Jackson Hts., New York, May 10, 2014 - Since the idea of a public interest city-Top Level Domain emerged from a local Community Board in 2001, we’ve been exploring the meaning of the “public interest” as it relates to cities and TLDs. A key component of our work has been to detail ways a TLD can best serve the social and economic needs of our city’s residents and organizations.
When we published the Towards City TLDs In The Public Interest white paper in 2007, we set out some general principles about the meaning of the public interest. And last Fall, when Bill de Blasio was selected mayor in what’s been called a “progressive” landslide, we began to think about how a city-TLD might be developed by a “progressive” city hall.
As a reference point, our research first looked at the Progressive Caucus’ Statement of Principles which begins:
"The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council is dedicated to creating a more just and equal New York City, combating all forms of discrimination, and advancing public policies that offer genuine opportunity to all New Yorkers, especially those who have been left out of our society’s prosperity."
and we began to think about ways the Caucus’ principles might be reflected in .nyc’s development.
But it was only this past Monday, with the start of the Sunrise registrations - an early opportunity for trademark owners to pick their desired .nyc domain names - that our thinking coalesced around several development policies that could provide more fairness and include the “left outs” in our TLD’s development.
The spark for our progressive enlightenment was the regressive nature of the Sunrise registrations. For example, the city will charge Google $15 to register Google.nyc but our local coffee shop, Ricky’s Cafe, will need to pay $30 for RickysCafe.nyc (if it can get the name at all - see the Landrush discussion below). While of minor financial significance, this realization spun the propeller on our thinking caps, and today we’re proposing several ideas that add a “progressive flavor” to four areas of our TLD’s roll-out: the Founders Program, Premium Name sales, the Landrush, and Name Retailing.
- Founders Programs - The Founders Program is a marketing effort that looks to attract prominent or innovative entities to say, in essence, “We’ve joined the .nyc bandwagon, why don’t you.” The Founders Program began recruiting participants this past Monday and will last 40 days. (Founders Program details are available here.)
Progressive Founders Program - A progressive program would provide the opportunity for existing institutions - schools, hospitals, museums… - to participate. This will require education efforts that show these sectors how our new digital infrastructure supports their existing plans and how it will facilitate their future development. The traditional targets for a Founders Program, a Macy’s or a New York Post, are part of giant corporations with digital staffs and advertising budgets accustomed to flowing with the newest technology developments. In developing their Founders Program, the developers of .paris dedicated 120 days for education of specialized groups, 3 times what is planned here. Following the .paris example will provide more opportunities for those typically left out. More time and focused meetings are required, and perhaps forums and a hackathon to facilitate collaboration. (Download more on the Paris program here.)
- Premium Names - These are valuable names such as news.nyc, sports.nyc, and tours.nyc. The plan calls for high-bid auctions, beginning in August to decide who gets what name. Deep pockets will be required. When we think, for example, about the news.nyc domain name, it’s clear there are a dozens of media moguls capable of bidding a million dollars for it with nary a second thought. It’s hard to see opportunity for the “left out” in the current plan. There’s nothing progressive about this policy.
Progressive Premium Names Policy - Imagine providing an on-ramp to those typically “left out” to organize their thoughts about innovative uses for a name such as news.nyc. And imagine the city sponsoring some hackathons to enable innovators to exchange ideas, form teams, and gain access to capital - as it does with BigApps. Here too additional time is needed to imagine new enterprises constructed of innovation and social capital. (More here.)
- Landrush - On August 8 all the names not selected during Sunrise or set aside for Founders, for Premium auctions, or for government use will become available through 30 or so resellers (registrars) that have been selected by the city’s contractor. During this 60 day period New Yorkers can bid on any of the available domain names - without regard to whether it might currently be the name of an existing business. At the conclusion of Landrush those names with a single bidder become active. Those names with more than one bidder go into a high-bid, winner-take-all auction.
Progressive Landrush - We have two concerns with Landrush. The first involves the ability of existing firms to claim their .nyc domain name. Under the current plan, Ricky’s Cafe has no right to claim the name it’s been using for 20 years. In contrast, London established Priority Period Rules that enable existing entities to upload papers that establish their priority for a .london name. Why mom and pop here should be treated with disregard while those with an International Trademark get a priority selection period seems like an affront to the “left outs” and regressive. Fairness says we must learn from the London approach. (Download London Priority Rules.) The second Landrush concern involves a high-bider auction that comes into play when more than one application is received for a domain name. Let’s imagine that there are two bidders for a domain name, say TonysPizza.nyc, with neither having a priority. The winner & loser outcome of a high-bidder auction seems less than progressive. ICANN encouraged collaboration amongst competing TLD bidders in the hope of avoiding auctions. I suspect we can do something progressively similar here. How about facilitating bidders’ ability to connect with one another in the hope or reaching an accommodation, with an auction only if needed.
- Domain Name Retail Sales - As currently envisioned, domain names will be sold by 30 or so accredited resellers, all with their headquarters outside the city. So every domain name sold will have money flowing out of our city, creating jobs and wealth elsewhere.
Progressive Domain Name Retail Sales - This is a new and growing business area that should be providing local jobs. The city should encourage and facilitate the licensing and training of local resellers. Local resellers will make domain name registration accessible to end users: think specialized resellers focused on Brooklyn, on sports, civics, or mom & pops. Competition and choice of this sort is good for end users. Lots of small businesses should be popping that sell names or package them with hosting and other services creating jobs for those “left out.”
There are positive signs from city hall that more thoughtful policies might be forthcoming. Monthly meetings are now held by a .NYC Community Advisory Board. And more civic names, such as the neighborhood names, are being considered for distribution using thoughtful processes.
But the administration’s progress toward a more reasoned approach (let’s say progressive) must confront a 5 year contract the Bloomberg Administration signed with Neustar, a Virginia firm, to market and operate the .nyc TLD. Entitled to 60% of the Premium Name auction and other name sales revenue, Neustar has an opportunity to fill it’s pockets this Summer.
Real progress depends on persuading Neustar that the long term view is where its interest lies. Perhaps an extension of the contract term to 10 years will enable them to look toward a long term relationship (we’re already 2+ years into that 5 year contract). Or perhaps Neustar can be convinced that with a successful .nyc under its belt - demonstrated by metrics showing how the TLD contributed to a more livable and prosperous environment - it will be positioned to sell its services to the 300+ cities with 1 million+ population that have yet to apply for their TLDs.
Looking at the Progressive Caucus’ Statement of Principles presents other possibilities for imaging the operation of a TLD under a progressive city administration, particularly in the areas of transparency, accountability, and enhancing democratic participation. These will be the focus of a future post.