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Did a sexy Russian spy nerf the o.com auction?

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2022, Domain Registries

It’s been over three years since Verisign won the right to auction off the domain name o.com for charity, and so far there’s no sign of a sale. Could a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist’s affair with a Russian spy be the reason?

The .com registry operator received permission from ICANN for a one-off auction — a unique exception to the decades-old convention that single-character .com domains are reserved — in March 2019, and that was the last we heard of it.

There’s been no announcement of an auction date, and neither ICANN nor Verisign have mentioned it since.

I asked Verisign a couple of weeks ago what the company’s plans were and at the weekend received the reply: “Thanks for reaching out and your interest is noted. Once there is an update, we will reach back out to you.”

I don’t think I’m getting into conspiracy theory territory to suggest that the reason for the lack of movement is that the domain’s most likely buyer, the man most likely behind Verisign asking ICANN’s permission in the first place, lost his job a few months after the auction was approved.

When in 2017 Verisign filed its request with ICANN it was widely believed to be primarily the result of a pressure campaign by Patrick Byrne, then-CEO of online retailer Overstock.com, that had gone on for over a decade.

Byrne had been nagging Verisign and ICANN to let him register the domain since at least 2004, as this published correspondence (pdf) illustrates.

Former senior ICANN staffer Kurt Pritz later recounted how Byrne “slid a check for $1,000,000 payable to ICANN across my desk” to persuade a then-broke ICANN to release the name, around the same time. The offer was rebuffed.

Byrne’s obsession with o.com continued, but in 2010 he seemed to throw in the towel briefly when Overstock paid relaunching Colombian ccTLD operator .CO Internet a whopping $350,000 for the domain o.co, which Overstock promptly rebranded around.

Overstock even purchased the naming rights to the Oakland Coliseum baseball stadium, which was known as the O.co Coliseum from 2011 to 2016.

But rebranding is always a risk, not least when it’s to an unfamiliar TLD, and Byrne admitted in 2012 that the move had been a huge mistake.

“O.co was my bad call,” Byrne said at the time, adding that “about eight out of 13 people who were trying to visit us through O.co, eight were typing O.com”.

So when Verisign got the nod to sell o.com, you might have expected Byrne to be champing at the bit.

But in August 2019, Byrne quit Overstock after it emerged he had been in a sexual relationship — according to him encouraged by shadowy FBI agents — with a Russian woman half his age convicted in the US of being a spy in 2018.

Byrne admitted the reportedly three-year relationship with Maria Butina, who after her release from US prison became a member of Russia’s parliament with Putin’s United Russia party, in August 2019. It’s a pretty wild story.

He quit his job at Overstock, the company he had founded, at the same time and a month later sold all his stock in the company.

Byrne has since gone on to be a full-time conspiracy theorist, including reportedly being one of several people who, in December 2020, had a bizarre White House meeting in which they attempted to explain to then-President Trump how the 2020 election had been stolen — the birth of the “Big Lie”.

That was reportedly the first time he had met Trump. There’s no evidence I’m aware of that he had the president’s ear while Verisign was asking his administration to lift the price freeze on .com domains, which it did in 2018.

Conspiracies aside, it’s undoubtedly true that Byrne’s resignation means Verisign has lost its most motivated bidder for o.com, so an auction would likely prove disappointing, unless Oprah Winfrey is feeling particularly frivolous.

Controversial Chinese firm among two newly revealed UNR gTLD buyers

Two more former UNR top-level domains have formally changed hands following the company’s fire sale over a year ago.

The ICANN contracts governing .llp and .help have been reassigned, the former to Intercap Registry and the latter to a new-to-the-industry Seychelles-based company called Innovation service Ltd, ICANN records show.

Intercap is a relatively known quantity, already running the .inc, .dealer and .box gTLDs.

Innovation is an entirely different kettle of fish.

The company appears to be led by a Hong Kong entrepreneur named Heng Lu, best known for making millions obtaining IPv4 addresses from Afrinic, the African Regional Internet Registry, and leasing them to clients in China for a huge profit.

