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New gTLD in trouble as largest registrar gets suspended

The .gdn gTLD registry, Navigation-information systems, is facing more trouble from ICANN Compliance, but this time it’s because its largest registrar has got itself suspended for non-payment of fees.

ICANN has suspended the accreditation of Dubai-based registrar Intracom for failing to cure an April breach notice demanding money, not implementing an RDAP service, not escrowing its data, and generally giving Compliance staff the runaround for the last eight months.

Intracom is NIS’ biggest partner, responsible for over 10,000 of its 11,000 registered domain names. It doesn’t appear to have many domains in other gTLDs.

The company will not be allowed to sell gTLD domains or accept inbound transfers from July 6 to October 4.

NIS has been hit with its own breach notices twice in the last year, most recently the day after Intracom’s own notice, for failing to keep its Whois service up, but it cured the breaches before ICANN escalated.

ICANN picks comms firm for new gTLDs outreach

Kevin Murphy, June 22, 2022, Domain Policy

The next round of new gTLDs is getting real.

ICANN has selected a communications firm to promote the next round ahead of its launch, and authorized a wedge of cash to pay for it, according to a resolution of the board of directors.

The resolution does not name the firm or the exact amount of money earmarked, because a deal has yet to be signed, but it is worth over $500,000.

In the 2012 round, I believe ICANN worked with long-time PR agency Edelman.

The agency will be responsible for planning the outreach campaign and then executing it over three months ahead of the application window opening, whenever that may be.

The resolution states that ICANN will contract the firm for 50 “instances”, where an instance is a country or industry.

The 2011/2012 outreach campaign came under criticism for not doing enough to entice applications from the global south and emerging economies, something which current ICANN management has said they hope to rectify next time around.

Unstoppable targets another city gTLD with free domains

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2022, Domain Tech

Alt-root provider Unstoppable Domains has inked another partnership with a city that already has its own gTLD in the authoritative root.

The blockchain domains company said it has linked up with the City of Miami’s Venture Miami project, which encourages tech investment in Miami, to offer $50 in Unstoppable’s alternative domains to anyone attending Miami Dade College or showing up at an event there over the weekend.

For nine out of 10 of Unstoppable’s extensions, that’s enough to buy at least one domain. The company does not charge renewal fees.

It’s the second city recently that Unstoppable has partnered with, following its offer of free domains to all female residents of Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago.

In both of these cases, the cities in question already have their own gTLD in the authoritative, functioning, ICANN root. Unstoppable’s extensions, which are largely themed around crytopcurrency, mostly do not function without browser plug-ins.

While .abudhabi has only about a thousand registered domains, .miami, which was acquired from MMX by GoDaddy last year and has the city as a partner, has been more popular, with close to 16,000 names in its zone file currently.

Whether this can be dismissed as more “web3” hype or alt-root snake oil or not, Unstoppable seems to have secured a couple of pretty interesting marketing coups, and it will be interesting to see which city gets targeted next.

The slow crawl to closed generics at ICANN 74

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2022, Domain Policy

Last Monday saw the 10th anniversary of Reveal Day, the event in London where ICANN officially revealed the 1,930 new gTLD applications submitted earlier in 2012 to a crowd of excited applicants and media.

Dozens of those applications were for closed generics — where the registry operator is the sole registrant, but the string isn’t a trademark — but now, a decade later, the ICANN community still hasn’t decided what to do about that type of gTLD.

At ICANN 74 last week, the Generic Names Supporting Organization and Governmental Advisory Committee inched closer to agreeing the rules of engagement for forthcoming talks on how closed generics should be regulated.

The GNSO’s working group on new gTLDs — known as SubPro — had failed to come to a consensus on whether closed generics should even be allowed, failing even to agree on whether the status quo was the thousand-year-old earlier GNSO policy recommendations that permitted them or the later GAC-influenced ICANN retconning that banned them.

But ever since SubPro delivered its final report, the GAC has been reminding ICANN of its 2013 Beijing communique advice, which stated: “For strings representing generic terms, exclusive registry access should serve a public interest goal.”

