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Staff changes at new gTLD consultancies

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2011, Domain Services

There’s movement in the new top-level domains consultancy market this week, with new hires and departures at a couple of startups.

It’s been a case of one in, one out at Sedari, the registry management services company founded by Liz Williams this summer.

The company has hired Philip Sheppard, most recently director of public affairs for AIM, the European Brands Agency, as its new policy director.

Sheppard is an ICANN veteran from the IP/business side of the house, who has chaired multiple policy committees since becoming involved in 1999.

But Sedari has also lost another industry vet, Jothan Frakes, who’s decided to go freelance.

Elsewhere, FairWinds Partners, which shares management with the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, has also emerged publicly as a new gTLD consultancy.

The Washington DC-based company hope to use its track record of criticizing the new gTLD program to win the support of big brands skeptical about the ICANN process.

FairWinds said this week it’s taken on former ICANN director Michael Palage of Pharos Global, who has worked for both proponents and opponents of the program, apparently on a freelance basis.

Europe dislikes US-only IANA rule

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2011, Domain Policy

The European Commission is disappointed that only US-based companies are eligible to apply to take over ICANN’s IANA contract, but has otherwise welcomed the new deal.

As I reported Friday, the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration has put the IANA contract, which gives ICANN its powers to create new top-level domains, up for rebid.

While ICANN is generally expected to be a shoo-in for the contract, the NTIA tilted the odds in its favor by refusing to consider bids from replacement candidates from outside the US.

The EC said in a statement today:

The Commission believes greater respect should be given by the IANA contractor to respecting applicable law (such as EU personal data protection laws)… In that context, it noted with regret that non-US companies are not allowed to compete for the forthcoming IANA contract.

Otherwise, the EC said it was happy with the new provisions in the IANA contract, which promise to enforce mandatory conflict of interests protections on the winning bidder.

Neelie Kroes, European Commission Vice-President for the Digital Agenda said in a press release:

The new IANA tender is a clear step forward for global internet governance. A more transparent, independent and accountable management of the Internet domain names and other resources will reinforce the Internet’s role as a global resource.

The EC is also pleased that ICANN/IANA “will have to provide specific documentation demonstrating how the underlying decision-making process was supportive of the public interest” when new gTLDs are approved.

How this provision will be implemented, and how much power it gives ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee to kill new gTLD applications, is perhaps the biggest question hanging over the contract today.

The current IANA contract expires at the end of March next year, shortly before the end of ICANN’s first new gTLDs application window.

Overstock.com slows down O.co rebranding

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2011, Domain Registries

Overstock.com is throttling its transition to the O.co brand after discovering consumers typed o.com even after watching the company’s commercials, according to a report.

The company’s $350,000 purchase of and subsequent rebranding around the o.co domain was possibly the single biggest single marketing coup for .CO Internet, the .co registry, to date.

But now it intends to keep the Overstock.com brand in the US for the time being, while using O.co overseas and on a new iPad app, according to a report in AdAge.

The O.co Coliseum, the stadium in Oakland for which Overstock bought the naming rights, will continue to bear the O.co name.

AdAge quoted Overstock president Jonathon Johnson saying that “a good portion” of people viewing its commercials tried to visit o.com, which is a non-resolving registry-reserved name, instead.

“We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” he told AdAge. “We’re still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace… We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing.”

This is obviously bad news for commercial new top-level domain applicants, many of which will be looking for all-important anchor tenants to validate their brands at launch.

Marketing people like to refer to the measurable results of others before pulling the trigger on new initiatives. The O.co case is unlikely to create enthusiasm for new TLDs.

On the other hand, it’s commonly believed that when it comes to breaking the .com mindset in the US, it will take more than a trickle of new TLDs such as .co. It will take a flood.

.CO Internet has always taken the position that .co adoption will take time, and that the ICANN new gTLD program will help its cause by raising awareness of non-.com domains.

US puts ICANN contract up for rebid

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has put the IANA contract, which currently gives ICANN its powers to create new top-level domains, up for competitive bidding.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a request for proposals late yesterday, almost a week later than expected.

The Statement Of Work, which defines the IANA contractor’s responsibilities, is over twice at long as the current IANA contract, containing many deliverables and deadlines.

