The ICANN Board voted last week to indicate support in principle for a change in registration rules that would end "domain tasting" -- the practice in which folks register millions of domain names and monitor them, over the next few days, to find the ones that get enough hits that they will turn a profit from pay-per-click revenues even after deducting registration fees. The taster will keep those names (say, 5000 out of a million names registered) and delete the rest, incurring no cost for the deleted names so long as all of the action takes place within the five-day Add Grace Period. The ICANN Board has now expressed support for ending domain tasting by imposing fees on registrations of names that are deleted within the AGP.
Domain tasting is tremendously unpopular in domain-name circles, and eliminating it seems uncontroversial. Someone new to this sandbox, though, someone who isn't used to ICANN and the current brand of domain-name politics, might have some questions to ask:
Why, he might ask, did it take the ICANN Board to put an end to domain tasting? If registrars didn't like people ordering millions of items in their inventories and cancelling the orders five days later, why did they allow them to do it? No retailer of shoes, or books, would put up with that. So why were the hands of registrars and registries tied? The answer is that the details of the Add Grace Period are mandated in ICANN regulatory documents (see, e.g., Appendix 7 of the .COM registry agreement) that bind registries and registrars. Those ICANN mandates created the domain tasting industry. And why, our hypothetical newcomer might go on to ask, does ICANN regulation speak to all of this in the first place? Well, you might answer, ICANN regulation speaks to a lot of things. ICANN registry contracts traditionally have been about two inches thick. And why is *that*, he might ask? Well . . . it's a good question.
In an alternate universe, none of this regulation would make any sense. In the world contemplated by the 1996 draft-postel plan, in which each registry would run its own affairs, none of this would make any sense. We're not in that world, though. The White Paper gave us the system of separate registrars and registries as part of the same process that gave us ICANN. That meant that there had to be some external regulation of the registrar-registry relationship, if only to make sure that registries and registrars didn't do anything that would mess up their legal separation -- and it was sensible to give ICANN that job. Moreover, when the issue was whether Verisign should have untrammeled authority over its own operations or whether ICANN should be able to restrain that monopoly in some way, even some ICANN minimalists haven't always seen its authority over registries as so bad.
But still, our newcomer might ask: Can that justify the sort of pervasive regulation ICANN has been engaging in all along? If ICANN hadn't created the domain tasting problem by virtue of one-size-fits-all rules it imposed some years back, it wouldn't have to fix it now. With a lighter regulatory hand, none of this would be an issue. Isn't that right?
And, of course, he'd be exactly right.
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