At the time, this amounted to an effective ban, but today it’s become an enabler.

ICANN has for the last several months been coaxing the GNSO and the GAC to the negotiating table to help bring the SubPro stalemate into line with the Beijing communique, and the rules of engagement pretty much guarantee that closed generics will be permitted, as least in principle, in the next application round.

GAC chair Manal Ismail told ICANN (pdf) back in April:

discussion should focus on a compromise to allow closed generics only if they serve a public interest goal and that the two “edge outcomes” (i.e. allowing closed generics without restrictions/limitations, and prohibiting closed generics under any circumstance) are unlikely to achieve consensus, and should therefore be considered out of scope for this dialogue.

Remarkably, the GNSO agreed to these terms with little complaint, essentially allowing the GAC to set at least the fundamentals of the policy.

Last week, talks centered on how these bilateral negotiations — or trilateral, as the At-Large Advisory Committee is now also getting a seat at the table — will be proceed.

The rules of engagement were framed by ICANN (pdf) back in March, with the idea that talks would begin before ICANN 74, a deadline that has clearly been missed.

The GNSO convened a small team of members to consider ICANN’s proposals and issued its report (pdf) last week, which now seems to have been agreed upon by the Council.

Both GNSO and GAC are keen that the talks will be facilitated by an independent, non-conflicted, knowledgeable expert, and have conceded that they may have to hire a professional facilitator from outside the community.

That person hasn’t been picked yet, and until he/she has taken their seat no talks are going to happen.

ICANN said a few months ago that it did not expect the closed generics issue to delay the SubPro Operational Design Phase, which is scheduled to wind up in October, but the longer the GAC, GNSO and ICANN dawdle, the more likely that becomes.

All that has to happen is for a group of 14-16 community members to agree on what “public interest” means, and that should be easy, right? Right?

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.

Amazon governments not playing ball with Amazon’s .amazon

Kevin Murphy, June 13, 2022, Domain Policy

Governments in South America are refusing to play nicely with Amazon over its controversial .amazon dot-brand.

Speaking at ICANN 74 in The Hague this morning, Brazil’s representative on the Governmental Advisory Committee said that ICANN’s decision to delegate .amazon to the retail giant a couple of years ago contravenes the multi-stakeholder process and is “incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples”.

Luciano Mazza de Andrade said that the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, which is membered by the eight governments of the Amazonia region, wrote to Amazon in December to decline an offer to reserve a number of .amazon domains.

Amazon’s contract with ICANN contains a Public Interest Commitment that grants ACTO and its members one usable .amazon domain each, and 1,500 blocks overall for culturally sensitive strings.

The company had given ACTO a December 19 deadline to submit its list of strings, but it seems its members do not acknowledge the contract’s validity.

“Among other points it underlined that ACTO member states did not give consent to the process of adjudication of the .amazon top-level domain and that they did not consider themselves bound by said decision or the conditions attached to it including the above mentioned Public Interest Commitment,” Brazil’s rep said.

He added that “the adjudication of the top-level domain to a private company without our approval and authorization does not respect the applicable rules, expressly contravenes the multistakeholder nature of ICANN’s decision-making process of interest, and is incompatible with the expectations and sovereign rights of the Amazon peoples.”

ACTO has previously described the delegation of .amazon as “illegal and unjust”.

Amazon has a handful of live .amazon domains, which redirect to various services on amazon.com.

GoDaddy acquires two education-themed gTLDs

GoDaddy seems to have added another two new gTLDs to its portfolio under a deal with Open Universities Australia.

ICANN records published today show that the contracts for .study and .courses were both reassigned in March and GoDaddy Registry is already running both registries’ web sites.

Neither TLD is a big seller. They have a few thousand names under management each and currently retail for $30 to $50 a year.

GoDaddy was already the back-end provider for both, so the amount of disruption is likely to be minimal.

New gTLDs or Whois access? What’s more important?

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2022, Domain Policy

Should ICANN focus its resources on getting the next round of new gTLDs underway, or making some baby steps towards a post-GDPR system of Whois access?