While the contract is open to bidders other than ICANN, ICANN is obviously the likely winner, so it’s fair to read the SOW in that context.

Notably, the section dealing with approving new gTLDs has been changed since the draft language released in June.

NTIA said previously that in order to delegate a new gTLD, ICANN/IANA “shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.”

The new SOW has dropped the “consensus support” requirement and instead states:

The Contractor must provide documentation verifying that ICANN followed its policy framework including specific documentation demonstrating how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest.

This could be read as a softening of the language. No longer will ICANN have to prove consensus – which is not a requirement of the Applicant Guidebook – in order to approve a new gTLD.

However, the fact that it will have to document how a new gTLD is “supportive of the global public interest” may give extra weight to Governmental Advisory Committee objections.

If the GAC were to issue advice stating that a new gTLD application was not in “the global public interest”, it may prove tricky for ICANN to provide documentation showing that it is.

The SOW also addresses conflicts of interest, which has become a big issue for ICANN following the departure of chairman and new gTLD proponent Peter Dengate Thrush, and his subsequent employment by new gTLD applicant Minds + Machines, this June.

The SOW says that IANA needs to have a written conflicts of interest policy, adding:

At a minimum, this policy must address what conflicts based on personal relationships or bias, financial conflicts of interest, possible direct or indirect financial gain from the Contractor’s policy decisions and employment and post-employment activities. The conflict of interest policy must include appropriate sanctions in case on non-compliance, including suspension, dismissal and other penalties.

Overall, the SOW is a substantial document, with a lot of detail.

There’s much more NTIA micromanagement than in the current IANA contract. Any hopes ICANN had that the relationship would become much more arms-length have been dashed.

The SOW includes a list of 17 deadlines for ICANN/IANA, mainly various types of compliance reports that must be filed annually. The NTIA clearly intends to keep IANA on a fairly tight leash.

You can download the RFP documents here.

Massive group forms to kill off new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s new nemesis is called CRIDO.

Eighty-seven companies and trade groups have formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, a lobby group set up to kill ICANN’s “deeply flawed” top-level domains program.

It’s led by the Association of National Advertisers, which emerged this August as a vocal opponent of new gTLDs and has spent the last few months recruiting allies.

Its new domain, crido.org, is registered to the ANA’s PR firm and currently redirects to the ANA’s gTLD microsite.

The new group said in a press release today:

On behalf of its many constituencies and industries, CRIDO is committed to aggressively fighting ICANN’s proposed program, citing its deeply flawed justification, excessive cost and harm to brand owners, likelihood of predatory cyber harm to consumers and failure to act in the public interest, a core requirement of its commitment to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

If the ICANN program proceeds, CRIDO firmly believes, the loss of trust in Internet transactions will be substantial. In addition, the for profit and non-profit brand community will suffer from billions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures – money that could be better invested in product improvements, capital expenditures and job creation.

CRIDO’s members comprise 47 trade associations, most but not all American, and 40 companies, many of them major household names such as Coca-Cola, Burger King and Kellogg.

Together, they have signed a petition to the Department of Commerce, ICANN’s overseer in the US government, asking it put a halt to the new gTLDs program

The questions now are whether Commerce will do anything concrete to address the demands and, if not, whether CRIDO will decide to put its lawyers where its mouth is instead.

Here’s a handy table of all CRIDO’s members.

