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Anger as governments delay two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN has heard an angry response from gTLD registries after delaying the release of two-character domains in new gTLDs, apparently at the whim of a small number of governments.

ICANN has yet to approve any of the over 350 requests for the release of two-letter domains filed by registries under a process approved by its board last October and launched in December.

The reason, according to registries, is that members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee — probably a minority — have objected and ICANN staff has “unilaterally” put a halt to the process.

Some governments — Spain, Italy and Cote d’Ivoire among them — are concerned that two-letter domains, such as es.example or it.example, may cause confusion with existing ccTLDs.

But the GAC itself was unable to find a consensus against the release of two-letter domains when it discussed the issue back in October. It merely asked for comment periods to allow individual governments to object to specific domains.

So ICANN’s board asked staff to create an “efficient procedure” to have requests swiftly approved, taking some of the stress off of the regular Registry Services Evaluation Process.

Two-letter domains have a premium dollar value for open registries, while multinational dot-brands expect to find them useful to market to the territories in which they operate.

Under the streamlined approval process, each request is subject to a 30-day comment period, and would be approved or not within seven to 10 days.

Right now, the oldest requests, which were filed in early December, are almost a month overdue for a response. The Registries Stakeholder Group told ICANN, in a letter (pdf):

We write to raise serious concern about what appears to be a recent closed-door, unilateral decision by ICANN staff, which took place over a period of weeks, to defer action on pending requests for two-character labels. This action was apparently initiated as a result of recent correspondence you received from the Chair of the Governmental Advisory Committee — but which critically does not represent formal consensus advice or even purport to represent the opinion of the GAC as a whole

It’s a case of governments strong-arming ICANN staff into changing policy, the registries claim.

GAC chair Thomas Schneider’s letter (pdf) says that an unspecified number of governments have “concerns” that the approval process was launched quite quickly and without any formal consultation with the GAC.

He goes on to make a laundry list of recommendations for making the process more amenable to governments, before requesting a “stay” on approvals until the GAC has further discussed the issue.

To date, registries representing a little over 300 strings have completed their 30-day comment periods, yet there have been only four comments from governments.

Italy and Cote d’Ivoire want ICANN to deny all requests for it.example and ci.example, because they may be confused with ccTLDs.

Spain, meanwhile, filed specific objections against the release of es.bingo, es.casino and es.abogado (lawyer), saying that these are regulated industries in Spain and should only be given to registrants who “have the required credentials”.

The RySG wants ICANN staff to immediately start approving requests that have passed through the comment process. The GAC says it will discuss the matter further at the ICANN 52 meeting currently going on in Singapore.

When RySG members raised the topic at a meeting the with ICANN board yesterday, directors avoided directly addressing the specific concerns.

In a first for new gTLDs, Aquitaine dumps geo bid

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2015, Domain Registries

The authority for the French region of Aquitaine has become the first applicant for a geographic new gTLD to pull its application apparently of its own accord.

Région d’Aquitaine’s bid for .aquitaine was withdrawn today, despite the fact that the applicant was already in the contracting stage with ICANN.

A handful of other geographic gTLD applications have been withdrawn previously, but only due to disputes between the applicant and the governments of the regions they wanted to represent.

.aquitaine is the first would-be geographic gTLD to be pulled after passing through the evaluation stage of the program.

Aquitaine is one of France’s 27 formal regions, with a population of over three million.

With Cayman deal, Uniregistry now runs ccTLDs too

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has got into the ccTLD business, taking over management of the Cayman Islands’ .ky domain this week and planning a relaunch for later this month.

Uniregistry, which is based in Cayman, has replaced a US company called SilverSky, now part of BAE Systems, as the official registry for .ky.

CEO Frank Schilling told DI that the previous custodian was running a manual registration process but that the ccTLD will now run on the same platform Uniregistry uses for its new gTLDs.

The company will act as both registry and registrar for the names, though the space will be opened up to third-party registrars.

