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Is Verisign .web applicant’s secret sugar daddy?

The fiercely contested .web gTLD is being forced into a last-resort auction and some people seem to think a major registry player is behind it.

Two .web applicants — Radix (pdf) and Schlund (pdf) — this week wrote to ICANN to demand that the .web auction, currently planned for July 27, be postponed.

They said the sale should be delayed to give applicants time “to investigate whether there has been a change of leadership and/or control” at rival applicant Nu Dot Co LLC.

Nu Dot Co is a new gTLD investment vehicle headed up by Juan Diego Calle, who launched and ran .CO Internet until it was sold to Neustar a couple of years ago.

I gather that some applicants believe that Nu Dot Co’s .web application is now being bankrolled by a larger company with deeper pockets.

The two names I’ve heard bandied around, talking to industry sources this week, are Verisign and Neustar.

Nobody I’ve talked to has a shred of direct evidence either company is involved and Calle declined to comment.

So is this paranoia or not?

There are a few reasons these suspicions may have come about.

First, the recent revelation that successful .blog applicant Primer Nivel, a no-name Panama entity with a Colombian connection, was actually secretly being bankrolled by WordPress, has opened eyes to the possibility of proxy bidders.

It was only after the .blog contention set was irreversibly settled that the .blog contract changed hands and the truth become known.

Some applicants may have pushed the price up beyond the $19 million winning bid — making the rewards of losing the private auction that much higher — had they known they were bidding against a richer, more motivated opponent.

Second, sources say the .web contention set had been heading to a private auction — in which all losing applicants get a share of the winning bid — but Nu Dot Co decided to back out at the last minute.

Under ICANN rules, if competing applicants are not able to privately resolve their contention set, an ICANN last-resort auction must ensue.

Third, this effective vetoing of the private auction does not appear to fit in with Nu Dot Co’s strategy to date.

It applied for 13 gTLDs in total. Nine of those have already gone to auctions that Nu Dot Co ultimately lost (usually reaping the rewards of losing).

The other four are either still awaiting auction or, in the case of .corp, have been essentially rejected for technical reasons.

It usually only makes sense to go to an ICANN last-resort auction — where the proceeds all go to ICANN — if you plan on winning or if you want to make sure your competitors do not get a financial windfall from a private auction.

Nu Dot Co isn’t actually an operational registry, so it doesn’t strictly have competitors.

That suggests to some that its backer is an operational registry with a disdain for new gTLD rivals. Verisign, in other words.

Others think Neustar, given the fact that its non-domains business is on the verge of imploding and its previous acquisition of .CO Internet from Calle.

I have no evidence either company is involved. I’m just explaining the thought process here.

According to its application, two entities own more than 15% of Nu Dot Co. Both — Domain Marketing Holdings, LLC and NUCO LP, LLC — are Delaware shell corporations set up via an agent in March 2012, shortly before the new gTLD application filing deadline.

Many in the industry are expecting .web to go for more than the $41.5 million GMO paid for .shop. Others talk down the price, saying “web” lacks the cultural impact it once had.

But it seems we will all find out later this month.

Responding to the letters from Schlund and Radix, ICANN yesterday said that it had no plans to postpone the July 27 last-resort auction.

All seven applicants had to submit a postponement form by June 12 if they wanted a delay, ICANN informed them in a letter (pdf), and they missed that deadline.

They now have until July 20 to either resolve the contention privately or put down their deposits, ICANN said.

The applicants for .web, aside from Nu Dot Co, are Google, Donuts, Radix, Schlund, Web.com and Afilias.

Due to a string confusion ruling, .webs applicant Vistaprint will also be in the auction.

.web has an auction date

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Registries

The .web gTLD will go to auction July 27, according to ICANN.

The organization released an updated auction schedule (pdf) on Wednesday night that also slates .kids/.kid for an auction on the same day.

Both auctions have confusing “indirect contention” elements, where two strings were ruled confusingly similar.

With .web, it’s lumped in with Vistaprint’s application for .webs, which lost a String Confusion Objection filed by Web.com.

Under ICANN rules, .webs is confusingly similar to to Web.com’s .web, but not to the other six .web applications.

This means that Vistaprint and Web.com basically are fighting a mini contention set auction to see who gets their applied-for gTLD.

If Web.com wins the auction for .web, Vistaprint cannot have .webs. However, if any other .web applicant wins, Vistaprint can go ahead with .webs.

