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Verisign wants to auction off for charity

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2017, Domain Registries

The internet could soon gets just its fourth active single-character .com domain name, after Verisign revealed plans to auction off for charity.

The company has asked ICANN to allow it to release just one of the 23 remaining one-letter .com domains, which are currently reserved under the terms of the .com registry agreement.

It’s basically a proof of concept that would lead to this contractual restriction being lifted entirely. has been picked as the guinea pig, because of “long-standing interest” in the domain, according to Verisign., the $1.8 billion-a-year US retailer, is known to have huge interest in the name.

The company acquired from .CO Internet for $350,000 during the ccTLD’s 2010 relaunch, then embarked upon a disastrous rebranding campaign that ended when the company estimated it was losing 61% of its type-in traffic to

Overstock has obsessed over its unobtainable prize for over a decade and would almost certainly be involved in any auction for the domain.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Overstock pressured Verisign into requesting the release of

Despite the seven or eight figures that a single-letter .com domain could fetch, Verisign’s cut of the auction proceeds would be just $7.85, its base registry fee.

Regardless, it has a payment schedule in mind that would see the winning bidder continue to pay premium renewal fees for 25 years, eventually doubling the sale price.

The winner would pay their winning bid immediately and get a five-year registration, but then would have to pay 5% of that bid to renew the domain for years six through 25.

In other words, if the winning bid was $1 million, the annual renewal fee after the first five years would be $50,000 and the total amount paid would eventually be $2 million.

All of this money, apart from the auction provider’s cut, would go to a trust that would distribute the funds to internet-focused non-profit organizations, such as those promoting security or open protocols.

There’s also a clause that would seem to discourage domain investors from bidding. The only way to transfer the domain would be if the buyer was acquired entirely, though this could be presumably circumvented with the use of a shell company.

It’s an elaborate auction plan, befitting of the fact that one-character .com domains are super rare.

Only, and are currently registered and it’s Verisign policy to reserve them in the unlikely event they should ever expire.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk this July reacquired, the domain he used to launch PayPal in the 1990s, back from PayPal for an undisclosed sum. was acquired by GMO Internet for $6.8 million in 2014.

Single-character domains are typically not reserved in the ICANN contracts of other gTLDs, whether pre- or post-2012, though it’s standard practice for the registry to reserve them for auction anyway.

Verisign’s reservations in .com and .net are a legacy of IANA policy, pre-ICANN and have been generally considered technically unnecessary for some years.

Still, there’s been a reluctance to simply hand Verisign, already a money-printing machine through accident of history, another windfall of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing it to sell off the names for profit. Hence the elaborate plan with the trust fund.

The proposal to release requires a contractual amendment, so Verisign has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) with ICANN that is now open for public comment.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

ICANN urged to crack down on new gTLD abuse

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2017, Domain Registries

Registries selling dirt-cheap new gTLD domains should be rewarded with lower ICANN fees when they get proactive about abuse, while registrars that turn a blind eye to spammers should be suspended, an ICANN working group will recommend.

In its second batch of findings, the Competition, Consumer Trust, and Consumer Choice Review Team (CCT) said that financial incentives and a new complaints procedure should be used to persuade registries and registrars to fight DNS abuse.

The CCT said it “proposes the development of incentives to reward best practices preventing technical DNS abuse and strengthening the consequences for culpable or complacent conduits of technical DNS abuse” in a paper published today.

The review, which drew on multiple sources of market and abuse data, original research, and analysis of third-party research, is probably the most comprehensive study into the impact of the new gTLD program to date.

It concluded that overall rates of DNS abuse did not increase as a result of the program, but that bad actors are increasingly migrating away from legacy gTLDs such as .com to 2012-round TLDs such as .top, .gdn and Famous Four Media’s stable.

Indeed, much of the paper appears to be a veiled critique of FFM’s practices.

The registrar AlpNames, known to be affiliated with FFM and responsible for most of its retail sales, is singled out as the currently accredited registrar particularly favored by abusers.

The CCT report notes that AlpNames regularly sells domains for under $1, or gives them away for free, and offered a tool allowing registrants to randomly generate up to 2,000 available domains in 27 different gTLDs, pretty much inviting abuse.

“Certain registries and registrars appear to either positively encourage or at the very least willfully ignore DNS abuse. Such behavior needs to be identified rapidly and action
must be taken by ICANN compliance as deemed necessary,” the paper says.

The review found that gTLDs with no registration restrictions and the lowest prices had the most abuse. Duh.

“Generally, the DNS Abuse Study indicates that the introduction of new gTLDs did not increase the total amount of abuse for all gTLDs,” its report says. “[F]actors such as registration restrictions, price, and registrar-specific practices seem more likely to affect abuse rates.”

Drawing on data provided by 11 domain block-lists (SURBL, SpamHaus, etc), the paper states that at least one TLD (FFM’s .science) had an abuse rate excess of 50%.

Using SpamHaus data, the paper identities FFM’s .science, .stream, .trade, .review, .download and .accountant as having over 10% abuse during the period of its study. Also on that list: Uniregistry’s low-price .click and the China-based .top and .gdn.

One thing they all have in common is that AlpNames is a leading registrar, usually accounting for at least a quarter of domains under management.

There’s no way AlpNames/FFM is not aware of the amount of bad actors in its customer base, the question is what can ICANN do about it?

