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.gov TLD quietly changes hands

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2021, Domain Registries

The .gov TLD used exclusively by governmental entities in the US has quietly changed managers.

On Friday, the IANA records for .gov changed from the General Services Administration to the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.

It was not unexpected. CISA announced the move in March.

But it’s less clear how the change request was handled. The ICANN board of directors certainly didn’t have a formal vote on the matter. IANA has not released a redelegation report as it would with a ccTLD.

CISA intends to make .gov domains more widely available to agencies at the federal, state, city and tribal level, and reduce the price to free or almost free.

Verisign currently manages the technical aspects of the domain, for $400 per domain per year.

UNR cuts $5.2 million from price of new gTLD portfolio

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2021, Domain Registries

UNR has reduced the opening bids on almost all of the gTLDs it plans to auction off later in the week, to the tune of a whopping $5.2 million.

According to the minimum opening bids listed on the auction web site today, the job lot of 23 TLD contracts could go for as little as $11.65 million, if there’s no competitive bidding whatsoever.

That’s compared to the $16.87 million total when the TLDs were first announced for auction back in January.

It’s a no-reserve auction of UNR’s entire portfolio of gTLDs that runs from Wednesday to Friday this week.

Some gTLDs, such as .hiv and .juegos, have no minimum bids.

The only TLD to receive a price increase since January is .llp, which had a $0 listing back then but is now listed at $200,000. There’s been no change in .llp’s fortunes since then — it’s still unlaunched.

The music-themed .country, which had no list price in January, now has a $300,000 tag.

The biggest discount comes on .link, once listed with a $3 million opener, now reduced to $2 million.

Nine of the gTLDs are now priced at below the original ICANN application fee of $186,000.

Here’s a table comparing the January minimum bid to today’s pricing.

TLDJanuary PricePrice TodayPrice Difference
TOTAL$16,870,000$11,650,000-$5,220,000
.audio$500,000$400,000-$100,000
.blackfriday$350,000$125,000-$225,000
.christmas$350,000$125,000-$225,000
.click$1,000,000$700,000-$300,000
.country$300,000$300,000
.diet$500,000$175,000-$325,000
,flowers$500,000$175,000-$325,000
.game$3,500,000$2,800,000-$700,000
,guitars$250,000$75,000-$175,000
.help$1,300,000$850,000-$450,000
.hiphop$250,000$100,000-$150,000
.hiv$0$0$0
.hosting$1,000,000$500,000-$500,000
.juegos$0$0$0
.link$3,000,000$2,000,000-$1,000,000
.llp$0$200,000$200,000
.lol$500,000$450,000-$50,000
.mom$500,000$350,000-$150,000
.photo$1,300,000$900,000-$400,000
.pics$500,000$325,000-$175,000
.property$850,000$500,000-$350,000
.sexy$570,000$450,000-$120,000
.tattoo$150,000$150,000$0

UNR, which sold off its registrar and secondary market businesses to GoDaddy and its stakes in three car-themed gTLDs to XYZ.com last year, plans to remodel itself as a back-end operator post-auction.

UPDATE: According to UNR, the January prices were preliminary and published accidentally, and no changes have been made since late January or early February.

Verisign expects huge domain growth in 2021

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign tonight significantly upgraded its estimate of how many .com and .net domains it expects to sell this year, citing an improving economy and increased growth in online commerce.

CEO Jim Bidzos told analysts that it’s now expecting its domain base to increase by 4% to 5.5% this year. Three months ago, it had cautiously predicted growth would be between 2.5% and 4.5%.

That’s a minimum of 6.6 million net new domains this year.

The upgrade was inspired by its first-quarter performance, in which .com and .net base grew by 4.6% when compared to Q1 2020, to 168 million names.

That was an increase of 2.8 million names during the quarter, which compares to 1.83 million net new domains in Q1 2020 and 1.46 million in Q4 2020. A pretty damn good showing, in other words.

For Q1, Verisign tonight reported net income of $150 million, down from $334 million in Q1 last year, when it experienced a one-off tax benefit.

Revenue was up 3.6% on last year at $324 million.

Decision on $135 million .web auction expected in weeks

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN, Verisign, Donuts, and the other applicants for .web will find out who gets to control the fiercely contested gTLD by the first week of June at the latest, according to Verisign’s CEO.

