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After long battle, first Bulgarian IDN domain goes live

Bulgarians finally have the ability to register domain names in their native Cyrillic script, after years of fighting with ICANN.

The domain Имена.бг, which translates as “names.bg” went live on the internet this week, according to local reports.

Bulgaria was one of the first countries to ask for a internationalized domain name version of its ccTLD, almost seven years ago, but it was rejected by ICANN in 2010.

The requested .бг was found too similar to Brazil’s existing Latin-script ccTLD .br. Evaluators thought the risk of phishing and other types of attacks was too high.

The requested string didn’t change, but ICANN processes were adapted to allow appeals and a new method for establishing similarity was established.

On appeal, .бг was determined to be less prone to confusion with .br than existing pairs of Latin ccTLDs are with each other, ergo should be approved.

Имена.бг does not yet directly resolve (for me at least) from the Google Chrome address bar. It’s treated as a web search instead. But clicking on links to it does work.

The new ccTLD, which is .xn--90ae in the DNS, was delegated last week.

The registry is Imena.bg (which also means “names.bg”), based in Sofia and partially owned by Register.bg, the .bg registry.

Despite the long battle, the success of .бг is by no means assured. IDNs have a patchy record worldwide.

It’s true that Russians went nuts for their .рф (.rf for Russian Federation) ccTLD during its scandal-rocked launch in 2010, but Arabic IDNs have had hardly any interest and the current boom in China seems to be largely concentrated on Latin-script TLDs.

.бг is expected to open for general registration in the fourth quarter.

I guess we’ll have to wait until at least next year to discover whether the concerns about confusion with .br were well-founded.

Buy it or lose it? Governments could get first dibs on two-letter domains

Governments and ccTLD registries would get new rights to own two-letter domains in new gTLDs under a proposed ICANN policy.

These highly-prized domains, many of which are likely worth thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, would be subject to a mini sunrise period, under the proposal.

The so-called Exclusive Availability Pre-registration Period would be limited to those companies or government entities in charge of matching ccTLDs.

The measures are outlined in “Proposed Measures for Letter/Letter Two-Character ASCII Labels to Avoid Confusion with Corresponding Country Codes” (pdf), published by ICANN late last week.

The surprisingly succinct document outlines three things new gTLD registries must do if they want to start selling two-letter domains matching ccTLDs, which are currently restricted.

The key measure is:

Registry Operator must implement a 30-day period in which registration of letter/letter two-character ASCII labels that are country codes, as specified in the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 standard, will be made exclusively available to the applicable country-code manager or government.

In other words, if you’re a government or company listed as the ccTLD manager here, you get 30 days of exclusive opportunity to buy the LL.example matching your ccTLD.

Until now, governments have been able to block the release of LL new gTLD domains matching their ccTLDs.

The new proposal, introduced in an attempt to settle a long-running debate about the most appropriate way to enable the release of two-character strings, appears to add a “buy it or lose it” component to existing policy.

Under the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, all two-character domains were initially reserved.

Then, in late 2014, ICANN said registries could release all letter-number, number-letter and number-number combinations.

Many registries have already released such names, some selling for thousands at auction. When Rightside released its LN/NL/NN names, some carried price tags as high as $50,000.

Letter-letter domains could also be released following a formal registry request to ICANN, but were subject to a 60-day period during which governments could object.

Almost 1,000 new gTLDs have submitted such requests, and almost all have been “partially approved”.

That means some governments objected to the release of ccTLD-matching domains. Over 16,000 unique domain names have been objected to and therefore blocked over the last year or so.

The new proposal would add an extra process under which these blocked domains could be released, with ccTLD concerns getting first rights.

Interestingly, it appears to bring ccTLD managers into the mix, rather than restricting the names simply to governments.

The Governmental Advisory Committee has been the main driving force behind demands for restrictions on LL domains, but the proposed policy appears to also extend rights to private entities.

Remember, many ccTLDs are operated independently by private companies, without local government oversight.

For example, .uk is managed by Nominet, a non-governmental entity. The UK government has blocked many uk.example domains from being registered. The new policy appears to allow either Nominet or the government to register these names.

The one-page proposal is light on some details. It does not say, for example, what happens when the government and the ccTLD manager both want the name.