AssociationsCompanies
AAF-AmarilloAcxiom
AAF-DallasAdobe Systems Incorporated
AAF-Fort WorthAllstate Insurance Company
AAF Hampton RoadsAmerican Express
AdClub CincinnatiBrinker International
American Advertising Federation (AAF)Burger King Corporation
American Advertising Federation of Des MoinesThe Coca-Cola Company
American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)Combe Incorporated
American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As)ConAgra Foods
American Beverage Association (ABA)Costco Wholesale Corporation
American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI)Darden Restaurants, Inc.
American Health Care Association (AHCA)Dell Inc.
American Insurance Association (AIA)Dunkin Brands, Inc.
American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)Educational Testing Service (ETS)
American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)Fidelity Investments
Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) Ford Motor Company
Association of National Advertisers (ANA)General Electric Company
Austin Advertising FederationHack Creative
Boise Advertising FederationHewlett-Packard Company
Cable Advertising Bureau (CAB)Hunter Douglas NA
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)J.C. Penney Company, Inc.
Direct Marketing Association (DMA)Johnson & Johnson
European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)Kellogg Company
European Publishers Council (EPC)La Quinta
Food Marketing Institute (FMI)Liberty Mutual
Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)MillerCoors
Idaho Advertising FederationMoney Mailer of Amarillo
Idaho Falls Advertising FederationNationwide Mutual Insurance Company
Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO)Neon Sun Tanning Salon
Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)Nestle USA
IAB EuropeORCI
Lewis-Clark Valley Advertising FederationOSI Restaurant Partners, LLC
Magic Valley Advertising FederationPapa John’s
Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)Procter & Gamble
MPA - the Association of Magazine MediaPublicis Groupe
National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)Pulte Group
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)Samsung
National Confectioners Association (NCA)US Bank
National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR)Vanguard
National Restaurant Association (NRA)Verge
Pocatello Advertising Federation
Promotion Marketing Association (PMA)
Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB)
Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)
Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)

New gTLD batching: should .brands go first?

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2011, Domain Policy

Should “.brand” and “.city” top-level domain applicants get priority treatment when ICANN picks which new gTLDs get to go live first?

That’s the worry in the domain name industry this week, in the wake of rumors about ICANN’s latest thinking on “batching” applications into a processing queue.

ICANN has said it will not process more than 500 applications at a time, but this may well be a low-ball estimate of how many it will actually receive in the first round.

Depending on how many companies decide to pull the trigger on .brand or .keyword applications, we could be looking at three times that number.

Random selection is probably a non-starter due to the risk of falling foul of US gambling laws, and ICANN has already ruled out an auction.

It’s likely that there will be a way to “opt out” of the first batch for applicants not particularly concerned about time-to-market, senior staff said at ICANN’s meeting in Dakar last month.

But the rumor doing the rounds this week is that the organization is thinking about prioritizing uncontested applications – gTLDs with a single applicant – into earlier batches.

This would mean that .brand and .city gTLDs would probably find themselves in the first batches, while contested generics such as .web and .music would be processed later.

It’s just a rumor at this point, but it’s one I’ve heard from a few sources. It also got an airing during Neustar’s #gtldchat Twitter conflab this evening.

Any gTLD purporting to represent a geographic location will need an endorsement from the relevant local government, which will lead to most geo-gTLD being uncontested.

Most, but perhaps not all, .brands are also likely to be uncontested, due to the relative uniqueness of the brand names with the resources to apply.

On the other hand, potentially lucrative strings such as .web, .blog, and .music will almost certainly have multiple applicants and will require lengthier processing cycles.

With a de facto prioritization of .brands and .cities, ICANN could put a bunch of gTLDs into the root, proving the new gTLD concept and giving it time to bulk up on experienced staff, before the whole thing sinks into a quagmire of objections, trademark gaming and spurious litigation.

I can see how that might be attractive option.

I’m not sure if it would solve the problem, however. If we’re looking at 1,500 applications, that’s three batches, so it would not be as simple as dividing them into contested and uncontested piles.

Of course, nobody knows how many applications will be submitted, and what the mix will be. It’s a very difficult problem to tackle in the dark.

What do you think? Should the contested status of a gTLD be used as a criterion for batching purposes?

Companies that can’t apply for .brand gTLDs say they have decided not to apply for .brand gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Policy

Hewlett-Packard and Proctor & Gamble have ruled themselves out of applying to ICANN for .brand top-level domains, or so they claim.

Bloomberg yesterday reported a distinct lack of enthusiasm for new gTLDs from many large brands, leading with quotes from P&G and HP:

P&G, the world’s largest consumer products company with more than 50 brands including Tide detergent, Pampers diapers and Crest toothpaste, won’t apply for new suffixes, said Paul Fox, a spokesman. HP, the biggest computer maker, considers the program costly and has no plans to take part, said Gary Elliott, vice president of global marketing.

“A lot of companies are looking at the same math as we are and saying, ‘Let’s stop this proposal from happening,’” Elliott said in an interview. “There’s a tremendous amount of confusion about what this means and what the costs are.”

HP’s Elliot is chairman of the Association of National Advertisers, the most vocal opponent of the new gTLD program, as the Bloomberg report notes.