The CCT team recommends that registries and registrars with over 10% of their names used for abusive purposes should be tasked by ICANN with proactively cleaning up their zones. Those that fail to do so should be subject to a new Domain Abuse Dispute Resolution Process, it said.

These companies should have their contracts suspended when they’re “associated with unabated, abnormal and extremely high rates of technical abuse”, the report recommends.

There’s a big boilerplate specifying, tellingly, that registry operators that control registrars are affected by this recommendation too.

It should be noted that there was not a full consensus of support for the idea of a DADRP. Half a dozen working group members filed minority statements opposing it.

It’s not all stick in the report, however. There’s some carrot, too.

The CCT report recommends financial incentives such as fee reductions for registries that have “proactive anti-abuse measures” in place.

It noted that there is precedent for ICANN doing this kind of thing when it implemented an anti-tasting policy that seriously restricted registrars’ ability to get registry refunds.

The CCT Review Team was formed to figure out what impacts the 2012 new gTLD round had on the domain name market.

The completion of its work is one of several gating factors to the next new gTLD application round under ICANN’s new bylaws and the old Affirmation of Commitments with the US government.

It published initial recommendations earlier this year. This new set of recommendations is now open for public comment until January 8.

China and cheapo TLDs drag down industry growth — CENTR

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2017, Domain Registries

The growth of the worldwide domain industry continued to slow in the third quarter, according to data out today from CENTR.

There were 311.1 million registered domains across over 1,500 TLDs at the end of September, according to the report, 0.7% year-over-year growth.

CENTRThe new gTLD segment, which experienced a 7.2% decline to 20.6 million names, was the biggest drag.

But that decline is largely due to just two high-volume, low-price gTLDs — .xyz and .top — which lost millions of names that had been registered for pennies apiece.

Excluding these TLDs, year-over-year growth for the whole industry would have been 2.5%, CENTR said. The report states:

Over the past 2 years, quarterly growth rates have been decreasing since peaks in early 2016. The slowdown is the result of deletes after a period of increased investment from Chinese registrants. Other explanations to the slowdown are specific TLDs, such as .xyz and .top, which have contracted significantly.

The legacy gTLDs inched up by 0.2%, largely driven by almost two million net new names in .com. In fact, only five of the 17 legacy gTLDs experienced any growth at all, CENTR said.

In the world of European ccTLDs, the average (median) growth rate has been flat, but CENTR says it sees signs of a turnaround.

CENTR is the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries. Its Q3 report can be downloaded here (pdf).

Domain blogger O’Meara elected to auDA board

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2017, Domain Registries

Domainer-blogger Ned O’Meara, one of the fiercest critics of auDA, has been elected to the organization’s board of directors.

He was one of four directors elected at the Australian ccTLD registry’s Annual General Meeting today.

auDA splits its board into “demand” and “supply” classes. The former are registrants, the latter registrars and resellers.

O’Meara, a domain investor who blogs at, was elected as a demand class director, along with Nicole Murdoch, a trademark lawyer who O’Meara backed when he was prevaricating about his own run.

On the supply side, members elected Canadian-born chair of the Australian Web Industry Association and founder of 1300 Web Pro, James Deck, and Grant Wiltshire.

Wiltshire, who works for the government of the Australian state of Victoria, has been a demand-class director for the last two years. There’s no indication in his candidate statement where in the domain industry he has worked.

The election came a week after auDA named its new chair and a new independent director.

Chris Leptos is the new chair. He replaces Stuart Benjamin, who was forced out earlier this year after a “Grumpy” campaign led by O’Meara.

Leptos is deputy chair of financial advisory firm Flagstaff Partners and sits on the board of PPB Advisory. That’s the company that conducted an audit of auDA following the departure of its former CEO last year.

O’Meara landing on the board means he will of course become privy to all the information he’e been campaigning for auDA to be more transparent about recently. How this will affect his blogging remains to be seen, he has yet to write a post about his election.

New gTLDs blamed as .pl starts to shrink

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2017, Domain Registries

Polish ccTLD .pl has lost over 125,000 domains in the last year, a change of growth trajectory blamed partly on new gTLDs.

NASK, the registry, released its third-quarter report in English today. It’s overflowing with more statistics than you could possibly need about the TLD’s performance.

The headline is that .pl is on the decline. On NASK’s web site, it reports registrations as of today are down 128,671 on the last 12 months.

PLIt has 2,577,566 active domains in total today, 2,592,014 at the end of September, about three quarters of which are direct second-level registrations.

It’s one of many ccTLDs to have started to feel the pinch over the last few years. Increased competition, spurred by the expansion of the gTLD space, has been fingered as a likely culprit.

In the report’s introduction, NASK director Wojciech Kamieniecki wrote:

Temporary slowdown of the dynamics of the .pl domain market, observed from the beginning of the year — decrease in the number of new registrations — should be perceived in the light of extending the selection of attractive names as well as a growing number of new generic domains and increase in competition in the global domain market.

The renewal rate overall was 62.22%, a slight increase on 2016 but still on the low side for an established TLD. However, if you exclude third-level registrations (under and for example) the rate was a much more respectable 76.37%.

There were 203,898 new domains registered in the third quarter.

The vast majority — 93.96% — of current .pl domains are registered to Polish registrants, with registrants from Germany, the UK and the US also contributing to the total.

The full Q3 report can be downloaded here (pdf).