Neustar has been awarded a new three-to-five-year contract to manage the .us ccTLD, under a deal with the US Department of Commerce announced today.
It’s a renewal of a role that Neustar has held since .us was relaunched in 2001, but the new contract come with a few notable new provisions.
First, it seems that the company is now obliged to bring some “multi-stakeholder” oversight into the management of the TLD. Neustar said in a press release:
In 2014, Neustar plans to launch a new multi-stakeholder council including members representing localities, registrars, small businesses and non-profit organizations as well as entities involved with STEM education and cybersecurity. The .US TLD Stakeholder Council will provide a vibrant, diverse, and independent forum for future development of the .US TLD, working directly with .US TLD stakeholders and helping Neustar to identify public needs and develop policies, programs, and partnerships to address those needs while continuing to enhance America’s address.
Second, it looks like .kids.us might not be dead after all.
The third-level service was introduced as a result of the poorly considered Dot Kids Implementation and Efficiency Act of 2002, which forced Neustar to operate a child-friendly zone in .us.
Notwithstanding the June 2012 determination to suspend operation of kids.us domain under the current contract, DOC seeks proposals to rejuvenate the kids.us space to increase utilization, utility and awareness of the kids.us domain.
The contract has several more references to Neustar’s obligation to promote the SLD. At the time it was killed off, there were just a handful of registered names in the space.
The contract also says that .us currently has just shy of 1.8 million names under management.
New gTLD portfolio applicant Famous Four Media has selected CentralNic to provide back-end registry services, joining existing providers ARI Registry Services and Neustar.
CentralNic will be “a preferred provider” of Domain Venture Partners, which is the parent company of Famous Four’s 60 new gTLD applicants, according to a joint statement issued by the companies today.
Neither firm wanted to give any firm details about how CentralNic fits into Famous Four’s strategy, such as whether CentralNic might replace existing back-ends as it did with 27 formerly GMO Registry bids.
Famous Four is already partnered with Neustar on 52 new gTLD applications and ARI on five more.
DVP chief operating officer Charles Melvin told DI in a statement:
CentralNic will sit as one of our preferred backend technology partners. We are in the process of agreeing terms with a limited number of select providers to sit on our preferred panel. Until such agreements have been put in place it would be inappropriate for us to comment on them.
The deal is related to DVP II, an investment vehicle through which DVP hopes to raise up to $400 million “to acquire Top-Level Domain registries, some of which are already live.”
We were leaked a copy of a June 2013 investor presentation related to DVP II, in which the company said its back-end partner had “the lowest fees in the industry”.
With its new “preferred panel”, it looks like the company is hedging its bets.
Ken Hansen has surprised many by resigning from Neustar, where he was general manager of the slam-dunk .nyc new gTLD initiative, to become CEO of .co.com, a new pseudo-TLD registry.
The announcement raises a couple of big questions.
First, why is .co.com being launched as a registry?
The name belongs to domain investor Paul Goldstone. He put it up for sale in March 2012, with broker DomainAdvisors speculating aloud that it would fetch a price in the millions.
We wondered at the time whether CentralNic, whose bread and butter back then (before its interests in new gTLDs became clear) was two-letter country-codes in .com, would swoop to buy it.
We also wondered whether .CO Internet would make an offer, in order to eliminate competition and reduce existing and potential confusion with its own ccTLD, .co.
If either company made an offer, it does not seem to have been accepted.
Goldstone is instead going to try to build a registry around the name, with Hansen as CEO and himself as president. DomainAdvisors founder Gregg McNair is chairman of the new venture.
Second, why on earth would Hansen, who has been leading business development for Neustar’s own .nyc — the forthcoming new gTLD for the city of New York — join an unproven .com subdomain provider?
He tells us that his confidence in .nyc’s prospects has not waned, but that he is one of the owners of the new company.
He said in an email:
Sometimes following the crowd is not the best thing to do in business. New gTLDs have always been about choice from my perspective. I still believe in new gTLDs in general, but there is still a VERY significant market for short recognizable domains ending in .com. We will meet that demand. Not to mention, we can move quickly without waiting on ICANN.
