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World’s youngest country launches its Nazi-risk TLD next week

South Sudan is gearing up to launch its controversial top-level domain, .ss, on Monday.

It’s being run by the National Communication Authority for the country, which was founded in 2011 after its split from Sudan and is the world’s youngest nation.

As I noted back then, while SS was the natural and obvious choice of ISO country code, it’s potentially controversial due to the risk of it being used by modern-day Nazis in honor of Hitler’s Schutzstaffel.

Arguably, the risk nine years later is even greater due to the rise of the populist, nationalist right around the world.

So some readers may be pleased to hear that the registry is playing its launch by the book, starting with a sunrise period from June 1 to July 15. Trademark owners will have to show proof of ownership.

I’m sure Hugo Boss already has an intern with a checkbook, trademark certificate and sleeping bag outside the registry’s HQ, to be sure to be first in line on Monday.

Sunrise will be followed by a landrush period from July 17 to August 17, during which names can be acquired for a premium fee.

Immediately after that there’ll be an early access period, from August 19 to August 29, with more premium fees. General availability will begin September 1.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the direction other ccTLDs have been taking over the last decade, South Sudan has opted for a three-level structure, with registrations possible under .com.ss, .net.ss, .biz.ss, .org.ss, .gov.ss, .edu.ss, .sch.ss and .me.ss.

The com/net/biz/me versions are open to all. The others require some proof that the registrant belongs to the specific category.

The registry says it plans to make direct second-level regs available “at a later date”.

Getting your hands on a .ss domain may prove difficult.

Trademark owners won’t be able to use their regular corporate registrar (at least not directly) as NCA is only currently accredited South Sudan-based registrars. So far, only two have been accredited. Neither are also ICANN-accredited.

One is rather unfortunately called JuHub. It’s apparently using a free domain from Freenom’s .ml (Mali) and is listed as having its email at Gmail, which may not inspire confidence. Its web site does not resolve for me.

The other is NamesForUs, which is already taking pre-registration requests. No pricing is available.

The registry’s web site has also been down for most of today, and appears to have been hacked by a CBD splogger at some point, neither of which bodes well.

ICANN dissenter explains why she wanted .org sale approved

ICANN has finally published the dissenting statement made by one of its directors following the vote to deny Ethos Capital the right to acquire Public Interest Registry from the Internet Society.

Avri Doria was one of only two directors to vote against the majority on the April 30 resolution, and the only one to file a written statement for the record, which ICANN has now published (pdf). It reads:

Briefly, I believe that the contractual conditions have been met by PIR and Ethos and that they have gone beyond these required contractual conditions to offer significant public interest commitments currently missing from the current contract.

On balance after intense study of the proposal I have come to conclusion that the Public Interest of registrants and users is better served by the PICs offered by PIR, though they could
be stronger, than by forcing PIR to remain within ISOC without any guarantees on public interest related to data usage and freedom of expression.

In exchange for ICANN approval of the deal, Ethos had promised to cap its price increases at 10% for eight years and to create a largely independent stewardship council to monitor issues related to privacy and free speech in .org.

With ICANN voting to deny the acquisition, PIR is not required to live up to those commitments, but opponents of the deal feel that its not-for-profit status under ISOC control provide stronger protections against bad behavior.

ICANN said it rejected the deal on “public interest” grounds for a variety of reasons including the lack of transparency into Ethos’ ultimate ownership, distrust that Ethos would be able to service its debt, doubt over its management in the long term, and the sheer volume of dissent from the community.

Also playing a strong role was an objection from the California attorney general, who pulled rank and informed ICANN that it should reject the deal, reminding the organization that it was subject to his oversight. This has been described as a dangerous precedent.

Google launches .meet gTLD after Meet service goes free during lockdown

Google Registry is to launch its .meet gTLD next week with a sunrise period for trademark owners, but, perhaps controversially, it intends to keep the rest of the domains for itself.

It is expected that the company plans to use .meet domains in its Google Meet conferencing service, which was recently revamped and went free-to-use after Google realized that rival Zoom was eating its lunch during the coronavirus lockdown.

Google bought the .meet gTLD from Afilias back in 2015 but has kept it unused so far, even after the Meet service opened in 2017.

But according to ICANN records, it’s due to go into a one-month sunrise period from May 25, with an open-ended Trademark Claims period from June 25.

In a brief statement on its web site Google says:

Google Registry is launching the .meet TLD. This domain is Spec 9/ROCC exempt, which means we will be the registrant for all domains on the TLD and it will not be made generally available. The RRA for the TLD is available upon request, but registrations on behalf of the registry will be processed through a small number of registrars with whom the relevant product teams at Google work.

Translated from ICANN-speak, this means that Google has an exemption from Specification 9 in its .meet registry contract, releasing it from the Registry Operator Code of Conduct, which obliges registries to treat all registrars equally.