The wholesale fee will be $29, with Uniregistry’s registrar business retailing names for $39 a year, Schilling said.

The ccTLD will be relaunched later this month with a six-month period where only people with a self-professed (check-box) “nexus” to the Cayman Islands will be able to register names, Schilling said.

There won’t be a sunrise period in the classical sense, but UDRP will apply, he said.

An official announcement about dates and eligibility rules is due some time this month, about a week before the relaunch.

Currently, .ky has about 11,000 registrations, Schilling said. That may be considered surprisingly high, given Cayman’s small population (under 60,000) and the apparent lack of automation in place previously.

But Cayman is a tax haven, and overseas companies often choose to register .ky names to help convince the tax man where they really are based that they have a true connection to the territory.

Schilling said that the Cayman government’s registrar of companies will promote .ky domains to businesses that set up a presence there.

He added that its shipping register will plug the names to those who moor their “super yachts” in Cayman.

The deal with the Cayman government, which remains the “owner” of .ky as far as IANA is concerned, is the first of what Schilling said he hopes will be many ccTLD relationships.

Uniregistry has also bid to run Bermuda’s .bm, which is currently managed in-house by the country’s government, and is talking to other ccTLDs as well, Schilling said.

500 new gTLDs now live, a new one added every day

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN delegated its 500th new gTLD from the 2012 application round this week.

The honor of the landmark delegation went to .ntt, the dot-brand applied for by Japanese telco NTT, which hit the root two days ago.

Since then, a further six new gTLDs — including .canon, the first announced dot-brand — have been delegated under the program.

In the past 12 months, 374 new gTLDs have been added to the DNS root. That’s obviously more than one a day on average.

Yet ICANN is probably still not even half-way through the program — the maximum number of delegated strings that could be produced is still a little over 1,300.

A large majority of the remaining undelegated strings are dot-brands or otherwise single-registrant spaces. Currently, just 18 brands (under a strict Spec 13 definition) have gone live.

Back in evaluation! Tata dot-brand bid falls foul of Morocco

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2015, Domain Registries

Tata Group, the Indian conglomerate, is to see its application for .tata head back into evaluation, after the Moroccan government denied it had given its approval for the bid.

ICANN told the company this week that .tata will have to be reviewed by the Geographic Names Panel for a third time.

Tata, as well as the name of the 150-year-old, $100 billion-a-year company, is also the name of a tiny Moroccan province (pop. 121,618) that is a protected geographic term under the new gTLD program’s rules.

Tata needed to get a letter of endorsement or non-objection from the relevant Moroccan authorities in order to pass the Geographic Names Panel review.

The company apparently had secured such a letter, when last July .tata became the final new gTLD application to pass through evaluation.

However, senior officials at Morocco’s industry of trade started kicking up a fuss last September, denying any such non-objection had been given.

In exchanges of letters with ICANN over the last few weeks, Morocco has elaborated. It now claims the letter provided by Tata to the panel referred to trademark protection of the Tata brand under Moroccan law and did not specifically not object to .tata.

The original letter (pdf) was sent by the Moroccan Office for Industry and Intellectual Property (OMPIC). It’s in French, so it’s hard for me to comment with much confidence either way even with a translation, but it seems to say that no Moroccan law would forbid the .tata application.

Now, OMPIC director Adil El Maliki has told ICANN (pdf) that there was no intention to confer non-objection. Another letter from the ministry of trade says the same.

ICANN has accepted the government’s explanation and has thrown .tata back at the evaluation process, where it is basically now at the mercy of the Moroccan government.

It’s not the first time there’s been some (charitably) confusion in government agencies about endorsements for new gTLD applications. DotConnectAfrica’s bid for .africa had backing from an African Union representative at first, which was subsequently withdrawn.

Other “geographic” gTLDs have found it’s easiest to throw money at the problem. Tata Group’s best hope for .tata now might be to build Tata province a new school.