Heng Lu is also the founder of Cloud Innovation Ltd, another Seychelles shell. It is currently embroiled in a string of lawsuits with Afrinic, which last year tried to revoke Cloud’s membership and therefore its IPv4 space.

The case(s) of Cloud versus Afrinic are pretty convoluted and a bit off-beat for this blog, but at one point last year it led to Afrinic’s bank accounts being frozen by the Mauritius Supreme Court, putting IP address management across the whole continent at risk.

ICANN would certainly have been aware of this already when it approved the transfer of the .help gTLD to what appears to be a related company. After the Mauritius injunction, Afrinic pleaded with ICANN for financial help, which ICANN provided.

The two transfers mean we now know the identities of the buyers of 17 of the 23 gTLD contracts UNR put up for sale in April 2021. ICANN took a long time to approve the reassignments due to worries about IP rights.

Verisign and Afilias spar over .web delays

Kevin Murphy, June 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Afilias and Verisign are at odds over a further delay to the resolution of the .web gTLD dispute.

Afilias, aka Altanovo Domains, says its lawyers are too busy to meet ICANN’s deadline for arguments about whether either company broke the rules in the 2016 auction of .web, but Verisign thinks they have plenty of time,

ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee had set a deadline of July 15 for both applicants to submit a document explaining why they believe the other broke the rules and should have their auction bids voided.

But Afilias’ lawyers say they “have longstanding international travel and hearing commitments in June and July that cannot be rescheduled” and want an extension to July 29.

Just two weeks seems like no big deal in a contest that has been running for literally a decade, but Verisign is opposing it anyway, according to emails Afilias submitted to ICANN (pdf).

“ICANN provided the parties with a generous briefing schedule sufficient to accommodate counsel’s other commitments. For this reason, Verisign and NDC do not support Altanovo’s current request for a further extension,” a Verisign lawyer wrote.

Verisign, which won the auction via its proxy, Nu Dot Co, believes Afilias broke a communications blackout period before the auction by texting NDC to negotiate a deal. Afilias believes NDC broke the rules by not disclosing Verisign’s involvement.

The BAMC’s job, following the outcome of an Independent Review Process case last year, is to decide whether either of these claims is legit and settle who won the auction once and for all.

GoDaddy and XYZ sign away rights after UNR’s crypto gambit

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2022, Domain Registries

ICANN has started asking registries to formally sign away ownership rights to their gTLDs when they acquire them from other registries.

GoDaddy and XYZ.com both had to agree that they don’t “own” their newly acquired strings before ICANN would agree to transfer them from portfolio UNR, which auctioned off its 23 gTLD contracts a year ago.

GoDaddy bought .photo and .blackfriday for undisclosed sums in the auction, it emerged last week. XYZ bought 10 others and newcomer Dot Hip Hop bought .hiphop.

All three transfers were signed off March 10 (though GoDaddy’s were inexplicably not published by ICANN until last Thursday, when much of Christendom was winding down for a long weekend) and all three contain this new language:

The Parties hereby acknowledge that, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any marketing or auction materials, documentation or communications issued by Assignor or any other agreements between the Parties or otherwise, nothing in the Registry Agreement(s) or in any other agreements between Assignor and Assignee have established or granted to Assignor any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings and that Assignee is not being granted any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings.

The Parties represent that they understand the scope of ICANN’s Consent, which: (A) does not grant Assignee any actual or purported property or ownership rights or interest in or two the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’s strings; (B) is solely binding and applicable to the assignment of rights and obligations pursuant to the Registry Agreement(s); (C) solely relates to the operation of the TLDs in the Domain Name System as specified in the applicable Registry Agreement(s); and (D) does not convey any rights to the letters, words or symbols making up the TLD string for use outside the Domain Name System.

The TL;DR of this? Registries don’t “own” their gTLDs, ICANN just allows them to use the strings.

The new language is in there because UNR’s auction had offered, as a bonus, ownership of matching non-fungible token “domains” on the blockchain-based alt-root Ethereum Name Service.

