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auDA wins brief reprieve from boardroom battle

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has managed get a small delay, smaller than it wanted, to the deadline for a special member meeting at which the fate of its chair, CEO and two directors will be decided.

After more than 5% of its membership signed a petition calling for the vote, it had until June 7 to open the polls.

But then it was stung by the findings of a governmental review of its structure, which concluded it was “no longer fit for purpose” and ordering a board shake-up of its own.

Deciding that it had to prioritize the government review, auDA last week sued the main organizer of the petition and former board member Josh Rowe, asking a court to allow it to delay the meeting from June 7 until mid-September, to coincide with its annual general meeting.

But the court told the organization it instead has until July 27 to hold the meeting.

auDA said it was “pleased” with the ruling, but Rowe wrote that auDA had “in effect lost” the case.

Rowe called the brief litigation a “disgraceful waste of tens of thousands of dollars of .au domain name registrant’s money”.

.com adds 5.5 million names, renewals back over 70%

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registries

Verisign reported first-quarter financial results that reflected a healthier .com namespace following the spike caused by Chinese speculation in 2016.

The company Friday reported that .com was up to 133.9 million domains at the end of March, an increase of 5.5 million over the year.

The strong showing was tempered slightly by a further decline in .net, where domains were down from 15.2 million to 14.4 million.

Over the quarter, there was a net increase of 1.9 million names across both TLDs and the renewal rate was an estimated 74.9%, a pretty damn good showing.

Actual renewals for Q4, measurable only after Verisign announced its earnings, were confirmed at 72.5%, compared to a worryingly low 67.6% in Q4 2016.

In a call with analysts, CEO James Bidzos confirmed that the turnaround was due to the surge in Chinese domainer speculation that drove numbers in 2016 finally working its way out of the system.

In Q1, the cash-printing company saw net income of $134 million, compared to $116 million a year earlier, on revenue up 3.7% at $299 million.

Bidzos told analysts that it’s “possible” that the company may get to launch .web in 2018, but said Verisign has not baked any impact from the contested gTLD into its forecasts.

Another failing new gTLD stopped paying its dues

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

Another new gTLD registry has been slapped with an ICANN breach notice after failing to pay its fees.

California-based dotCOOL, which runs .qpon, seems to be at least six months late in making its $6,250 quarterly payment to ICANN, according to the notice (pdf).

It’s perhaps not surprising. The TLD has been live since mid-2014 and yet has failed to top more than about 650 simultaneous domains under management, at least 100 of which were registry-owned.

Right now, its zone file contains about 470 domains.

It typically sells new domains in the single digits each month, with retail prices in the $15 to $20 range.

With that volume and the inferred registry fee, a full year’s revenue probably wouldn’t cover one quarter of ICANN fees.

The string “qpon” is a pun on “coupon”. The idea was that companies would use the TLD to push discount coupons on their customers.

But they didn’t.

The number of live sites indexed by Google is in the single figures and none of them are using .qpon for its intended purpose.

ICANN’s breach notice also demands the company start publishing a DNSSEC Practice Statement on its registry web site, but that seems like the least of its worries.

As a novel, non-dictionary string, I worry that .qpon may struggle to find a buyer.

Last week, .fan and .fans, both operated by Asiamix Digital, got similar breach notices from ICANN.

Nominet to charge brands for no-name Whois access

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

Nominet has become the second major registry to announce that trademark lawyers will have to pay for Whois after the EU General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect next month.

The company said late last week that it will offer the intellectual property community two tiers of Whois access.

First, they can pay for a searchable Whois with a much more limited output.

Nominet said that “users of the existing Searchable WHOIS who are not law enforcement will continue to have access to the service on a charged-for basis however the registrant name and address will be redacted”.

Second, they can request the full Whois record (including historical data) for a specific domain and get a response within one business day for no charge.

Approved law enforcement agencies will continue to get unfettered access to both services — with “enhanced output” for the searchable Whois — for no charge, Nominet said.

