ICANN Accra Meeting Topic: Redemption Grace Periods for Deleted Names
Posted: 7 March 2002
One of the topics to be discussed at the ICANN Public Forum on 13 March 2002 in Accra, Ghana, is a proposal to institute a "Redemption Grace Period" for deleted domain name registrations. This grace period proposal was originally posted on the ICANN website as a discussion paper dated 14 February 2002. A supplemental discussion paper was posted on 20 February 2002.
In summary, the Redemption Grace Period would create a new "safety net" following any deletion of a domain name (in the unsponsored TLDs currently .biz, .com, .info, .name, .net and .org). The grace period would allow the domain-name registrant, registrar, or registry operator time to detect and correct any mistaken deletions. During the grace period, the deleted name will be placed on REGISTRY-HOLD, which will prevent the name from functioning/resolving (this tends to call attention to the impending deletion).
The discussion papers called for community discussion of the proposal. To receive community input and suggestions prior to the ICANN meetings in Accra, a mailbox was established at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
To assist in the discussion at the ICANN Accra meeting, this topic paper summarizes the comments that have been received on the redemption grace period proposal and provides links to additional documents discussing the proposal. It concludes with suggestions for proceeding.
As of 6 March, ICANN received forty-seven (47) comments (and a lot of spam) at the email@example.com account. Twenty-eight (28) comments expressed a favorable opinion toward the proposal; seven (7) were negative, and twelve (12) were neutral.
Comments in Support (28). Supporters of the proposal outnumbered opponents four to one (28 vs. 7). Even more significant than their numerical predominance was the specific and concrete nature of the commentary in the favorable comments. Several of these commentators described unintended deletions of domain names they had encountered and the losses they had suffered. They recited several compelling examples of unfortunate incidents that could have been prevented by the implementation of a Redemption Grace Period.
Michael Speicher of High Voltage Interactive wrote about a domain he had registered that was deleted without his receiving notice that it had expired: "Our issue began just this past weekend, February 17, 2002 to be exact, when without warning or notification to us OR our web hosting service provider the domain was registered under a new company and with a new domain registrar. Immediately, our e-mail - which is the life line of any business - went away and our website was taken down. It is obvious this instantly became an emergency situation when client, partners and vendors were no longer able to reach us, and more importantly, the domain our company was built around over the last 13 months was taken away." Mr. Speicher's registrar had sent him renewal notices to an e-mail address that he "no longer used." When Mr. Speicher failed to pay a renewal fee, his registrar deleted his domain. Since the registration was within the 45 day auto-renewal period, the domain name was immediately made available for anybody else to register through any other registrar. The domain was promptly registered by a web traffic "broker" that pointed web traffic to a search engine site containing sponsored links. When Mr. Speicher tried to contact the new registrant, it solicited an offer to buy back the domain. Mr. Speicher has not yet been able to recover the domain name.
Two other writers to the comment mailbox also related specific experiences with inadvertent deletions and expressed support for the proposal. In one case the original registrant stated it had not received any expiration notice and learned that its domain had suddenly been registered by another company that was unwilling to give up the name. The other reported case involved a .net second-level domain registered by an agency of the U.S. Government. Again, the renewal notice failed to reach the registrant because the contact e-mail addresses were no longer functional and had not been updated. In this last case the domain registration was restored to the original registrant through the registrar-cooperation mechanism provided for in Section 126.96.36.199 of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (as discussed in the original Redemption Grace Period discussion paper).
A substantial number of the comments expressing support for the idea of a Redemption Grace Period also urged the imposition of a uniform deadline by which registrars would be required to delete names following expiration. Several comments, while agreeing that a "safety net" was needed, also expressed frustration about wanting to register names that had expired several months (or even years) ago, but which still had not yet been deleted.
Some of the supporters of the proposal expressed the opinion that the registry should be able to charge little or nothing for providing the "basic service" associated with redeeming deleted names.