Alt-roots arguably present an existential threat to ICANN and a risk to the interoperability of the internet, so ICANN delayed authorization of its approvals for many months while it tried to figure out the legalities.

Dot Hip Hop, for one, has said it couldn’t care less about the Ethereum NFT, and has had it deleted.

Separately, the .ruhr contract has been transferred from regiodot to fellow German geo-TLD operator DotSaarland, a subsidiary of London-based CentralNic, which announced the acquisition in February.

This assignment agreement was signed March 31 — after GoDaddy’s and XYZ’s — and does not include the new ownership waiver language, suggesting that it’s unique to UNR’s auction winners.

However, the friction between blockchain alt-roots is likely to be an issue when the next new gTLD application round opens.

It’s being said that a great many “TLDs” are being registered on various blockchains specifically in order to interfere with matching ICANN applications, and that blockchain fans are attempting to delay the next round to give their own projects more time to take root.

GoDaddy’s two acquisitions bring the total known outcomes of UNR’s auctions to 13 out of 23 gTLDs. At least four more are being processed by ICANN, according to a now month-old statement.

Mutually assured destruction? Now Afilias faces .web disqualification probe

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2022, Domain Policy

Afilias’ ongoing quest to have Verisign’s winning bid for the .web gTLD thrown out may have backfired, with ICANN now launching a probe into whether Afilias’ own bid should be disqualified.

Afilias and Verisign could now BOTH be kicked out of the .web fight, delivering the coveted gTLD into the hands of the third-placed bidder for a knock-down price.

There’s even the possibility that Verisign’s winning $135 million bid could be more than cut in half, taking tens of millions out of ICANN’s coffers.

ICANN’s board of directors on Thursday said it will investigate not only whether Verisign broke new gTLD program rules by using a Nu Dot Co as proxy to bid, but also whether Afilias broke the rules when an executive texted NDC during a pre-auction comms blackout period.

It’s the first time board has resolved to take a look at the allegations against Afilias, which so far have only come up in letters and arbitration filings from Verisign and NDC.

The .web auction in 2016 resulted in a winning bid of $135 million from NDC. It quickly emerged that its bid was bankrolled by Verisign, which had not directly applied for .web.

Afilias’ applicant subsidiary (now called Altanovo Domains, but we’re sticking with “Afilias” for this story) has been trying to use Verisign’s sleight-of-hand to get the auction overturned for years, on the basis that ICANN should have forced NDC to show its cards before the auction took place.

An Independent Review Process panel last year ruled that ICANN broke its own bylaws by failing to rule on Afilias’ allegations when they were first made, and told ICANN to put .web on hold while it finally formally decides whether Verisign broke the rules or not.

What the IRP panel did NOT do was ask ICANN to rule on Verisign’s counter-allegations about Afilias violating the auction blackout period. ICANN’s decided to do that all by itself, which must piss off Afilias no end.

The board resolved last week, with my emphasis:

Resolved (2022.03.10.06), the Board hereby: (a) asks the [Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee] to review, consider and evaluate the allegations relating to the Domain Acquisition Agreement (DAA) between NDC and Verisign and the allegations relating to Afilias’ conduct during the Auction Blackout Period; (b) asks the BAMC to provide the Board with its findings and recommendations as to whether the alleged actions of NDC and/or Afilias warrant disqualification or other consequences, if any, related to any relevant .WEB application; and (c) directs ICANN org to continue refraining from contracting for or delegation of the .WEB gTLD until ICANN has made its determination regarding the .WEB application(s).

I see four possible outcomes here.

  • Nobody gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and ICANN gets to keep its $135 million. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Verisign gets disqualified. Afilias gets .web and ICANN probably gets paid no more than $79.1 million, which was its maximum bid before the auction became a two-horse race. Verisign will probably file an IRP or lawsuit.
  • Afilias gets disqualified. Verisign wins .web and then it has to be figured out how much it pays. I believe the high bid before the third-place bidder pulled out was around $54 million, so it could be in that ball-park. Afilias will probably file another IRP or lawsuit.
  • Both Afilias and Verisign get disqualified. The third-placed bidder — and I don’t thinks its identity has ever been made public — wins .web and pays whatever their high bid was, possibly around $54 million. Everyone sues everyone else and all the lawyers get to buy themselves a new summer home.