This means Google can’t sell the domains to anyone else, nor can it allow them to be controlled by anyone else, and it can use a limited pool of registrars to register names.

Spec 9 is a bit different to Spec 13, which exempts dot-brands from ICANN trademark-protection rules such as sunrise and Trademark Claims. You could argue that Spec 9 is “dot-brand lite”.

But what both Spec 9 and Spec 13 have in common is that they can’t be used in gTLDs ICANN considers a “generic string”, which is defined as:

a string consisting of a word or term that denominates or describes a general class of goods, services, groups, organizations or things, as opposed to distinguishing a specific brand of goods, services, groups, organizations or things from those of others.

Does .meet qualify there? It’s undoubtedly a dictionary word, but does it also describe a class of things? Maybe.

Google’s search engine itself gives one definition of “meet” as “an organized event at which a number of races or other athletic contests are held”, which one could reasonably argue is a class of services.

When Afilias applied for .meet in 2012, it expected it to be used by dating sites.

Google did not addresses the non-genericness of the string in its Spec 9 application. That judgement appears to have been made by ICANN alone.

Previously, requests for Spec 9 exemptions from the likes of .giving, .star, .analytics, .latino, .mutual, and .channel have been rejected or withdrawn.

It seems that Spec 9 exemption is going to somewhat limit .meet’s utility, given that third-parties will not be able to get “control or use of any registrations”.

Aussie ccTLD surges under coronavirus lockdown

Australia’s .au ccTLD may have been in decline recently, but it saw a surge in new domain registrations during its coronavirus lockdown, according to registry stats.

auDA said that 48,754 new .au domains were registered in April, a more than 23% increase on its April 2019 number.

The registry called this leap “the biggest month for new domain name creations we’ve seen in a while”. It averages about 40,000 per month, with seasonality.

The overall number of extant registrations was down a bit to 3,168,883, but auDA chalks this up to the expiration of domains registered during registrar promotions a year ago.

Australia was under its lockdown, which was less severe than in other countries, for the whole month of April. The measures were put in place March 21 and relaxed last week.

Numbers for March show a year-over-year decline of 1.4% in new adds.

While auDA does not attribute its April growth to lockdown, I think the numbers show that the movement restrictions imposed certainly didn’t hurt .au’s business.

ICANN’s .org decision was NOT unanimous, and it was made in secret

When ICANN announced its decision to deny Public Interest Registry’s request to be acquired by Ethos Capital at the end of April, I felt a little foolish.

I’d confidently predicted just days earlier that the decision by the board would not be unanimous, but ICANN, in announcing the decision, said “the entire Board stands by this decision”.

But it turns out I was right after all. Three directors voted against the consensus and one abstained.

The dissenting votes were cast by industry policy consultant Avri Doria, Serbian internet pioneer Danko Jevtović, and former Sudanese ccTLD operator Ihab Osman.

Doria and Jevtović voted against the first resolved clause, which rejected PIR’s request. All three voted against the second resolved clause, which would have allowed PIR to file a second request.

Sarah Deutsch, a private practice lawyer, abstained from both votes, presumably because she also sits on the board of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the civil liberties group that can, via California’s attorney general, probably be credited most with getting the transaction killed.

All three dissenters and Deutsch are Nominating Committee appointees.

According to the preliminary report of the April 30 meeting, “Doria indicated that she would be voting against the resolution and explained her views about how the public interest would be better served by ICANN granting its consent to PIR’s request.”

What her reasons were are not reflected in the record.

It also seems likely that any substantive minuting of ICANN’s decision is likely to be limited, as it appears to have been made at a different, off-the-books session at an unspecified earlier date.

The preliminary report notes the “the Board discussed and considered alternative draft resolutions for potential Board action as part of an earlier briefing”.

No such earlier meeting is listed on ICANN’s web site. The board’s previous formal meeting, two weeks earlier, had PIR’s request removed from the agenda at the last minute.

So it appears that ICANN’s board decided to reject the deal basically in secret at some point between April 17 and April 29, during a meeting of which ICANN has no obligation to publicly release the minutes.

Nice transparency loophole!

There’s always the Documentary Information Disclosure Policy, I suppose.

Donuts kicks down .place fences after attempt at innovation

Donuts has made its temporarily restricted gTLD .place unrestricted once again, two years after announcing it would be taking a stab at some technological innovation.

.place has been under lockdown for two years as Donuts planned to use it in “geofencing” applications developed by a startup it had invested in.

Geofencing is the practice of dividing the world up into three dimensional GPS-based chunks, placing those chunks into a registry, then selling them to businesses and others.

The idea was that each .place domain would be linked to a specific geofenced area. Mick could register mickscafe.place and assign the coordinates of his cafe to that domain.

