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M+M surprised by .mumbai snub

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2011, Domain Registries

One of Minds + Machines’ key top-level domain applications has been thrown into confusion after government support for its .mumbai bid was apparently revoked.

In a letter that surfaced on the ICANN web site this week, Y.S. Mahangade, deputy director of IT at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, wrote (pdf):

Honorable Deputy Mayor of MCGM inadvertently issued a letter to one organization which has been revoked later by Honorable Deputy Major of MCGM. It may please be noted that the official position of the City of Mumbai is communicated by Municipal Commissioner.

Under ICANN’s rules, all applications for geographical gTLDs must be backed officially by the local government, otherwise they get rejected.

According to Wikipedia, the Mayor of Mumbai (and presumably the deputy) has a “largely ceremonial” function, “as the real powers are vested in the Municipal Commissioner”.

Wikipedia does not say what kind of power the deputy director of IT wields. I’m guessing it’s not much.

M+M CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement:

This is the first we have heard about this and we are looking into the matter with our client, India TL Domain Pvt Ltd, to whom the original letter of appointment was issued by the Deputy Mayor of Mumbai. Once we understand what the situation is viz-a-viz India TL Domain Pvt Ltd and the City of Mumbai, we will provide an update.

You can view the letter of support from the deputy mayor here.

M+M announced its deal with the .mumbai applicant, India TL Domain, in June. As I noted at the time, not much is known about the company.

But according to official records, the company’s managing director is Ashok Hiremath, who’s also chairman of Mumbai-based fungicide manufacturer Astec Lifesciences.

His brother Suresh, now apparently a British citizen living in London, appears to be the only one of the company’s three directors to have engaged, albeit lightly, in ICANN policy development.

The third director is also Astec’s corporate secretary. The company shares its address with Astec.

In June, M+M’s parent company, Top Level Domain Holdings, issued two million new shares to an unnamed consultant as a result of the .mumbai deal, raising £160,000 ($260,000).

This is not the first time a geographic gTLD applicant that apparently raised support from the necessary governmental entity has had its plans thrown into doubt.

The same happened to DotConnectAfrica, a potential .africa bidder, in May, after the African Union apparently did an about-face.

Mumbai is India’s largest city, with over 20 million citizens. It’s also the richest (although the poverty there is enough to make you weep) making .mumbai a potentially lucrative gTLD.

M+M gets into bed with Neustar

Minds + Machines has committed to use Neustar’s registry services for some of its new top-level domain applications, the companies have announced.

M+M parent Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that the companies:

will work together exclusively in respect of all geographic gTLDs pursued by TLDH, apart from a short list of those already in progress. TLDH will oversee sales, marketing, registrar relations, ICANN compliance and other management functions, while Neustar will provide back-end registry and DNS services.

The deal may cover applications including .bayern, .berlin, and .mumbai, judging from the press release.

M+M will continue to use Espresso, its version of the CoCCA registry platform, for non-geo TLDs.

Under ICANN rules, geographical TLDs will require the support of the respective governments.

Reading between the lines, it appears that demand for proven scale and financial stability may have been the primary driver for the deal.

Neustar manages .us and biz, among others, while M+M has a far shorter track record. Neustar has annual revenue of over half a billion dollars, compared to TLDH’s approximately $100,000.

M+M adds .mumbai to client roster

Minds + Machines has been named as the “exclusive registry and consulting services provider” for a .mumbai top-level domain application.

The company said that India TL Domain Pvt Ltd, which appears to be a new company, has also secured the necessary government support for its ICANN application.

According to M+M, Mumbai’s deputy mayor, Shailaja Girkar, has written to ICANN to say:

The city of Mumbai fully and exclusively supports the application of India TL Pvt Ltd for .Mumbai. We believe that this application best represents the interests and the community of the City of Mumbai and we request that ICANN approve this application.

Local government support is a requirement for city TLDs, under ICANN’s current rules. But the latest version of the Applicant Guidebook suggests it can be trumped at the national level.

M+M, owned by Top-Level Domain Holdings, is also linked to applications for .gay, .eco, .berlin and .nyc, among others. Some of these are contested by rival applicants.