These changes were decided upon following a month-long consultation which accepted comments from interested parties.

Other significant changes incoming include:

  • Scrapping UK-presence requirements for second-level registrations.
  • Doing away with the current privacy services framework, offloading GDPR liability to registrars providing such services.
  • Creating a standard opt-in mechanism for registrants who wish for their personal data to be disclosed in public Whois.

Nominet is the second registry I’m aware of to say it will charge brand owners for Whois access, after CoCCA 10 days ago.

CoCCA has since stated that it will sell IP owners a PDF containing the entire unredacted Whois history of a domain for $3, if they declare that they have a legitimate interest in the domain.

It also said they will be able to buy zone file access to the dozens of TLDs running on the CoCCA platform for $88 per TLD.

auDA may sue to delay boardroom bloodbath

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

auDA is thinking about taking its membership to court in order to delay a vote on the jobs of four of its directors.

The Australian ccTLD registry has also delayed further consideration of its policy to introduce direct, second-level registrations in .au until late 2019.

Both announcements came in the wake of a government review of the organization, which found it “no longer fit-for-purpose”.

auDA last week asked its members to agree to a postponement of the special general meeting, called for by a petition of more than 5% of its members, at which there would be votes on whether to fire the CEO, its chair, and two independent directors.

Under the law, auDA has to hold the SGM by June 7 at the latest, according to a letter (pdf) sent to members on Friday.

But auDA wants to delay the meeting until mid-September, at the earliest, to coincide with its regular Annual General Meeting.

If its members do not consent to the delay — it gave them a deadline of 4pm local time today, meaning responses would have to be drafted over the weekend — auDA said it “intends to apply for a court order… extending the time for calling the requested SGM”.

The delay is needed, auDA said, in order to give the organization the breathing space to start to implement the reforms called for by the government review.

The government wants the makeup of the auDA board substantially overhauled within a year to better reflect the stakeholder community and to ensure directors have the necessary skills and experience.

In response, auDA has told the government (pdf) that it agrees with the need for reform, but that it will not be able to hit its deadlines unlesss the SGM is delayed.

It also said calling the SGM on time would cost it somewhere in the region of AUD 70,000, based on the cost of a similar meeting last year.

auDA announced separately last week that it is delaying any more discussion on second-level registrations — something the reform campaigners largely are opposed to — “until the second half of 2019 at the earliest”.

Josh Rowe, coordinator of the Grumpier.com.au petitioners, said in his response that he found the request for the SGM delay “extremely disappointing”, adding:

auDA is at an important juncture following the Australian Government’s review. However, it is critical that people with the right skills and experience lead auDA through its reform.

Members have lost confidence in the auDA CEO, and the three auDA independent directors. They do not have the right skills and experience to lead auDA through its reform.

He noted that members do not have the resources to fight auDA in court.

I just bought a new gTLD registry’s domain for $10

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2018, Domain Registries

Are .fan and .fans the latest new gTLDs to go out of business? It certainly looks that way.

ICANN has hit the registry with a breach notice for unpaid dues and stripped it of its registrar accreditation.

In addition, its web sites no longer appear functional and I’ve just bought its official IANA-listed domain name for under $10.

Asiamix Digital is the Hong Kong-based company behind both TLDs, doing business as dotFans.

It launched .fans in September 2015, with retail pricing up around the $100 mark, but never actually got around to launching the singular variant, which it acquired (defensively?) from Rightside (now Donuts) earlier that year.

.fans had fewer than 1,400 domains in its zone file yesterday, down from a peak of around 1,500, while .fan had none.

dotFans in-house accredited registrar, Fan Domains, didn’t seem to actually sell any domains and it got terminated by ICANN (pdf) at the end of March for failing to provide basic registrar services.

And now it seems the registry itself has been labeled as a deadbeat by ICANN Compliance, which has filed a breach notice (pdf) alleging non-payment of registry fees.

While breach notices against TLD registries are not uncommon these days, I think this is the first one I’ve seen alleging non-payment and nothing else.

