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Registries rebel against ICANN’s Whois upgrade decree

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2016, Domain Services

Registry operators are challenging an ICANN decision to force them to launch a new Whois-style service, saying it will cost them too much money.

The Registries Stakeholder Group has filed a Request for Reconsideration — a low-level appeal — of a decision asking them to launch RDAP services to complement their existing Whois.

RDAP, Registration Data Access Protocol, is being broadly touted as the successor to Whois.

It offers the same functionality — you can query who owns a domain — but the data returned is more uniformly structured. It also enables access control, so not every user would have access to every field.

The RySG now claims that ICANN is trying to sneak an obligation to implement RDAP into its registry agreements through a “backdoor” in the form of the new Consistent Labeling and Display Policy.

That policy, which originated in a formal, community-driven GNSO Policy Development Process, seeks to normalize Whois (or Registration Data Services, in its generic not protocol-specific wording) output to make it easier to machine-read.

It applies to all gTLDs except .com, .net and .jobs (which are “thin” registries) and would come into effect February 1 next year.

Registries appear happy to implement the CL&D policy, but not as currently written. It now contains, almost as an aside, this requirement:

The implementation of an RDAP service in accordance with the “RDAP Operational Profile for gTLD Registries and Registrars” is required for all gTLD registries in order to achieve consistent labeling and display.

The RySG argues in its RfR (pdf) that implementing RDAP was never part of the community-endorsed plan, and that it is not “commercially feasible” to do so right now.

The 2012 new gTLD Registry Agreement specifies that implementation of the protocol now known as RDAP be commercially feasible before it’s required. The RySG can’t even respond as to whether it’s feasible or not since no reasoning to that regard was provided in the notice to implement such services.

Furthermore, some of our members are on record stating that since the RDAP profile replicates the known deficiencies of WHOIS – which is currently being studied by a PDP WG – so it’s not commercially feasible to deploy it to mimic a flawed system.

The introduction of RDAP represents an additive requirement for Registries to operate a new (additive) service. As there are no provisions for the sunset of the legacy Whois service, it’s unclear how this additional requirement can be considered commercially feasible.

In other words, the registries think it could be too costly to deploy RDAP and Whois at the same time, especially given that RDAP is not finished yet.

It’s yet another case of domain companies accusing ICANN the organization of slipping in requirements without community support.

Whether the RfR will be successful is debatable. There’s only been a few Reconsideration requests that have been approved by the ICANN board in the history of the mechanism.

However, the board may be feeling especially diligent when it comes to look at this particular RfR, due to the spotlight that was recently shone on the Reconsideration process by an Independent Review Process panel, which determined that the board just rubber-stamped decisions written by house lawyers.

NamesCon confirms three more shows after being acquired

Kevin Murphy, August 19, 2016, Domain Services

NamesCon says it has booked the venue for three more years of domain name conferences, following its acquisition this week.

The conference organizers said today that it has been acquired by 13-year-old German events outfit WorldHostingDays, which usually focuses on the hosting market, for an undisclosed sum.

NamesCon said in a press release that all existing commitments — such as tickets and sponsorship deals — will be honored, and that the same folk will still run the 2017 conference.

It said that it has booked the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas, venue for the first three events, for the next three years.

The next three events will be held January 22 – 25, 2017, January 28 – 31, 2018 and January 27 – 30, 2019, the company said.

NamesCon focuses on the business of domain names, providing sessions on the buy and sell sides of the business.

dotgay loses third .gay appeal

Kevin Murphy, July 1, 2016, Domain Services

Death warrant or portent of impending legal action?

dotgay LLC has lost its third attempt to get ICANN to reconsider tossing its application for community priority status in the fight for the .gay gTLD.

According to ICANN, on Sunday its Board Governance Committee threw out dotgay’s third Request for Reconsideration, an attempt to give the company an unprecedented third go at the Community Priority Evaluation process.

CPEs allow community gTLD applicants to avoid expensive auctions, but dotgay has lost two primarily on the grounds that its definition of community includes people who are not gay.

Its latest RfR was pretty weak, based on a technicality about which staffers at the Economist Intelligence Unit (which carries out the CPEs) were in charge of verifying its letters of community support.

