ICANN Takes a Lick at Domain Tasting
I recently became aware of a report by ICANNs staff called “GNSO Issues Report on Domain Tasting” for the At-Large Advisory Committee for an Issues Report on Domain Tasting.
Domain tasting, as defined by the report itself, is:
The “AGP” is the “Add Grace Period,” a period of several days (typically five) following a registration during which the registrant may revoke the registration for a full refund of the registry and ICANN transaction fees.
Its typical of ICANN to refer to the registry fee for the .NAME TLD. Of course, nobody gives a damn about .NAME and, while the issue of domain tasting may affect it technically, as a practical matter theyre irrelevant. Domain tasting is overwhelmingly an issue of and for the .COM namespace, as is the entire domain name boom. Even the ICANN report says that tasting is basically a problem of the .COM space, although it does appear in some of the others.
Some other domains are experiencing healthy growth, such as the .UK and .DE country codes, but even the old standard .NET and .ORG domains are languishing relative to .COM, and the tasting issues parallel the less abusive growth. After all, its all about finding domains people will navigate to, and its an article of faith of those in the domain name business that .COM domains have a large and automatic advantage in popularity. See VeriSigns most recent report on domain name growth for some interesting charts on where the registrations and growth are.
Last year PIR (Public Interest Registry), which runs the .ORG domain, became concerned enough about tasting to ask ICANN for permission to charge a 5 cent excess deletion fee for registrars performing deletions in the AGP in excess of 90 percent of registrations. Ninety percent! My instinct tells me this is excessively tolerant, and of course it is, but no practical tasting operation could be profitable deleting only 89 percent of their registrations. Anyway, the new PIR policy went into effect for June of this year, so its too early to determine the actual impact, and PIR seems not to have released any numbers yet.
.COM Tried to Stop Tasting?”>
Imagine if VeriSign were to impose such a policy for .COM and .NET, which it runs? In Section 3.7 of the ICANN domain tasting report they refer to a May 18, 2007, column I wrote in which I state:
“VeriSign has it in their power, under their .COM registry agreement with ICANN, to stop domain tasting by imposing a restocking fee for abusers, with the standard for abuse left to them.“
The authors of the ICANN report say Im wrong. From the report (page 25):
“(Note, this is not currently permitted in the .COM registry agreement. To provide this service, VeriSign would have to submit a request to ICANN through the Registry Services Evaluation Policy.)“
Patrick Jones of ICANN (one of the authors of the report) and I followed up on this some in e-mail, and he brought it to the attention of the domain tasting working group. But despite one inquiry from a member into my claims, Jones insists that its more complicated than I state:
“ICANN evaluates requests for new registry services under the Registry Services Evaluation Policy on a registry by registry basis. VeriSign has not submitted a request to implement a restocking fee in .COM or .NET. All requests for new registry services are posted on the ICANN website at http://www.icann.org/registries/rsep/, with opportunities for public comment. We have also improving ICANNs public comment periods with a new page at http://www.icann.org/public_comment/.“
Ive skimmed the Registry Services Evaluation Policy, and perhaps, in the absence of any specific statements about restocking fees, it would be meaningful, but the fact is that the .COM Registry Agreement does have specific statements on the matter. From Appendix 7, Section 3.1.1 (“Add Grace Period”):
“Delete. If a domain is deleted within the Add Grace Period, the sponsoring Registrar at the time of the deletion is credited for the amount of the registration; provided, however, that Registry Operator shall have the right to charge Registrars a fee as may be set forth in its Registry-Registrar Agreement for disproportionate deletes during the Add Grace Period. The domain is deleted from the Registry database and is immediately available for registration by any Registrar. See Section 3.2 for a description of overlapping grace period exceptions.“
It seems to me this interpretation renders the restocking fee section of the .COM agreement meaningless. Jones disagrees.
The bottom line of my read on the subject is that it would be easy to do something about tasting if VeriSign were interested in doing so. Clearly its not. VeriSign obviously thinks that the cost to it of an enormous amount of adds and deletes in the registry is overwhelmed by the registry fees it gets.
If youre interested in the domain tasting issue I recommend reading the report, but dont get excited about the prompt action youd expect it to trigger. Thats not the way ICANN works. After all, theyre the folks who created the mess that allowed domain tasting and ignored it for years. Already theyre spending inordinate amounts of time investigating things everyone knows to be true, effectively protecting the interests of people everyone knows are scammers. If you want to see where they are on the subject you can read the latest draft of the RFI (request for information) document theyre working on (Microsoft Word .DOC format).
Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
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