The other remaining applicants are Donuts, Google, Radix and Schlund. Web.com has withdrawn its application.

The people who will decide whether to disqualify anyone are the six members of the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee who are not recusing themselves due to conflicts of interest (Edmon Chung has a relationship with Afilias).

Given that the board has already ruled that it has a fiduciary duty to dip into the new gTLD auction proceeds pretty much whenever it pleases, can’t we also assume that it has a fiduciary duty to make sure that auction proceeds pool is as large as possible?

Battle for .web “far from over”, says Afilias lawyer

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2022, Domain Registries

Altanovo Domains’ fight with Verisign and ICANN for the .web gTLD is not over, despite an adverse ruling late last month, according to a top lawyer for the company.

Altanovo, the company previously known as Afilias Domains No 3, has not thrown in the towel and left the path clear for Verisign to launch .web, Arif Ali of the law firm Dechert told DI last night.

“Bottom line: this matter is far from over and no, Verisign doesn’t ‘get to run .web after all;’ certainly if the Board does its job objectively and fairly,” he said in an email.

He said this just hours before ICANN published its latest, but by no means final, board resolution on the .web case.

Ali represented Afilias in its Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN’s decision to award .web to Verisign following a 2016 auction, which was won by a company called Nu Dot Co, secretly backed by $135 million of Verisign’s money.

Afilias technically won its IRP, with the panel ruling last May that ICANN broke its bylaws by shirking its duty to address Afilias’ claim that NDC broke new gTLD program rules. Afilias said ICANN should have forced NDC to disclose itself a Verisign pawn before the auction went ahead.

ICANN got close to signing a registry agreement for .web with NDC, despite it being an open question as to whether the auction was legit, the panel ruled. It ordered ICANN to pay Afilias its $450,000 in legal fees and $479,458 of IRP costs.

What the IRP did not do was void the Verisign/NDC bid, nor give Afilias rights to .web.

Instead, it instructed ICANN to stay the .web contract-signing until its board has formally “considered and pronounced upon the question of whether the [Verisign-NDC Domain Acquisition Agreement] complied with the New gTLD Program Rules”.

The board had held a secret, undocumented discussion about the case in November 2016 and decided to keep its mouth shut and just let the IRP play out, according to the IRP ruling, which essentially told the board to stop avoiding difficult questions and to actually make a call on the legitimacy of the Verisign play.

Before the board could do so, Afilias/Altanovo filed an unprecedented appeal with the IRP panel. Technically an “application for an additional decision and interpretation”, Afilias asked the IRP panel to definitively answer the question of whether Verisign broke the rules rather than merely passing the hot potato back to ICANN’s board.

But in a December 21 decision (pdf), the IRP panel denied Afilias’ request as “frivolous” in its entirely, writing:

The Panel has dismissed the [Afilias] Application in its entirety. In the opinion of the Panel, under the guise of seeking an additional decision, the Application is seeking reconsideration of core elements of the Final Decision. Likewise, under the guise of seeking interpretation, the Application is requesting additional declarations and advisory opinions on a number of questions, some of which had not been discussed in the proceedings leading to the Final Decision.

In such circumstances, the Panel cannot escape the conclusion that the Application is “frivolous” in the sense of it “having no sound basis (as in fact or law)”. This finding suffices to entitle the Respondent [ICANN] to the cost shifting decision it is seeking and obviates the necessity of determining whether the Application is also “abusive”.

The panel told Afilias to pay ICANN’s $236,884 legal fees and the panel’s costs of $140,335, leaving Afilias out of pocket and back to square one in terms of getting clarity on whether Verisign’s actions were kosher.

