANN asks .jobs registry to explain itself

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has asked .jobs registry manager Employ Media to clarify its plan to lift restrictions on who can register names in its top-level domain.

The ICANN board committee which handles Reconsideration Requests – essentially ICANN’s first-stop appeals court – has sent the registry a list of 13 questions (pdf), apparently distilled from a much longer list (pdf) supplied by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition.

Employ Media wants to be able to start allocating premium generic .jobs domain names to companies via an RFP process and possibly auctions, dropping the rule which states that only companyname.jobs domains are permitted in the TLD.

ICANN’s board of directors approved the company’s plan in August, and Employ Media opened its RFP process shortly thereafter. Then the Compliance Coalition filed its Reconsideration Request.

This ad-hoc coalition comprises a number of employment web sites, such as Monster.com, and the Newspapers Association of America, which believe Employ Media’s plans fall outside its remit and could pose a competitive threat.

It’s common knowledge that the registry was planning to allocate a big chunk of premium real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, which wants to run a massive jobs board called universe.jobs, fed traffic by thousands of generic industry or geographic .jobs names.

Essentially, the Coalition’s questions, echoed by the Board Governance Committee, seem to be a roundabout way of asking whether this violates the .JOBS Charter, which limits the registrant base to corporate human resources departments.

Notably, the BGC wants to know when a universe.jobs promotional white paper (pdf) was produced, how much input Employ Media had in it, and whether the ICANN board got to see it before making its decision.

(A bit of a ludicrous question really, given that the BGC is comprised of four ICANN directors)

It also wants to know which purported “independent job site operators” have welcomed the Employ Media plan (a situation reminiscent of the recent unsuccessful calls for ICM Registry to disclose its .xxx supporters.)

The BGC’s Question 9 also strikes me as interesting, given that it does not appear to be inspired directly by the Coalition’s list of questions:

Please state whether Employ Media took any steps to prevent or interfere with any entity or person’s ability to state its position, or provide information, to the Board regarding amendment of the .JOBS Registry Agreement before or during the 5 August 2010 Board meeting.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether we may see a rare reversal of an ICANN board decision based on a Reconsideration Request.