Jim Bidzos told analysts tonight that the Independent Review Process panel currently handling a complaint filed by Afilias declared its case closed April 7, and said that a decision will come within 60 days.

Afilias, now owned by Donuts, came second in an ICANN “auction of last resort” in which a Verisign-backed company called Nu Dot Co agreed to pay $135 million for the coveted string.

Afilias wants the auction declared invalid because ICANN, it claims, did not sufficiently pursue allegations that NDC was being secretly bankrolled by Verisign, which it says broke ICANN bylaws and new gTLD application rules.

This is denied by ICANN, as well as NDC and Verisign, which have filed legal documents with the IRP panel despite not being parties.

Afilias and others suspect that Verisign wants .web in order to bury it, keeping what could be a strong .com competitor weak, which Verisign also denies.

The IRP panel held a seven-day virtual hearing last August, but has continued to receive briefs from ICANN and Afilias since then.

Everything.sucks publishes transfer auth codes for thousands of domains in latest .sucks pimpage

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2021, Domain Registries

Everything.sucks, which is quickly emerging as one of the world’s most prominent organized cybersquatting projects, has a novel new way to sell .sucks domains without, technically, selling them.

The company, which casts itself as a “non-profit organization and communications forum for social activism” has published the transfer authorization codes for what appears to be the thousands of .sucks domains in its portfolio.

This means that anyone can transfer any of the company’s .sucks domains into their own registrar account with just a few clicks and without asking the current registrant — if they can afford the exorbitant transfer fee and don’t mind legal exposure.

You may recall that Everything.sucks is a Wikipedia-style web site that is fed by traffic from thousands of .sucks domains that, as the company freely admits, match the trademarks of famous companies.

Typing poptarts.sucks into your browser address bar will take you to the Everything.sucks wiki pages for Pop-Tarts, which contains content critical of the brand scraped from third-party web sites.

Everything.sucks emerged last year, and in October I reported that hundreds of .sucks domains were pointing there.

At the time, the web site carried banner ads on each brand’s page that took visitors to secondary-market sales pages at Sedo or Uniregistry, where the price was usually the same as the .suck’s registry’s wholesale price of $200.

I thought it was weird that a registrant at the very least flirting with cybersquatting would put up their domains at cost price, but Vox Populi, the registry, denied any involvement with the domains.

The registrant of these names, according to several UDRP decisions that it lost, is a probably fictitious individual named Pat Honeysalt, from a company called Honey Salt Ltd based in either Turks & Caicos or the UK.

Honey Salt has told UDRP panels that it registers the names on behalf of Everything.sucks. Given the volume of registrations, it must have spent many millions of dollars.

In any event, shortly after the UDRP cases started trickling in and not long after DI’s initial coverage, the banner ads on the .sucks pages disappeared.

And now, the auth codes have appeared. It looks like this:

Poptarts

Publishing auth codes right there on its web site appears to be the latest stage in a cat-and-mouse game Everything.sucks is playing with the trademark lawyers pursuing it through the UDRP process.

The boilerplate reads:

We occasionally buy a dot sucks domain and point it at a specific page. We do this to bring awareness to our site and because, well, we love the dot sucks domain. If you ask us if we would sell the domain, our answer is simple. Absolutely not. We will give it to you.

It’s not technically offering to sell these domains any more, right? As far as this nominal non-profit is concerned, it’s giving them away for free to anyone who wants them, including the brand’s owner.

But if you want the names, you’ve still got to pay for the transfer, of course. In the case of poptarts.sucks, it’s $2,399 at the registrar screen-capped below. Another registrar has the same name priced at $2,599.99.

Poptarts

If we’re following the money here, the only beneficiaries that spring to mind are Vox Pop, which gets its fat-margin registry fee, and the hapless registrar, which gets whatever its markup on a .sucks domain transfer is.

I tried these auth codes at six leading registrars and found that four of their shopping carts informed me point-blank that they do not support .sucks transfers at all.

Kiwis finally making the switch to EPP with Canadian deal

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2021, Domain Registries

InternetNZ has picked the winner in its registry replacement project RFP, which will see it switch the entire .nz back-end to the industry standard EPP protocol by the end of next year.

It’s selected the CIRA Registry Platform from Canadian .ca registry CIRA, but will continue to run its own back-end in-house in New Zealand.

