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Industry lays into Verisign over .com deal renewal

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2016, Domain Registries

Some of Verisign’s chickens have evidently come home to roost.

A number of companies that the registry giant has pissed off over the last couple of years have slammed the proposed renewal of its .com contract with ICANN.

Rivals including XYZ.com (sued over its .xyz advertising) and Donuts (out-maneuvered on .web) are among those to have filed comments opposing the proposed new Registry Agreement.

They’re joined by business and intellectual property interests, concerned that Verisign is being allowed to carry on without implementing any of the IP-related obligations of other gTLDs, and a dozens of domainers, spurred into action by a newsletter.

Even a child protection advocacy group has weighed in, accusing Verisign of not doing enough to prevent child abuse material being distributed.

ICANN announced last month that it plans to renew the .com contract, which is not due to expire for another two years, until 2024, to bring its term in line with Verisign’s contracts related to root zone management.

There are barely any changes in the proposed new RA — no new rights protection mechanisms, no changes to how pricing is governed, and no new anti-abuse provisions.

The ensuing public comment period, which closed on Friday, has attracted slightly more comments than your typical ICANN comment period.

That’s largely due to outrage from readers of the Domaining.com newsletter, who were urged to send comments in an article headlined “BREAKING: Verisign doubles .COM price overnight!”

That headline, for avoidance of doubt, is not accurate. I think the author was trying to confer the idea that the headline could, in his opinion, be accurate in future.

Still, it prompted a few dozen domainers to submit brief comments demanding “No .com price increases!!!”

The existing RA, which would be renewed, says this about price:

The Maximum Price for Registry Services subject to this Section 7.3 shall be as follows:

(i) from the Effective Date through 30 November 2018, US $7.85;

(ii) Registry Operator shall be entitled to increase the Maximum Price during the term of the Agreement due to the imposition of any new Consensus Policy or documented extraordinary expense resulting from an attack or threat of attack on the Security or Stability of the DNS, not to exceed the smaller of the preceding year’s Maximum Price or the highest price charged during the preceding year, multiplied by 1.07.

The proposed amendment (pdf) that would extend the contract through 2024 does not directly address price.

It does, however, contain this paragraph:

Future Amendments. The parties shall cooperate and negotiate in good faith to amend the terms of the Agreement (a) by the second anniversary of the Effective Date, to preserve and enhance the security and stability of the Internet or the TLD, and (b) as may be necessary for consistency with changes to, or the termination or expiration of, the Cooperative Agreement between Registry Operator and the Department of Commerce.

The Cooperative Agreement is the second contract in the three-way relationship between Verisign, ICANN and the US Department of Commerce that allows Verisign to run not only .com but also the DNS root zone.

It’s important because Commerce exercised its powers under the agreement in 2012 to freeze .com prices at $7.85 a year until November 2018, unless Verisign can show it no longer has “market power”, a legal term that plays into monopoly laws.

So what the proposed .com amendments mean is that, if the Cooperative Agreement changes in 2018, ICANN and Verisign are obligated to discuss amending the .com contract at that time to take account of the new terms.

If, for example, Commerce extends the price freeze, Verisign and ICANN are pretty much duty bound to write that extension into the RA too.

There’s no credible danger of prices going up before 2018, in other words, and whether they go up after that will be primarily a matter for the US administration.

The US could decide that Verisign no longer has market power then and drop the price freeze, but would be an indication of a policy change rather than a reflection of reality.

The Internet Commerce Association, which represents high-volume domainers, does not appear particularly concerned about prices going up any time soon.

It said in its comments to ICANN that it believes the new RA “will have no effect whatsoever upon the current .Com wholesale price freeze of $7.85 imposed on Verisign”.

XYZ.com, in its comments, attacked not potential future price increases, but the current price of $7.85, which it characterized as extortionate.

If .com were put out to competitive tender, XYZ would be prepared to reduce the price to $1 per name per year, CEO Daniel Negari wrote, saving .com owners over $850 million a year — more than the GDP of Rwanda.

ICANN should not passively go along with Verisign’s selfish goal of extending its unfair monopoly over the internet’s most popular top-level domain name.

Others in the industry chose to express that the proposed contract does not even attempt to normalize the rules governing .com with the rules almost all other gTLDs must abide by.

Donuts, in its comment, said that the more laissez-faire .com regime actually harms competition, writing:

It is well known that new gTLDs and now many other legacy gTLDs are heavily vested with abuse protections that .COM is not. Thus, smaller, less resource-rich competitors must manage gTLDs laden (appropriately) with additional responsibilities, while Verisign is able to operate its domains unburdened from these safeguards. This incongruence is a precise demonstration of disparate treatment, and one that actually hinders effective competition and ultimately harms consumers.

It points to numerous statistics showing that .com is by far the most-abused TLD in terms of spam, phishing, malware and cybersquatting.

The Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency had similar views about standardizing rules on abuse and such. The IPC comment says:

The continued prevalence of abusive registrations in the world’s largest TLD registry is an ongoing challenge. The terms of the .com registry agreement should reflect that reality, by incorporating the most up-to-date features that will aid in the detection, prevention and remediation of abuses.

The European NGO Alliance for Child Safety Online submitted a comment with a more narrow focus — child abuse material and pornography in general.

Enasco said that 41% of sites containing child abuse material use .com domains and that Verisign should at least have the same regulatory regime as 2012-round gTLDs. It added:

Verisign’s egregious disinterest in or indolence towards tackling these problems hitherto hardly warrants them being rewarded by being allowed to continue the same lamentable
regime.

