#StopTheAuctions

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stoptheauctionsJackson Hts., New York, October 5, 2016 –  There were highs and lows in city hall’s rollout of the .nyc TLD last month. Early on we were cheered when we received notification that our application for the JacksonHeights.nyc domain name had been approved. And with the de Blasio Administration committed to putting the city’s 350+ neighborhood domain names under the control of local residents, we began to imagine that our decade-old vision of an “intuitive” city Internet might materialize; where one would find informative presentations of our city’s art galleries at artgalleries.nyc, find banks at banks.nyc, and locate a church at churches.nyc. And with each such directory a bonus would arrive: the opportunity for a New Yorker to form a new small business.

But our confidence plummeted when the city’s contractor announced that a high-bid auction was to be held on October 24 for 20 domain names:

  • Apartments.nyc
  • Construction.nyc
  • Kitchen.nyc
  • Renovation.nyc
  • Brokers.nyc
  • Furniture.nyc
  • Lease.nyc
  • Roommates.nyc
  • Brownstones.nyc
  • Garden.nyc
  • Living.nyc
  • Rentals.nyc
  • Condos.nyc
  • Homes.nyc
  • Lofts.nyc
  • Studios.nyc
  • CoOps.nyc
  • Interiors.nyc
  • RealEstate.nyc
  • Sublet.nyc

These are the first of what might ultimately be 3,000 auctioned names, many of which are vital to the realization of that intuitive city and the utility of the TLD.

The basis of our disappointment is epitomized by the hotels.nyc domain name. It’s reasonable to assume that, in a high-bid auction, an entity such as the Hilton Corporation, with deep pockets and 30 hotels in or near the city, will win. When this occurs two associated outcomes can be predicted with reasonable certainty: a traveler looking to hotels.nyc for a city hotel would assuredly be provided with a highly skewed view of the city’s 250+ hotels (a Hilton perhaps?). And a comprehensive listing of hotels, perhaps creatively mixed to include an AirBnB-like listing, fashioned by a local entrepreneur will never materialize.

With our being awarded the license for JacksonHeights.nyc, we have a big stake in this development: If people come to believe that hotels.nyc and other such civic infrastructure names are in essence offering “biased directories,” what hope is there that they will come to trust that JacksonHeights.nyc presents the considered and collaborative intelligence of its neighborhood namesake?

To summarize, the city has established a workable model to guide the allocation of the neighborhood names, requiring detailed public interest commitments (PICs) from those interested in the rights to their development. Further, those awarded neighborhood name must return every three years to demonstrate they’ve met their PICs. In contrast, the plan for auctioning hundreds, perhaps thousands of these civicly important names does not require any PICs from the auction winners. And there’s no review process whatsoever, with the names issued virtually forever.

#StopTheAuctions

If the city sticks with the high-bid auction (a holdover from the Bloomberg Administration), several negatives will result.

  • Our opportunity to establish .nyc as a managed and trusted TLD, a safe port if you will, will be severely diminished.
  • We’ll loose the opportunity to provide access to these new resources to capital starved entities. The local flavor and creativity will suffer.
  • We’ll loose an opportunity to bolster our digital self reliance. We’ll remain dependent on distant search engines to filter and present our digital resources.

The city should stop the auctions and follow these steps to improve the name allocation process.

  • City Hall should establish a public policy that facilitates the identification and development of civicly valuable domain names.
  • Considering the economic and aggregation benefits that arise with a well managed and trusted digital resource, it should categorize the 3,000 names: those that can be auctioned immediately, names for negotiated allocation (like the neighborhood names), and names that have PICs and are destined for high-bid auction. (Here’s a start.)
  • The city’s Department of Small Business Services should do outreach to small and minority businesses and empower them to participate in these auctions by sponsoring hackathons, networking events, loans, credits…

The city should begin governing the .nyc TLD as a common that belongs to all New Yorkers. While Mayor de Blasio has taken some commendable steps, e.g., the neighborhood names and a nexus policy that restricts ownership to New Yorkers, success requires an investment. The city should immediately re-establish its .NYC Community Advisory Board and enable meaningful public engagement in the auctions, and deal with issues such as abandoned names, idle names, WHOIS, rates, and consumer protections.

Longer term, the city charter needs to be revised to reflect the Internet’s existence.

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Thomas Lowenhaupt is the founding director of Connecting.nyc Inc., a NYS nonprofit education organization advancing the operation of the .nyc TLD as a public interest resource. His 2001 Internet Empowerment Resolution sparked the city’s acquisition of the .nyc TLD. Two years ago the Internet Society of New York and Connecting.nyc sponsored a panel on the allocation of these “premium” domain names. See a report on that meeting here.

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Workshop: Empowering New York City’s Neighborhoods

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Neighborhood Preservation Center

This event’s report is now available.

