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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.

Iran’s Arabic domain choice approved

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Iran’s choice of Arabic-script top-level domain has passed the string approval stage of ICANN’s internationalized domain name process, making a delegation likely before long.

The manager of Iran’s existing Latin-script ccTLD, .ir, applied for ایران and ايران, which mean “Iran” in Persian. The two look identical to me, so I’m assuming they just use different Unicode code points.

In Punycode, the two strings are .xn--mgba3a4f16a and .xn--mgba3a4fra. Both have been given the stamp of approval, meaning Iran will now have to apply to IANA for delegation.

According to ICANN, there are currently 18 IDN ccTLD strings approved and awaiting delegation, belonging to Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, Syria and Taiwan.

Some of these countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Taiwan, already have IDNs live in the DNS root, but also have multiple backup variants that have been approved but not yet delegated.

So far, of the 33 strings that have been applied for, only two have been rejected. One of those was Bulgaria’s .бг, which was considered too confusingly similar to Brazil’s .br.

Arab League asks ICANN for recognition

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2010, Domain Policy

The League of Arab States has called on ICANN to formally recognize the Arab region.

UPDATED: Read this correction.

Saudi IDN landrush begins

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2010, Domain Registries

SaudiNIC has kicked off the landrush phase for its recently approved Arabic-script country-code top-level domain, السعودية.

The registry is using the term “landrush” to describe what other registries would call general availability. As of yesterday, it’s first-come-first-served.

Registrants must be Saudi citizens or owners of Saudi trademarks, and the registration process requires the necessary documents to be filed. It’s Arabic-script only.

There won’t be much of an aftermarket; flipping domains is frowned upon and each registrant has to show a “reasonable relationship” to the domain they want to register.

UPDATE: I’ve been told that the launch may have been delayed, which I am attempting to confirm. The registry web site is still announcing yesterday as the launch date.

Bulgaria to appeal ICANN rejection

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2010, Domain Registries

The Bulgarian government will appeal ICANN’s rejection of .бг, its proposed Cyrillic-script version of the .bg country-code top-level domain, according to reports.

“We have reasons to hope that our proposal may be accepted by the end of next year,” Deputy Transport Minister Parvan Rusinov said, according to Novinite.com.

ICANN rejected the string earlier this year due to its confusing similarity to Brazil’s ccTLD, .br.

The Bulgarian government conducted a online poll, offering its citizens the choice of a few lengthier alternatives, but .бг still came back the winner.

In today’s reports, Rusinov is quoted saying that the government could either file a modified application, or wait for the launch of an appeals procedure in 2011.

It does not appear that the IDN ccTLD Fast Track process currently allows appeals, so I can only assume that such a mechanism is under consideration as part of the upcoming process review. It has been rumored.

ICANN doesn’t talk about IDN fast track applications until they are approved, but Bulgaria’s government has been happily chatting to the local press for months.

Technology minister Alexander Tsvetkov was quoted back in June saying that the country would ask ICANN to reconsider its decision. If he meant a Reconsideration Request, that never happened.

ICANN releases (censored) board briefing docs

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has given an unprecedented glimpse into the workings of its board of directors, with the release of hundreds of pages of staff briefing papers.

But the documents are quite heavily redacted, particularly when it comes to some of the more controversial topics.

The documents show what ICANN staffers told the board in the run-up to the Nairobi and Brussels meetings, dealing with important decisions such as .xxx and internationalized domain names.

The Brussels decision to put .xxx back on the track to approval sees more than its fair share of blacked-out text, but the documents do show that ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey’s recommendations were pretty much in line with how the board eventually voted.

Other topics seeing redaction include the implementation of DNSSEC at the root, the activities of the Internet Governance Forum, and specific discussion of IDN ccTLD delegations.

Some topics are deemed so sensitive that even the titles of the pages have been blacked out. But in at least one case somebody apparently forgot to redact the title from the PDF’s internal bookmarks.

So we know, for example, that a section entitled “Chronological-History-ICM” is deemed entirely unpublishable, even though ICANN has previously published a document with pretty much the same title (pdf).