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US revives .kids.us in new Neustrar contract

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.

The Department of Commerce killed off .kids.us in 2012, but the new .us contract (pdf) says:

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.

CentralNic gets its foot in the door as Famous Four back-end

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2014, Domain Registries

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.

Why Hansen quit .nyc for .co.com

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2013, Domain Registries

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.

Three gTLD contracts to be renewed next week

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Registries

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).

Huge registrar shake-up coming to .biz and .info

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.

Both proposed contracts are now open for public comment at ICANN, here and here.

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.

ICANN selects new gTLD backup providers

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.

.info and .biz prices to go up

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registries

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.

.info and .biz contracts extended after expiring

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have had their key gTLD registry contracts temporarily extended after they expired on New Year’s Eve.

The .info and .biz agreements, which were both signed with ICANN in 2006, both ended on December 31 2012.

Both deals, of course, have a presumption of renewal. They’ve been extended for six months while renewal terms are finalized.

I understand that the delay in getting new contracts negotiated and approved is due largely to all the other stuff going on at ICANN right now.

(New gTLD applicants planning to negotiate a non-standard contract with ICANN, take note.)

According to ICANN, drafts of the the next versions of the .info and .biz contracts will be posted for public comment this month.

I’d expect to see some of the same minor technical and legal changes made as those that were made to Verisign’s .net contract, which was renegotiated in 2011.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether .info and .biz will keep the same rights to increase registry fees, in light of the US Department of Commerce’s move to freeze .com prices.

However, .com is a special case and Commerce does not have a built-in right to examine .biz and .info contracts.

ARI expands its DNS business

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2012, Domain Services

ARI Registry Services officially announced its aggressive targeting of the DNS services market at an event in Toronto last week.

The company says it is the named DNS provider in over 450 new gTLD applications, giving it a substantial foot in the door should they be approved by ICANN.

That’s almost three times as many applications as ARI is involved with as registry provider.

“To our competitors, we are coming for you,” a tired and emotional ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis said during the launch event at a club in Toronto last Tuesday, which DI attended.

“Bring it on,” equally tired and emotional executives from larger competitors were heard to mutter in the audience.

ARI seems to be targeting just TLD operators to begin with, while competitors such as Verisign, Neustar and Afilias also offer managed DNS to enterprises.

ARI already runs the DNS for Australia’s .au.

Soon Verisign could sell .com domains direct

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2012, Domain Registries

With little fanfare, ICANN last week formally approved new rules that could allow incumbent registry operators to own registrars that sell domains in their own gTLDs.

The policy would give the likes of Verisign, Neustar and Afilias the right to become affiliated with registrars that sell .com, .biz and .info names respectively.

These registries would have to sign up to the standard new gTLD registry agreement first, or submit to contract renegotiation in order to drop their current cross-ownership bans.

In either case, they would become bound by the new registry Code of Conduct, preventing them from offering preferential terms to their affiliated registrars.

The new rule came into effect following the ICANN board meeting on Thursday, at which this resolution was passed.

ICANN had already dropped cross-ownership restrictions for new gTLD registry operators, but held back from bringing in the same rules for incumbents due to concerns from competition authorities.

After exchanges of letters with the European Commission and US Department of Commerce, these concerns appear to have dried up, however. ICANN said in its resolution:

it appears that there is no longer any reason against extending the approved process to existing registry operators for their own TLDs.

This action will be an advantage for the ICANN community, as it will provide the opportunity for treating all registry operators equally with respect to cross-ownership restrictions.

Registries would have their requests for contract changes referred to competition authorities for comment before ICANN would approve them.

Based on previous comments, Verisign might have a struggle with respect to .com but the other incumbents might have an easier time renegotiating their deals.

Neustar has been particularly outspoken in its desire to get rid of the contractual language preventing it owning a .biz registrar, so we might see that company first to get into talks.

Both .biz and .info contracts are up for renewal before the end of the year.