Archives For Policy Updates

Ongoing information about developments within ICANN that impact the New gTLD Program

We’ve dipped into the alphabet soup of Internet governance meetings, and now it’s time to cover the whole new set of acronyms cropping up in news feeds this week.

These acronyms are coming out of ICANN 51, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) public meeting being held in Los Angeles this week. There are three of these meetings a year, and a variety of stakeholders – Internet users, businesses, policy makers, government representatives – are meeting up in various combinations to take on pressing issues in the DNS (the Domain Name System.) The DNS translates the domain name you type into the corresponding IP address, and connects you to your desired website.

First, a little more on ICANN: ICANN is an internationally organized, non-profit corporation responsible for coordinating the technical services required for the ongoing operation of the Internet. As a private-public partnership, ICANN says it is dedicated to preserving the operational stability of the Internet; to promoting competition; to achieving broad representation of global Internet communities; and to developing policy appropriate to its mission through bottom-up, consensus-based processes.

So, what are some of the groups that comprise this bottom-up, consensus-based policy development process?

GNSO: The Generic Names Supporting Organization is one of the groups that helps coordinate global Internet policy at ICANN. It is responsible for creating policy applicable to generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and is comprised of four stakeholder groups (SG):

  • Commercial Stakeholder Group
    • Here you’ll find the Business Constituency (BC), Internet Service Providers (ISP Constituency), and Intellectual Property professionals (IP Constituency)
  • Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group
    • Non-Commercial users and non-profits
  • Registrars Stakeholder group
  • Registries Stakeholder group
    • Sometimes you’ll hear about the opinions of the “NTAG” – this is the New TLD Applicant Group, entities whose TLDs aren’t operational yet but who might be preparing to enter into the stakeholder group as full voting members once they operate those TLDs. In the mean time, the NTAG helps organize the voices of applicants.

You may also hear about “Advisory Committees” such as:

  • ALAC: The At-Large Advisory Committee is where you can find individual Internet users represented in the policy development process.
  • GAC: The Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) is an advisory committee comprised of appointed representatives of national governments, multi-national governmental organizations and treaty organizations, and distinct economies. It advises the ICANN Board on matters of concern to governments. The GAC operates as a forum for the discussion of government interests and concerns, including consumer interests. As an ICANN advisory committee, the GAC has no legal authority to act but it does report its findings and recommendations to the ICANN Board.
  • SSAC: The Security and Stability Advisory Committee advises the community on – you guessed it – the security and stability of the Internet as it pertains to technical matters of operation, registration, and administration.

There’s plenty more to ICANN, but knowing how different stakeholders group together can help give you a bigger picture of how the multistakeholder model works. For more acronyms and definitions visit beyondthedot.org – a great resource to point folks to for a reference on the world of ICANN and new gTLDs.

Bids

On September 11, 2014, ICANN released an updated Auction Schedule for all remaining contention sets – a situation where more than one organization applied for the same gTLD. The outcome of these ICANN Auctions affects not only the new gTLD applicants involved, but also brand owners looking to register in new gTLDs.

Because of past delays, today’s auction will be the first to settle multiple contention sets in a single round: .BUY, .TECH, and .VIP. All of these strings have multiple applicants and Google and Donuts are featured in all three. It is also the first ICANN Auction for a Latin alphabet string. Thus far, the only contention set resolved by ICANN Auction has been a Chinese IDN, which Beijing Tele-info Network Technology Co., Ltd. won out over Afilias.

The .BUY contention set in particular is a good example of how an auction winner can have a major impact on whether or not a brand owner decides to register in a new gTLD.

The .BUY contention set is between Donuts, Amazon, Google, and Famous Four Media. If Donuts were to win .BUY, brand owners concerned with defensive registrations who have purchased the Donuts DPML Block would be able to breathe easy, as the Block would cover this string. If Famous Four Media wins the contention set, most brand owners will have to proactively register domains in the string to protect their trademarks. Another scenario is if Amazon wins the auction. In its application, Amazon proposed to operate .BUY as not fully open; however, the exact registration policy has not been released. Some brand owners may be able to register in an Amazon-owned .BUY while others may not. This could have significant implications for brands’ online strategies.

