First ICANN gTLD auction slated for June 4

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2014, Domain Policy

ICANN has published a preliminary schedule for its first new gTLD contention set auctions, which would see the first batch hit the block on June 4 this year.

The plan is now to sell off roughly 20 strings every month, with the last lot going under the hammer in March 2015, a full year from now.

Each contention set, of which there are 233, has been allocated to a batch, ordered by the applicants with the best position in the prioritization queue governing all aspects of the new gTLD program.

But each batch is filled with sets that have either already been resolved or which are currently “ineligible” for auction for one reason or another.

Ineligible contention sets are those that include an application that has, for example, an outstanding change request or a piece of unresolved Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

For example, the 12 applications for .app are scheduled for a July auction, but none of them are going anywhere until the GAC advice against the string goes away.

Naturally enough, ICANN says it’s a preliminary schedule that is subject to a lot of change.

Applicants in contention sets may nevertheless draw comfort from the fact that these auctions finally seem to have firm dates. The auctions were originally slated to start this month.

Community gTLD applicants flunk on “nexus”

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2014, Domain Policy

The first four Community Priority Evaluation results are in, and all four applicants flunked by failing to prove a “nexus” between the new gTLD string and the community they purport to represent.

No applicant score more than 11 points of the 14 necessary to pass. A total of 16 points are available.

Winning a CPE automatically wins a contention set — all the other applicants for the same new gTLD must withdraw — so it’s a deliberately difficult test.

The scoring mechanism has been debated for years. Scoring 14 points unless the gTLD string exactly matches the name of your organization has always struck me as an almost impossible task.

The first four results appear to substantiate this view. Nobody scored more than 0 on the “nexus” requirement, for which 4 points are available.

The four CPE applicants were: Starting Dot (.immo), Taxi Pay (.taxi), Tennis Australia (.tennis) and the Canadian Real Estate Association (.mls). All four were told:

The string does not identify or match the name of the community, nor is it a well-known short-form or abbreviation of the community.

In some cases, the evaluation panel used evidence from the applicant’s own applicant to show that the string “over-reaches” the community the applicant purported to represent.

The application for .Taxi defines a core community of taxi companies and drivers, as well as peripheral industries and entities.

While the string identifies the name of the core community members (i.e. taxis), it does not match or identify the peripheral industries and entities that are included in the definition of the community

In other cases, the panel just used basic common sense. For example, Tennis Australia was told:

Tennis refers to the sport and the global community of people/groups associated with it, and therefore does not refer specifically to the Tennis Australia community.

Starting Dot (.immo) and Taxi Pay (.taxi) both also scored 0 on the “Community Establishment” criteria where, again, 4 points were available.

In that part of the CPE, the applicants have to show that their community is clearly delineated, organized, and long-standing.

In both cases, the panel found that the communities were too eclectic, too disorganized and too young — neither existed before the new gTLD program kicked off in September 2007.

It’s not looking promising for any of the 14 CPE applicants listed by ICANN here. I’ll give $50 to a charity of the applicant’s choosing if any of them scores more than 14 points.

Donuts plays the genericide card in showdown with Belgian government over .spa

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2014, Domain Policy

Donuts has asked ICANN to approved its .spa new gTLD application over the objections of the Belgian government, saying the town of Spa no longer has exclusive rights to the string.

As we reported at the weekend, Spa is asking Donuts and rival applicant Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council for an up to 25% cut of profits from .spa, as well as the right to help manage the TLD at the registry’s expense.

ASWPC has agreed to these terms, but Donuts has not. It says it offered Spa extra protections for sensitive names, but does not want to hand over any managerial control or profit.

Yesterday, Donuts wrote to ICANN (pdf) to say that “spa” is now so generic that no interest would be served by ICANN enforcing the city’s demands. Here’s the meat of it:

While the City of Spa maintains a historical link to the word “spa”, that word long ago evolved as a globally recognized generic term by people who have never even heard of the city of its origin. The public interest served by making that term available to a global community of spa users far outweighs any risk of confusion with the city of the same name. And for those names that may cause confusion, Donuts has provided a rigorous series of additional protections and controls.

The City of Spa gave the word “spa” to the world many centuries ago, and the world has done a great deal with it. Just as attorneys for the City of Spa don’t fly around the world handing cease-­and-desist notices to resort operators and hot-­tub manufacturers, we do not believe it is appropriate for them to overrun ICANN procedure to try to exert control over how that term is used in the Internet’s global addressing system.

I’m going to raise my hand to say that I’d never heard of Spa before this particular controversy arose, and I expect that goes for most of the people reading this article. Donuts surely has a point.

But that’s not to say Spa doesn’t have a point too. There are plenty of governments that managed to squeeze concessions out of applicants for gTLDs matching place names in their territories, with little complaint from applicants; it’s just that the line was drawn at capital cities, something which Spa is not.

