ICANN is heading back to the quasi-courtroom of its Independent Review Process, after .web auction runner-up Altanovo Domains filed its second IRP complaint about the controversy-ridden gTLD.
I first reported that the complaint had been filed back in July, but it was not until last Thursday that ICANN published the document, along with thousands of pages of exhibits and its own response, almost all thoroughly redacted to remove references to the one contract at the heart of the mess.
Now-independent Altanovo, which was part of Afilias before that company was acquired by Donuts, claims that ICANN broke its bylaws commitments to apply its policies equitably to everyone.
The company remains incredibly cheesed off that it lost the 2016 auction for .web, which saw a company called Nu Dot Co pay ICANN $135 million for the domain, at a time when it was secretly backed by Verisign.
Altanovo claims that NDC broke the terms of ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook and the rules of the auction by declining to disclose the existence of the Domain Acquisition Agreement it had signed with Verisign.
That deal saw Verisign bankroll and dictate the terms of NDC’s handling of the auction; in exchange, NDC would transfer .web to Verisign shortly after signing its ICANN registry agreement.
Altanovo has already won one IRP about this. The panel in the first case ruled in May 2021 that ICANN broke its bylaws because its board did not make a decision on whether NDC’s behavior was kosher.
As a result of that ruling, the board spent over a year mulling and eventually decided this April that, no, NDC didn’t break the rules. It’s that decision that Altanovo is challenging now. The complaint says:
NDC had no independent business plan for .WEB that it intended to implement. Its sole purpose in applying for .WEB was to obtain it for the oldest of the incumbent players, not to market .WEB itself in any way or to compete in the market… No one in the Internet Community, including the other .WEB Contention Set members, had any clue that, as of August 2015, they were competing with Verisign and not NDC.
ICANN’s response to the complaint states that its board was exercising its “business judgement”, which must be deferred to, and that Altanovo’s claims about bylaws breaches merely amount to differences of interpretation.
Speaking to analysts on Verisign’s third-quarter earnings call last week, company CEO Jim Bidzos quoted from the conclusion of ICANN’s IRP response and added: “Altanovo’s IRP request should be denied. We agree with ICANN.”
“We continue to believe that this IRP filed by Altanovo and its backers has been filed for the purpose of delay,” he said.
Altanovo reckons that Verisign and ICANN have been colluding on their legal responses to the .web and that certainly seems likely in terms of the redactions ICANN has made to the complaint and response published last week.
All quotations of the Verisign-NDC DAA are redacted in the Altanovo complaint are redacted as “third party confidential”, presumably at Verisign’s request; in the ICANN response the single DAA quote remains unredacted.