Afilias had basically accused the panel of shirking its duties and punting its decision on Verisign’s auction bid in much the same way as the panel decided that ICANN had shirked its duties and punted its decision on Verisign’s auction bid.

Nobody seems to want to make a call on whether the successful Verisign-NDC ploy to win the .web auction with a secretly bankrolled bid was legit.

On Sunday, the full ICANN board met to discuss the outcome of the IRP and — surprise surprise — it punted again, instructing a subcommittee to look more closely at the matter:

the Board asks the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee (BAMC) to review, consider, and evaluate the IRP Panel’s Final Declaration and recommendation, and to provide the Board with its findings to consider and act upon before the organization takes any further action toward the processing of the .WEB application(s).

There’s not yet a publicly announced date for the next BAMC meeting. It tends to meet as and when needed, so we might not have too long to wait.

Once the committee has made a decision, it would be referred back to the full board for a final rubber stamp, and it seems that only after that would Afilias make its next move.

Ali, in an email sent to DI just a few hours before ICANN published its Sunday board resolution last night, said:

The [IRP] Panel also made it clear that the Board can’t just punt on the matter as it did previously, but must decide it, and that its decision is subject to review by a future IRP panel.

There’s nothing preventing Afilias filing another IRP to challenge the board’s ultimate decision, should it favor Verisign. Likewise, if it favors Afilias, Verisign could use IRP to appeal.

Verisign has been pursuing a counter-claim against Afilias, albeit so far only in the court of public opinion, accusing the company of breaking ICANN’s rules by trying to secretly “rig” the .web auction during a communications blackout period.

Ali calls this a “red herring”, among other things.

In my view, whichever way ICANN’s board goes, it’s going to wind up back in an IRP.

With IRP proceedings typically measured in years, and no indication that Afilias or Verisign are ready to back down, it seems the .web saga may still have some considerable time left on the clock.

If you’re desperate to register a .web domain, don’t hold your breath.

Note: most of Afilias was acquired by Donuts a year ago, but the .web application was not part of the deal. The IRP proceedings have continued to refer to “Afilias” interchangeably with “Altanovo”, and I’m doing the same in my coverage.

First UNR gTLD buyer outs itself

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2021, Domain Registries

A company from outside the domain industry with no revenue last year and doubts about its survival has announced itself as the buyer of one of UNR’s gTLDs, which were sold off earlier this year.

Digital Asset Monetary Network Inc issued a press release stating that it has “acquired a TLD”. It didn’t name the TLD, or the seller, but gave enough information for us to narrow it down to UNR:

The gTLD acquired by DigitalAMN was originally slated to be part of an auction recently conducted by a large retail registry and was mistakenly listed with the registry’s available inventory for auction. However, the Company and its domain industry partners were able to secure this digital asset completely outside of that auction.

UNR had listed these 23 gTLDs for sale at the April 28 auction: .audio, .blackfriday, .christmas, .click, .country, .diet, .flowers, .game, guitars, .help, .hiphop, .hiv, .hosting, .juegos, .link, .llp, .lol, .mom, .photo, .pics, .property, .sexy and .tattoo.

It’s not clear which of these was “mistakenly listed” and bought separately by DigitalAMN. When UNR announced the closure of the auction, it only said that it had sold “20+” of the names in its portfolio, though the company later confirmed to DI that all 23 had been sold.

The identities of the buyers, which may number as many as 17, have not yet been revealed. All 23 contracts appear to be still subject to ICANN’s regulatory scrutiny, even six months after the auction.

In a press release today, DigitalAMN CEO Ajene Watson said:

We believe this venture continues to support our ethos and mantra. Especially given the name of this gTLD, what it may represent culturally to a multi-billion-dollar global marketplace, and the anticipated financial literacy initiatives that could potentially be born from it.

Which strings does “financial literacy initiatives” suggest? .llp? .property? Your guess is as good as mine.

The press release states that DigitalAMN has two domain industry partners in its new venture. Again, they’re not named, but we can probably assume one’s a back-end registry provider.