Donuts urges ICANN to give no weight to the Spa-ASWPC deal and to move both applications forward to the next stage of the process — contention resolution.

We may see some progress at the ICANN meeting in Singapore next week, when ICANN will surely press the Governmental Advisory Committee for further advice on this string.

Registrars screwing up new gTLD launches?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registrars

Some of the largest domain name registrars are failing to support new gTLDs properly, leading to would-be registrants being told unregistered names are unavailable.

The .menu gTLD went into general availability yesterday, gathering some 1,649 registrations in its first half day.

It’s not a great start for the new gTLD by any stretch, but how much of it has to do with the channel?

I tested out searches for available names at some of the biggest registrars and got widely different results, apparently because they don’t all properly support tiered pricing.

Market leader Go Daddy even refuses to sell available names.

The .menu gTLD is being operated by a What Box? subsidiary, the inappropriately named Wedding TLD2.

The company has selected at least three pricing tiers as far as I can tell — $25 is the baseline registry fee, but many unreserved “premium” names are priced by the registry at $50 and $65 a year.

For my test, I used noodleshop.menu, which seems to carry the $65 fee. Whois records show it as unregistered and it’s not showing up in today’s .menu zone file. It’s available.

This pricing seems to be accurately reflected at registrars including Name.com and 101domain.

Name.com, for example, says that the name is available and offers to sell it to me for $81.25.

Name.com

Likewise, 101domain reports its availability and a price of $97.49. There’s even a little medal icon next to the name to illustrate the fact that it’s at a premium price.

101domain

So far so good. However, other registrars fare less well.

Go Daddy and Register.com, which are both accredited .menu registrars, don’t seem to recognize the higher-tier names at all.

Go Daddy reports the name is unavailable.

Go Daddy

And so does Register.com.

Register.com

For every .menu name that carried a premium price at Name.com, Go Daddy was reporting it as unavailable.

With Go Daddy owning almost half of the new gTLD market, you can see why its failure to recognize a significant portion of a new gTLD’s available nice-looking names might impact day-one volumes.

The experience at 1&1, which has pumped millions into marketing new gTLD pre-registrations, was also weird.

At 1&1, I was offered noodleshop.menu at the sale price of $29.99 for the first year and $49.99 thereafter, which for some reason I was told was a $240 saving.

1&1

Both the sale price and the regular price appear to be below the wholesale cost. Either 1&1 is committed to take a $15 loss on each top-tier .menu name forever, or it’s pricing its names incorrectly.

A reader informed me this morning that when he tried to buy a .menu premium at 1&1 today he was presented with a message saying he would be contacted within 24 hours about the name.

He said his credit card was billed for the $29.99, but the name (Whois records seem to confirm) remains unregistered.

I’d test this out myself but frankly I don’t want to risk my money. When I tried to register the same name as the reader on 1&1 today I was told it was still available.

If I were a new gTLD registry I’d be very worried about this state of affairs. Without registrars, there’s no sales, but some registrars appear to be unprepared, at least in the case of .menu.

Verisign stock punished after US move from root control

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2014, Domain Registries

Verisign’s share price is down around 8% in early trading today, after analysts speculated that the US government’s planned move away from control of the DNS root put .com at risk.

The analyst firm Cowan & Co cut its rating on VRSN and reportedly told investors:

With less US control and without knowledge of what entity or entities will ultimately have power, we believe there is increased risk that VRSN may not be able to renew its .com and .net contracts in their current form.

It’s complete nonsense, of course.

The US announced on Friday it’s intention to step away from the trilateral agreements that govern control of the root between itself, ICANN and Verisign. But that deal has no dollar value to anyone.

What’s not affected, as ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade laboriously explained during his press conference Friday, are the contracts under which Verisign operates .com and .net.

The .com contract, through which Verisign derives most of its revenue, is slightly different to regular gTLD contracts in that the US has the right to veto terms if they’re considered anti-competitive.

The current contract, which runs through 2018, was originally going to retain Verisign’s right to increase its prices in most years, but it was vetoed by the US, freezing Verisign’s registry fee.

So not only has the US not said it will step away from .com oversight, but if it did it would be excellent news for Verisign, which would only have to strong-arm ICANN into letting it raise prices again.

Renewal of the .com and .net contracts shouldn’t be an issue either. The main rationale for putting .com up for rebid was to improve competition, but the new gTLD program is supposed to be doing that.

If new gTLDs, as a whole, are considered successful, I can’t see Verisign ever losing .com.

Verisign issued a statement before the markets opened today, saying:

The announcement by NTIA on Friday, March 14, 2014, does not affect Verisign’s operation of the .com and .net registries. The announcement does not impact Verisign’s .com or .net domain name business nor impact its .com or .net revenue or those agreements, which have presumptive rights of renewal.