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.trust gTLD might be for sale as NCC closes domain business

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2016, Domain Registries

NCC Group has stroppily departed from the domain name business but is evading questions about whether its .trust gTLD is for sale.

The company last month told the markets that it is to “cut its losses” and get rid of its Open Registry registry/registrar business, which it acquired for up to £14.9 million ($22.6 million) just 19 months ago.

But it left open the question of whether it would also divest .trust, the gTLD it acquired from Deutsche Post for an undisclosed sum a year earlier.

Talking to The Telegraph earlier this week, NCC CEO Rob Cotton had some harsh words for the new gTLD industry:

People thought there’d be a need for lots of generic domains, but there’s no need for them at all, it’s only good news for bad guys who can get them for free and pretend to be anyone.

It’s not exactly a volte face from NCC, which has repeatedly published research showing consumers don’t trust new gTLDs.

The company had been banking on .trust (a back-up plan after it failed to obtain .secure, which it had originally applied for) to showcase its potentially higher-margin domain security services.

In its full-year 2016 financial results last month, the company said it was closing down its domain services division, taking a charge of over £13 million as result.

Forty-five people lost their jobs as a result of change in strategy.

The closure does not appear to apply to its data escrow business, which has proven popular among new gTLD registries. That business sits within a separate Escrow Division.

The company said:

It is clear that the open generic domains and city codes have not been taken up by businesses and consumers as well as expected with all of these falling well short of their initial registration targets. Coupled with the fact that the branded domains are still either undelegated or those that are, are unused, it is clear that the market is not ready for the very necessary changes that need to happen to strengthen security on the Internet.

The domains division brought in just shy of £5 million ($6.6 million) in the year to May 31, but most of that was due to its withdrawal of its application for .secure. The division was making a loss.

On .trust, which the company reckons is worth £4.2 million, NCC was less than clear about its plans.

It said in its results that it “will continue to use .trust as the Group’s domain”, but that could merely mean it will continue to use nccgroup.trust as its primary web site.

I asked the company whether .trust was for sale this week and received the following PR statement:

NCC Group said in their FY results statement that certain parts of the Domain Services Division will be divested in due course, although the capability to provide a secure domain environment will be retained. They also stated that this will involve the diminution and realisation of assets. They said that Open Registry is to be realised and other assets written down.

They also made the point that they are still committed to the concept behind domain services and have retained the ability to provide a secure, managed environment when the marketplace changes.

Given the language, I would err towards .trust not being for sale, but the fact that the firm declined to give a straight answer it seems possible that it actually is.

.hotel losers gang up to threaten ICANN with legal bills

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2016, Domain Registries

The six losing applicants for the .hotel new gTLD are collectively threatening ICANN with a second Independent Review Process action.

Together, they this week filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, challenging its decision earlier this month to allow the Afilias-owned Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl application to go ahead to contracting.

HTLD won a controversial Community Priority Evaluation in 2014, effectively eliminating all rival applicants, but that decision was challenged in an IRP that ICANN ultimately won.

The other applicants think HTLD basically cobbled together a bogus “community” in order to “game” the CPE process and avoid an expensive auction.

Since the IRP decision, the six other applicants — Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry — have been arguing that the HTLD application should be thrown out due to the actions of Dirk Krischenowski, a former key executive.

Krischenowski was found by ICANN to have exploited a misconfiguration in its own applicants’ portal to download documents belonging to its competitors that should have been confidential.

But at its August 9 meeting, the ICANN board noted that the timing of the downloads showed that HTLD could not have benefited from the data exposure, and that in any event Krischenowski is no longer involved in the company, and allowed the bid to proceed.

That meant the six other applicants lost the chance to win .hotel at auction and/or make a bunch of cash by losing the auction. They’re not happy about that.

It doesn’t matter that the data breach could not have aided HTLD’s application or its CPE case, they argue, the information revealed could prove a competitive advantage once .hotel goes on sale:

What matters is that the information was accessed with the obvious intent to obtain an unfair advantage over direct competitors. The future registry operator of the .hotel gTLD will compete with other registry operators. In the unlikely event that HTLD were allowed to operate the .hotel gTLD, HTLD would have an unfair advantage over competing registry operators, because of its access to sensitive business information

They also think that HTLD being given .hotel despite having been found “cheating” goes against the spirit of application rules and ICANN’s bylaws.

