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Some countries not paying ICANN for their IDNs

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN may have to fund some of its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program out of its own pocket, due to at least one country not paying its full fees, judging from information released this week.

ICANN had invoiced applicants for a total of $572,000, but only $106,000 had been received, according to briefing documents (pdf, page 114) presented at the ICANN board’s October 28 meeting.

The organization invoices registries $26,000 for each TLD string it evaluates, but the fees are not mandatory, for political reasons. As of October, it had presumably billed for 22 strings.

At least one country appears to have had its applications processed at a knock-down rate.

Sri Lanka, which was billed $52,000 for two strings, only paid $2,000, and the remaining $50,000 appears to have been written off as “uncollectable”.

Russia, Egypt, South Korea and Tunisia had paid their fees in full.

While the remaining 17 evaluated ccTLDs may not have paid up by October, that’s not to say they have not paid since or will not pay in future.

ICANN also plans to bill IDN ccTLDs 1-3% of annual revenue as a “contribution”, which also won’t be mandatory, but no registry has been live long enough to receive that bill yet.

Bulgarians step up ICANN protest

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2010, Domain Policy

A domain name registrar association from Bulgaria is laying the groundwork to appeal ICANN’s rejection of the country’s proposed Cyrillic top-level domain.

Uninet has filed a Documentary Information Disclosure Policy request, asking ICANN to publish its reasons for turning down the .бг (.bg) application and the criteria it used.

The domain, which had the backing of the Bulgarian government and people, was rejected in May on the grounds that it is “confusingly similar to an existing TLD”, believed to be Brazil’s .br.

In order to prepare for a future appeal, the Uninet organization wants ICANN to release:

1. The DNS Stability panel working criteria (or parts of it) that were applied to evaluate and subsequently reject the Bulgarian application.
2. The decision of the DNS Stability panel, used to reject the Bulgarian application.

While the ICANN panel’s decision isn’t exactly a state secret (even I have a copy), there seems to be a feeling in Bulgaria that ICANN may not have released all of its reasoning.

The document does not, for example, specify which TLD .бг is confusingly similar to.

It does, however, reveal just how strict ICANN is when it comes to evaluating IDN domains, including a default assumption that any two-letter string is confusing.

We note that two-character strings consisting of Unicode code points in the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic script blocks are intrinsically confusable with currently defined or potential future country code TLD

We therefore apply a very conservative standard in our assessment of applied-for strings that consist of two Greek, Cyrillic, or Latin characters, including a default presumption of confusability to which exceptions may be made in specific cases.

Uninet said that the Bulgarian government plans to challenge the .бг decision if and when ICANN revises its existing IDN ccTLD Fast Track program to create an appeals process. It wrote:

Many people have criticized the lack of transparency and appeal options in this process, but after the ongoing public comment period we hope that it would be amended by the ICANN Board and the Bulgarian government (as a requester) will have the chance to apply for a re-evaluation of the proposed string.

In the meantime, the Bulgarian government’s IT ministry today started encouraging its citizens to write to ICANN to demand that its application is re-evaluated.

Several already have.

Domain universe breaks through 200 million

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2010, Domain Registries

VeriSign is reporting that the number of registered domain names worldwide broke through the 200 million mark in the third quarter.

There were 202 million domains at the end of September, according to the company’s Domain Name Industry Brief, which was published today.

Over half of those domains, 103 million names in total, can be found in the .com and .net namespaces that VeriSign manages.

In a not-so-subtle plug for VeriSign’s 2011 growth strategy, the company also declared that the next ten years will be “The Decade of the International Internet”.

In the coming decade, the Internet will continue to become a ubiquitous, multi-cultural tool, fueled in part by the adoption of IDNs. By enabling online content and businesses to be represented in local scripts and languages, IDNs help the Internet to expand the power of technology to regions and cultures, and connect the world in new ways. Over the past year, several new IDNs for ccTLDs have been approved. The next step will be approval of IDNs for generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

The company, of course, plans to apply to ICANN to operate IDN versions of .com and .net, although it has not to date discussed openly which languages or strings it wants.

The VeriSign report also says that ccTLD registrations grew 2.4%, compared to the same quarter last year, to 79.2 million domains.

I expect this growth would have been tempered had it not been for the relaunch of .co, which occurred during the quarter, but it does not merit a mention in the report.

The report also reveals that .info has overtaken .cn in the biggest-TLD charts, although this is due primarily to the plummeting number of registrations in the Chinese ccTLD.

Rejected Bulgarians want ICANN appeal

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2010, Domain Registries

A handful of Bulgarian internet users have asked ICANN for the right to appeal the rejection of .бг, the proposed Cyrillic country-code top-level domain.

ICANN has received five emails from from the country in the last week, all expressing frustration that .бг (.bg) was turned down with no public explanation and no right to reply.

The string was rejected in May due to what ICANN determined was its confusing visual similarity with Brazil’s ccTLD, .br.

Polls of the Bulgarian people have been unable to find consensus on a suitable alternative, and the government has repeatedly said it would like to apply again or appeal.

