The domain name industry is kicking off one of its most fundamental shifts in its plumbing this week.
Over the next two years, Verisign and every registrar that sells .com domains will have to rejigger their systems to convert .com from a “thin” to “thick” Whois.
This means that by February 1, 2019, Verisign will for the first time control the master database of all Whois records for .com domains, rather than it being spread piecemeal across all registrars.
The switch comes as a result of a years-in-the-making ICANN policy that officially came into force yesterday. It also applies to .com stablemates .net and .jobs.
The first big change will come August 1 this year, the deadline by which Verisign has to give all of its registrars the ability to submit thick Whois records both live (for new regs) and in bulk (for existing ones).
May 1, 2018 is the deadline for all registrars to start submitting thick Whois for new regs to Verisign, but they can start doing so as early as August this year if they want to.
Registrars have until February 1, 2019 to supply Verisign with thick Whois for all their existing registrations.
There’s a process for registrars who believe they would be violating local privacy laws by transferring this data to US-based Verisign to request an exemption, which may prevent the transition going perfectly uniformly.
Some say that the implementation of this policy may allow Verisign to ask for the ability to ask a for an increase in .com registry fees — currently frozen at the command of the US government — due to its inevitably increased costs.
Personally, I think the added costs will likely be chickenfeed compared to the cash-printing machine that is .com, so I think it’s far from a slam-dunk that such fee increases would be approved.
Verisign could be running a “thick” Whois database for .com, .net and .jobs by mid-2017, under a new ICANN proposal.
A timetable published this week would see the final three hold-out gTLDs fully move over to the standard thick Whois model by February 2019, with the system live by next August.
Some people believe that Verisign might use the move as an excuse to increase .com prices.
Thick Whois is where the registry stores the full Whois record, containing all registrant contact data, for every domain in their TLD.
The three Verisign TLDs currently have “thin” Whois databases, which only store information about domain creation dates, the sponsoring registrar and name servers.
The model dates back to when the registry and registrar businesses of Verisign’s predecessor, Network Solutions, were broken up at the end of the last century.
But it’s been ICANN consensus policy for about three years for Verisign to eventually switch to a thick model.
Finally, ICANN has published for public comment its anticipated schedule (pdf) for this to happen.
Under the proposal, Verisign would have to start offering registrars the ability to put domains in its thick Whois by August 1 2017, both live via EPP and in bulk.
It would not become obligatory for registrars to submit thick Whois for all newly registered domains until May 1, 2018.
They’d have until February 1, 2019 to bulk-migrate all existing Whois records over to the new system.
Thick Whois in .com has been controversial for a number of reasons.
Some registrars have expressed dissatisfaction with the idea of migrating part of their customer relationship to Verisign. Others have had concerns that local data protection laws may prevent them moving data in bulk overseas.
The new proposal includes a carve-out that would let registrars request an exemption from the requirements if they can show it would conflict with local laws, which holds the potential to make a mockery out of the entire endeavor.
Some observers also believe that Verisign may use the expense of building and operating the new Whois system as an excuse to trigger talks with ICANN about increasing the price of .com from its current, frozen level.
Under its .com contract, Verisign can ICANN ask for a fee increase “due to the imposition of any new Consensus Policy”, which is exactly what the move to thick Whois is.
Whether it would choose to exercise this right is another question — .com is a staggeringly profitable cash-printing machine and this Whois is not likely to be that expensive, relatively speaking.
The proposed implementation timetable is open for public comment until December 15.
ICANN and Employ Media are set to sign a new contract for operation of the .jobs registry which is based heavily on the Registry Agreement signed by all new gTLD registries.
.jobs was delegated in 2005 and its first 10-year RA is due for renewal in May 2015.
Because Employ Media, like all gTLD registries, has a presumption of renewal clause in its contract, ICANN has published the proposed new version of its RA for public comment.
It’s basically the new gTLD RA, albeit substantially modified to reflect the fact that .jobs is a “Sponsored TLD” — slightly different to a “Community” TLD under the current rules — and because .jobs has been around for nine years already.
That means it won’t have to sign a contract forcing it to run Sunrise or Trademark Claims periods, for example. It won’t have to come up with a Continued Operations Instrument — a financial arrangement to cover operating costs should the company go under — either.
Its commitments to its sponsor community remain, however.
ICANN said it conducted a compliance audit on Employ Media before agreeing to the renewal.
Employ Media remains the only gTLD registry to have been hit by a formal breach notice by ICANN Compliance. In 2011, it threatened to terminate its contract over a controversial proposal to all job aggregation sites to run on .jobs domains.
The fight came about as a result of complaints from the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, a group of jobs sites including Monster.com.
Employ Media has killed off the Chinese-language gTLD .招聘 in the latest batch of new gTLD objection results.
Amazon and DotKids Foundation’s respective applications for .kids also appear to be heading into a contention set with Google’s bid for .kid, following the first String Confusion Objections.
All three objections were marked as “Closed, Default” by objection handler the International Center For Dispute Resolution a few days ago. No full decisions were published.
This suggests that the objectors have won all three cases on technicalities (such as the applicant failing to file a response).
Employ Media vice president for policy Ray Fassett confirmed to DI that the company has prevailed in its objection against .招聘, which means “recruitment” in Chinese and would have competed with .jobs.
The String Confusion Objection can be filed based on similarity of meaning, not just visual similarity.
What’s more, if the objector is an existing TLD registry like Employ Media, the only remedy is for the losing applicant to have their application rejected by ICANN.
So Hu Yi Global Information Resources, the .招聘 applicant, appears to be finished as far as this round of the new gTLD program is concerned.
But because there’s no actual ICDR decision on the merits of the case, it seems possible that it, or another company, could try for the same string in a future round.
In Google’s case, it had objected to both the Amazon and DotKids applications for .kids on string confusion grounds. The company is applying for .kid, which is obviously very similar.
The String Similarity Panel, which created the original pre-objection contention sets, decided that singular and plurals could co-exist without confusion. Not everyone agreed.
Because .kid is merely an application, not an existing TLD, none of the bids are rejected. Instead, they all join the same contention set and will have to work out their differences some other way.
Applicants are under no obligation to fight objections; they may even want to be placed in a contention set.
Three already-live TLDs are going to use the Trademark Clearinghouse to handle sunrise periods, possibly before the first new gTLDs launch.
BRS Media is set to use the TMCH, albeit indirectly, in its launch of third-level domains under .radio.am and .radio.fm, which it plans to launch soon as a budget alternative to .am and .fm.
The company has hired TM.Biz, the trademark validation firm affiliated with EnCirca, to handle its sunrise, and TM.biz says it will allow brand owners to leverage Clearinghouse records.
Trademark owners will be able to submit raw trademarks for validation as in previous sunrises, but TM.Biz will also allow them to submit Signed Mark Data (SMD) files, if they have them, instead.
Encrypted SMD files are created by the TMCH after validation, so the trademarks and the strings they represent are pre-validated.
There’ll presumably be some cost benefit of using SMD files, but pricing has not yet been disclosed.
Separately, Employ Media said today that it’s getting ready to enter the final stage of its .jobs liberalization, opening up the gTLD to essentially any string and essentially any registrant.
The company will also use the TMCH for its sunrise period, according to an ICANN press release, though the full details and timing have not yet been announced.
Unusually, .jobs is a gTLD that hasn’t already had a sunrise — its original business model only allowed vetted company-name registrations.
The TMCH is already accepting submissions from trademark owners, but it’s not yet integrated with registries and registrars.