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Brexit probably no big deal for UK domain owners

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2016, Domain Policy

The UK may have suffered the most serious self-inflicted wound since the deep-fried Mars bar when it voted to leave the European Union last week, but it seems unlikely to have a huge effect on domain name registrants.

Most EU ccTLD registries do not require registrants to be based in the EU, and those that do have shown themselves flexible.

I surveyed the web sites of all 29 EU ccTLD registries, scouring FAQs and policy documents, to see if leaving the EU would cause conflicts for UK registrants.

All but one of these sites have comprehensive English versions available, which made the process very simple indeed.

It turns out the majority of the EU’s member states either have no geographic restrictions whatsoever or restrict registrations to only people and companies within their own nations.

I found five — six if you count .eu itself — that have policies that refer directly to a European Union presence in their rules and regulations.

  • .fr (France) is restricted to residents of the EU and Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.
  • .it (Italy) allows registrations from anyone in the European Economic Area, the Vatican, San Marino or Switzerland.
  • .nl (Netherlands) allows regs from anywhere, but registry manager SIDN says may attach “additional conditions to legal and/or natural persons based outside the European Union”.
  • .hu (Hungary) requires EU residency for individuals and companies wishing to register directly at the second level. There are no such restrictions at the third level.
  • .bg (Bulgaria) requires a local Bulgarian presence for non-EU registrants.
  • .eu (European Union) requires presence in the European Union, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein.

As you can see, even those with EU presence requirements are pretty flexible when it comes to bolting on additional eligible countries.

So-called Brexit — British exit from the EU — is unlikely to happen for two years or more, if it happens at all.

The thinking right now is that if/when the UK does finally formally leave it is likely to either become a member of the European Economic Area or have otherwise have negotiated a relationship with the EU not unlike Norway’s.

This would presumably make it fairly easy for ccTLD registries to plug the UK into their existing policies.

Any registry with a substantial number of existing UK registrants would of course have financial exposure to a Brexit, a likely incentive to modify their rules accordingly.

So for regular domain owners, Brexit is probably no big deal.

Whether the move would an impact on trademark holders or registrars are rather more complex matters that I have not looked at yet.

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Survey: more people know about new gTLDs but fewer trust them

People are becoming more aware that new gTLDs exist, but there’s less trust in them that there was a year ago, according to an ICANN-sponsored survey.

The second annual Global Consumer Survey, which was published late last week, shows that 16% of respondents had heard of specific new gTLDs, on average.

That’s up 2% on last year’s survey.

The number for TLDs added in the last year was 20%, with .news leading the pack with 33% awareness.

However, fewer people were actually visiting these sites: 12% on average, compared to 15% a year ago. For TLDs added in the last year, visitation averaged 15%.

And the amount of trust placed on new gTLDs added prior to the 2015 survey was down from 49% to 45% — half the level of .com, .org and .net.

For TLDs added since last year’s survey, trust was at 52% on average.

The 2015 survey looked only at .email, .photography, .link, .guru, .realtor, .club and .xyz. For this year’s survey, respondents were also asked about .news, .online, .website, .site, .space, .pics, .top, .bank, .pharmacy, and .builder.

The number of registered domains did not seem to have an impact on how aware respondents were on individual extensions.

.xyz, for example, had the lowest awareness of those used in the survey — 9% versus 5% in 2015 — despite being the runaway volume market leader and having scored PR coups such as Google’s adoption of abc.xyz for its new parent company, Alphabet.

Likewise, .top, second only to .xyz in the size league table, could only muster up 11% awareness.

.news, .email and .online topped the awareness list — with 33%, 32% and 30% respectively — despite having only about 500,000 names between them.

I’m not sure I buy much of this data to be honest. There’s some weirdness.

For example, the survey found that 28% of respondents claim to have visited a .email web site.

That’s a gTLD at least partially if not primarily designed for non-web use, with roughly 20,000 names that are not parked.

If over a quarter of the population were visiting .email sites, you might expect some of those sites to show up prominently in Alexa rankings, but they don’t.

But perhaps, if we take this survey as a measure of consumers perceptions, it doesn’t matter so much whether it reflects the reality of internet use.

The survey, conducted by Nielsen for ICANN, covered dozens of other aspects of internet use, including feelings on cybersecurity, navigation and such, and weighs in at 160 pages. Read it all over here.

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ICANN Ombudsman let go as role comes up for review

Kevin Murphy, June 29, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman, Chris LaHatte, has been told his services are no longer needed.