One fact the report doesn’t mention – and I’d bet Elliot didn’t volunteer – is that HP and P&G cannot apply for .hp or .pg due to ICANN’s strict three-character minimum for new gTLD strings.

HP had campaigned for ICANN to scrap the two-character prohibition for a number of years, though it usually also noted that in principle it was opposed to the program.

Nevertheless, it strikes me as disingenuous for the company to say it’s decided against a .brand on the basis of cost, when ICANN essentially made its decision for it years ago.

P&G, which mostly makes cosmetics and toiletries, has also ruled out applying for gTLDs to represent any of its 50 or so well-known brands, Bloomberg reported.

The internet will have to go without .tampax and .pampers for the foreseeable future.

General Motors, Wal-Mart, Adobe, Porsche, Vodafone and Puma are all generally negative on the program but are still evaluating their options, according to Bloomberg.

It’s quite possible that these outfits are just as opposed to the new gTLD program as HP and P&G.

But if they’ve been talking to consultants, they will also have been advised not to publicly talk about their applications. Nothing can be gained by going public before April 12.

Afilias to apply for Chinese .info

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Registries

Afilias has announced that it plans to apply for the traditional and simplified Chinese script equivalents of .info under ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

The company becomes the last of the Big Three registries to give a glimpse into its new gTLD strategy.

VeriSign has said it wants transliterations of .com in multiple scripts, while Neustar has said it plans to apply for its own dot-brand, .neustar.

Afilias did not disclose the exact strings it wants in its announcement. There was no mention of .mobi, which the company also runs.

According to the last official count, there are close to 7.9 million registered .info domains. Marketing director Roland LaPlante said in September that about 19% host unique web sites.

CADNA calls for second new gTLDs round in 2012

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2011, Domain Policy

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse wants ICANN to name the date for its second new top-level domains application round, and suggested that it could come as early as one year from now.

President Josh Bourne told DI that the lobbyist, a long-time opponent of new gTLDs, has “switched gears”, taking a more pragmatic position since the program was approved in June.

“It’s not just about big companies at this point,” he said. “We’ve got hundreds of entrepreneurs and governments planning to apply for a range of gTLDs, – .wales, .london, .paris, .health, .green, .eco…”

“It’s not just about brands, so to cancel the policy now, that’s just never going to happen,” he said.

Bourne said that CADNA’s policy shift created a vacuum of opposition that was quickly filled by groups such as the Association of National Advertisers, which is now loudly demanding that the program be killed off or delayed indefinitely.

CADNA is not aligned with the ANA. Instead, it intends to write to ICANN soon to ask it to start planning for the second round already, saying this would help relieve the pressure on businesses.

“The best thing they could do for businesses and other applicants like entrepreneurs is to say ‘We’ve got the first round planned for January 12 to April 12, we’re going to tell the world right now that we’re going to have a vote in Costa Rica in March to approve a plan to have the second round in the fall of 2012’,” Bourne said.

He admitted that he doesn’t know if late 2012 is feasible – ICANN expects to still be early in the evaluation process for the first round at that time – but suggested that the windfall from first-round fees will be sufficient to ramp up bandwidth.

The lack of a second-round date is forcing companies to act quickly on new gTLDs with no idea whether they really want or need them. No company wants to be left behind for years or perhaps forever if their competitors are successfully exploiting their new gTLDs.

“People in businesses thinking of applying mainly do so not because they have a grand scheme, it’s because they’re scared,” he said.

“For the most part they’re getting accustomed to the notion that they’re buying an option, the right to use it in 2013 if other companies are using them,” he added.

The reason ICANN has not yet said when a second round will be offered is its commitment to review the impact of the first round before accepting any more applications.

The Applicant Guidebook currently states:

ICANN has committed to reviewing the effects of the New gTLD Program on the operations of the root zone system after the first application round, and will defer the delegations in a second application round until it is determined that the delegations resulting from the first round did not jeopardize root zone system security or stability.

That paragraph was added in April, following consultations between ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee, which based its demands on ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments.

The AoC, which was based in part on feedback from businesses and IP interests, also calls for a more substantial review of the program, taking into account consumer choice and abuse.

GAC new gTLD veto refuses to die

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee seems to be trying yet again to resurrect the government right of veto over controversial new top-level domain applications.