The RfR (pdf) also draws heavily on the findings of the IRP panel in the unrelated Dot Registry (.llc, .inc, etc) case, which were accepted by the ICANN board also on August 9.

In that case, the panel suggested that the board should conduct more thorough, meaningful reviews of CPE decisions.

It also found that ICANN staff had been “intimately involved” in the preparation of the Dot Registry CPE decision (though not, it should be noted, in the actual scoring) as drafted by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The .hotel applicants argue that this decision is incompatible with their own IRP, which they lost in February, where the judges found a greater degree of separation between ICANN and the EIU.

Their own IRP panel was given “incomplete and misleading information” about how closely ICANN and the EIU work together, they argue, bringing the decision into doubt.

The RfR strongly hints that another IRP could be in the offing if ICANN fails to cancel HTLD application.

The applicants also want a hearing so they can argue their case in person, and a “substantive review” of the .hotel CPE.

The HTLD application for .hotel is currently “On Hold” while ICANN sorts through the mess.

Dot Registry backs .africa loser, batters on the ICANN lawsuit floodgates

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2016, Domain Registries

Rejected community gTLD applicant Dot Registry has waded into the lawsuit between DotConnectAfrica and ICANN.

Filing an amicus brief on Friday in support of the unsuccessful .africa applicant, Dot Registry argues that chagrined new gTLD applicants should be allowed to sue ICANN, despite the legal releases they all signed.

The company is clearly setting the groundwork for its own lawsuit against ICANN — or at least trying to give that impression.

If the two companies are successful in their arguments, it could open the floodgates for more lawsuits by pissed-off new gTLD applicants.

Dot Registry claims applicants signed overly broad, one-sided legal waivers with the assurance that alternative dispute mechanisms would be available.

However, it argues that these mechanisms — Reconsideration, Cooperative Engagement and Independent Review — are a “sham” that make ICANN’s assurances amount to nothing more than a “bait-and-switch scheme”.

Dot Registry recently won an Independent Review Process case against ICANN that challenged the adverse Community Priority Evaluation decisions on its .inc, .llc, and .llp applications.

But while the IRP panel said ICANN should pay Dot Registry’s share of the IRP costs, the applicant came away otherwise empty-handed when panel rejected its demand to be handed the four gTLDs on a plate.

The ICANN board of directors has not yet fully decided how to handle the three applications, but forcing them to auction with competing applications seems the most likely outcome.

By formally supporting DotConnectAfrica’s claim that the legal waiver both companies signed is “unconscionable”, the company clearly reckons further legal action will soon be needed.

DotConnectAfrica is suing ICANN on different grounds. Its .africa bid did not lose a CPE; rather it failed for a lack of governmental support.

But both companies agree that the litigation release they signed is not legally enforceable.

They both say that a legal waiver cannot be enforceable in ICANN’s native California if the protected party carries out fraud.

The court seems to be siding with DotConnectAfrica on this count, having thrown out motions to dismiss the case.

Dot Registry’s contribution is to point to its own IRP case as an example of how ICANN allegedly conned it into signing the release on the assumption that IRP would be able to sort out any disputes. Its court brief (pdf) states:

although claiming to provide an alternative accountability mechanism, the Release, in practice, is just a bait-and-switch scheme, offering applicants a sham accountability procedure

Indeed, the “accountability” mechanism is nothing of the sort; and, instead of providing applicants a way to challenge actions or inactions by ICANN, it gives lip-service to legitimate grievances while rubber-stamping decisions made by ICANN and its staff.

That’s an allusion to the IRP panel’s declaration, which found no evidence that ICANN’s board of directors had conducted a thorough, transparent review of Dot Registry’s complaints.

Dot Registry is being represented by the law firm Dechert. That’s the current home of Arif Ali, who represented DotConnectAfrica in its own original IRP, though Ali is not a named lawyer in the Dot Registry brief.

Spurned applicant crowd-funding to fight ICANN for .gay gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2016, Domain Registries

The community-driven applicant for .gay is attempting to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars via crowd-funding to challenge a series of adverse decisions that look set to lock it out of running the gTLD.