InternetNZ had said last October that it planned to overhaul its outdated infrastructure, and put out its feelers for would-be vendors or service providers.

At that time, 65% of its over 720,000 .nz registrations and about 65% of its registrars were still using its old, proprietary Shared Registration System protocol.

Now, SRS is to be deprecated in favor of the CIRA platform and the Extensible Provisioning Protocol that has been industry standard across all gTLDs and many ccTLDs for the better part of two decades.

And they say New Zealand is progressive.

InternetNZ plans to make the switch fully by the end of next year. This is of course going to require some implementation work by registrars, which will have to code new hooks into the .nz registry.

UPDATE: This article was updated April 20 to correct “this year” to “next year”. InternetNZ plans to finish the switch before the end of 2022, not 2021.

Verisign says it needs .web because .com is running out of names

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign’s affinity for cognitive dissonance has emerged yet again — it’s now claiming that it needs to be awarded the .web gTLD because it’s running out of .com domains to sell.

In legal documents released by ICANN yesterday, Verisign’s lawyers say: “The undisputed evidence is that Verisign needs a TLD like .WEB for growth given the decreased name availability in .COM”.

The admission/claim/lie (delete according to preference) came in a joint post-hearing filing by Verisign and Nu Dot Co, the .web applicant to which Verisign loaned $135 million to bid for the gTLD on its behalf at a record-breaking ICANN auction in 2016.

Afilias, now owned by Donuts, was the second-highest bidder and since November 2018 has been trying to get the auction result cancelled via ICANN’s quasi-judicial Independent Review Process.

The IRP’s final hearing was held over seven days last June, and we’ve been waiting with baited breath for a ruling ever since.

At some point over the last 48 hours, ICANN published three sets of post-hearing arguments — one from itself, one from complainant Afilias and an amicus (non-party, friend of the court) filing from Verisign/NDC.

The Verisign filing (pdf) attempts to rubbish Afilias’ claims across the board, but its rebuttal of the argument that it only wants .web in order to bury it and protect .com’s dominance is particularly interesting:

Verisign Has Every Incentive To Grow .WEB Aggressively. Afilias’ Amended IRP Request asserts without evidence that Verisign seeks to acquire .WEB in order to eliminate a potential competitor for .COM and that Afilias would make a better operator of .WEB. Afilias presented no evidence to support this claim prior to the IRP, and none was presented at the hearing. In fact, the evidence before this Panel refutes Afilias’ claims. The undisputed evidence is that Verisign needs a TLD like .WEB for growth given the decreased name availability in .COM. Even Afilias’ own experts concede that the .COM TLD now has limited name availability. Moreover, the undisputed evidence establishes that Verisign is well-positioned to maximize .WEB’s potential, while Afilias’ recent track record suggests that it would be a less effective operator of .WEB.

In June last year, Verisign had submitted to the IRP panel:

Verisign needs a new TLD like .WEB for growth. Verisign’s growth rate has declined in recent years, largely due to many names in .COM already having been taken and increased competition from new gTLDs and ccTLDs that have superior name availability.

Even Afilias’ own experts concede that the .COM name space effectively is taken. Numerous other industry participants have noted that most of the “good” names in .COM already are taken.

While Verisign had a applied for a few non-English transliterations of .com in the 2012 new gTLD application round, it had avoided getting involved with potential competitors to .com.

But, according to its brief, in 2014 it had just sold off the remainder of its non-domain businesses and, realizing its growth now needed to come from a pure domains strategy, tasked VP Paul Livesay with figuring out how it could worm its way back into the new gTLD program.

Many of the details of Livesay’s research and decision making have been redacted by ICANN (purportedly at Verisign’s request), but it seems he came to the conclusion that the best way to benefit from the program long after the application window closed would be to secretly financially back NDC’s participation in the .web auction, with the provision that the .web contract would be transferred to Verisign should it win.

Quite apart from its regular postings touting .com availability over the last few years, the same year that Verisign was coming to the conclusion that .com was becoming saturated and it needed new growth opportunities in other TLDs, it sued XYZ.com for false advertising for having the gall to suggest that it was hard to find available .com domains. It lost.

Because Verisign apparently enjoys nothing more than holding two diametrically opposed positions simultaneously, its October amicus filing also claims that .web isn’t nearly as awesome as Afilias and others claim.