As a reminder, the ICANN Auction is the resolution method of last resort. In some cases, applicants involved in a contention set have reached private deals to reach a resolution. Sometimes, especially when the applicants involved have applied for multiple gTLDs, an applicant will give up one string in exchange for keeping another. While the details of these private settlements are not made public, many of the applicants involved in the contention sets up for Auction today have been party to such settlements.

In other instances, these settlements involve paying out the “losing” applicant or applicants for sums that range from the thousands to millions of dollars.

Will the ICANN Auctions result in similar string prices? Or, will holding out for an ICANN Auction lower the sticker price? Further, will the outcome of these ICANN Auctions cause other applicants in contention sets to change course, either in favor of ICANN Auctions or against? We’ll find out soon enough!

The auction began today at 9 AM, but how long it will go is anybody’s guess – the auction is an ascending-clock model, which means that bidders must match the minimum bid for each unit of time in order to move on to the next round. The longer more than one bidder is willing to stay in the auction, the longer it will take to reach a conclusion.

Summer of ICANN

Zane Bundy —  June 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

On New gTLD Program’s Third Anniversary, Webinar Sheds Light On Progress, Role of Program In The Future of Internet Governance

June marks the beginning of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere – longer days, shorter nights and (depending on your internal thermostat) either life-affirming warmth or misery-inducing heat.

This year, June is also notable for Internet governance milestones: Not only does it mark the third anniversary of ICANN’s New gTLD Program, but it’s the month in which ICANN holds its 50th public meeting in London.

In a webinar entitled, “Three Years Beyond the Dot: A Retrospective of the New gTLD Program”, FairWinds President and CEO Nao Matsukata considers the Program in relation to Internet governance and provides key questions to consider as the governance debate develops at home and abroad.

The webinar is divided into four main parts: Overview, Decision to Launch, Evaluation & Measurement, and Conclusion. In the first section, Matsukata plays a short, animated video about the program to get everyone on the “same page” in terms of what new gTLDs are and how the Internet is expanding.

He compared the Internet of the 90’s, when Google search was born and innovative new business models like Amazon and eBay were founded, to the Internet today. It is, he said, a substantially more global network that must grapple with increasingly complex and pressing governance issues, thanks in large part to the revelations of National Security Agency (NSA) spying made public by Edward Snowden in 2013.

In the second section, Matsukata describes the reasons ICANN decided to launch the program, noting that – as is indicated in slide 13, below – “These [three-, four-and five-letter domain names] are sold at prices that are absolutely out of the reach for most people to participate in… It is more and more difficult for even smaller companies to get certain names that might be helpful to them. So the idea behind expanding the space certainly fits the bill for those who are looking to get into the game at a price that’s much more affordable and manageable for small businesses and individuals.”

Slide describing decrease in the supply of 3, 4 and 5 letter domain names in the .COM space

In the third section of his presentation, Matsukata considers the progress of the program based on ICANN’s own promises in its Affirmation of Commitments and the preamble to the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook, as well as significant outcomes, such as trademark protections offered through the Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension System.

Matsukata touches upon the need for greater public awareness of the New gTLD Program, citing FairWinds’ own research, which suggests that – while awareness of new gTLDs is relatively low – willingness to trust .BRAND gTLDs is high (see figure below). He also suggested that multistakeholderism and the rule of law should be thought of as tools to achieve the U.S. objective of a free and open Internet.

Public awareness statistics regarding new gTLDs

To view the deck on SlideShare, click here.

 

 

Depending on the person, the word auction can bring to mind a dusty, hot structure full of livestock and a fast-talking announcer with a Western lilt to his voice or a cool, quiet room of well-dressed art patrons waiting for the next Impressionist masterpiece to be unveiled in a stately building on the Upper East Side.

Auction

Aside from applicants for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and those in the ICANN community, most people probably don’t think of auctions as a way to resolve what are essentially bids for words – words as they appear to the right of the dot in your address bar.

