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First-come, first-served for new gTLDs? Have your say

Kevin Murphy, July 6, 2018, Domain Policy

Should new gTLDs be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis? That’s a possibility that has not yet been ruled out by the ICANN community.

The ICANN working group currently writing policy for the next round of gTLD applications has published its first draft for public comment, and FCFS is one option still on the table.

The Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process outlines six possible paths for the new gTLD program, and the group wants to hear your feedback.

The six options presented range from a 2012-style one-off application round, followed again by a potentially interminable series of reviews, to full-on FCFS from day one.

With neither of those extremes particularly appealing, the working group seems to be erring towards one of the four other choices.

ICANN could, for example, announce two or three more rounds, with firm dates for each perhaps separated by a year or two, followed by a long breather period.

Or it could kick of an endless series of application periods, perhaps happening at the same time every year.

Or it could conduct one or more rounds before implementing full FCFS.

The report lists many of the pros and cons of these various options.

For example, FCFS could lead to scrappy applications, gTLD warehousing, capture by ICANN insiders, and disadvantages to community applicants, but it could also reduce the cost of acquiring a gTLD by eliminating expensive auction-based contention resolution.

Conversely, the round-based structure could cause scaling problems for ICANN, could face unanticipated delays, and may not be responsive to applicants’ business needs, the report says.

The working group could not reach consensus on which model should be used, but it noted that there was no appetite for either immediate FCFS or another 2012-style effort. Its report states:

The Working Group recommends that the next introduction of new gTLDs shall be in the form of a “round.” With respect to subsequent introductions of the new gTLDs, although the Working Group does not have any consensus on a specific proposal, it does generally believe that it should be known prior to the launch of the next round either (a) the date in which the next introduction of new gTLDs will take place or (b) the specific set of criteria and/or events that must occur prior to the opening up of the subsequent process. For the purposes of providing an example, prior to the launch of the next round of new gTLDs, ICANN could state something like, “The subsequent introduction of new gTLDs after this round will occur on January 1, 2023 or nine months following the date in which 50% of the applications from the last round have completed Initial Evaluation.”

The question of how to balance rounds and, potentially, FCFS, is one of many, many questions posed in the 310-page initial report. You can comment here.

Expect more coverage of this monster from DI shortly.

.kids gTLD auction probably back on

Amazon, Google and a small non-profit appear to be headed to auction to fight for ownership of child-friendly new gTLDs.

ICANN last week defrosted the contention set for .kids/.kid; DotKids Foundation’s bid for .kids is no longer classified as “On-Hold”.

This means an ICANN-managed “last resort” auction is probably back on, having been cancelled last December in response to a DotKids request for reconsideration.

The RfR was thrown out by the ICANN board of directors, on the recommendation of its Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, in May.

.kids and .kid are in the same contention set because DotKids fought and won a String Confusion Objection against Google’s .kid application.

It’s also directly competing with Amazon for .kids.

A last-resort auction would mean that proceeds would be deposited in a special ICANN bank account currently swollen with something like a quarter-billion dollars.

Archaeologists protest “televangelist” .bible gTLD

The head of the Biblical Archaeology Society has harshly criticized .bible and ICANN for the gTLD’s restrictive registration policies.

Writing in the latest issue of its Biblical Archaeology Review, Robert Cargill said .bible is on its way to becoming “the internet’s equivalent of televangelism.”

The gTLD is operated by the American Bible Society, best known for its “Good News” translation of the book.

Under its rules, registrants can’t use a .bible domain to “encourage or contribute to disrespect for the Bible or the Bible community”, with ABS determining what constitutes disrespect.

Cargill writes that his own publication could be at risk of losing its hypothetical .bible domain for publishing fact-based articles about Biblical history.

Cargill writes:

No one “owns” the Bible, and no one should have to submit to the American Bible Society’s ill-conceived holiness code in order to register a .BIBLE domain name. ABS should not be able to deny a .BIBLE domain name because it feels a website does not revere the name of God enough—or because it dares not endorse “orthodox Christianity.” How ICANN ever allowed this is beyond belief!

He’s also pissed that archaeology.bible is a premium domain with a retail price of close to six grand for the first year.

He’s not the first scholarly, secular voice to air concerns about .bible policy.

In March, the head of the Society of Biblical Literature was also critical of what he described as ABS’s “bait and switch” gTLD application.

The registry earlier this year revised its original policy to permit Jewish people to register names, after complaints from the Anti-Defamation League, among others.