DigitalAMN is listed on the over-the-counter markets in the US. It reported $145,000 of consulting revenue in the six months to June 30, but was burning cash and said it needed another $2 million to survive the next 12 months.

It calls itself a Public Accelerator Incubator (PAI) company, which appears to be a term of its own invention. It says it “operates an ecosystem that fosters growth opportunities for entrepreneurs looking to build their businesses”.

This seems to mean it tries to get start-ups investment through means such as crowdfunding and access to capital markets through “mini-IPOs” made possible through the US JOBS Act of 2012.

The company is possibly one of the “blockchain companies” that UNR referred to when it announced the auction results back in May.

DigitalAMN says it intends to introduce “new value-added services, leveraging the newest technologies incorporated in digital wallets and crypto currencies” to its new gTLD.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the company has in mind.

UPDATE: this article was updated November 5, 2021, to remove an inaccurate reference to the company’s Bitcoin position.

Afilias appeals .web ruling, Verisign responds with “rigging” claims

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2021, Domain Registries

Afilias has filed an unusual and unprecedented appeal against the May ruling that found ICANN broke its bylaws by awarding the .web gTLD to a Verisign affiliate.

The company is arguing that the Independent Review Process panel that decided the .web case shirked its duties, by not actually resolving the major disputes placed before it.

Verisign, in response, has accused Afilias of asking for a “do-over”, which it said is against the rules, and published information it said showed the company had tried to “rig” the .web auction.

The IRP followed the 2015 ICANN last-resort auction, which saw Verisign secretly fund a shell applicant called Nu Dot Co to win with a $135 million bid, on the basis .web would later be transferred to its custody.

Afilias was the runner-up, and argued that ICANN should have voided the NDC bid because Verisign’s involvement was not disclosed.

But the IRP panel merely found that ICANN had breached its bylaws by failing to have the courage to actually rule on the legitimacy of Verisign’s tactics, and threw it back to ICANN to make a decision.

ICANN has yet to make that decision. Instead, Afilias has filed an appeal (pdf) with the in the form of an “application for an additional decision and interpretation”.

IRP cases are handled by the International Center for Dispute Resolution, and Afilias is invoking the ICDR Arbitration Rules that allow a claimant to request an “interpretation” or “additional award” from the original decision:

By failing to resolve all of the claims and issues Afilias presented to the Panel for decision, the Panel has not only failed to satisfy its mandate; it has also undermined the very Purposes of the IRP (as set out in Section 4.3(a) of the Bylaws)—especially, but not exclusively, by its decision to refer Afilias# claim arising from Nu Dot Co’s (“NDC”) violation of the New gTLD Program Rules back to the ICANN Board and Staff to “pronounce” upon “in the first instance.”

The lengthy request is, I believe, an unprecedented attempt at an appeal of an IRP ruling. It’s also heavy on the legal arguments and does not really shed much light on the facts of the case.

The gist of it is that Afilias wants the panel to rule that ICANN breached its bylaws, new gTLD program rules and international law by failing to disqualify NDC and awarding .web to Afilias instead.

Verisign, in response, said in a blog post that Afilas’ application is “not permitted by the arbitration rules – which expressly prohibit such requests for ‘do overs.'”

It also published a letter (pdf) from NDC to ICANN in which it argues that Afilias tried to engage in a “collusive scheme” to “rig” the .web auction.

The letter contains many pages of private correspondence — emails and phone text messages — in which rival .web applicants, before Verisign’s involvement had been confirmed, fruitlessly attempted to persuade NDC to join them in a private auction in which the winning bid would have been shared among the losers rather than all going to ICANN.

While this kind of private settlement was envisaged, and indeed encouraged, by new gTLD program rules, Verisign reckons its smoking gun is messages sent by Afilias during the so-called “blackout period” before the last-resort auction, during which communications between applicants were forbidden.

As far as I can tell, all or almost all of the documents provided by NDC to ICANN had already been submitted to the public record during the IRP.

