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M+M offers .brand gTLDs from $25k

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2011, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is promoting its gTLD registry services to brand owners at the International Trademark Association meeting in Washington DC, revealing prices as low as $25,000 a year.

Its .brand package covers preparing and filing the application with ICANN and then running the technical back-end.

The company also appears to have introduced a price ceiling of $100,000 a year for .brand clients, according to a press release.

M+M is even offering to throw in a private, ICANN-accredited registrar. I believe the company may be the first registry to publicize this kind of bundled service.

The company is targeting brand owners that may not be convinced by the attractiveness of a .brand, and may have no clue what to do with one, but which nevertheless do not want to be left behind in the event that the second round of new gTLD applications is delayed for many years.

M+M CEO Antony Van Couvering is quoted as saying:

There are a lot of innovative ways for brands to use new gTLDs, but most brands want to first secure their gTLD for a reasonable price, and maybe use it internally, before deciding on the next step.

M+M, which hired former ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush as chairman in June, has been among the most aggressive marketers of new gTLDs (which are, after all, it’s entire raison d’etre).

Its enthusiasm has already caused a couple of raised eyebrows.

A teaser announcement from M+M earlier this week, which mentioned how its “registry platform is connected with all major registrars, including MarkMonitor” caused MarkMonitor to issue a clarification stating that it has “no business relationship” with the company.

While MarkMonitor is plugged into CoCCA, the registry platform that handles dozens of ccTLDs, it is not plugged into Espresso, which is M+M’s in-house version of the open-source CoCCA software, the company said in a blog post.

(UPDATE: M+M’s Antony Van Couvering notes in the comments below that MarkMonitor accepts .fm registrations, and that the .fm registry uses Espresso)

CoCCA itself felt compelled to issue a statement in July, clarifying that CoCCA and M+M are not working together on Espresso, as some had inferred from an M+M interview.

There’s a new new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook and it’s quite boring

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has released the eighth version of the Applicant Guidebook for the new generic top-level domains program as promised, and as expected it’s rather dull.

Here it is.

By far the most important change appears to be the firm inclusion of a new deadline: March 29, 2012.

If you’re a new gTLD applicant, and you have not registered with ICANN’s TLD Application System by 2359 UTC, March 29, 2012, you’re done – your application fails at the starting blocks.

Apart from that, there does not appear to be much to get excited about.

The long gap since the program was approved by the ICANN board on June 20 had some people scratching their heads, wondering whether major changes were in store.

But what’s been published tonight appears to differ very little from the draft published in May, and most of the edits are those specifically envisaged by the June resolution.

It has, for example, been updated to reflect some of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s requests that ICANN’s board of directors acceded to in Singapore.

There’s no longer a requirement for the GAC to reach consensus in a transparent way when it deliberates about new gTLD objections.

There’s also almost 40 new strings – variants of the Olympic, Olympiad, Red Cross and Red Crescent trademarks – that are now explicitly banned from the first round of gTLD applications. These are being called “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”, rather than “Reserved” strings.

(As an aside, while it’s easy to understand the GAC’s rationale for this, does it strike anyone else as a completely pointless move? The gTLD .olympic may be now banned, but the far better and more obvious squat, .olympics, is not.)

No redline version of the Guidebook – in which all the edits are highlighted – has yet been published, but ICANN has released a non-exhaustive document summarizing the changes here.

Not included in that summary is ICANN president Rod Beckstrom’s new introduction, which addresses the latest batch of criticisms leveled at the program (such as the perceived lack of publicity since June and the unfinished applicant support policy).

It also drops the “Dear Prospective Applicant” salutation found in previous versions of the Guidebook, which probably doesn’t mean anything.

The disclaimer that the Guidebook has not been approved has also disappeared. While the document could be considered a production copy, it by no means presents a full picture of the program

Some of the items of unfinished business I outlined in this article last month remain unfinished.

The aforementioned applicant support program, for example, is not likely to be approved until the ICANN board’s meeting in Dakar, October 28.

The new Guidebook explicitly punts this, now saying it will be handled “through a process independent of this Guidebook”.

The Singapore promise that ICANN would continue discussing the US and EU government concerns about cross ownership between registrars and registries does not appear to have led to any edits either, but that does not necessarily mean it’s settled law.

Also, the process the GAC will use internally to decide whether to raise objections to gTLD applications is still not known.

In summary, it appears that we have an Applicant Guidebook that is “approved”, but is unlikely to be the “final” version.

New gTLD events in London this week

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

If you’re in London, UK today or tomorrow, there are a couple of events relating to the new top-level domains program you may wish to attend.

Tonight, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom is hosting an informal gathering for UK domain name geeks and internet governance wonks from 5.30pm at the POP Bar of the Hilton Park Lane Hotel.

It’s an open-invitation event so, despite rumors I’ve seen on Twitter, I’m 99% certain it will not be a free bar.

I’m going anyway.

Tomorrow morning, there’s going to be a panel discussion and Q&A session on new gTLDs at the offices of the PR company Edelman.

Panelists include Beckstrom, Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, Com Laude director Lorna Gradden, and me. It’s being chaired by Edelman’s Jonathan Hargreaves.

Breakfast is served at 8am, and the panel runs from 8.30am until 10am. It’s an RSVP event, but I believe the venue holds 150, so there’s bound to be still plenty of available seats.

