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.sucks won’t discount its fee for $10 domains

Vox Populi Registry is looking for a free speech advocate partner willing to absorb hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in costs.

The .sucks registry has for many months promised that later this year it will introduce a Consumer Advocate Subsidies program that will enable people to get a .sucks for the deeply discounted price of $10 a year.

Currently, the standard recommended retail price of a .sucks is $249, with a registry fee of $199.

Users of the subsidy program would get their names for $10 or under but they’d have to agree to host a free forum on the site, open to anyone that wanted to criticize (or, I guess, praise) the subject of the domain.

It has been broadly assumed that the subsidy would be matched by a discount in the registry fee.

But it’s emerged that Vox Pop has no plans to lower its own fees in order to offer the subsidy.

Essentially, it’s looking for a partner willing to swallow a cost of essentially $189 a year for every subsidized domain name.

CEO John Berard said in a blog post this week, and has subsequently confirmed to DI, that the subsidy is a subsidy and not a discount.

Vox Pop will still demand its full wholesale registry fee for every .sucks domain that is sold. Berard blogged:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

“The partner has to be one committed to free speech and confident in its ability to rally contributions to underwrite the activity,” Berard told DI.

To me, this proposition suddenly looks hugely unattractive.

There are over 6,000 domains in the .sucks zone today, just a month after general availability began, and that’s with registrants paying $250 to $2,500 a year.

With a $10 free-for-all, the number of registrations would, in my view, spike.

Unless there was some kind of gating process in place, the subsidy partner would likely face hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring annual fees almost immediately. It could escalate to millions a year over the long run.

I’m trying to imagine how an organization such as Which? (which I’m guessing is the kind of organization Vox Pop is talking to) would benefit from this arrangement.

There is “quite an interest” in signing up to become the subsidy partner, Berard said. He said that in some cases potential partners are looking for marketing opportunities or ways to “enhance their reputation”.

Details of subsidy program are expected to be announced early in the fourth quarter.

What split? TLD webinar series folded into the DNA

Kevin Murphy, July 21, 2015, Domain Services

A TLD operators’ webinar series initially cast as a community group has been folded in to the Domain Name Association.

The DNA has announced the creation of the DNA University, which promises to pick up where the TLD Operators Webinar left off.

Tony Kirsch of ARI Registry Services has been appointed inaugural “Dean” of the University.

The first webinar will be entitled “Premium Domain Name Planning” and will be held July 28 at 1500 UTC.

Future webinars, which are open to all registries, registrars and new gTLD applicants, will address subjects including IDNs, rights protection, contractual compliance, and many more.

The TLD Operators Webinar was originally called the TLD Operators Community and characterized as a new industry group, which led to gossip about a split within the DNA.

The program was hurriedly re-branded and re-domained to clarify that it was more, as ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis put it, “a one off effort by our consultancy team to get everyone together for a chat.”

Now it’s just a service under the DNA umbrella.

Read that controversial .africa letter

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, Domain Policy

Did the African Union Commission really use a letter written by ICANN to express its support for ZA Central Registry’s .africa bid?

Having now obtained and read it, I have my doubts.

I’m publishing it, so you can make your own mind up. Here it is (pdf).

That’s the letter that The Register’s Kieren McCarthy reported yesterday was “ICANN-drafted” and “duly signed by the AUC”

“Essentially, ICANN drafted a letter in support of ZACR, gave it to the AUC, and the AUC submitted the letter back to ICANN as evidence that ZACR should run dot-africa,” The Reg reported.

I don’t think that’s what happened.

What I see is a two-page letter that has one paragraph indisputably written by ICANN and whole bunch of other stuff that looks incredibly remarkably like it was written by the AUC and ZACR.

And that one ICANN paragraph was drawn from the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, where it was available to all governments.

The Reg reported that ICANN, in the unredacted ruling of the Independent Review Panel, admitted it drafted the letter.

What The Reg didn’t report is that ICANN merely admitted to sending the AUC a letter based on the aforementioned AGB template, and that it was subsequently heavily revised by the AUC.

It was not, I believe, a simple case of the AUC putting its letterhead and John Hancock on an ICANN missive.

I believe that ZACR had quite a big hand in the redrafting too. The stylized “.africa (dotAfrica)” is not how ICANN refers to gTLDs, but it is how ZACR refers to its own brand.

The letter was written in order to satisfy the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, which reviews new gTLD applications for the required government support.

The original AUC letter (read it here) was simply one paragraph confirming that ZACR had been appointed .africa registry, as the winner of an African Union RFP process.

It didn’t have enough information, or was not specific and formal enough, for the GNP, which issued a “Clarifying Question”.

