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.
Neustar, Nominet and CNNIC have been picked to provide backup registry services for new gTLDs that fail.
ICANN has named the three companies as Emergency Back-End Registry Operators for the new gTLD program.
They’ll be responsible for taking over the management of any new gTLD that goes out of business, putting registrants at risk of losing DNS resolution and registry functions.
The idea is that the EBERO(s) would be paid out of funds placed in escrow by gTLD applicants, in order to gracefully wind down any failed TLD over the space of a few years.
In reality, I doubt there’s going to be much call for their services; M&A activity is a more likely outcome for gTLDs that fail to meet their sales expectations.
ICANN highlighted the geographic diversity of the three companies (Nominet is British, Neustar American and CNNIC Chinese) as a stability benefit of its selections.
The three were chosen from 14 respondents to an RFI published last year.
The absence of an EBERO was one of the shortfalls of the new gTLD program highlighted by Verisign in its recent letter warning ICANN about perceived security and stability risks.
While ICANN has acknowledged that the EBEROs are unlikely to be ready to roll before the first new gTLDs start to launch, it has noted that they don’t need to be.
If any new gTLD catastrophically fails during the first few months of launch, it will reflect extremely poorly on the financial and technical evaluations applicants have been undergoing for the last nine months.
Afilias and Neustar have separately announced increased to the registry fees for .info and .biz domain names.
Afilias yesterday said the maximum wholesale price for a .info domain would increase to $8.16 effective September 1, a 10% increase on the current rate of $7.42 per year.
The last 10% hike, which the company is allowed to take under its ICANN registry agreement, came in July 2011.
Neustar last week also said it was taking its permitted 10% increase.
The maximum registry fee for .biz will go up to $8.63, also starting September 1. It last increased its prices in February 2012.