On the same page that it insists that .web is needed to drive growth, Verisign poo-poos the notion that .web could be a significant competitor to .com, relying on an “expert report” commissioned by Verisign and compiled by University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphy.

(Murphy’s report is redacted in its entirety (pdf) by ICANN, but his 1,119 pages of unredacted exhibits (pdf) prominently include screenshots from this blog, so I feel the need to point out that he’s a different Kevin Murphy — he’s not me, and I’d never even heard of the dude until this morning. On a personal level, the fact that I’m apparently not even the best Kevin Murphy when it comes to the .web story that I’ve been covering for the last two decades is, as you might imagine, as depressing to me as it is presumably amusing to you.)

While his report is redacted, reading around the edges it appears that Murphy reckons .web will not be an exceptional competitor to .com.

Verisign’s October filing states:

.WEB’s Valuation Shows It is Not Particularly Competitively Significant. The Murphy Report models multiple economic scenarios to assess Afilias’ claim that the $135 million price paid for .WEB at the public auction shows that .WEB will be a substantial competitor. None of these scenarios indicate that .WEB is likely to gain a significant market share. Instead, each scenario shows that .WEB is likely to have no more than a 2–3% market share.

Because of the redactions, it’s not clear what market Murphy was referring to, but a 3% market share of the current universe of domain names across all TLDs works out to over 10 million domains. In other words, .web could be a top-five gTLD, up alongside the likes of .org.

But elsewhere in its IRP filings, Verisign cites Murphy to support its argument that .web will have “registrations in the low single digit millions”. That would still be enough to make it one of the best-selling new gTLDs.

This relatively low expected turnout of course begs the question of why Verisign needs .web to grow. It added 4 million net new names across .com and .net last year alone, with .net pretty static, according to its financial filings.

I’m no Kevin Murphy, but here’s a table I’ve thrown together showing Verisign’s domain growth over the last decade.

EOYTotal .com/.net domains (millions)
2010105.2
2011113.8
2012121.1
2013127.2
2014130.6
2015139.8
2016142.2
2017146.4
2018153
2019158.8
2020165.2

Its revenue has consistently grown year over year, from $681 million in 2010 to $1.27 billion in 2020. It’s considered one of the most profitable companies in the world, and its share price has tripled since 2011.

And that was without .web.

Anger as Nominet rejects coup’s pick for chair

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2021, Domain Registries

.uk registry Nominet has rejected its members’ favorite for chair of the board, causing no small amount of irritation among those who backed last month’s boardroom coup.

Company acting chair Rob Binns yesterday told members that Sir Michael Lyons, who headed a review of Nominet a few years ago, will not be asked to be chair, after they failed to reach agreement on terms.

The company has posted an application form (pdf) for would-be chairs.

It seems Lyons was only looking for a short-term gig to help transition Nominet to a new operating model in line with the demands of the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, but Nominet wanted a commitment of at least three years.

Binns wrote (pdf) to members:

After much careful consideration, the Board has decided not to invite Sir Michael to be acting Chair. There was much in common between the current path the board is committed to, and Sir Michael’s view. However, the Board wants and needs a long-term Chair appointment to steer the company’s future and that did not align with Sir Michael’s conditions. We did explore a non-executive director seat but it was clear Sir Michael did not want such a role.

Binns had previously informed members their pick for deputy chair, Axel Pawlik, had also declined a consulting role at the registry.

Lyons and Pawlik had been put forward, with their cooperation, as replacement directors in last month’s Emergency General Meeting, which saw chair Mark Wood and three other directors fired by a slim majority of member votes.

CEO Russell Haworth resigned from both his executive and board roles shortly before the EGM rather that face the vote.

While PublicBenefit’s effort to slash the board almost in half was successful, a second motion to install Lyons and Pawlik did not make it to the agenda, with Nominet’s previous leadership claiming it broke company rules on member-selected directors.

Both Lyons and Pawlik signed a letter to Nominet yesterday expressing disappointment that they failed to come to an agreement and dripping with grim foreshadowing of future member action.

It (pdf) reads a little like a preemptive told-you-so.

We do not believe that you are currently in a strong enough position to begin recruiting new board members or a new CEO. Both require clarity about future mission and stability.

From the very beginning of our discussions, I have consistently underlined my concern to avoid a continuing period of uncertainty or to inherit a divided board, trying to fight the battles of the past. I wish you well with the task you have taken on.