When more than one company or group applies for the same gTLD, a “contention set” is formed. A contention set can be resolved in one of four ways: community priority evaluation, direct negotiation, a private auction not affiliated with ICANN, or an ICANN auction.

The ICANN auction is considered the “auction of last resort”, even by ICANN, since it means the contention set could not be resolved through community priority evaluation or through an agreement between the parties. Additionally, it means that those applicants who “lose” the auction (i.e., those not being awarded the gTLD) will not receive anything from the winning applicant – such as monetary compensation or compensation in the form of select domain names in the TLD in contention – in return for the future Registry Operator being awarded the string.

Given that applicants only receive a 20% ($37,000) application refund after being unsuccessful in an ICANN auction, a number of applicants have been eager to resolve contention sets through other means, including private auctions, where the party (or parties) not awarded the gTLD is (or are) compensated.

While many corporate applicants have voiced hesitation about entering private auctions out of fear that applicants may drive up the bidding to increase their payout, it is likely that more applicants will find a non-ICANN means to resolve contention sets as the scheduled dates for ICANN auctions approach.

The schedule for ICANN auctions, as our own Stephanie Duschesneau explained in a blog posted earlier this year, has caused some consternation among applicants. In response to feedback from the community about the long timeline (the last contention sets were to settle in 2016, “an eternity in business terms”, Stephanie notes), ICANN adjusted the initial auction rules to allow for the resolution of 20 contention sets a month as opposed to 10, moving up the last scheduled auction to March 2015.

According to the current ICANN auction schedule, only one ICANN auction is planned for June 4 because other applicants in contention have postponed going to ICANN auction. In the meantime, 13 strings – or new gTLDs – were resolved last month through private auctions, according to industry blog Domain Incite. Does this mean that applicants are treating the ICANN auction as a last resort, as ICANN had hoped? Possibly, but it’s too soon to tell.

As FairWinds Senior Consultant Lillian Fosteris explained, “Some applicants are eager to move forward and want assurance that the string is theirs. Consequently, they elect to resolve the contention, if possible, sooner, rather than later. Others, including brands that applied for closed generics, are still trying to figure out their next steps. Still others are set on proceeding to ICANN auction, whether it is later this summer or as late as 2015.”

Fosteris also noted that, in the most recent version of the New gTLD Auction Rules, ICANN reserves the right to postpone an auction at its sole discretion and that – in the event of a tie (following the winning bidder being declared in default after the conclusion of an auction) – ICANN will use a random number generator to award the gTLDs.

Private auctions may actually resolve an entirely different question: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a word worth? Judging by what applicants may have already paid for strings like .YOGA, the answer is in the millions, at least to Minds +Machines (now the proud owner of .YOGA). Whether Internet users deliver traffic to websites in .YOGA is another matter, but given that yoga is a $27 billion industry, it may not be a bad bet – or rather, bid.

Brand owners are finally in the clear.

That is, in terms of signing new top-level domain Registry Agreements with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The remaining kinks of an amendment designed to consider the specific trademark needs of brands have been settled

The final fix? Brand owners may now designate three ICANN-accredited registrars to serve as the exclusive registrars for their .BRAND top-level domain, according to a blog entry posted by ICANN Vice President, Domain Name Services Cyrus Namazi.

Namazi announced that the language of the amendment – Specification 13 – is now available for qualifying .BRANDs in full.

ICANN’s new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program Committee (NGPC) approved the long-sought and much-discussed Specification 13 on March 26. But the three-registrar provision raised a potential conflict with another policy devised by the Generic Name Supporting Organization (GNSO) that prohibits discrimination against any accredited registrar.

GNSO – the policy-making arm of ICANN for gTLDs – could have objected  to the three-registrar provision. But it chose not to after considering the unique business case of .BRANDs and public comments submitted on the proposed Specification 13. Since registration is limited in a .BRAND, brands prefer to use a limited number of designated registrars. Specification 13 will now explicitly allow brands to do so.

As we’ve noted before, the incorporation of the entirety of Specification 13 into the Registry Agreement is beneficial for .BRAND applicants. For example, in addressing some of brand owners’ collective concerns with the new gTLD Registry Agreement, the approval of Specification 13 will allow .BRAND applicants to move through the contracting and delegation processes and launch with greater speed.