I couldn’t find any comments that were in unqualified support of the .com contract renewal, but the lack of any comments from large sections of the ICANN community may indicate widespread indifference.

The full collection of comments can be found here.

Verisign to get .com for six more years, but prices to stay frozen

ICANN and Verisign have agreed to extend their .com registry contract for another six years, but there are no big changes in store for .com owners.

Verisign will now get to run the gTLD until November 30, 2024.

The contract was not due to expire until 2018, but the two parties have agreed to renew it now in order to synchronize it with Verisign’s new contract to run the root zone.

Separately, ICANN and Verisign have signed a Root Zone Maintainer Agreement, which gives Verisign the responsibility to make updates to the DNS root zone when told to do so by ICANN’s IANA department.

That’s part of the IANA transition process, which will (assuming it isn’t scuppered by US Republicans) see the US government’s role in root zone maintenance disappear later this year.

Cunningly, Verisign’s operation of the root zone is technically intermingled with its .com infrastructure, using many of the same security and redundancy features, which makes the two difficult to untangle.

There are no other substantial changes to the .com agreement.

Verisign has not agreed to take on any of the rules that applies to new gTLDs, for example.

It also means wholesale .com prices will be frozen at $7.85 for the foreseeable future.

The deal only gives Verisign the right to raise prices if it can come up with a plausible security/stability reason, which for one of the most profitable tech companies in the world seems highly unlikely.

Pricing is also regulated by Verisign’s side deal (pdf) with the US Department of Commerce, which requires government approval for any price increases until such time as .com no longer has dominant “market power”.

The .com extension is now open for public comment.

Predictably, it’s already attracted a couple of comments saying that the contract should instead be put out to tender, so a rival registry can run the show for cheaper.

That’s never, ever, ever, ever going to happen.

As deadline looms, over 100 dot-brands still in contract limbo

With the minutes ticking down to the deadline for scores of dot-brands to sign registry agreements with ICANN, over 100 have not, according to ICANN’s web site.

New gTLD applicants had until July 29 to sign their contracts or risk losing their deposits.

I reported a week ago that roughly 170 would-be dot-brands had yet to sign on the dotted line, and my records show that only 35 have done so in the meantime.

Another four applications have been withdrawn.

One of the newly contracted parties is Go Daddy, which signed an RA for .godaddy last week. Others include .nike, .comcast and .mitsubishi.

Unless we see a flood of new contracts published over the next day or two, it seems likely well over 100 strings will soon be flagged as “Will Not Proceed” — the end of the road for new gTLD applications.

That may not be the final nail in their coffins, however.

Last week, ICANN VP Cyrus Namazi said that applicants that miss today’s deadline will receive a “final notice” in about a week. They’ll then have 60 days to come back to the process using the recently announced Application Eligibility Reinstatement process.

New .jobs contract based on new gTLD agreement

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN and Employ Media are set to sign a new contract for operation of the .jobs registry which is based heavily on the Registry Agreement signed by all new gTLD registries.

.jobs was delegated in 2005 and its first 10-year RA is due for renewal in May 2015.

Because Employ Media, like all gTLD registries, has a presumption of renewal clause in its contract, ICANN has published the proposed new version of its RA for public comment.

It’s basically the new gTLD RA, albeit substantially modified to reflect the fact that .jobs is a “Sponsored TLD” — slightly different to a “Community” TLD under the current rules — and because .jobs has been around for nine years already.

That means it won’t have to sign a contract forcing it to run Sunrise or Trademark Claims periods, for example. It won’t have to come up with a Continued Operations Instrument — a financial arrangement to cover operating costs should the company go under — either.

Its commitments to its sponsor community remain, however.

ICANN said it conducted a compliance audit on Employ Media before agreeing to the renewal.

Employ Media remains the only gTLD registry to have been hit by a formal breach notice by ICANN Compliance. In 2011, it threatened to terminate its contract over a controversial proposal to all job aggregation sites to run on .jobs domains.

The registry filed an Independent Review Process complaint to challenge the ruling and ICANN eventually backed down in 2012.

The fight came about as a result of complaints from the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, a group of jobs sites including Monster.com.

Dot-brands get another year to sign ICANN contract

ICANN has offered dot-brand gTLD applicants the ability to delay the signing of their Registry Agreements until July 29, 2015, nine months later than under the former process.

The extension was offered by ICANN after talks with the Brand Registry Group, whose members felt pressured by the old deadline.

All new gTLD applicants had previously been told they had nine months to sign the contract from the date they receive a so-called “Contracting Information Request” from ICANN.

For many applicants, those CIRs were sent out many months ago, leading to an October 29 deadline.

However, Specification 13 of the contract, which allows dot-brands to opt out of things like sunrise periods and equal treatment of registrars, was not finalized by ICANN until May 14 this year.

Only a minuscule number of dot-brands eligible to sign contracts — which is pretty much all of them — have so far opted to do so.

Bearing the Spec 13 delay in mind, ICANN is now offering would-be dot-brands the July 2015 deadline instead, as long as they show “good faith” by responding to their CIR by September 1.

What this means is that dot-brands might not be hitting the internet for another year.

For non-branded gTLD registries — some of whom hope the big brands’ adoption and marketing will help the visibility of new gTLDs in general — this may be disappointing.