Whether to introduce a right of appeal for rejected applicants is one of the topics ICANN is currently soliciting comments on as part of the review of its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program.

Bulgarian freelance developer Stoyan Danev wrote in his comment:

The Bulgarian community has clearly demonstrated that selecting another string is unacceptable and if the proposed one is not approved, Bulgaria will remain WITHOUT an IDN ccTLD. This is really against the ICANN policy of making Internet accessible to everyone.

He questioned whether .бг really is confusable with .br, linking to the Unicode web site, which suggests that б can be confused with 6 but not b, to prove his point.

Another commenter suggested that that the .бг registry could make it a matter of policy to only accept registrations at the second level that include at least one uniquely Cyrillic character.

Will a Russian domain sell for more than Sex.com?

Kevin Murphy, November 25, 2010, Domain Sales

The scandal-hit Russian domain name market may yet produce some of the most expensive domain name sales of all time. Premium .рф generics are already attracting eight-figure bids.

Bids of $10 million have apparently been placed on at least two domains, квартиры.рф and бетон.рф (apartments.rf and concrete.rf), in the controversial quasi-landrush auction managed by RU-Center, the largest Russian registrar.

IDNblog.com is reporting the apartments.rf asking price, and a reader was kind enough to send me a screenshot of the concrete.rf auction.

If these bids are for real, and these auctions were to close, they would immediately occupy the number two and three slots on the league table of all-time biggest-ticket domain sales

Before sex.com sold for $13 million, DNJournal’s top twenty list had fund.com in the top spot, at $9,999,950, followed by porn.com at $9,500,000 and diamond.com at $7,500,000.

The RU-Center auctions may not close, however.

As I reported yesterday, the registrar and five others are being investigated on antitrust grounds by Russian competition authorities, after allegedly registering tens of thousands of domains to themselves.

The auctions are currently frozen and the .рф registry, Coordination Center for ccTLD, has made noises about applying “sanctions” to the registrars that could include de-accreditation.

RU-Center, which confusingly does business at nic.ru, has defended its position in at least two articles here and here (in Russian, naturally).

As far as I can tell, none of these auctions will close until the registrar and the registry resolve their differences and/or the Russian government probe concludes.

However, it’s pretty obvious that the demand for Cyrillic generic IDNs is enormous in Russia, and could easily challenge .com on the big-sale league tables.

Gaming scandal hits Russian domain launch

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2010, Domain Registries

The launch of Russia’s .РФ country-code top-level domain, widely lauded as a runaway success story, has been tainted by a registrar gaming scandal.

Government antitrust authorities are investigating six registrars over claims that they registered tens of thousands of premium domains in order to auction them to end users, according to local reports.

The registrars in question are thought to have colluded, using each others’ services to register the names, hence the competition probe.

The largest registrar, Regional Network Information Center, aka RU-Center, is alleged to have registered 65,000 domains during the first days of the .РФ launch in order to profit from auctions.

These domains have been frozen pending resolution of the dispute. The registry, Coordination Center for TLD, is thinking about cancelling the registrars’ accreditations.

RU-Center is quoted as saying, laughably, that the premium domains were registered in order to prevent cybersquatting.

In a statement, the registry questions the public good of registering проститутки.рф, which apparently means “prostitute.rf” and is currently asking $190,000 at auction.

The investigation certainly takes the gloss off the launch, which has so far racked up well over 500,000 registered domains and was put forth as case study for internationalized domain names.

Czech people don’t want IDNs

Kevin Murphy, November 22, 2010, Domain Registries

While Russia’s recently launched all-Cyrillic domain names may be going down a storm, it seems the idea of internationalized domain names does not have international appeal.

A survey of businesses and individuals in the Czech Republic shows a serious lack of support for IDNs under the .cz TLD.

A shocking 87% of organizations, along with 62% of internet users, surveyed by registry CZ.NIC said they were not in favor of .cz IDNs.

Czech uses the Latin alphabet, of course, albeit with a liberal dose of diacritics – the local name of the country is Česká Republika – so there’s less of a pressing need for IDNs than in other nations.

The survey results were less surprising to those in the know. Ondrej Filip, executive director of the .cz registry, said in a statement:

The repeated refusal of IDN was not a surprise. The last three surveys had very similar results and there have been no signs over the last two years pointing towards a change in this trend. Quite the opposite – in the long term, the negative attitude of the Czech Internet public toward IDN is growing.

The results showed slightly growing support for IDNs among individual users and growing opposition from businesses. Some objected on the basis that it would make life hard for foreign visitors.

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.

Afilias develops IDN email software

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Tech

Afilias, the .info registry, has created software that will enable emails to be sent and received using fully internationalized domain names.

The company has demonstrated a practical application using Jordan’s recently implemented Arabic TLD. There’s a video of the demo here.

The software, built on an open-source code base, comprises webmail, desktop, mail server and a management interface.

Afilias is looking for beta testers, and a spokesperson tells me it will also try to license the software to third parties.

IDNs are tricky because while users see characters in Arabic or Cyrillic, say, the underlying DNS handles them as encoded ASCII, with the translation happening the client.

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.