Either way, there will be a .web delegated this year. Google, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co are all contenders.

In the case of .kids/.kid, the one applicant for .kid — Google — won SCOs against DotKids Foundation and Amazon by default because both .kids applicants failed to respond to the complaints.

DotKids Foundation recently lost a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling the auction to go ahead.

Because Google is in contention with both .kids applicants, only one of the two strings will ultimately be delegated — .kids and .kid will not coexist.

The only other scheduled auction right now is that of .doctor, which is planned for May 25. Radix, Donuts and The Medical Registry will fight it out in this rather less complex battle.

It’s worth noting that if any of these contention sets unanimously choose to resolve their differences via private auction, none of the ICANN auctions will go ahead.

.baby and .mls fetch over $3 million each

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2014, Domain Sales

ICANN and Power Auctions have completed December’s mini-batch of “last resort” new gTLD auctions, adding a total of $6.4 million to its mysterious auction cash pile.

Johnson & Johnson won .baby, fighting off five portfolio applicants and paying a winning bid of $3,088,888.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Real Estate Association beat Afilias to .mls, paying $3,359,000.

I called it for CREA earlier this week, noting that the organization wanted .mls enough that it filed two applications, a failed Community Priority Evaluation, and an unsuccessful Legal Rights Objection against Afilias.

ICANN has now raised over $34 million selling off 10 strings at last resort auctions, with prices ranging from $600,000 (.信息) to $6.7 million (.tech).

The money has been set aside for purposes currently undecided. At least one applicant wants ICANN to redistribute the cash to losing bidders, which I don’t think is particularly likely.

Hotly contested gTLDs up for auction tomorrow

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN’s fifth set of last-resort new gTLD auctions is set for tomorrow and it’s another small batch.

Just two contention sets — .baby and .mls — are set to be resolved, with ICANN stashing the winning bids into its special fund.

.baby is hotly contested with no fewer than six applicants — five portfolio applicants and one big brand.

Will Johnson & Johnson get what was once a single-registrant “closed generic”, or will Donuts, Google, Radix, Famous Four or Minds & Machines prevail?

Meanwhile, .mls (for “multiple listing service”, a type of real estate listings aggregation service popular in North America) is a two-horse race between Afilias and the Canadian Real Estate Association.

I’m tempted to call this one for CREA. The organization is so desperate for the .mls gTLD that it filed two applications, one “community” and one vanilla.

The community application was withdrawn earlier this year when CREA scored 11 out of 16 points on its Community Priority Evaluation, failing to pass the 14-point threshold.

The organization even filed a Legal Rights Objection against Afilias in attempt to kill off the competition, which also failed.

Having fought off these challenges, Afilias is either going to get the gTLD or walk away empty-handed. The last resort auction does not compensate unsuccessful bidders for their investments.

Last resort gTLD auction loser wants share of $5m winning bid

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2014, Domain Registries

An unsuccessful new gTLD applicant wants ICANN to share the proceeds of its “last resort” auction with itself and the other losing applicants.

Aesthetics Practitioners Advisory Network had applied for .salon, but found itself in a contention set with three other applicants and was ultimately beaten at auction by a winning bid of over $5 million from Donuts.

Now, the company has written to ICANN to ask for the money from the ICANN-run auction to be shared out among the losing bidders in much the same way as it is when a contention set goes to private auction.

APAN CEO Tina Viney wrote (pdf):

On the basis that ICANN received such a large amount ($5.175million) for the bidding of this auction it would be fair and equitable for the losing parties to be considered in the distribution of the winning financial bid. We believe that ICANN should review this consideration for losing parties who have had to incur numerous costs, not just the application fee, but also toward the preparation of documents so that we could meet with ICANN’s requirements. These include, but are not limited to registry fees, solicitor’s fees, financial services, not to mention the enormous amount of time that is required of an applicant in preparing for their application.

As a result, we respectfully request ICANN as part of their funds distribution policy to consider the applicants who did not win at the auction, BUT WERE SUCCESSFUL IN PASSING THE EVALUATION PROCESS.

She said that private auctions, which allow losing applicants to recoup some or all of their costs, should be mandatory when a majority of the applicants in a contention set want one.

In .salon’s case, one of the four applicants didn’t agree to a private auction, according to Viney. As Donuts is the enthusiastic pioneer of the private auction concept, that means the holdout was either DaySmart Software or L’Oreal.