A significant minority wrote to support the idea of a Redemption Grace Period, but suggested giving registrants longer than 30 days: 45 days, 60 days or even 90 days were recommended.
Almost half of the comments received in support of the proposal were straightforward expressions of agreement: "an excellent solution" ... "a good thing" ... "seems like an excellent policy" ... "a very good idea" ... "I Agree That A Grace Period is Needed." Etc., etc.
Negative Comments (7). The timing of registrar deletions was the primary focus of the people who submitted comments in opposition to the Redemption Grace Period proposal. Most of the opponents to the proposal argued that a uniform Redemption Grace Period should not be instituted unless and until a policy is adopted that would force all registrars to delete registrations within a specified period of time following expiration. (As explained in the Supplemental Discussion Paper on this topic, current registrar deletion practices vary some delete expired names within days, while some registrars wait weeks or even months to delete expired domain registrations.)
Another subject of concern to the seven opponents was the proposed cost-recovery service charge that would be levied by registries. Opponents argued that compensating registries for handling requests to redeem inadvertently deleted registrations would be a "lucrative revenue source" and a "new profitable monopoly." One commentator also questioned why registries should be compensated for any lost revenue associated with keeping a large number of domains "on hold" and ineligible for registration while any compensation for registrars' lost opportunities was not discussed.
A few of the writers opposed to the proposal argued that the current non-uniform procedures, which in many cases include multiple renewal notices and even "auto-renew" options, were adequate to safeguard registrants. One opponent stated that registrants should take responsibility for renewing their domains, and urged a stop to "all this hand-holding silliness."
Neutral Comments (12). The 12 "neutral" comments were either from Jeff Williams or didn't express an opinion one way or the other on the Redemption Grace Period proposal. The primary concern of the correspondents that didn't express an opinion on the redemption proposal was the separate issue of registrar domain deletion deadlines. Six writers that were "neutral" to the proposal wrote solely to complain or inquire about the fact that Network Solutions Registrar (AKA Verisign Registrar) routinely does not delete expired domain names at any consistent time following expiration.
On 8 March 2002, the DNSO Intellectual Property Constituency submitted the following comment on the proposal:
IPC Statement on Proposed ICANN Domain Name Redemption Policy
The Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC), one of the seven constituencies of the Domain Name Supporting Organization (DNSO), charged with the responsibility of advising the ICANN Board on policy issues relating to the management of the domain name system, is pleased to offer its support to the redemption grace period for deleted names, as proposed by ICANN on February 14, 2002. The IPC arrived at this decision during its recent March 1 meeting in London, United Kingdom. The proposed redemption period of 30-days would serve as a "safety net" at the registry level, and "would only come into play after a registrar had issued a 'delete command' to the registry." ICANN, Supplemental Discussion Paper: Redemption Grace Period for Deleted Names, February 20, 2002.
The IPC strongly believes that the matter of accidental deletions is a problem that does not distinguish between particular registries, registrars or registrants. It is an industry-wide concern, one that rightly should be addressed at the ICANN level as a matter of policy, and whose solution should be applicable across the spectrum of registrars and registries. A piecemeal solution of individual business models simply will not do. The IPC, like ICANN, is particularly concerned about the effects of accidental deletions on consumers and businesses that are increasingly relying on the Internet to service their commercial needs. See ICANN, Redemption Grace Period for Deleted Names, February 14, 2002. Names associated with intellectual property rights are particularly attractive to theft by hijackers and speculators who have been known to modify information to make it appear as though a request for deletion of the domain name has been made by the registrar. The proposed redemption grace period is thus far the best and most practical insurance policy yet derived to handle these and similar problems. The IPC does add, however, that any "cost recovery" charge imposed by registries should be a reasonable one.
A redemption grace period complements recent efforts by the responsible global Internet community to create a more safe, stable, and reliable online environment. The IPC has consistently worked with ICANN in this regard and we are pleased to do so today with our acknowledgement of support for the proposed redemption grace period.
