Since 1998, there has been a separation between domain registries that manage and operate Top Level Domains (TLD ) and the registrars that sell domain names. That policy of separation will not be carried forward for a new generation of TLDs ,set to emerge over the course of the next several years.
A number of domain name industry stakeholders -- including the .org registry and TLD operator Afilias -- opposed the move to remove the separation of registries from registrars. They argued that having cross-ownership could lead to abuses and lack of competition. With a new ICANN policy set to enable cross-ownership, consumer protections will be put in place which may help alleviate those concerns.
"After much debate on the issue of vertical integration, this month the ICANN board voted to allow registrars own new TLD registries," Roland LaPlante, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at Afilias told InternetNews.com. "To be clear, Afilias raised concerns about whether adequate consumer protection could be assured in vertically integrated registries/registrars. ICANN has adopted specific mechanisms designed to guard against abusive practices that could harm domain name registrants."
With the new ICANN policy, there is now an opportunity for Afilias to profit from the new rules. LaPlante noted that many registrars have already approached Afilias as a potential back-end service for TLDs they plan to apply for.
On the issue of trying to prevent potential abuse of the registry/registrar cross-ownership, LaPlante said that governance of registrar/registry ownership is an ICANN issue. That said, he added that Afilias has a positive track record of ensuring that all registrars have equal access to its registry system. According to LaPlante, it is Afilias' intention to continue to be vigilant in that area.
While ICANN has opened the door to cross-ownership, potential domain registry operators will need to overcome a number of technical challenges. That's where Afilias is looking to profit, with services for potential new TLD registry/registrar owners.
"Afilias is offering a white-labeled registry service to registrars that seek to launch new TLDs in this upcoming round," LaPlante said. "We also offer this service, as we do for 15 other TLDs, to corporations or communities looking to launch their new TLD bids."
As part of the new round of TLDs from ICANN, Afilias has previously announced that it is part of a bid for the .eco TLD. With cross-ownership now possible, the ownership landscape of the overall domain name industry could be shifting as well.
"There are a variety of models that may come about from this new TLD round for Afilias or other registry providers - whether as simply service providers, joint ventures, or applying for new TLDs directly," LaPlante said. "We will be making some exciting announcements as the new TLD application timeframe is finalized."
ICANN is now in the public comment phase for the final Applicant Guidebook for new generic TLDs. The public comment period ends on December 10th, after which ICANN plans on spending four months on market outreach about the new TLDs application process.