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)