Note — the “Afilias” referred to throughout this post is the portion of the company, now known as Altanovo Domains, left behind after most of its operating businesses were acquired by Donuts late last year.

Afilias hints at more legal action over .web

As Verisign does everything but declare outright victory in last week’s Independent Review Process result, .web rival Afilias is now strongly hinting that its lawyers are not quite ready to retire.

John Kane, VP of Afilias (now Altanovo) said in a statement that Afilias is prepared to “take all actions necessary to protect our rights in this matter”.

This matter is of course the contested 2015 auction for the new gTLD .web, which was won by Nu Dot Co with $135 million of Verisign’s money.

Afilias thinks the winning bid should be voided because Verisign’s involvement had been kept a secret. The IRP panel stopped short of doing that, instead forcing ICANN’s board of directors to make a decision.

The earliest they’re likely to do this is at ICANN 71 later this month.

But with one IRP down, Afilias is now reminding ICANN that the board’s ultimate decision will also be “subject to review by an IRP Panel.”

So if ICANN decides to award .web to Verisign, Afilias could challenge it with another IRP, adding another two years to the go-live runway and another couple million dollars to the lawyers’ petty cash jar.

None of which should overly bother Verisign, of course, if one subscribes to the notion that its interest in .web is not in owning it but rather in preventing its competitors from owning it and aggressively marketing it against .com.

But Verisign also put out a statement reviewing the IRP panel’s decision last week, reiterating that it believes Afilias should be banned from the .web contest and banned from making any further complaints about Verisign’s bid.

While Afilias spent its press release focusing on trashing ICANN, Verisign instead focused its blog post on trashing Afilias.

According to Verisign, Afilias is no longer competent to run a registry (having sold those assets to Donuts) and is just looking for a payday by losing a private auction.

“Afilias no longer operates a registry business, and has neither the platform, organization, nor necessary consents from ICANN, to support one,” Verisign claims.

Afilias could of course outsource its would-be .web registry, as is fairly standard industry practice, either to Donuts or any other back-end operator.

Verisign hopeful after decision reached in .web gTLD case

Kevin Murphy, May 25, 2021, Domain Policy

The fate of .web has been decided, over 20 years after it was first applied for, and Verisign thinks it might emerge triumphant.

The company said last night that the ICANN Independent Review Panel handling the case of Afilias v ICANN reached a decision May 20 and delivered it to Verisign the following day.

Verisign says the panel “dismissed Afilias’ claims for relief seeking to invalidate the .web auction and to award the .web TLD to Afilias, concluding that such issues were beyond its jurisdiction.”

Sounds good for Verisign so far. Afilias wanted its $135 million bid for .web, submitted via an intermediary called Nu Dot Co, thrown out due to claims that ICANN violated its own bylaws by not sufficiently vetting the bidder.

But Verisign goes on to say “the panel’s ruling recommends that ICANN’s Board of Directors consider the objections made about the .web auction and then make a decision on the delegation of .web”.

It adds that the panel found that ICANN violated its fairness and transparency commitments:

With respect to ICANN, the ruling finds that certain actions and/or inaction by ICANN in response to Afilias’ objections violated aspects of ICANN’s bylaws related to transparency and fairness. These findings are particular to ICANN’s actions and not conduct by Verisign. Verisign anticipates that ICANN’s Board will review the panel’s ruling and proceed consistent with the panel’s recommendation to consider the objections and make a decision on the delegation of .web.

Based on Verisign’s statements, it seems that ICANN lost, but Afilias didn’t win.

The revelation was buried in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing on an unrelated financial matter last night. Hat tip to @jintlaw for spotting and tweeting about it.

It’s the most eagerly anticipated IRP ruling since 2011’s .xxx case, but in stark contrast to Rod “let’s draft this tweet” Beckstrom-era ICANN, where the decision was posted in a matter of hours, the 2021 org has not yet posted the panel’s findings or made a public statement acknowledging the ruling.

Verisign says it intends to “vigorously pursue” .web, but “can provide no assurance” as to which way the ICANN board of directors will swing.