In keeping with ICANN’s habit of staying out of pricing, it does not specify price caps either.

It does, however, oblige registries to ban registrants from pretending to be affiliated with the relevant government when they are not.

Governments also get to complain, and registries have to investigate, if the relevant domains are causing “confusion”, though registries do not appear to be under a strict obligation to delete or suspend domains.

The policy is open for public comment until August here.

Chinese gTLD cranks up renewal prices from $18 to $100

Chinese new gTLD registry Beijing RITT-Net has said it intends to more than quintuple its registration and renewal prices.

From January 1, 2017, prices for .手机 will go up from $18 a year to $100 a year, the company said in a notice to ICANN late last month.

.手机 (.xn--kput3i) is a Chinese internationalized domain name meaning “.cell” or “.cellphone”.

The registry told ICANN:

it is our sincere hope to adjust the initial registration and renewal fees from 18 dollars to 100 dollars with the aim to keep up with the status quo of China’s domain name market and to provide registrants with better services. We wish the new price will be effective from Jan 1st, 2017.

I believe this is the biggest renewal price hike for a new gTLD registry to date.

Around 25,000 existing registrations appear to be affected, but very few registrars will have to deal with the ramifications.

According to registry reports, over 99% of its registrations were made via Beijing Innovative Linkage Technology, which does business at dns.com.cn.

.blog launch date and pricing revealed

The new gTLD .blog will go to general availability in November with a wholesale price tag of $20, it was revealed today.

The registry, Knock Knock Whois There, told registrars that sunrise will kick off August 18 and run for 60 days with a $130 price tag. Disputed sunrise domains will go to auction.

Landrush will follow for a week from November 2 with a $130 application fee and auctions for contested domains a week later.

General availability is then due to begin November 21, with a registry fee of $20.

There will be tiered pricing on reserved “premium” names.

The registry does not seem to have ruled out an Early Access Period either.

This is all fairly consistent with KKWT’s previous statements that its pricing and launch structure will be in line with current industry norms.

The registry is owned by Automattic, the company behind the WordPress blogging software and service.

It emerged as the surprise secret backer of original applicant Primer Nivel earlier this year, following a $19 million auction win.

Most businesses don’t care about .uk domains

The majority of businesses in the UK don’t care about direct second-level .uk domains, even when the benefits are spelled out for them, according to Nominet research.

The new survey found that only 27% of businesses would “definitely” or “probably” exercise their new right to buy a .uk domain that matches their .co.uk or .org.uk name.

That number only went up to 40% after respondents had seen a brief Nominet marketing pitch, the survey found.

Another 16% said they had no plans to get their .uk, post-pitch, while 44% remained undecided.

This was the value proposition the respondents saw (click to enlarge):

Nominet sales pitch

Under the direct .uk policy, all registrants of third-level domains, such as example.co.uk, have the right of refusal over the matching example.uk.

If they don’t exercise that right by June 10, 2019, the matching SLDs will be unfrozen and released into the available pool.

The new Nominet research also found out that most registrants don’t even know they have this right.

Only 44% of respondents were aware of the right. That went up to 45% for businesses and down to 33% for respondents who only owned .uk domain names (as opposed to gTLD names).

A quarter of respondents, which all already own 3LD .uk domains, didn’t even know second-level regs were possible.

Of those who had already bought their .uk names, over two thirds were either parking or redirecting. Individuals were much more likely to actually use their names for emails or personal sites.

The numbers are not terribly encouraging for the direct .uk initiative as it enters into its third year.

They suggest that if something is not done to raise awareness in the next few years, a lot of .co.uk businesses could find their matching SLDs in the hands of cybersquatters or domainers.

Nominet members (registrars and domainers primarily) were quizzed about possible ways to increase adoption during a company webinar today.

Suggestions such as making the domains free (they currently cost £2.50 a year, the same as a 3LD) or bribing a big anchor tenant such as the BBC to switch were suggested.

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the membership about the fact that .uk SLDs were allowed in the first place.

The number of second-level .uk names has gone from 96,696 in June 2014 to to 350,088 last year to 593,309 last month, according to Nominet stats.

Over the same periods, third-level regs have been shrinking, from 10.43 million to 10.22 million to 10.08 million, .