The rationale for the BGC’s determination, which still needs to be rubber-stamped by the full ICANN board, has not been published yet.

But it seems from a blog post that ICANN now expects .gay to go to auction, where there are four competing applicants in total.

ICANN does not usually publish blog posts on RfR decisions, but in the .gay case it has been keen to avoid being accused of any motivation beyond a dogged pursuit of correct procedure.

So will dotgay go quietly? It remains to be seen.

While all new gTLD applicants had to sign a release promising not to sue ICANN, .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica sued earlier this year and managed to get a sympathetic judge who seems bent on allowing the case to go to trial.

ICANN proposes pricing changes for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2016, Domain Services

ICANN is to give gTLD registries greater power to change their pricing under a proposed new deal.

The organization also says it could accept reduced fees from registries under some circumstances.

These are among about 40 substantial changes appearing in a new version of the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement that has been put out for comment.

The proposed new RA was posted last night after ICANN and registries spent months negotiating the details behind closed doors.

The contract would apply to registries that have signed the base new gTLD contract, not legacy gTLDs such as .com (though, in the passage of time, leaks may occur).

Many of the changes seek to bring clarity to registries’ technical obligations, particularly during their launch phases, and their data reporting requirements.

But there are a few notable changes concerning fees.

First, it seems registrars are going to be stripped of their right to challenge registry fee increases through the ICANN process.

Currently, any substantial changes to their Registry-Registrar Agreements has to go through scrutiny by ICANN and the registrars, and the registrars are allowed to object to the changes.

We saw such objections at the start of the year with .sucks, but RRA changes usually happen a few times a month.

Under the proposed new RA, that process would no longer apply when the only change made to an RRA is to change the registry fee.

Registrars would still have to be provided with 30 to 180 days notice, depending on the extent of the fee change, but there would be no ICANN review or registrar challenge process.

ICANN reasons that this is sensible because, unlike legacy gTLDs, its new gTLD contracts don’t regulate prices anyway.

Second, ICANN has introduced a new “Fee Reduction Waiver” concept to the contract. The draft deal states:

In ICANN’s sole discretion, ICANN may reduce the amount of registry fees payable hereunder by Registry Operator for any period of time (“Fee Reduction Waiver”). Any such Fee Reduction Waiver may, as determined by ICANN in its sole discretion, be (a) limited in duration and (b) conditioned upon Registry Operator’s acceptance of the terms and conditions set forth in such waiver. A Fee Reduction Waiver shall not be effective unless executed in writing by ICANN as contemplated by Section 7.6(i). ICANN will provide notice of any Fee Reduction Waiver to Registry Operator in accordance with Section 7.9.

It’s not entirely clear who asked for this or why.

I can imagine scenarios in which struggling registries might seek a handout from cash-rich ICANN, or in which dot-brands whose registrations are not linked to revenue might ask for a waiver.

Dot-brands — that is, registries that have signed Specification 13 of the RA — also get some love in the new RA, including an effective right of veto over changes that could affect their special status.

If in future an RA change is proposed that would effectively amend Spec 13, it will not happen unless Spec 13 registries vote in favor of the change.

The vote would require a two-thirds majority, with registries voting power weighted according to how much they pay ICANN in registry fees.

The whole contract is now open for a 43-day public comment period, which you can find here.

Nominet to run .blog’s back-end

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2016, Domain Services

Nominet is to run the back-end registry systems for .blog, the company announced this evening.

We reported earlier today that .blog has a surprise new owner — Knock Knock, Whois There, which belongs to Automattic, owner of WordPress.com — and it seems the change of ownership comes with a change of back-end.

Primer Nivel, the company that applied for .blog and just transferred the ICANN contract to Automattic, had named Malaysian also-ran Qinetics as its original back-end.

“Nominet will provide the registry services, as well as technical support to the registrar channel,” Nominet said tonight. The deal includes EPP and DNS.

Nominet’s press release confirms that registrants will not need a WordPress.com account to buy a .blog domain name.

It’s the second big back-end deal for Nominet in recent weeks. The company recently revealed it will be taking over technical services for all 28 of Minds + Machines new gTLDs.

Automattic/KKWT is predicting 250,000 .blog registrations in 2016, and general availability is not expected until the fourth quarter.