GoDaddy signs up for basically unrestricted .travel gTLD

Donuts has started to market the now practically prehistoric and newly liberalized gTLD .travel, and it’s signed up GoDaddy to offer domains there.

The registry, which acquired .travel from former owner Tralliance in February, announced a soft relaunch on its blog last week, highlighting that GoDaddy, Name.com and Encirca are now among its registrars.

GoDaddy appears to be only new signing there — Encirca and Name.com have been carrying .travel from long before Donuts got involved and are in fact its two largest registrars.

The big daddy of the registrar space appears to have become interested after Donuts “simplified” the process of registering .travel domains. Donuts said:

Since the acquisition, Donuts has simplified the registration process, enabling registrants to stay on the registrar’s website for the entirety of the registration/checkout process. Donuts believes that this streamlined registration process will increase registrations, as compared to the previous process, which was disjointed and complex for registrants.

What this seems to translate to is: .travel is essentially an unrestricted TLD, despite being applied for in 2003’s round of “sponsored” gTLDs.

If you attempt to register a .travel domain at GoDaddy today, the only additional friction en route to the purchase button is a simple, prominent check-box asking you to confirm you are a member of the travel community.

That’s apparently enough for Donuts to say it has fulfilled the part of its ICANN contract that says it has to carry out a “review of Eligibility prior to completion of all registrations.”

Under its previous ownership, .travel required registrars to bounce their customers to the registry web site to obtain an authentication code during the registration process.

.travel names are still pretty pricey — GoDaddy was going to hit me with a bill of over $110 before I abandoned my cart, and that was just a year-one promotional price.

The gTLD peaked at 215,000 domains 10 years ago but now sits at under 18,000, having seen slight declines every month for the past five years.

Has the world’s biggest new gTLD registry gone bankrupt?

Has Famous Four Media, by some measures the largest new gTLD registry, gone bankrupt?

There’s some startling evidence that this may be the case, but the company and others concerned are maintaining radio silence.

Last week, IANA’s administrative contact for all of the company’s 16 TLDs changed from its CEO, Geir Rasmussen, to someone called Edgar Lavarello. Here’s an example.

Lavarello, it turns out, is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Gibraltar who specializes in insolvency and liquidation.

Here he is in a three-year-old interview explaining why my headline today technically really should have used the word “insolvent” rather than “bankrupt”.

On Wednesday, I reached out for comment to Rasmussen and Lavarello, along with others known to work at FFM (at least recently) but have not received any responses.

Absence of a reply is not proof of anything of course — FFM has never been the most communicative company in the world and nobody is under any obligation to respond to inquiries from a humble blogger.

But I suspect that if I posed the straightforward if slightly cheeky question “Has your company gone bankrupt?” to almost any other member of the domain name industry, I’d usually expect to receive a denial in short order.

Sadly, insolvency records in laissez-faire British tax haven Gibraltar, where FFM is based, do not appear to be a matter of public record.

Even if FFM has not gone insolvent, I think there are clear signs it is having problems.

Its primary web site at famousfourmedia.com has been stripped back to be little more than a privacy policy and a contact form. Gone are all the sales pitches, press releases and TLD-specific pages. It’s now basically a one-pager.

The web site of its parent company, Domain Venture Partners, no longer resolves.

Reaching out to industry sources who have business relationships with FFM, I was unable to find anyone who’d talked to the company recently, though there were rumors of departing staff.

Earlier this year, company chair Iain Roache spent £3.9 million ($5.4 million) to buy out former FFM COO Charles Melvin, after Melvin filed a lawsuit against him and Rasmussen.

The nature of the suit is not particularly clear from public records, but at one point Gibraltar’s top judge ruled that the defendants had filed inaccurate — technically “forged” — documents to the court.

These documents included 10 invoices between FFM and AlpNames, its affiliated registrar.

Famous Four runs 16 new gTLDs — the largest among them .loan, .win and .men — and has arguably shifted more domains than any other portfolio registry.

Group volume currently runs at about 4.5 million names according to ntldstats, compared to 3.9 million for Donuts with its far larger portfolio of 241 strings.

It’s achieved this impressive scale largely by selling domains super cheap, often at or below cost and often via AlpNames.

This has resulted in huge numbers of domains being acquired by spammers. FFM strings are routinely listed in the SpamHaus top-ten list of dirtiest TLDs.

AlpNames is also regularly fingered as one of the most spam-friendly registrars.

The company’s chosen business model means that renewals, where you’d expect to make your actual revenue, are on the low side. If you take its .science as a representative example, the TLD peaked at 350,000 domains under management in April 2016 but stood at around 63,000 this February.