Gaining visibility for a subdomain product can be tricky at the best of times, but with hundred of new generic TLDs coming to market… Hansen, Goldstone and McNair really do have a challenge on their hands.
The new company intends to run sunrise, landrush and “premium” names phases for its launch, which is expected to kick off in the first quarter next year. No word yet on whether it will follow the CentralNic model and also voluntarily incorporate ICANN policies on UDRP, Whois and so forth.
ICANN is set to belatedly renew the .info, .org and .biz Registry Agreements next week, according to the just published agenda of its board of directors’ next meeting.
The .info and .biz contracts expired last year, while .org’s expired in April. All three were extended while ICANN and the registries — Afilias, Neustar and PIR — figured out how much of the new gTLD Registry Agreement to incorporate into the renewed deals.
They wound up agreeing to, among other things, mandating the use of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement in all three gTLDs, but only on the condition that Verisign agrees to the same terms for .com and .net.
The three contracts didn’t go far enough for some, such as the Intellectual Property Constituency, which wants new gTLD rights protection mechanisms such as Uniform Rapid Suspension to be added.
The approval of the three renewals is on the consent agenda for the ICANN board’s August 22 meeting, so it seems unlikely that there will be any huge changes to the previously published draft contracts.
Also on the agenda for next week are the redelegations of the ccTLDs for Botswana (.bw) and Portugal (.pt).
Afilias and Neustar will be soon able to sell .biz and .info domains direct, and may have to shut down registrars that refuse to sign up to the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.
Those are two of the biggest changes proposed to the companies’ ICANN contracts, drafts of which were published this morning six months after their last registry agreements expired.
The new .biz and .info deals would allow both companies to vertically integrate — that is, own a controlling position in a registrar that sells domains in their respective gTLDs.
This would remove unwanted friction from their sales and marketing efforts, but would mean both registries would start competing with their own registrar channel in the retail market.
That’s currently not allowed in almost all gTLD contracts, but is expected to become commonplace in the era of new gTLDs, which have no such ownership restrictions.
These new vertical integration clauses were not unexpected; it’s been envisaged for a couple of years that the restrictions would be dropped in legacy gTLDs.
What is surprising are newly proposed clauses that would oblige Neustar and Afilias to terminate accredited registrars’ access to their TLDs if they don’t sign up to the 2013 RAA.
Under the process set out in the contracts, when registrars representing 67% of the domains in each given TLD have signed up to the 2013 RAA, all the other registrars would have between 270 and 330 days to also sign up to it or lose their ability to access the .biz/.info registries.
That would mean no selling new names and no accepting inbound transfers — a growth death sentence in the affected TLDs.
In the case of .info, in which Go Daddy has a 45% market share, it would only take the top four registrars to sign up to the 2013 RAA before the clock started ticking for the others.
However, this 67% rule would only kick in for Afilias and Neustar if Public Interest Registry and Verisign also voluntarily agree to the same rules for their .org, .com and .net gTLDs.
It’s a pretty aggressive move by ICANN to push the 2013 RAA onto registrars via its contracts with registries, but not the first.
In the separately proposed base New gTLD Registry Agreement, expected to be finalized in the next few weeks, registrars can only sell new gTLD domains if they’re on the 2013 RAA.
Other changes to the .biz and .info contracts include giving the registries the ability to block certain domains from registration to deal with security threats. Registries have been doing this since Conficker, but now they’ll be explicitly allowed to under their contracts.
They’ll also now be subject to the same emergency back-end transition provisions as new gTLDs, in the event of a catastrophic failure.
Both companies will also get to keep their ability to raise registry fees by 10% a year.
Presumably, given that the US Department of Commerce is not party to the .biz and .info deals, neither registry will get the same nasty surprise that Verisign got last year when Commerce froze its prices.
The previous contracts actually expired last December but were extended for six months due to ICANN’s focus on new gTLDs and the fact that it wanted to bring both agreements closer to the new gTLD contract.