His current contract expires July 27, but he’s been informed that it will not be renewed.

No reason has been given for the move.

Herb Waye, who took the role on an interim basis in 2011 after the departure of former Ombusdman Frank Fowlie, will step in again while ICANN looks for a permanent replacement.

LaHatte will continue on as an adviser during the transition.

The decision to replace LaHatte comes as the ICANN community begins on so-called Work Stream 2 of the IANA transition process, which includes a review of the role of the Ombudsman in ICANN’s power structure.

The Ombudsman’s job is currently to adjudicate on matters of fairness in ICANN’s activities.

He or she reports to the board and any advice given is non-binding.

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Norway bans the Dutch from using dormant .bv

The Norwegian government has intervened to prevent a deal that would have allowed the sale of .bv domain names in the Netherlands.

Norwegian ccTLD registry Norid and Dutch counterpart SIDN said a deal to start using the dormant ccTLD fell apart after the government exercised its right of veto under Norway’s domain regulations.

.bv represents Bouvet Island, the remotest island in the world. It’s a Norwegian territory in the Antarctic, uninhabited but for seals.

It’s been delegated to Norway since 1997, but has never been used.

But BV is also the Dutch acronym for “Besloten vennootschap met beperkte aansprakelijkheid”, a corporate identifier that has pretty much the same meaning as “Ltd” or “LLC”.

Clearly, there was an opportunity to make a bit of extra pocket money for both registries, had SIDN been allowed to licence the use of the ccTLD, but the government intervention has scuppered all that.

SIDN said it had planned to use .bv as “a platform for validated business data”, but that now it will try to implement that idea in .nl instead.

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Judge hands DotConnectAfrica another bizarre win

A California judge just handed ICANN another upset in the interminable legal battle waged against it by unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.

Gary Klausner yesterday admitted he made a mistake when he earlier slapped ICANN with a preliminary injunction preventing .africa being delegated to DCA rival ZA Central Registry, but said his error did not have a huge bearing on that decision.

More remarkably, he’s now suggesting that ICANN may have been wrong to make DCA undergo the same Geographic Names Review as every other new gTLD applicant.

Both DCA and ZACR applied for .africa and had to go through the same evaluation processes, one of which was the Geographic Names Review.

Both had to show that they had support from 60% of the governments in Africa, and no more than one governmental objection.

ZACR had that support — though there’s legitimate dispute over whether its paperwork was all in order — while DCA did not. DCA also had over a dozen objections from African governments.

ZACR passed its geographic review, but DCA’s application was tossed out based on Governmental Advisory Committee advice before the review could be completed.

DCA took ICANN to an Independent Review Process panel, which ruled that ICANN had failed to live up to its bylaws and that DCA’s application should be returned to the evaluation process.

ICANN returned DCA’s application to the process at the point it had left it — before the geographic review was complete.

DCA then failed the review, because it has no support.

But when he granted the injunction against ICANN back in April, Klausner thought that DCA had actually passed the geographic review on the first pass. Not even DCA had claimed that; it was just a brain fart on his behalf.

He’s now admitted the mistake, but says the April ruling was not dependent on that misunderstanding.

The Court finds that the error in its factual finding was not determinative to its ultimate conclusion that there are serious questions going toward Plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits.

Now, he says that there may be some merit in DCA’s claim that it should have been allowed to skip the GNR due to the IRP’s recommendation that ICANN “permit DCA Trust’s application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process.”

Klausner wrote yesterday:

At this stage of litigation, it is reasonable to infer that the IRP Panel found that ICANN’s rejection of Plaintiff’s application at the geographic names evaluation phase was improper, and that the application should proceed to the delegation phase.

The problem with this thinking is that it was not the geographic panel that flunked DCA on the first pass, it was the GAC.

DCA got this document (pdf) from the geographic panel. It just says “Incomplete”.

If DCA succeeds in persuading a jury that it should have skipped the geographic panel, Africa could wind up with a .africa gTLD operator that none of its governments support and in circumvention of ICANN’s rules.

Yesterday’s ruling isn’t a killer blow against ICANN, but it does make me wonder whether Klausner — who is also hearing the much higher-profile Stairway to Heaven case right now — is really paying attention.

Anyway, he’s thrown out the ZACR/ICANN motion to reconsider the injunction, so the case is carrying on as before. Read the ruling here (pdf).

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