The PublicBenefit campaign, spearheaded by Simon Blackler of the registrar Krystal Hosting, wants Nominet to eschew the diversification of its recent years under Haworth and return to its domain name registry roots, with lower wholesale prices and more money returned to public benefit causes.

The remaining board, under Binns and now supplemented by two newly appointed members of Nominet’s executive suite, has put forward a plan that addresses some of the campaign’s concerns, but many members do not believe quite enough humble pie has been eaten yet.

Members were angered last week when head of registry Eleanor Bradley, one of the ousted directors, was made interim CEO, a move one member today described as “taking the piss”.

Today, most of the member sentiment on social media has been critical of Nominet’s post-EGM choices, with rumblings of a second EGM to finish off the job.

But there was some appreciation that Nominet has been heavily engaging in discussions on Twitter today, which marks a switch from the pre-EGM hands-off approach to member engagement.

The company will hold a members-only meeting on Friday morning to discuss its plan for the future and, unlike the EGM, listen-only passes for the media appear to be available.

Ahead of GoDaddy acquisition, MMX to scrap premium fees on 725,000 domains

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2021, Domain Registries

MMX plans to remove hundreds of thousands of domains from its premium list later this month, and reduce prices on a hundred thousand more.

Dubbed The Great Release, the April 23 adjustment will see 725,400 names currently reserved at premium prices released to the available pool at the usual wholesale fee for their respective gTLDs.

Another 102,000 names will keep a premium ticket, but will see their price reduced. MMX says it’s wiped $145 million from the list price of a total of 827,000 names.

The names are available in 26 of MMX’s portfolio of new gTLDs, which GoDaddy currently intends to buy for $120 million.

An MMX spokesperson said that the current pricing had been in place since 2014 and was up for review. He said:

Premium pricing is not something that had been looked at in great detail since it launched its TLDs, and MMX felt that its pricing was out of step with current market trends. MMX also saw that it had held back much of its inventory without ever releasing it, and following a large volume of enquiries over the last 12 months, MMX decided to release all reserved names to get them into the hands of users.

A searchable database of releasing names can be found here, but you’ll need to hand over your email address to access it.

ICANN threatens to seize gTLD after Whois downtime

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2021, Domain Registries

Are we about to see our next gTLD registry implosion?

ICANN has whacked the company behind .gdn with a breach notice and a threat that it may seize the TLD, after its Whois systems allegedly suffered days of downtime.

According to ICANN, .gdn exceeded its weekly and monthly downtime limits in late March and early April, in both months triggering the threshold whereby ICANN is allowed to transition the TLD to an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator.

gTLD registries are allowed to have 864 minutes (about 14 hours) of unplanned Whois downtime per month. Downtime exceeding 24 hours per week is enough to trigger ICANN’s EBERO powers.

It appears to be the third time .gdn’s Whois has gone on the blink for longer than the permitted period — ICANN says it happened in April 2018 and August 2019 too. Those incidents were not publicized.

It seems the Russian registry, Joint Stock Company “Navigation-information systems”, managed to fix the problem on April 2, and ICANN is not invoking the EBERO transition, something it has done just a couple times before, just yet.

But it does want NIS to present it with a plan showing how it intends to avoid another spell of excessive downtime in future. It has until May 8, or ICANN may escalate.

.gdn is by most measures a bullshit TLD.

While it was originally intended to address some kind of satellite navigation niche, it eventually launched as a pure generic with the backronym “Global Domain Name” in 2016.

It managed to rack up over 300,000 registrations in the space of a year, almost all via disgraced and now-defunct registrar AlpNames, and was highlighted by SpamHaus as being one of the most spam-friendly of the new gTLDs.

After AlpNames went out of business two years ago, ICANN transferred some 350,000 .gdn names to CentralNic-owned registrar Key-Systems.

Today, Key-Systems has fewer than 300 .gdn domains. The TLD’s zone file dropped by about 290,000 domains in a single day last December.

.gdn had fewer than 11,000 domains under management at the end of 2020, 90% of which were registered through a Dubai-based registrar called Intracom Middle East FZE.

Intracom pretty much only sells .gdn domains, suggesting an affiliation with the registry.

Web searches for live sites using .gdn return not much more than what looks like porn spam.

A busted Whois looks like the least of its problems, to be honest.