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April 10, 2005

EnCirca blows open .pro floodgates

A small domain name registrar has risked the ire of the Internet Corp for Assigned Names and Numbers by allowing anybody to register .pro names, which are supposed to be restricted to credentialed professionals such as lawyers and doctors.

By CBR Staff Writer

ICANN is looking into whether registrar EnCirca and .pro registry RegistryPro have broken the spirit of .pro, by enabling non-professionals to use domain names such as f*ck.pro and cu*t.pro (censored here only for the sake of readers’ mail filters).

Rumor has it that at least one more registrar is planning to offer a similar service soon, and other registrars we spoke too suggested they would follow suit if EnCirca and RegistryPro get the OK from ICANN.

The .pro domain was approved by ICANN in 2000, but did not go live until last summer. The idea was that John Smith the lawyer would be able to register johnsmith.law.pro and Jane Smith the doctor could register janesmith.med.pro.

Using an apparent loophole in the ICANN-RegistryPro agreement, EnCirca has opened the floodgates to any registrant to register any name. And ICANN is not pleased that this restricted domain is now essentially wide open.

But EnCirca chief executive Tom Barrett said last week at ICANN’s conference in Argentina that he does not think that either EnCirca or RegistryPro have violated their ICANN contracts, which may leave the domain name oversight body with few options.

Nothing says that if you get a .law.pro name that you have to use it to practice law. You could use it to sell shoes, Barrett added. I don’t think they [RegistryPro] will agree to make any contract changes that will further restrict registrations in .pro.

The concern is that the value of .pro, which was supposed to imply some kind of trustworthiness, will be radically diluted if people who are not certified professionals can register any name they want and use it for any purpose, such as selling shoes, or selling porn.

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A lot of people in .pro signed up in good faith thinking there would be a lot of high quality estate attached to it, said one commentator at the ICANN meeting. Some of the subsequent actions suggests that some of that estate is not of as high quality as you would expect.

Barrett said that he has counted only about 60 adult-oriented .pro domains registered so far, and that only half of those were registered using EnCirca’s new service.

ICANN chairman Vint Cerf declined to pass judgment on what EnCirca is doing. In an interview with ComputerWire on Friday, he said: I just don’t have the data yet to figure out whether the current rash of .pro registrations is inappropriate.

In public meetings earlier last week, Cerf expressed unease with the situation, and said that it doesn’t look right, and we need to dig a bit deeper into how that happened.

Barrett said that since EnCirca started accepting .pro registrations under its ProForwarding service, March 2, the company has taken between 2,000 and 3,000 registrations from about 500 customers, at $50 a piece.

Not a huge amount, but consider that there were less than 1,000 .pro registrations in the six months after the domain’s June 2004 launch, and that EnCirca’s name base in .com/.org/.net/.info/.biz combined is less than 3,000, according to Webhosting.info.

ICANN asked Barrett to supply registration data during a private meeting last week, which Barrett said he will do. The organization has also made a similar request of RegistryPro, a service of Hostway Corp, a web host.

There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding misinformation about .pro, a Hostway representative said during an open meeting last Monday. The registrant is properly authenticated, what they do with their domain is really the crux here. The question is, can we legislate usage of the domain names?

The .pro policies require registrants to provide professional credentials that must be authenticated before they can register a name. Lawyers, accountants, doctors and engineers can get third-level names such as example.cpa.pro or example.law.pro.

There’s an exception to the rule, however. If a customer, be they an individual, a husband-wife team, or a company, can show two credentials from different professions, they can register second-level names, such as example.pro.

EnCirca has a handful of doctors and lawyers, family and friends, who have put forward their credentials as proxies for EnCirca customers. EnCirca technically becomes the registrant, but its customers have as much control over their domains as if it was not.

While this arguably violates the spirit in which .pro was approved by ICANN, Barrett insists it falls within the letter of the relevant contracts, despite ICANN’s suggestion that his service constitutes registration abuses.

ICANN has so far not suggested that ProForwarding breaks any contract. In fact, it as actually asked RegistryPro if it would like to amend it contracts to explicitly block ProForwarding-like behavior.

But it’s arguably in RegistryPro’s best business interests to resist such moves. As a restricted domain, it was doing lousy business, and EnCirca has effectively quadrupled its registration base in just one month.

The loophole may have turned .pro into a free-for-all overnight, while dispensing with the additional credibility of an authenticated domain, but RegistryPro may decide it can make more money that way.

The situation was perhaps best summarized during a public meeting Monday, by John Klensin, the IETF liaison on ICANN’s board of directors. He said: We are incapable of creating a legal document in such a way that somebody cannot find a loophole in it.

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