This week, ICANN published an Independent Review Panel (IRP) decision in a long-running dispute about .web. You can read the background and the result of the decision here.
So, what’s next for .web? It depends.
Afilias was the runner-up in the auction for .web. It argues that had Verisign (NASDAQ: VRSN) not secretly bankrolled a rival bidder, it would have won the auction for about $70 million.
The IRP ruled that ICANN must decide if Verisign’s deal with another bidder was allowed under the program. It admonished ICANN for not previously making a decision in the matter.
There’s a wrinkle in the case, however. Afilias sold its registry business to Donuts at the end of last year. It did not sell the “rights” to .web, though. It retained its .web position, along with a registrar and some mobile technology, in a business it is calling Altanovo.
I suspect there were two reasons that whatever rights Afilias might get to .web weren’t included in the Donuts deal. First, it’s a legal fight Donuts probably doesn’t want to hassle with. Donuts was also an applicant for .web and sued after the auction, but let the matter rest after that suit was dismissed. Second, Donuts’ current CEO, Akram Atallah, led ICANN’s Global Domains Division at the time of the .web auction and had some responsibility for ICANN’s (lack of) response. The optics wouldn’t be good.
So, does Altanovo care about .web anymore? It issued a press release suggesting that it does.
If it were to secure .web, it could likely sell it to Donuts. Or it could run it on its own with a backend partner.
But here’s a question: is .web really worth $70 million? I find it hard to believe that a registry could justify that price tag for this domain, knowing what we do about the success of top level domains. You can rightly argue that .web is the “best” new TLD, but $70 million still seems like a tough number to generate an ROI.
It seems like the best scenario for Altanovo is for Verisign to pay it to drop the fight. ICANN asked the parties to try to work it out, and the only foreseeable way it could be worked out is a payoff. But I doubt that will happen.
Barring a settlement, ICANN will have to make a decision on whether Verisign’s deal was allowed under the applicant guidebook. ICANN will be deciding between a behemoth that can take it to court (and that agreed to pay ICANN $20 million as part of a deal to raise .com prices) and a shell of a company in Altanovo.
So, what do you think ICANN will decide?
Mark Thorpe says
ICANN will probably allow Verisign to keep .WEB
Without being an expert on all the facts myself, at the “hunch” level I suspect you are right.
Altanov’s press release claims that IRP panel’s ruling says that ICANN’s decision in .WEB can be a subject for another IRP.
I couldn’t find this any where in that final ruling document. Did you see that? If that is the case, there won’t be .WEB until 2023 and beyond.
“The IRP ruled that ICANN must decide if Verisign’s deal with another bidder was allowed under the program.”
It seems to me that people would instinctively and intuitively prefer that the real question is about whether “secretly bankrolled a rival bidder” is right or wrong in an ultimate sense, both moral and legal, while the practical issue is only whether ICANN simply followed its own rules, yes? Reminds me of how Chris Ambler mentioned the issue of ICANN simply following its own rules.
On the former, truly crooked forms of collusion are what “conspiracies” are, but at this point, and without being an expert on all the facts myself by any means, I have never yet been convinced from what I have seen that there was anything wrong per se with merely having a deep pocketed partner bankrolling one’s offer behind the scenes. Maybe there was a moral and legal problem, and maybe not.
Additionally, aside from any such concern, perhaps there is a legitimate “antitrust” issue to begin with anyway, or more than one involving more than one entity?
On the latter issue, i.e. whether anything was really allowed under ICANN’s “program,” I simply don’t know about that to give an opinion, though I’m sure others who frequent the blog comments do.
And before all that, even though it was already litigated, there is the question of the Ambler claims. For example, even though there was a ruling, was it really a good, just and honest one? See the discussion over here for that:
READER’S NOTE / WARNING:
Discovered a grossly misleading back-dated edit to Mr. Murphy’s comment here today:
See my reply today, at least for as long as he even allows it to appear, and in its true unedited form.
Andrew Allemann says
Why are you writing about this on my site?
Toe Jam says
John linking to their past comments again. How much do you get paid to link to old domain comments bro?
While the applicant guidebook allowed for joint-ventures, NDC never disclosed it was a JV between them and Verisign. For me, that’s enough reason to dismiss NDC application.
Note that not willing to do a private auction, which is the reason the other applicants didn’t like Verisign’s move, is not a reason to dismiss the application.
Andrew Allemann says
So do you think the .blog domain should be clawed back from Automattic? Similar circumstances.
Depends on how much similar, notably where Automattic was in control since the application period. But could be.
Jovenet Consulting says
“You can rightly argue that .web is the “best” new TLD” : why? Because we talk about it? Why would it be different from .GLOBAL .ONLINE .WEBSITE .BEST or .SITE ?
.web is nice in some ways to those already involved with domains and publishing, but in terms of what might actually resonate and become very popular with people in the world at large, I don’t think it’s in the same league as this even though this is more narrow in focus:
Andrew Allemann says
Three letters. Common reference to the online world. No confusion between other strings, such as .website vs. site.