Registrar Stakeholder Group questions if Minds + Machines is complying with registry and registrar agreements.
The separation between registry and registrar is being blurred with the introduction of new TLDs. For the first time, gTLD registries can also own domain name registrars.
This uncharted territory is sure to lead to first time issues that need to get ironed out. Here’s the first major one to be raised.
The ICANN Registrar Stakeholder Group (RrSG) is questioning Minds + Machines’ Priority Registration System and if the registry Minds + Machines is giving discriminatory access to its own registrar (also called Minds + Machines).
Domain Name Wire has obtained a letter (pdf) the group sent to ICANN contractual compliance today.
As background, the Priority Registration System allows a registrant to reserve a domain name and be guaranteed it will get it when the domain name launches. The system is enabled by Online Priority Enhanced Names database (“OPEN”).
In theory, any registrar can join OPEN and offer the service to their customers.
But RrSG argues that this isn’t exactly the case. It says that the Priority Registration System was enabled before Minds + Machines had finalized its Registry/Registrar Agreement (RRA), so other registrars were not able to join and therefore Minds + Machine’s registrar had discriminatory access.
RrSG questions if three contractual clauses are being honored:
* Section 2.9(a) of the New gTLD Registry Agreement – Registry Operator must provide non-discriminatory access to Registry Services to all ICANN accredited registrars that enter into and are in compliance with the registry-registrar agreement for the TLD
* Section 1(a) of Specification 9 of the New gTLD Registry Agreement – “…directly or indirectly show any preference or provide any special consideration to any registrar with respect to operational access to registry systems and related registry services…
* Section 3.7.3 of the 2013 RAA – “3.7.3 Registrar shall not represent to any actual or potential Registered Name Holder that Registrar enjoys access to a registry for which Registrar is Accredited that is superior to that of any other registrar Accredited for that registry.”
In reading the clauses, it seems that there might be a number of interpretations which ICANN will have to address.
Regarding the first one, if no other registrars have yet signed a R/R agreement with Minds + Machines, then is it actually discriminating amongst contracted registrars?
It seems that RrSG also isn’t sure which entity is making claims regarding enhanced access to the registry. Is MindsandMachines.com the registrar site, registry site, or both?
ICANN’s response will set precedent and may affect other registry’s launch plans.
Antony Van Couvering, CEO of Minds + Machines, released this statement to Domain Name Wire in response to the letter:
It’s clear that registrars want clarification on the rules around common ownership of registry and registrar, and we want that too, and have approached ICANN separately to ask for it. What we’re seeing now are very divergent interpretations of what the registry code of conduct really means. On the one side, registrars are concerned that registries don’t provide a commercial advantage to a house registrar — hence this letter. On the other side, some registries are refusing to provide their RRA to the Minds + Machines registrar unless we sign contracts that give them enforcement powers over their interpretation of how we should operate. We’re stuck in the middle. It seems that the only way to make everyone happy is to make everything a clone of .com, which is not what we think domain registrants want, and which is the opposite of the innovation and choice and competition that are enshrined as the core values of the gTLD program.
We value registrars commercially and have close relationships with many of them. It’s unfortunate, from our perspective, that the Registrar Stakeholder Group decided to use Minds + Machines as a test case, because it isn’t on point with regard to the bigger issue and we are confident that our Priority Reservation program is fair, fully within the rules, and is really great for customers.
We’re going to go through the usual ICANN channels to make our case, and simply note that this can’t have taken any registrars by surprise. We made a big announcement of the program at the ICANN Buenos Aires meeting, got the domain name industry press to cover it (as well as the Financial Times and others) and made every effort to sign up as many ICANN-accredited registrars as we could, including having multiple meetings with many of them at the ICANN meeting, some on the very evening we made the announcement. We have over a dozen registrars signed up, including some that voted to send the letter to ICANN.
Therefore I take this letter as a proxy for a bigger issue — that everyone, including us, is seeking clarity on how registries and registrars engage each other in this new gTLD world. We’ve already seen the vagueness lead to anti-competitive behavior from both camps and ICANN could do us all a favor by providing some guidance.”