The notice claims that the registry’s legal contact’s email address is non-functional.

In addition, the domains nic.fans, nic.fan and dotfans.com all currently resolve to dead placeholder pages.

Meanwhile, dotfans.net, the company’s official domain name as listed in the IANA database now belongs to me, kinda.

It expired March 12, after which it was promptly placed into a GoDaddy expired domains auction. Where I just bought it for £6.98 ($9.92).

dotfans

To be clear, I do not currently control the domain. It’s still in post-expiration limbo and GoDaddy support tells me the original owner still has eight days left to reclaim it.

After that point, maybe I’ll start getting the registry’s hate mail from ICANN. Or perhaps not; it seems to have been using the .com equivalent for its formal communications.

Should .fan and .fans get acquired by another registry soon — which certainly seems possible — rest assured I’ll let the domain go for a modest sum.

Government gives auDA reform-or-die ultimatum

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2018, Domain Registries

auDA has just months to either implement sweeping reforms or risk being dissolved and replaced.

That’s the outcome of a review of the Australian ccTLD administrator by the Department of Communications and Arts, published today, that found the organization as it stands today is “no longer fit-for-purpose”.

Among its 29 recommendations, the government is demanding that auDA refresh its board of directors within a year and scrap its “outdated” membership structure.

Minister Mitch Fifield said in a statement:

The central finding of the review is that auDA’s current management framework is no longer fit-for-purpose and reform is necessary if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community.

He added in a letter to auDA chair Chris Leptos:

In the event that auDA fails to demonstrate progress in achieving the necessary reforms, I will instruct my Department to undertake a public expression of interest process in the future to identify other entities that could administer .au

A failure to reform could even lead to the government itself taking over .au, the report says.

The review did not look at the claims of lavish spending by staff and directors, reported on earlier this week.

Nor does it express any views on the controversial decision to start selling direct second-level .au domains, or to transition the back-end from Neustar to Afilias.

What it does say is that the board of directors needs to be be replaced within a year, using a new membership structure that gets rid of the current “supply” and “demand” classes of member, which differentiate between those who sell domains and those who buy them.

The current system is open to capture or “stacking”, the review says, with it being too easy for individuals to move seamlessly between classes and a lack of clarity on whether domainers should be supply or demand-class members.

Today, the 12-person board comprises the non-voting CEO, three independent directors and four directors elected by each class.

The review states that the board should not get any bigger, but that the majority of directors should be independent, selected by a new six-person Nomination Committee modeled slightly on ICANN’s Nominating Committee.

Directors should be picked on the basis on their experience and skills, limited to two three-year terms, and subject to background screening, the review states.

The government also says that auDA should either replace its current membership classes with either a single membership class open to all or a “functional constituency model” reflecting groups such as consumers, registrars, government, etc.

Fifield said he expects to see “significant” progress on implementing these reforms in the next three to six months.

In a statement, auDA said it welcomed the report and has already begun work on an implementation plan.

Former CEO Chris Disspain, who was fired by the board in 2016, after running the company for 16 years, a move that arguably catalyzed the last two years of chaos at auDA, told DI:

I am pleased that the review has called out a number of important structural issues especially the matter of membership stacking, something that I had raised with the board on a number of occasions towards the end of my tenure and that may have led, at least in part, to my departure.

Leaked memo alleges lavish travel spending at auDA

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

A report into .au registry auDA’s historical travel expenses has leaked to the Australian media, the latest apparent salvo in the organization’s increasingly personal civil war.

The Sydney Morning Herald this evening reports on “allegations of lavish spending and misuse of expense accounts by some former directors and employees”.

The primary individual targeted (for want of a better word) by the story is Paul Szyndler, former head of public affairs at auDA and one of the three people behind the Grumpier.com.au campaign to ouster auDA’s current CEO and chair.

It seems the Herald has managed to scoop a leaked copy of an audit compiled by PPB Advisory, which has been looking into spending practices at auDA under its previous management.