RSVP details can be found here.

Hopefully it will be an interesting discussion. If you’re attending and would like to introduce yourself, at these kinds of things I’m usually the guy looking vaguely out of place.

Get your first look at ICANN’s new gTLDs microsite

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN is stepping up its so-far lackluster new top-level domains outreach campaign with the launch tomorrow of a microsite dedicated to the topic.

The site is expected to host the long-anticipated “final” or production version of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, which could be published as early as Monday evening.

It’s designed to educate potential gTLD applicants from outside the usual crowd of insiders.

The site is scheduled to go live at roughly 1930 UTC tomorrow, but DI has had a sneaky peek and can bring you some exclusive preview screen captures today.

Unlike icann.org, which strikes many as confused and a little bewildering, the microsite adopts a more conventional, basic, business-focused design.

Abstract clip art? Check. Businessperson pointing to bar graph? Check. Globe? Check. Smiling Asian lady? Check.

Here’s a a grab of the front page.

ICANN new gTLDs

And the Program Status tab gives an indication of what ICANN is planning for the web site a few months down the line.

ICANN new gTLDs

Director of marketing and outreach Scott Pinzon also has a new blog on the microsite, possibly the first of a few.

Here’s a grab of the Applicant Guidebook page. The links are not yet working, but note the date.

ICANN new gTLDs

The site has a video page. ICANN’s very well-received plain-English overview of new gTLDs has been uploaded, in addition to plain-French, plain-Russian, plain-Chinese and plain-Spanish versions.

There are several talking-head featurettes, which edit together soundbites from gTLD registry executives, giving a very high-level flavor of what it’s like running a registry. Here’s a sample.

Overall, it looks like an encouraging step in the right direction.

The design is clean and accessible and there’s very little ICANNese and very few acronyms. As a gateway for the new gTLD program, it appears to be easily up to the task.

Cheap gTLD drive adds to ICANN’s to-do list

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN may be given a huge to-do list before it starts accepting new top-level domain applications, in order to help level the playing field between rich and poor countries.

If sweeping new recommendations are approved, ICANN would have just a couple of months to create a new gTLD application review process, to find a panel to police it, and to find the money to cover it.

Since March 2010, a volunteer working group known as JAS has been debating the hows, whos and how muches of a program to provide financial support to gTLD applicants from developing nations.

It’s now come up with its Final Report (pdf), which contains a laundry list of things that JAS says ICANN needs to do before it starts accepting applications from anyone.

JAS has called for a reduction in the application fee from $185,000 to $47,000, as well as a provision allowing qualified applicants to pay the fee on a staggered schedule.

It also asks ICANN to create and partially fund a foundation to provide financial support, in addition to fee reductions, that eligible applicants would be able to draw from and pay back over time.

To qualify for the cheaper fees and other support, applicants would have to come from a developing economy found on certain UN lists. By my count, more than 80 countries would be eligible.

Recognized indigenous peoples – apparently including developed-world groups such as Native American tribes or Aboriginal Australians– would also qualify for assistance.

(I don’t know about you, but I immediately thought about the “Indian casino” model used to evade gambling prohibitions in parts of the US.)

Supported applicants would have to demonstrate that their gTLD would serve an under-served community or language group, and provide “genuine social benefit”.

So-called “.brand” applicants would be specifically excluded, but commercial entities operating in the public interest would be able to apply for the fee reductions and financial support.

The application procedure would be governed by a yet-to-be written Support Evaluation Process, overseen by a not-yet-created Support Application Review Panel, comprised of expert volunteers from inside and outside ICANN’s existing community structures.

The unpaid SARP panelists would have to be knowledgeable about the domain name industry and likely gaming patterns, in order to help prevent applicants exploiting the system.

The JAS says that all of this needs to be in place before the first round of applications:

there is a serious concern that, if support is not available to eligible applicants in the first round, the most obvious and valuable names (ASCII and IDNs) would be taken solely by wealthy investors.

Given the uncertainty regarding further rounds of new gTLD applications following the round planned for January 2012, it is necessary to make support available in the initial January 2012 round.

While I’ve no doubt that the ICANN board of directors will be picking over these proposals during its two-day retreat, which kicked off today, the JAS report now needs to filter through the GNSO and the ALAC – the two ICANN community bodies that commissioned its work.

Realistically, the earliest ICANN can rubber-stamp these recommendations is at its meeting October 28 in Dakar, Senegal, which would give ICANN staff just two months to create and deploy the entire applicant support program and to educate likely users.

ICANN’s new chief financial officer could also have to oversee the recalculation of the new gTLD program budget to reflect the JAS group’s ideas about how the program should be funded.

For example, the JAS report states that the $60,000 component of a single full application fee currently designated to “risks” could be instead be used to cover the shortfall between the $47,000 supported-applicant fee and the $100,000 in anticipated processing costs for such an application.

If ICANN were to adopt the recommendation, it would beg the question of how well the $185,000 “cost recovery” fee was calculated in the first place.

While not unexpected, the JAS proposals are a complex, audacious 11th-hour bump in the wire for ICANN, which already appears to be struggling to get its ducks in a row in time for January 12.

Regardless of whether the program can be rolled out in time, its likely users are already at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier counterparts, which at least have numbers to put in their own budget.