Alongside the fundraising, dotgay LLC has launched an extraordinary broadside at its frustrators, accusing ICANN of “discrimination” and rival applicants of trying to “exploit” the gay community.

The company wants to raise $360,000 via this Generosity.com page, “to challenge decisions that have stalled community efforts for .GAY.”

Although the campaign has been running for 23 days, so far only three people (including a former employee) have donated a total of $110.

Given the vast number of LGBTQIA organizations that have lent their support to dotgay, I can only assume a lack of publicity is to blame for the $359,890 shortfall.

A five-minute video announcing the campaign has been on YouTube since August 3, but at time of writing has only been viewed 100 times.

In the video, embedded below, dotgay says that only it can properly represent the LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Ally) community.

ICANN is dividing the community by accepting the Economist Intelligence Unit’s decision that the company should fail its Community Priority Evaluation (largely because the TQIA are not necessarily “gay”), the video voiceover suggests.

This is an old game that highlights how LGBTQIA continue to be disadvantaged and discriminated against. If .gay is not recognized as a community domain, ICANN will simply auction the namespace to the highest bidder and pocket the proceeds. If ICANN assigns to the right to operate the registry for .gay to a company seeking to exploit it for profit — very possibly without community participation in policy development for the domain, or taking into consideration LGBTQIA interests and concerns — the community will have no assurances .gay will be s safe space on the internet… In the end, ICANN and the three other applicants for the .gay domain have shown no respect for the global gay community’s wishes.

Neither the video not the crowdfunding page specify exactly what the $360,000 would be used for.

However, in order to challenge the CPE decision(s) against it, a lawsuit or an Independent Review Process — either of which could wind up costing over a million dollars — would be the most usual avenues of attack.

Perhaps eager to avoid the possibility of a legal challenge, the three other applicants — Minds + Machines, Rightside and Top Level Design — this week wrote to ICANN to demand a hasty resolution of the long-running saga.

Writing on behalf of all three, Rightside VP Statton Hammock wrote (pdf):

It has been more than FOUR years since the Applicants filed their applications for .GAY. Since this time long ago, dotGay has filed THREE community objections, one against each of the Applicants; TWO community priority applications, ONE Independent Review Panel request (later withdrawn) and ONE motion for reconsideration with the BGC which has been carefully considered by the members of that Committee and found insufficient to be granted. In total dotGay has had SIX “bites of the apple” and has been unsuccessful each time… It is simply time for the Board to affirm these decisions and allow the .GAY applications to proceed to contention set resolution.

The ICANN board had been due to consider dotgay’s latest Request for Reconsideration at at a meeting August 9, but the agenda item was removed, the letter notes. The applicants called on the board to meet again soon to make a decision.

After the board processes the RfR, .gay would presumably go to auction. Whether the auction resulted in ICANN pocketing the cash (as dotgay claims) or being distributed between the three losing applicants remains to be seen.

Whether the auction is public or private, the crowdfunding campaign strongly suggests that dotgay does not currently have the resources to win.

Confused by new gTLDs? Allow this Nominet infographic to make your brain explode

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2016, Domain Registries

There are over 1,000 new gTLDs out there right now, and figuring out what’s going on in the marketplace can be difficult.

So what better way to reduce confusion than to plot the 250 most populous TLDs into an infographic that vaguely resembles the iconic London Underground route map?

There must be thousands of better ways.

Regardless, the Tube map idea is the one Nominet decided to run with, and it released this beauty today.

Tube map

While the strings have been roughly organized by categories, there doesn’t seem to be much logic to the layout otherwise.

If one were to overlap the map on a map of London, there doesn’t appear to be much relationship between the string and the characteristics of the corresponding neighborhood.

DI World International Global Headquarters would be sandwiched between .lawyer and .marketing, or thereabouts, just to the north of Jack the Ripper’s stalking ground of .miami.

There is a Citizens Advice Bureau across the street, but I’m not sure that makes this area a hotbed of legal activity.

Market-leading .xyz would be up in Walthamstow somewhere, quite off the beaten track, .tokyo would be close to Chinatown, and .city is nowhere near the City.

I’m probably reading it wrong.

Anyway, the full map can be puzzled over in PDF format here, and you can read Nominet CEO Russell Haworth’s accompanying blog post here.