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March 8, 2016, Jackson Hts., New York – The de Blasio administration has initiated a program to license operators of the 385 neighborhood domain names: Astoria.nyc, Bensonhurst.nyc, Corona.nyc, Ditmars.nyc, Egbertville.nyc, Flatbush.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc…

On Tuesday, March 22 at 7 PM we’re sponsoring a workshop to review that licensing program and explore ways to connect the independent operators of these civic media centers. Here’s the agenda:

  • Update on the city’s neighborhood domain name licensing program.
  • Share experiences and expectations of license applicants.
  • Structure and Voice: What organizational structure will best enable operators of these “dotNeighborhoods” to share best practices and be represented before city and other regulatory entities? How can these operations collaborate to create open-source modules such as ad collaboratives, bulletin boards, calendars, DNS allocators, etc?

One outcome might include the formation of an Alliance of of Neighborhood Media Centers to develop principles, policy positions, and best practices.

Where: The Neighborhood Preservation Center, 232 East 11th Street
When: Tuesday, March 22, 7:00 – 8:30 PM

Light refreshments will be provided. Reserve a seat by emailing [email protected] or using our Meetup reservation page.

Can’t make it? The meeting will be recorded by our co-sponsor, the New York Internet Society.

Note: Interested in operating a neighborhood name? Begin your exploration on our beginners guide Adding Internet Mojo To Neighborhoods.

This event’s report is now available.

 

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Neighborhood Name License, part 3 – Secondary Level Names

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Third Level Domains

Jackson Hts., NYC, February 20, 2016 – This is our third post about concerns we have with the city’s draft Licensing Agreement for neighborhood domain names. In our first we bemoaned a “Without Cause” clause that allows the city to revoke a dotNeighborhood license without notice and without cause. We opined that this policy would preclude any serious investment in developing neighborhood domain names. In our second we spoke of the chilling effects of various content prohibitions and vague language in the License agreement.

Today’s post focuses on a requirement in the draft Licensing Agreement (see Exhibit B, Section 8) that dotNeighborhood operators receive prior written approval before issuing “secondary-level” domain names. Our goal here is to explain how this prior-approval policy reduces the potential of the dotNeighborhoods. But first a bit of background secondary-level domain names.

Background

Like many words and phrases in the draft License Agreement “secondary-level domain” is not defined. And since it can easily be confused with second level domain names, we need to take a close look at the terms.

Second level vs. Secondary-levels – By reserving the 385 neighborhood domain names and requiring detailed applications and license agreements from applicants, city hall established tight control over these 385 second level domain names. Our Pizza.Harlem.nyc graphic above shows the 2nd level (Harlem) and 3rd level (Pizza) domains. But there can be far more levels than that. While seldom used there can be a 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, all the way up to 127th level of domain names. In total these comprise what the city is calling “secondary-level” domain names. (An explanation on the domain name system (DNS) and the rules governing the use of these 127 levels can be found in Wikipedia.)

What the city apparently intends to do by requiring that the operator of a dotNeighborhood domain name receive written consent prior to issuing a “secondary-level domain” is to extend its control over the entire breadth of the neighborhood domains, not just the 385 2nd level neighborhood domain names, but all potential names within the 127 secondary-levels.

The Chrysalis

One of the promising opportunities neighborhood domain names offer arises through the development of these secondary-level domain names. Seldom used on the commercial Internet, we see the secondary-levels as a Chrysalis within the domain name system, with a Monarch awaiting emergence.

The secondary-level names add an intuitive layer to the naming system. They build upon what’s already in our heads. The graphic above shows the word “Pizza” being used in a 3rd level in the “Pizza.Harlem.nyc.” It doesn’t take an Einstein to imagine where “Optometrists.GreenwichVillage.nyc” or “Supermarkets.Astoria.nyc” will lead.

Thoughtfully allocated and introduced, these names offer advantages to dotNeighborhood operators, name purchasers, users, and the neighborhood as a whole.

  • For dotNeighborhood operators, they offer the potential of revenue. Will entrepreneurs pay $100 a year for the right to develop Pizza.Harlem.nyc, Restaurants.Harlem.nyc, or DrugStores.Harlem.nyc? Will a local retailer like Harlem’s Tonys Pizza pay $20 a year for the “dirt cheap” marketing channel “Tonys.Pizza.Harlem.nyc” represents? We think so.
  • Internet users benefit from what is in essence a digital transplant of New Yorkers mental map that the secondary-level names represent. And with community buy-in (wiki-like with moderated comments, reviews, and ratings) these secondary names will create a trusted resource for residents and visitors alike, and a way to traverse a sea of questionable Yelper services that plague today’s search results.

But innovation will be sapped if the city’s Licensing Agreement requires dotNeighborhood operators to get written permission for every secondary name sold. The licensing agreement’s main sections provide suitable structure to assure that operators run them in a responsible manner. There’s no need for this additional over-the-shoulder regulation. The Section 8 permission requirements for secondary-level names should be deleted.

