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ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook v4 – first reactions

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2010, Domain Policy

As you probably already know, ICANN late yesterday released version 4 of its Draft Applicant Guidebook, the bible for new top-level domain registry wannabes.

Having spent some time today skimming through the novel-length tome, I can’t say I’ve spotted anything especially surprising in there.

IP interests and governments get more of the protections they asked for, a placeholder banning registries and registrars from owning each other makes its first appearance, and ICANN beefs up the text detailing the influence of public comment periods.

There are also clarifications on the kinds of background checks ICANN will run on applicants, and a modified fee structure that gets prospective registries into the system for $5,000.

DNSSEC, security extensions for the DNS protocol, also gets a firmer mandate, with ICANN now making it clearer that new TLDs will be expected to implement DNSSEC from launch.

It’s still early days, but a number of commentators have already given their early reactions.

Perennial first-off-the-block ICANN watcher George Kirikos quickly took issue with the fact that DAG v4 still does not include “hard price caps” for registrations

[The DAG] demonstrates once again that ICANN has no interests in protecting consumers, but is merely in cahoots with registrars and registries, acting against the interests of the public… registry operators would be open to charge $1000/yr per domain or $1 million/yr per domain, for example, to maximize their profits.

Andrew Allemann of Domain Name Wire reckons ICANN should impose a filter on its newly emphasised comment periods in order to reduce the number of form letters, such as those seen during the recent .xxx consultation.

I can’t say I agree. ICANN could save itself a few headaches but it would immediately open itself up to accusations of avoiding its openness and transparency commitments.

The Internet Governance Project’s Milton Mueller noted that the “Draconian” text banning the cross-ownership of registries and registrars is basically a way to force the GNSO to hammer out a consensus policy on the matter.

Everyone knows this is a silly policy. The reason this is being put forward is that the VI Working Group has not succeeded in coming up with a policy toward cross-ownership and vertical integration that most of the parties can agree on.

I basically agree. It’s been clear since Nairobi that this was the case, but I doubt anybody expected the working group to come to any consensus before the new DAG was drafted, so I wouldn’t really count its work as a failure just yet.

That said, the way it’s looking at the moment, with participants still squabbling about basic definitions and terms of reference, I doubt that a fully comprehensive consensus on vertical integration will emerge before Brussels.

Mueller lays the blame squarely with Afilias and Go Daddy for stalling these talks, so I’m guessing he’s basing his views on more information than is available on the public record.

Antony Van Couvering of prospective registry Minds + Machines has the most comprehensive commentary so far, touching on several issues raised by the new DAG.

He’s not happy about the VI issue either, but his review concludes with a generally ambivalent comment:

Overall, this version of the Draft Applicant Guidebook differs from the previous version by adding some incremental changes and extra back doors for fidgety governments and the IP interests who lobby them. None of the changes are unexpected or especially egregious.

DAG v4 is 312 pages long, 367 pages if you’re reading the redlined version. I expect it will take a few days before we see any more substantial critiques.

One thing is certain: Brussels is going to be fun.

Could litigation delay ICANN’s new TLDs?

Intellectual property lawyers are wondering aloud about the possibility of ICANN being sued in order to delay the launch of new top-level domains.

The idea was raised during a panel at the annual meeting of INTA, the International Trademark Association, in Boston yesterday, according to its daily newsletter (pdf).

Kristina Rosette of the law firm Covington & Burling reportedly “suggested litigation is a possibility to slow down the application launch. One source of litigation could be trademark owners, worried about mass cybersquatting”.

That’s reported speech, by the way, not a quote. The article does not make clear the context.

Rosette is Intellectual Property Constituency representative for North America on ICANN’s GNSO Council.

The IP community is worried that the launch of new TLDs will lead to companies splurging more money unnecessarily on defensive registrations.

The current best, arguably most optimistic guess on the new TLD timeline comes from registry hopeful Minds + Machines. M+M has applications opening next April.

A delay in the launch of new TLDs would hurt most the startup companies that intend to apply for them, and the service providers and consultants hoping to facilitate the launches.

Some of these companies make minimal revenue, are dependent on funding, and would prefer applications open sooner rather than later.

AusRegistry scores Japanese .brand deal

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2010, Domain Registries

AusRegistry, the .au registry, has inked a deal with Brights Consulting, a company offering .brand domain services to the Japanese corporate market.

The company said the deal will mean AusRegistry will provide the technical back-end for any successful new gTLD applications that Brights manages to secure.

Other companies competing for new gTLD business include old hands VeriSign, Neustar and Afilias, as well as hungry newcomers such as Minds + Machines.

AusRegistry currently manages Australia’s .au, .qa for Qatar and .ae for the United Arab Emirates.

Brights is a corporate, rather than retail, ICANN registrar. I may be wrong, but it looks like the company counts Sony among its clients.

Could there be a .sony on the horizon?

TLDH sells off domain portfolio, waits for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has reported blah revenue for its fiscal 2009, as it reorganized itself in preparation for ICANN’s forthcoming new gTLD round.

The company, which owns registry services firm Minds + Machines and has interests in dotNYC and DotEco, is listed on London’s low-cap AIM market.

It today reported revenue for the 12 months to October 31, 2009 of £315,000 ($487,000), up from £232,000 ($358,000) a year earlier, with an operating loss of £1.4 million, ($2.2 million) down from £1.5 million ($2.3 million).

TLDH also revealed that it sold off its entire parked domain name portfolio for $250,000 last November, after the end of its financial year, after it found parking revenue on the decline:

The Company’s domain name portfolio comprising mainly German and other European parked domain names that receive direct navigation and search traffic which can be monetized through search links to generate click-through advertising revenues generated a lower revenue in the period and were subsequently sold following the period end for US$250,000 in cash.

TLDH recorded an impairment charge of £154,000 ($238,000) for this transaction, suggesting the company sold its portfolio for approximately half of its previously reported paper value.

The firm says its strategy is “to build a portfolio of gTLD applicants and infrastructure technologies”, and believes ICANN’s recent Nairobi meeting decisions continued “a trend of increasing the barriers to application for non-experts”.

TLDH still looks like it has more than enough cash on hand to see it through to when ICANN begins officially accepting new TLD applications, barring further delays, with £4.3 million ($6.6 million) in the bank at the end of October.

New gTLDs will cost $155 billion, honest

A report out from the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, which pegs the cost of first-round new gTLD defensive registrations at $746 million, has set eyes rolling this evening.

CircleID rather oddly compares it to a recent Minds + Machines study, “predicting new gTLDs will only cost $.10 per trademark worldwide.”

Apples and oranges, in my view.

But numbers are fun.

My own estimate, using data from both CADNA and M+M, puts the total cost of new gTLDs defensive registrations at $155.85 billion.

For the avoidance of doubt, you should (continue reading)