That’s a question the community is going to have to address when ICANN 74 rolls around next month, after the ICANN board presented it with a divisive question on two of the industry’s most pressing issues that split the GNSO Council along predictable lines at its monthly meeting last week.

It turns out that ICANN doesn’t have the resources to both design a new “SSAD Light” system for handling Whois requests and also carry on its new gTLDs Operational Design Phase, “SubPro”, at the same time.

If the community wants ICANN staff to start work on SSAD Light, work will be paused on the ODP for at least six weeks, ICANN has said. If they want the system also built, the delay to new gTLDs could be much, much longer.

Intellectual property lawyers are of course keen to at least start undoing some of the damage caused by privacy legislation such as GDRP, while registries and consultants are champing at the bit for another expansion of the gTLD space.

This split was reflected on the Council’s monthly call last week, where registry employees Maxim Alzoba, Kurt Pritz and Jeff Neuman were opposed by IP lawyers Paul McGrady and John McElwaine.

“Six weeks is a sneeze in a hurricane,” McGrady said. “We are right on the cusp of taking first steps to solve a problem that has plagued the Community since GDPR came out. I don’t think a six-week delay on SubPro, which again we’re years into and it looks like will be years to go, is a material change to SubPro… a very minor delay seems well worth it.”

At this point, ICANN is still planning to have the SubPro ODP wrapped up in October, thought it has warned that there could be other unforeseen delays.

Neuman warned that even a six-week pause could provide more than six weeks delay to SubPro. Staff can’t just down tools on one project and pick up again six weeks later without losing momentum, he said.

Pritz seemed to echo this concern. The Registries Stakeholder Group hasn’t finished discussing the issue yet, he said, but would be concerned about anything that caused “inefficiencies” and “switching costs”.

The discussion was pretty brief, and no votes were taken. It seems the conversation will pick up again in The Hague when ICANN meets for its short mid-year public meeting on June 13.

ICANN kicks the can on .web yet again

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2022, Domain Policy

Did Verisign cheat when it bought .web for $135 million in 2016? ICANN will make its mind up one day, but not today.

The ICANN board of directors has asked the three parties in the contested new gTLD auction for an info dump, so it can decide, presumably before the end of the year, whether to bar the top two bids for breaking the rules.

The Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee has written to Verisign, Nu Dot Co (the proxy Verisign used to hide its bid) and Afilias (aka Altanovo, the second-place bidder) to ask them to condense their last six years of claims and counter-claims into two 75-page documents.

Afilias reckons Verisign and NDC broke the rules by not disclosing that the former was secretly bankrolling the latter’s winning bid. It wants the bid invalidated, allowing Afilias to take over .web for a cheaper price.

Verisign has counter-claimed that Afilias should be disqualified for allegedly privately communicating with NDC during a pre-auction comms blackout period. It’s published screenshots of text messages it says prove this took place.

The Independent Review Process complaint against ICANN technically resulted in a win for Afilias, with the IRP panel ruling that ICANN broke its bylaws by not making a decision on Verisign’s alleged rule-breaking back in 2016.

That decision was reached in December, and ICANN has been faffing around pointedly not making a decision ever since.

Now, BAMC wants the parties to present their final pleadings in this ongoing drama.

It wants both side to “provide a comprehensive written summary of their claims and the materials supporting their claims” in order “to ensure that the BAMC is reviewing a complete picture of the parties’ positions”.

I don’t think there’s anything untoward about this — BAMC is basically just doing what the IRP panel told it to, albeit it in a roundabout way — but it is a little surprising that it thinks there isn’t enough information about their complaints in the public domain already.

As well as three years of legal filings, there are extensive transcripts of seven days of hearings that took place in 2020. ICANN will have access to the unredacted versions, too, which include details of the Verisign-NDC deal that the rest of us aren’t allowed to look at.

Maybe there’s just too much information to wade through.

Under the BAMC’s new process, the parties have until July 15 to present their cases, then another month to rebut their opponents with a further 30-page document.

Assuming the subsequent decision proceeds at ICANN Speed (which is to say, glacial) I don’t think we can reasonably expect a decision before the fourth quarter.