The GAC has proposed changes to the new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook that – at least on the face of it – would remove ICANN’s power to overrule GAC objections.

The changes would also make it much more likely that a gTLD application could be killed off due to the objections of a single nation.

If adopted, they would also make the already unpredictable process of anticipating the result of GAC objections considerably more ambiguous.

The supposedly “complete” Guidebook published by ICANN last month currently includes a warning that the GAC is working on its objecting rules, and that these will be included in future.

The GAC Communique (pdf) issued at the ICANN meeting in Dakar on Friday includes these proposed rules as an annex, and they’re not great if you’re a likely new gTLD applicant.

Consensus objections

If the GAC issues a consensus objection to an application, the Guidebook currently states that a “strong presumption” would be created that the application should fail.

But ICANN’s board would be able to overrule it with a so-called “Bylaws consultation”, the same process it used to approve .xxx earlier this year.

In its proposed revisions, the GAC inexplicably wants to delete the references to the Bylaws consultation.

My understanding is that the GAC is not proposing a change to the Bylaws, so the right of the board to initiate a consultation and overrule a GAC objection would still exist.

But the GAC seems to be asking for applicants to be given far less information about that process than they need, making its own powers appear greater than they are.

This could raise the psychological barrier to initiating a Bylaws consultation and create the perception that a consensus GAC objection always kills an application, which may not be the case.

The Dakar communique defines GAC consensus as “the practice of adopting decisions by general agreement in the absence of any formal objection”, which creates its own set of worries.

Non-consensus objections

A much bigger change is proposed to the way ICANN handles GAC “concerns” about an application.

This is GAC code for a non-consensus objection, where one or more governments has a problem with an application but the GAC as a whole cannot agree to object.

This is the objection mechanism that will very likely capture applications for gTLDs such as .gay, but it could basically cover any string for any reason.

Using the Guidebook’s current wording, there would be no presumption that this kind of application should be rejected. It would be in ICANN’s discretion to initiate a Bylaws consultation.

But the GAC wants something that sounds rather a lot like a Bylaws consultation made mandatory.

“The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns,” it says. “The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.”

This basically means that an application for .gay that was objected to by just two or three governments would have to undergo the pretty much the same level of scrutiny as .xxx did.

The political pressure on ICANN to kill the application would be much more intense than it would under the Guidebook’s current rules.

Here’s a table of the GAC’s proposed changes.

Applicant GuidebookGAC Proposed Text
I. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for ICANN that the application should not be approved. In the event that the ICANN Board determines to approve an application despite the consensus advice of the GAC,
pursuant to the ICANN Bylaws, the GAC and the ICANN Board will then try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution. In the event the Board determines not to accept the GAC Advice, the Board will provide a rationale for its decision.
l. The GAC advises ICANN that it is the consensus of the GAC that a particular application should not proceed. This will create a strong presumption for the ICANN Board that the application should not be approved.
II. The GAC provides advice that indicates that some governments are concerned about a particular application. Such advice will be passed on to the applicant but will not create the presumption that the application should be denied, and such advice would not require the Board to undertake the process for attempting to find a mutually acceptable solution with the GAC should the application be approved. Note that in any case, that the Board will take seriously any other advice that GAC might provide and will consider
entering into dialogue with the GAC to understand the
scope of the concerns expressed.
ll. The GAC advises ICANN that there are concerns about a particular application "dot-example". The ICANN Board is expected to enter into dialogue with the GAC to understand the scope of concerns. The ICANN Board is also expected to provide a rationale for its decision.
II. The GAC advises ICANN that an application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed. If there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing government approval), that action may be taken. However, material amendments to applications are generally prohibited and if there is no remediation method available, the application will not go forward and the applicant can re-apply in the second round.lll. The GAC advises ICANN that a particular application should not proceed unless remediated. This will raise a strong presumption for the Board that the application should not proceed unless there is a remediation method available in the Guidebook (such as securing one or more government’s approval) that is implemented by the applicant.

In summary, the GAC wants to give more weight to fringe objections and to make the whole process potentially much more confusing for applicants.

I can’t see ICANN sensibly adding the GAC’s text to the Guidebook without at the very least some edits for clarity.