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Happy 10th birthday new TLDs!

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

With all the excitement about ICANN’s weekend publication of the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook, it’s easy to forget that “new” TLDs have been around for a decade.

Tomorrow, November 16, is the 10th anniversary of the ICANN meeting at which the first wave of new gTLDs, seven in total, were approved.

The recording of the 2000 Marina Del Rey meeting may look a little odd to any relative newcomers to ICANN.

The open board meeting at which the successful new registries were selected took well over six hours, with the directors essentially making up their selection policies on the spot, in the spotlight.

It was a far cry from the public rubber-stamping exercises you’re more likely to witness nowadays.

Take this exchange from the November 2000 meeting, which seems particularly relevant in light of last week’s news about registry/registrar vertical integration.

About an hour into the meeting, chairman Esther Dyson tackled the VI idea head on, embracing it:

the notion of a registry with a single registrar might be offensive on its own, but in a competitive world I don’t see any problem with it and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand

To which director Vint Cerf, Dyson’s eventual successor, responded, “not wishing to be combative”:

The choices that we make do set some precedents. One of the things I’m concerned about is the protection of users who register in these various top-level domains… If you have exactly one registrar per registry, the failure of either the registrar or the registry is a serious matter those who people who registered there. Having the ability to support multiple registrars, the demonstrated ability to support multiple registrars, gives some protection for those who are registering in that domain.

Odd to think that this ad-hoc decision took ten years to reverse.

It was a rather tense event.

The audience, packed with TLD applicants, had already pitched their bids earlier in the week, but during the board meeting itself they were obliged to remain silent, unable to even correct or clarify the misapprehensions of the directors and staff.

As a rookie reporter in the audience, the big news for me that day was the competition between the three registries that had applied to run “.web” as a generic TLD.

Afilias and NeuStar both had bids in, but they were competing with Image Online Design, a company that had been running .web in an alternate root for a number of years.

Cerf looked like he was going to back the IOD bid for a while, due to his “sympathy for pioneers”, but other board members were not as enthusiastic.

I was sitting immediately behind company CEO Christopher Ambler at the time, and the tension was palpable. It got more tense when the discussion turned to whether to grant .web to Afilias instead.

Afilias was ultimately granted .info, largely due to IOD’s existing claim on .web. NeuStar’s application was not approved, but its joint-venture bid for .biz was of course successful.

This was the meat of the resolution:

RESOLVED [00.89], the Board selects the following proposals for negotiations toward appropriate agreements between ICANN and the registry operator or sponsoring organization, or both: JVTeam (.biz), Afilias (.info), Global Name Registry (.name), RegistryPro (.pro), Museum Domain Management Association (.museum), Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (.aero), Cooperative League of the USA dba National Cooperative Business Association (.coop);

If any of this nostalgia sounds interesting, and you want to watch seven hours of heavily pixelated wonks talking about “putting TLDs into nested baskets”, you can find the video (.rm format, that’s how old it is) of the MDR board meeting buried in an open directory here.

ICANN drops the bomb – registries can buy registrars

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has just authorized the biggest shake-up of the domain name industry in a decade, lifting all the major cross-ownership restrictions on registrars and registries.

A surprise resolution passed on Friday at the ICANN board’s retreat could enable registries such as VeriSign to acquire registrars such as Go Daddy, and vice-versa.

The new rules will also allow registrars to apply for and run new top-level domains and, subject to additional conditions, may enable existing registries to eventually start selling direct to end users, potentially bypassing the registrar channel.

The implications of these changes could be enormous, and I expect they could be challenged by affected parties.

The board resolved that ICANN “will not restrict cross-ownership between registries and registrars”, subject to certain yet-to-be written Code of Conduct for preventing abuse.

These looser ownership restrictions will be included in the new TLD Applicant Guidebook. Existing registries will be able to transition to the new rules over time through contract changes.

ICANN will develop mechanisms for enforcing anti-abuse rules through contractual compliance programs, and will have the ability to refer cross-ownership deals to competition authorities.

These provisions may be enhanced by additional enforcement mechanisms such as the use of self-auditing requirements, and the use of graduated sanctions up to and including contractual termination and punitive damages.

The decision appears to have been made partly on the grounds that while almost all existing registry contracts include strict cross-ownership restrictions, it has never been a matter of formal policy.

A vertical integration working group which set out to create a bottom-up consensus policy earlier this year managed to find only deadlock.

ICANN chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said:

In the absence of existing policy or new bottom-up policy recommendations, the Board saw no rationale for placing restrictions on cross-ownership. Any possible abuses can be better addressed by properly targeted mechanisms. Co-ownership rules are not an optimal technique in this area.

Most members of the VI working group broadly favored some level of cross-ownership restriction, such as a 15% cap, while a smaller number favored the “free trade” position that ICANN seems to have gone for.

The companies campaigning hardest against cross-ownership being permitted were arguably Afilias and Go Daddy, though the likes of NeuStar and VeriSign also favored some restrictions.

Opponents of integrating registry and registrar functions argued that giving registrars access to registry data would harm consumers; others countered that this was best addressed through compliance programs rather than ownership caps.

The big winners from this announcement are the start-up new TLD registries, which will not be forced to work exclusively within the existing registrar channel in order to sell their domains.

NeuStar wins UrbanBrain .brand contract

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2010, Domain Registries

NeuStar has become the preferred provider of registry services to UrbanBrain, a consultancy that hopes to launch “.brand” top-level domains with major Japanese companies.

The companies said in a press release:

Under the alliance, Neustar and UrbanBrain will provide brand owners with the expertise and support required to prepare and submit their applications to ICANN, and will provide all of the registry services necessary for brands to launch and operate their own Internet extensions.

NeuStar already operates the .biz and .us registries under contract with ICANN and the US government respectively, as well as providing back-end services for a number of other TLDs.

UrbanBrain is currently associated with a proposed bid for .site.

The only formally announced commercial .brand to date is .canon. Canon is working with GMO Registry, another Japanese firm.

Price increase on the cards for .biz

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2010, Domain Registries

NeuStar is to raise its registry fee on .biz domain names by $0.45, to $7.30 year, according to a letter sent to ICANN by the company’s vice president of registry services.

The changes will come into effect April 1, 2011, following the mandatory notice period registries have to give their registrar partners.

NeuStar has just seen a monthly decrease in total .biz registrations, from 2,070,343 to 2,065,389 at the start of the month, according to HosterStats.com.

.CO fastest-growing new TLD in years

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2010, Domain Registries

.CO Internet today announced that it has taken over 500,000 .co domain name registrations in the less than two months since the names went into general availability.

By my reckoning, that makes .co the fastest-growing new TLD launch since .eu, back in 2006. EurID managed to take 1,691,069 .eu registrations in its first month of availability, a hard act to follow.

But .co easily beats .mobi, which took about eight months to reach the 500,000 registrations landmark after it launched in September 2005.

Fellow 2005-round launch DotAsia never (or has yet to) hit the 500k mark. It peaked at 245,196 in March 2009 and has been on the slide ever since, according to HosterStats.com.

If you go back as far as the 2000 round, you’ll find Afilias’ .info TLD took almost three months to hit 500,000 names. Three months after that, it had added another quarter-million.

But it only took Neustar (then Neulevel) a measly 30 days to pass the same milestone with .biz. Ten years on, it has over two million names on its books.