In 2018, Donuts started telling registrars not to sell .place domains until its partner, Geo.Network, had launched its applications. It had invested an undisclosed sum in Geo.Network in 2016, when it was known as GeoFrenzy.

But these applications do not appear to have yet surfaced, and Donuts is now letting anyone register .place names for $10 a pop.

Since the 2018 freeze, the number of registered .place domains has tumbled from about 7,500 to about 3,800. Donuts says it has a 63% renewal rate and that 26% of its names are in active use.

.org sale officially dead

Public Interest Registry has formally announced that its proposed $1.13 billion acquisition by Ethos Capital is dead.

The company told ICANN yesterday that it is withdrawing its request for a change of control under its .org contract and that it “will not be pursuing an ICANN Request for Reconsideration or taking any other action to try to revive the Transaction”.

In a statement, CEO Jon Nevett said that PIR is no longer for sale to any other party. It will remain under the Internet Society’s control.

He also pointed out that it’s not within ICANN’s power to arbitrarily transfer .org to another registry, as some critics have called for.

“Such a transfer by ICANN is a contractual impossibility under our registry agreement,” he wrote.

ICANN rejected the change of control request after deciding it was not in the public interest for .org to pass into for-profit hands.

Following the decision, ISOC had indicated that PIR was no longer for sale.

Afilias promotes .vote domains amid US vote-by-mail controversy

Afilias-owned Monolith Registry, which runs .vote and .voto, has launched a site designed to help US citizens figure out how — or if — they’re able to vote by mail during the coronavirus outbreak.

The site, at mailyourballot.vote, comes as controversy rages in the US about whether voters should be forced to show up in person to ballot boxes in the midst of a deadly-virulent pandemic.

Reports suggest that Republicans are generally against mail-in votes, hiding behind bogus fears of voter fraud, because a lower turnout generally favors their candidates.

While I suppose one could argue that by attempting to make the information accessible it’s implicitly picking a side, Afilias doesn’t have a lot to say about the partisan debate. It said in a press release:

In the age of COVID-19, many voters are interested in voting by mail to avoid potential exposure to the virus. Unfortunately, learning HOW to vote by mail is difficult, as every state has different rules and puts this critical information in a different place. For example, 7 states (IN, LA, MI, SC, TX, YN and KY) restrict voting by mail to elderly voters only and 29 states (plus Washington, D.C.) only allow it in federal elections. Recently, governors of two states (NY and KY) ordered absentee ballot applications to be sent to all of their states’ voters.

The new site itself is little more than a directory: a clickable map of the US that bounces you to the official state government policy/instructions on voting by mail.

.vote isn’t an especially populous gTLD, having roughly 3,500 regs at the last count.

The US presidential election is this November.

Despite Brexit, .eu actually returned to growth in Q1

Brexit may have been pounding EURid’s domain base for the last few years, but .eu domains recovered a little in the first quarter due to promotional activity in Portugal.

The UK left the European Union on January 31, and Brits will lose their right to register and hold .eu domains when the so-called transition period ends at the end of the year.

Naturally enough, UK-based registrations of .eu domains continued to decline in Q1, down 24% year over year and 5% on the quarter to end March at 142,600 domains. It’s still the ninth-biggest eligible nation in terms of regs.

But a remarkable 64% spike in regs from Portugal, which EURid attributes to registrar-led promotions, seems to have helped .eu return to a growth state.

There were 80,000 .eu regs from Portugal at the end of the quarter, up by about 30,000 from the end of 2019, more than enough to counteract the 8,000-domain loss from the UK.

Overall, .eu grew from 3,579,689 domains to 3,623,050 domains during the quarter, an increase of about 43,000 or 0.5%.

The number of domains being claimed by EU citizens living outside the EU — possible under a newish policy — more than doubled to 759 domains.

Portugal ccTLD says growth better than expected during pandemic

The Portuguese ccTLD operator has become the latest registry to say that it is still seeing growth despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Associação DNS.PT recently said (via Google Translate) that “the registration in .pt is increasing considerably, we would even say above the expected”.

For the period of January 1 to April 27, .pt added 32,671 new domains, DNS.PT said.

However, that appears to be a considerable drop in regs when compared to the first quarter of 2019 (almost a month shorter period), when it saw 36,930 new registrations. It added 121,359 in the whole of 2019.

The registry said that 359 of these domains — about 1% — appeared to be directly related to the pandemic. About half a dozen have been deleted for violating DNS.PT’s terms of service.

The whole .pt space comprised over 1.2 million domains as of February.

Coronavirus has had a relatively small impact on health in Portugal, compared to other European countries. So far, it’s recorded a little over 1,000 deaths from the disease, from a population of 10.8 million.