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VeriSign’s upcoming battle for the Chinese .com

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2011, Domain Registries

Could VeriSign be about to face off against China for control of the Chinese version of .com? That’s an intriguing possibility that was raised during the .nxt conference last week.

Almost as an aside, auDA chief Chris Disspain mentioned during a session that he believes there are moves afoot in China to apply to ICANN for “company”, “network” and “organization” in Chinese characters. In other words, .com, .net and .org.

I’ve been unable to find an official announcement of any such Chinese application, but I’m reliably informed that Noises Have Been Made.

VeriSign has for several quarters been open about its plans to apply for IDN equivalents of its two flagship TLDs, and PIR’s new CEO Brian Cute recently told me he wants to do the same for .org.

While neither company has specified which scripts they’re looking at, Chinese is a no-brainer. As of this week, the nation is the world’s second-largest economy, and easily its most populous.

Since we’re already speculating, let’s speculate some more: who would win the Chinese .com under ICANN’s application rules, VeriSign or China?

If the two strings were close enough to wind up in a contention set, could VeriSign claim intellectual property rights, on the basis of its .com business? It seems like a stretch.

Could China leapfrog to the end of the process with a community application and a demand for a Community Priority Evaluation?

That also seems like a stretch. It’s not impossible – there’s arguably a “community” of companies registered with the Chinese government – but such a move would likely stink of gaming.

Is there a technical stability argument to be made? Is 公司. (which Google tells me means “company” in Chinese) confusingly similar to .com?

If these TLDs went to auction, one thing is certain: there are few potential applicants with deeper pockets than VeriSign, but China is one of them.

UPDATE: VeriSign’s Pat Kane was good enough to post a lengthy explanation of the company’s IDN strategy in the comments.

Eleven new ccTLDs coming next week

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN is set to approve 11 new internationalized domain name ccTLDs, representing four nations in Asia and the Middle East, at its board meeting next week.

On the January 25 consent agenda – which is typically rubber-stamped without discussion – is the approval of IDN ccTLDs for South Korea, India, Singapore and Syria.

Korea is due to get .한국, Singapore gets . 新加坡 (Chinese) and .சிங்கப்பூர் (Tamil), while Syria gets the Arabic string .سورية.

Massively polyglot India will be delegated its ccTLD in seven of its most-popular languages.

The delegations will push the number of TLDs in IANA’s database to over 300 for the first time.

This week, the ccTLD for Thailand went live with Thai-language registrations under .ไทย. You can watch a video of ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom congratulating the nation here.

Also on ICANN’s agenda next week is the re-delegation of the ASCII ccTLDs for Burkina Faso, Congo and Syria – .bf, .cd and .sy respectively – to new registry managers.

Cute sees .org’s future in new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Registries

The Public Interest Registry sees new top-level domains as an opportunity to strengthen the .org brand as well as add new TLDs to its stable, according to newly appointed CEO Brian Cute.

“We have the new round of gTLDs opening up soon, and I see that as genuinely an opportunity for PIR, so a lot of our strategic focus will be there,” Cute said in an interview.

Internationalized domain name TLDs will play a major role in this strategy. Cute said that “expanding .org into the IDN world” will be the key focus.

While PIR plans to apply to ICANN for several IDN variants of .org, there’s less interest in expanding into ASCII strings or outside of the company’s “public interest” mission.

“We not particularly looking at that opportunity,” Cute said.

He also believes that the large number of new TLDs ICANN is expected to authorize could actually strengthen .org as a brand.

“There will be lots of new entrants, lots of new competition,” he said. “The environment will be one where if we play our cards right, we’ll be able to be successful and in fact flourish.”

Cute was named CEO of PIR earlier today. Previously, he worked at Afilias, a close partner, so his learning curve at his new employer will be relatively gentle.

He said he doesn’t plan to shake things up much.

“I don’t see any need to make any major course corrections to our strategy,” he said. “It’s now a matter of execution. There will be new competition so we will have to execute well.”

ICANN rejects Bulgarian IDN info request

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Registries

A Bulgarian domain name association has had its request for information about ICANN’s rejection of the domain .бг itself rejected.

As I blogged last month, Uninet had filed a Documentary Information Disclosure Policy request with ICANN, asking it to publish its reasons for rejecting the Cyrillic ccTLD.

The organization wants to run .бг, which is broadly supported in Bulgaria, despite the fact that ICANN has found it would be confusingly similar to Brazil’s .br.

Uninet believes it needs more information about why the string was rejected, in advance of a planned appeal of its rejection under the IDN ccTLD Fast Track process.

But the group has now heard that its request “falls under multiple Defined Conditions of Nondisclosure set forth in the DIDP” because it covers internal communications and “trade secrets”, among other things.

ICANN’s response suggests instead that Uninet contact the Bulgarian government for the information.

I’m told that Uninet may now file a Reconsideration Request in order to get the data it needs, although I suspect that’s probably optimistic.

Ironically, neither Uninet’s request nor the ICANN response (pdf) have been published on its DIDP page.

Another top staffer quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Tina Dam, senior director of internationalized domain names at ICANN, has quit.

The news appears to have been broken on Twitter by Adrian Kinderis, CEO of AusRegistry, which does quite a bit of work with IDNs in the middle-east.

It’s my understanding that Dam may have actually resigned almost a month ago, during ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena.

Her move comes at an awkward time for ICANN, which is in the middle of revamping its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program, which Dam headed.

Dam has been with ICANN for many years, and is widely well-regarded by the community.

Overseeing the IDN program is a highly specialized and, one imagines, quite stressful position. Finding a qualified replacement will not be trivial.

Her name is added to the list of senior ICANN staffers to either quit or get fired over the last year, which currently numbers at least half a dozen.

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.