The existence of this report has been known for some time, but little about its contents had made it into the public domain beyond a slide deck (pdf) alluding to slack controls on travel expenditure.

The newspaper reports that PPB claims Szyndler racked up several thousand dollars of expenses on a family trip to Disneyland to coincide with ICANN 51 in Los Angeles in 2014.

Shortly before the Herald published (overnight in Australia), Szyndler took to an Aussie domainer forum to admit the truth of the allegation, but explain that it was fully compliant with auDA’s expenses policy at the time.

“auDA had a very clear and well understood policy at the time, whereby staff — after receiving best-available business class airfare and accommodation quotes, could spend up to, but NOT MORE THAN that figure on personal arrangements,” Szyndler wrote.

“My family joined me on a number of international trips. None cost any more than it would have cost to send me alone,” he said.

In other words, if he’d left his family at home and skipped Disneyland, he would have spent the exact same amount on a business-class flight for himself.

The Herald also says that PPB identified thousands of dollars being spent on family member travel to exotic locations, credit card cash withdrawals, expensive restaurants and even a “butler service”.

It does not say which specific staffers or directors are alleged to have spent auDA money on those things.

Indeed, Szyndler is the only person connected to specific spending in the Herald’s report.

There’s no mention of any allegations against former CEO and current ICANN vice-chair Chris Disspain — under whose watch these expenses will have been incurred — though the piece does include his blanket denial of wrongdoing.

auDA’s new chair Chris Leptos — who also sits on the PPB board — revealed last week that “several” former directors have been referred to state police over “a number of practices” upon which he did not elaborate.

Szyndler and his other Grumpier auDA members have managed to rack up enough signatures on their petition to force auDA into a special members meeting, date to be determined, that will vote on whether to get rid of Leptos, CEO Cameron Boardman and two other independent directors.

The Australian government has also been probing the organization’s antics since October, and the Herald reports that its findings could be published as soon as tomorrow (today in Australia).

Could auDA be about to get Nominetted?

dotFM offers $1.1 million stash of emoji domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

BRS Media has started selling emoji domain names in its .fm ccTLD, and some of the more commonly used ones are quite pricey.

While a vanilla emoji will go for the standard .fm price of $95.95 a year when bought from dotFM’s web site, the company has set aside about 500 domains as “premiums”.

These reserved domains start at $995 for the first year, running to $4,995, according to a published price list.

In total, dotFM is sitting on a stash of premiums worth, it reckons, over $1.1 million in the first year.

The current Unicode standard supports 2,789 emojis, so if BRS manages to sell the lot it’s looking at a not-bad $267,000 a year in renewals.

Kicking off the registration process appears to be as simple as copy-pasting an emoji into the dotFM search box, but that may not work at its partner registrars.

It’s worth noting that emoji domains are what you might call an acquired taste, mainly attractive for their novelty value and not the kind of place you’d want to run your primary web site.

They’re also basically banned by ICANN policy in the gTLD space.

.fm is the ccTLD for Micronesia which BRS has been running as an open, if niche, TLD for the radio market for the last 20 years.

Bling-maker kills off fifth dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2018, Domain Registries

Richemont, the company behind brands such as Cartier jewelry and Mont Blanc pens, has terminated its fifth dot-brand gTLD.

It filed with ICANN to terminate its registry contract for .iwc earlier this month.

IWC is a Swiss brand of expensive watches, but its dot-brand has never been used to any notable extent.

The company had registered the domain watches.iwc, which it apparently planned to use for URL redirection via Rebrandly.

It’s the third gTLD Richemont has voluntarily terminated, after .montblanc and .chloe last year.

The company also withdrew its unopposed applications for .netaporter and .mrporter back in 2014, before it actually signed contracts with ICANN.

Richemont was one of the more prolific dot-brand applicants, applying for 14 gTLDs in total back in 2012.

It also applied for (defensively?) and won the generic .watches and some translations.

While the .watches gTLD has been live in the DNS for two and a half years, Richemont has not yet set a launch date and has not yet said who will even be eligible to buy domains there.