The following items from media and various websites are also relevant:
BusinessWeek online ran a story dated 7 March 2002, which described the problem of domain registrants who inadvertently let their registrations expire starting with the warning "Beware: Smut-site owners are waiting to grab your URL if you allow your registration for it to lapse."<http://www.businessweek.com/bwdaily/dnflash/mar2002/nf2002037_2837.htm>
Wired magazine carried an earlier story covering the same phenomenon dated 10 December 2001: "Sites Forlorn When Reborn as Porn" <http://www.wired.com/news/ebiz/0,1272,48903,FF.html>
ICANNWatch.org published an opinion piece (praising the proposal) dated 15 February 2002, entitled "Expiring names: ICANN's Grace and Redemption." <http://www.icannwatch.org/article.php?sid=548>
Bret Fausett's icann.Blog entry dated 14 February 2002 reported on the posting of the proposal; he characterized the proposal as "an excellent idea." <http://www.lextext.com/icann/2002/02/14.html#a163>
Newsbytes.com's David McGuire printed an article on the proposal dated 15 February 2002, headlined "ICANN Proposes 'Grace Period' For Deleted Addresses". <http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/174557.html>
Newsbytes.com carried a follow-up article by David McGuire dated 21 February 2002, titled "Addressing Authorities Defend Deleted Name 'Grace Period'". <http://www.newsbytes.com/news/02/174678.html>
Apparently by happenstance, the ICANN Reconsideration Committee received a request for reconsideration from a domain-name holder who lost his domain name due to a registration-system mishap. (Because it is not apparent what action of ICANN the domain-name holder seeks to have reconsidered, additional information has been requested regarding the reconsideration request.)
In his request, the domain-name holder states the following:
This is a domain name we owned and operated for 2 years. Our company name is xtronx, INC. a California corporation.
Currently there exists a situation whereas a person has acquired our domain name. We believe there has been some sort of fraudulent manipulation of the notices sent to us to notify us of an impending change in the domain. We operate our mail servers through this domain name as well as a web site that we operate our business. We will and have lost a great deal of money because of this mistake.
* * *
If an emergency stay is not taken our company will suffer irreparable harm and will stand to loose a great deal of money.
Please take care of this matter as soon as possible.
The comments and articles discussed above make it clear that unintentional deletion of domain names is a serious problem that is causing significant losses to businesses and other domain-name registrants. The potential for these problems is inherent in the shared registration system that supports the competitive registrar system introduced in 1999.
The available evidence demonstrates consumers are being harmed. In addition to the comments received at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, reports in the media and from complaints about registrars received by ICANN indicate that companies are even being put out of business as the result of having their domain registrations deleted contrary to their intentions. Under the current system, victims of this phenomenon face devastating consequences, and often have limited avenues of recourse.
Most of the commentary received prior to the Public Forum on the Redemption Grace Period proposal has been favorable. The opposition to the proposal has been limited in extent and is primarily based on the contention that a solution to the problem of recovering accidentally deleted names should be postponed until all registrars are required to delete registrations at a specified time following expiration. This contention seems unpersuasive: it does not seem necessary or appropriate to delay instituting a relatively non-controversial and easily implemented solution to a well-defined and pressing problem until some hypothetical future date when all issues relating to many other perceived problems with domain expirations (including timing of deletions, transfer of expired names, procedures for re-registering released names, etc.) are resolved in one neat bundle. Resolving all of the perceived issues surrounding domain-name deletions would likely require lengthy policy-development processes that meet the strict requirements for development of "Consensus Policies" set out in ICANN's various agreements with registrars and registry operators. The Redemption Grace Period proposal, on the other hand, allows a way promptly to solve a specific, pressing problem with the cooperation of the affected registry operators.
Accordingly, it would appear to be appropriate to move forward with defining a basic framework of principles for establishing a Redemption Grace Period. There would then be implementation details that would need to be resolved; this could be done by a small technical steering group (convened by the ICANN President and including knowledgeable registry and registrar personnel), which could present a concrete proposal to be considered by the Board at a later meeting.