In response to the CQ, it seems AUC reached out to ICANN, ICANN sent over something not dissimilar to its AGB template, the AUC and ZACR redrafted, edited and embellished it and sent it to ICANN to support their .africa application.

Did ICANN act inappropriately? Maybe. But I’m losing my enthusiasm for thinking about this as a massive scandal.

ICANN execs helped African Union win .africa — report

Kevin Murphy, July 16, 2015, Domain Policy

Top ICANN executives helped the African Union Commission win the .africa gTLD on behalf of its selected registry, according to a report.

Kieren McCarthy at The Register scooped last night that Dai-Trang Nguyen, head of gTLD operations at ICANN, drafted the letter that the AU used to demonstrate governmental support for ZA Central Registry’s bid.

The basis of the report is the unredacted version of the Independent Review Process panel’s ruling in the DotConnectAfrica case.

McCarthy reports that the uncensored document shows ICANN admitting that Nguyen wrote the AU’s letter, but that “did not violate any policy” and that there was “absolutely nothing wrong with ICANN staff assisting the AUC.”

Apparently, the original AU-drafted letter did not meet the requirements of the Geographic Names Panel, generating a “Clarifying Question”, so the AU reached out to ICANN for help creating a letter that would tick the correct boxes.

The unredacted ruling also contains an allegation that ICANN told InterConnect — one of the three corporate members of the GNP — that the AU’s letter should be taken as representing all of its member states, El Reg reports.

DotConnectAfrica is expected to be shortly returned to the new gTLD application process, and then kicked out again due to its failure to meet the GNP’s criteria of support from 60% of African governments.

I’m in two minds about how damaging these new revelations are.

On the one hand, ICANN staff intervening directly in an Initial Evaluation for a contested gTLD looks incredibly bad for the organization’s neutrality.

One would not expect ICANN to draft, for example, a letter of support for a Community Priority Evaluation applicant.

I don’t think it changes the ultimate outcome for DCA, but it may have inappropriately smoothed the path to approval for ZACR.

On the other hand, the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook actually contains a two-page “Sample Letter of Government Support” that governments were encouraged to print off on letterheaded paper, sign, and submit.

Giving governments assistance with their support letters was in fact baked into the program from the start.

So did the AUC get special treatment in this case, or did Nguyen just send over the AGB sample letter (or a version of it)? That may or may not become clear if and when McCarthy publishes the unredacted ruling, which he has indicated he hopes to do.

A related question might be: how did the AUC screw up its original letter so badly, given the existence of a compliant sample letter?

The optics are many times worse for ICANN because all this stuff was originally redacted, making it look like ICANN was trying to cover up its involvement.

But the redactions were not a unilateral ICANN decision.

ICANN, DCA and the IRP panel agreed after negotiation that some documents revealed during disclosure should be treated confidentially, according to this September 2014 order (pdf). References to these documents were redacted in all of the IRP’s documents, not just the ruling.

What the revelations certainly seem to show is another example of ICANN toadying up to governments, which really has to stop.

Time for .bloomberg after Twitter hoax?

Could the fake Bloomberg story about Twitter being acquired act as an impetus for the company to activate its mostly dormant dot-brand gTLD?

Twitter shares yesterday reportedly spiked as much as 8% on the “news” that it was the target of a $31 buyout bid.

The story was published on bloomberg.market, a cybersquatted domain hosting a mirror of the real Bloomberg web site.

While it was reportedly quite sloppily written, it nevertheless managed to convince at least one US cable news network to run with it, one reporter even tweeting the bogus link to his followers.

The story was quickly outed as a fake and within a few hours Rightside, the .market registry as well as owner of its registrar, eNom, suspended the domain for breaching its terms of service.

Rightside wrote in a blog post:

it pains us so greatly that, in the early stages when so many people are forming their first impressions of the new TLD program, these numerous positive examples are sometimes overshadowed by the malicious practices and behaviors of a very small group of people.

Bloomberg’s not at fault here, of course. No company should be expected to defensively register its trademark in every one of the 1,000+ TLDs out there right now.

But could the hoax persuade it to do something of substance with its .bloomberg gTLD, perhaps taking a leaf out of the BNP Paribas playbook?

Bloomberg has been populating its dot-brand with hundreds of domains since May — both the names of its products and keywords related to industries it’s known for covering — but currently they all seem to redirect to existing web sites in .com or .net.

It’s long been suggested by proponents of new gTLDs that dot-brands can act as a signal of legitimacy on the web, and that’s the attitude banks such as Barclays and BNP Paribas seem to be taking right now.

Could .bloomberg be next?