And that could speed consumer adoption of new gTLDs, given the broad consumer base and digital presence of many brand applicants, and the benefits the .BRAND gTLD model presents for improved online security and consumer trust.

In the 1950s, a psychologist invented the “wug” test to determine when children understand how language indicates and distinguishes between singular, versus plural, items.  The children were shown a picture of a single creature and told that it was a wug. Then the children were shown a picture with two of the creatures and were asked to finish the sentence “There are two ____.”  Children as young as three were able to answer with “wugs”.

So here’s a 21st century version of the wug test: what’s the difference between .PET and .PETS?

According to a recent ruling by International Centre for Dispute Resolution panelist Richard Page, there isn’t enough of one: choosing to set aside UDRP precedent, Page ruled in favor of Google’s assertion that .PET (for which it applied) is confusingly similar to .PETS (for which Donuts Inc., a domain name registry, applied).

“The visual similarity and algorithmic score are high, the aural similarity is high, the meaning similarity is high. Objector has met its burden of proof. The cumulative impact of these factors is such that the Expert determines that the delegation of <.pet> gTLD and the <.pets> gTLD into the root zone would cause a probability of confusion.”

Wug

As Keven Murphy of DomainIncite points out in his blog on the ruling, other panelists came to the opposite conclusions in two cases before the New gTLD String Confusion Panel, one that found .HOTEL/.HOTELS were not confusingly similar and neither were .CAR/.CARS.  FairWinds’ own legal specialist, Steve Levy, commented that “as we feared, this will lead to an inconsistent patchwork of rulings on singular vs. plural new gTLDs even though this seems to have been a non-issue in conventional domain names.”

So take the Wug test for the Internet Age for yourself and let us know what you think – how will the content on .KID differ from .KIDS? Or how will Internet users decide to go to a website in the .LOAN gTLD as opposed to one in .LOANS?

The results of a new study on the security risks of proposed generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) names likely will lead to delays of many new gTLD applications by at least four months. The majority of new gTLDs are “low risk” and got the green light to proceed, although these “low risk” applicants must still wait 120 days after signing their contracts before they can activate any domain names in their gTLDs. Higher risk applications could be delayed longer.

It is common practice among enterprises to use extensions that look like gTLDs when creating and naming networks, and so the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) commissioned this security study to look into instances where conflicts occur. In some cases, such a conflict could cause users to be redirected to different locations if networks are not properly secured, but in more extreme cases, these conflicts could result in increased opportunities for hackers to penetrate corporate networks.

Based on the number of conflicts found, categorized each as “low risk” or “high risk” for confusion. The study was unable to find enough information on certain gTLDs, which were labeled as “uncalculated risk”. ICANN’s recommendations for each category is as follows:

  • gTLDs categorized as “low risk” can proceed to delegation, though applicants must wait 120 days after signing the Registry Agreement before they can activate any domain names in their gTLD.
    • This applies to 80 percent of the total applied-for strings.
    • Because all applicants must also complete pre-delegation testing and request delegation from IANA after signing the Registry Agreement before they can delegate and begin actively using their gTLD, the 120-day delay is unlikely to substantially delay the delegation of these gTLDs.
    • After the gTLD is delegated, applicants must wait an additional 30 days before activating domain names. During this time, if any conflicts mentioned above occur, the applicant (now the gTLD Registry Operator) is responsible for notifying the points of contact of the IP addresses that make conflicting requests.
  • gTLDs categorized as “uncalculated risk” will not proceed to delegation until they have been further studied; ICANN expects these additional studies to take an 3-6 months to complete.
    • This applies to 20 percent of the total applied-for strings.
    • These gTLDs are likely to experience delays longer than the aforementioned 3-6 months, since it’s likely that they’ll have to implement additional mitigation measures as well.
  • The two “high risk” gTLDs will be delayed indefinitely until something can be done to place them in the “low risk” category.
    • This applies to .HOME and .CORP

This is a good topic to bring up with your IT department. ICANN’s recommendations are currently up for public comment on ICANN’s site.