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Neighborhood Name License, part 1 – CAUTION: “Without Cause”

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(Commons Photo courtesy of sporkwrapper.)Jackson Heights, New York, February 2, 2016 – The deBlasio Administration’s licensing initiative for the neighborhood domain names is currently accepting applications. So if you’re a neighborhood activist or budding media mogul, and want to activate Astoria.nyc, ConeyIsland.nyc, GreenwichVillage.nyc, Harlem.nyc or any of the 380 other reserved neighborhood domain names, submit your applications now. (Here’s the application.) Successful applicants will be notified on February 12.

While we’re extremely supportive of the initiative, there’s a clause in the draft Licensing Agreement that diminishes the likelihood of serious parties investing the necessary resources, a “without cause” clause in Section 3.b of the draft Agreement which states:

Either party may terminate this License Agreement without cause (effective immediately);

We wrote the mayor’s office about our concerns (this one and a few others that we’ll post on soon) and were told they were reviewed “with the Law Department and while we are unable to amend the terms per your request, we have certainly noted your requests.” So seemingly, while the version of the Licensing Agreement shared with us says “DRAFT—NON-FINAL & DELIBERATIVE,” so far it seems changes will come from the city sans consultation with residents.

As we stated above, we love the “dotNeighborhoods” and see them providing a fantastic opportunity to improve engagement and provide a civic toolbox that will facilitate innovation and improve the quality of life. (See our Adding Internet Mojo To Neighborhoods pages.) Indeed, we gave serious thought to applying for the JacksonHeights.nyc domain, but the “without cause” clause forced us to hold off. How could we approach investors and garner the necessary resources without the city providing a serious commitment?

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UPDATE, February 5, 2016

This past December we contacted several elected officials about the “Without Cause” clause and the hardship it would impose on an entity seeking to garner the resources to undertake the development of a dotNeighborhood in a serious manner. We heard back from one recently, who informed us that in checking with their office’s attorneys, they were told that this was a standard clause in all city contracts. We checked the city’s agreement with Neustar Inc., the holder of the contract to operate the .nyc TLD for the city, and found no such reference. (See the city’s contracts with Neustar here.) When told of our finding a representative from the same city official said their office had received complaints from others about the situation and would be looking into it.

We don’t doubt that eager city lawyers try to impose a ‘Without Cause” clause whenever they can. And perhaps they sometimes impose it. But if the administration is serious about adding the Internet’s capabilities to improving the economic and social quality of life in our city’s neighborhoods, this clause has got to be removed “Without Delay.”

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Expiring .nyc Domain Names

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October 6, 2015, New York – With the first year registrations of .nyc domain names beginning to expire, we were curious about the process for identifying now unwanted domain names. So we asked the city and received the following response from its contractor:

The process for expiring and deleted names for .nyc domain names is consistent with the process for other gTLDs. Neustar booth at London ICANN - small

Essentially, domain names that are not renewed go through 2 distinct phases. 

Phase 1: The Suspension/Expiration Phase takes place for 1-45 days after the suspension or expiration date. During this phase, .nyc domain names are still renewable by Registrants and Registrars will attempt to encourage their customers to renew their domain names. If Registrants choose not to renew the domain name, then Registrars will delete the name to avoid being automatically charged the renewal fee from the .nyc Registry. 

Phase 2: Once the name is deleted by the Registrar it enters into the “Redemption Grace Period” for 35 days. During this phase the domain name is still restorable by Registrants for an additional fee for 30 days.  During the last 5 days of the RGP the domain name is non-restorable and the domain name will drop.  

Some registrars do have policies in place that allow them to seek out another Registrant during the RGP, through vehicles like auctions. If they are successful in finding another Registrant, it means that instead of dropping the domain name they will have a “new create” and renew the domain name on behalf of the new Registrant. In this case, the new Registrant would be subject to address validation by Neustar. 

Within both of these phases, the domain name is placed on a “PendingDelete-Restorable” status with the .nyc Registry and the domain name can still be renewed for a fee. Each Registrar sets its own policies and associated fees for renewing and restoring domain names during these phases. 

As always, the .nyc Registry will uphold all nexus policies.  There are also mechanisms in place for people to make nexus complaints in the event necessary. 

As for communicating with New Yorkers, all Registrars communicate regularly with Registrants to ensure reminders are sent about renewals.  To the extent a domain name drops, all interested New Yorkers have access to the WHOIS and can check the status of any domain name in PendingDelete-Restorable status.  At the end of phase 2, assuming a domain name is not restored or renewed — the name will drop and be added to the pool of generally available .nyc domains. 

We’ve asked for some clarification and will report them as they arrive. If you have questions, please let us know. (The graphic of the city’s contractor Neustar’s booth at the 2014 London ICANN meeting. It is provided courtesy of Connecting.nyc Inc.)

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