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China approves more Donuts, Afilias gTLDs

Donuts and Afilias have had two batches of new gTLDs approved for use in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology approved five Afilias TLDs and six Donuts TLDs last month. This means customers of Chinese registrars will now be able to legally use those names in China.

Afilias was approved for .info, .mobi and .pro, which were delegated following the 2000 and 2003 new gTLD application rounds and .kim and .red from the 2012 round.

Donuts simultaneously was cleared for .ltd, .group, .游戏 (“game”), .企业 (“business”), .娱乐 (“entertainment) and .商店 (“store”).

The approvals more than double the number of new gTLDs in Latin script to get the nod from MIIT, in what now appears to be a monthly occurrence.

In February, .ink and four Chinese-script TLDs passed the regulatory process, following .site and .shop in January and .vip, .club and .xyz in December.

MIIT approval means the chance of usage by Chinese registrants should go up, but it also ties these Western registries to relatively Draconian government policies when it comes to Chinese registrations.

ICANN reveals $500 million gTLD buyback program

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2017, Domain Services

ICANN is to spend its half-billion dollar auction war chest on a buyback program for failing new gTLDs, DI can reveal.

Inspired by the “Cash for Clunkers” program that provided stimulus during the economic downturn in the US a decade ago, the new program will see ICANN offer $1 million per gTLD to any registry whose heart simply isn’t in it any more.

The scheme will work rather like a stock buyback, ICANN explained in a 489-page document (PDF).

Registries opting to sell back their gTLDs will see their strings abruptly removed from the DNS root and their contracts torn up and burned on a great big bonfire.

Any domains registered in these gTLDs will stop resolving to parking pages immediately.

“We believe this program offers the most equitable distribution of auction funds and the fairest way to ensure new gTLD program participants see a return on their investment,” ICANN chair Steve Crocker said in a statement.

Portfolio registries including Donuts, Uniregistry, MMX, Radix and XYZ.com are already believed to have expressed an interest in the scheme, and were already forming a disorderly queue outside ICANN’s Los Angeles headquarters last night.

While Verisign also qualifies for the program, much of the funding will be provided by the $130 million it spent at the .web auction.

The company said it welcomed the deal and plans to sell .web back to ICANN as soon as possible. It added that it will cover the $129 million loss by fueling its data center generators with ten-dollar bills, rather than twenties, for the first three weeks of April.

But registrant groups were outraged by the proposal, which will see millions of domain names erased from the internet.

Dr General President Colonel Lucky Mfwamba (Esq), chair of the New gTLD Registrants Association, said he expects the bottom to fall out of the penis enlargement market overnight.

And in China, thousands of domain investors flocked to forums to complain that the randomly generated domains they bought at $0.20 each and hoped to sell to other investors for $0.30 each are suddenly worthless.

Government anger over two-letter domains

Kevin Murphy, March 16, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has clashed with its board of directors over the lack of protections for two-letter domain names that match country codes.

The board has now formally been urged to reconsider its policy to allow registries to sell these names, after angry comments and threats from some GAC members.

Governments from Brazil, Iran, China and the European Union are among at least 10 angered that the names are either not adequately protected or only available for exorbitant prices,

The debate got very heated at ICANN 58 here in Copenhagen on Wednesday morning, during a public session between the GAC and the board, with Iran’s outspoken GAC rep, Kavous Arasteh, almost yelling at Chris Disspain, the board’s point man on the topic.

Arasteh even threatened to take his concerns, if not addressed, to the International Telecommunications Union when it convenes for a plenipotentiary next year.

“Your position is not acceptable. Rejected categorically,” he said.

“The multistakeholder process was not easily accepted by many countries. Still people have difficulty with that,” he said. “We have a plenipotentiary coming in 2018, and we will raise the issue if the matter is not resolved… It is not always commercial, government also has some powers, and we exercise our powers.”

Invoking the ITU is a way to turn a relatively trivial disagreement into an existential threat to ICANN, a typical negotiating tactic of governments that don’t get what they want from ICANN.

The relatively trivial disagreement in this case is ICANN’s decision to allow gTLD registries to release all previously reserved two-letter strings.

In November, ICANN approved a policy that released all two-letter strings on the proviso that registrants have to assert that they will not pass themselves off as affiliated with the countries concerned.

Registries also were given a duty to investigate — but not necessarily act upon — governmental complaints about confusion.

ICANN thinks that this policy is perfectly compliant with the GAC’s latest official advice, supplied following the Helsinki meeting last June, which asked ICANN to:

urge the relevant Registry or the Registrar to engage with the relevant GAC members when a risk is identified in order to come to an agreement on how to manage it or to have a third-party assessment of the situation if the name is already registered.

Disspain patiently pointed out during Wednesday’s session that governments have no legal rights to their ccTLD strings at the second level, and that most of the complaining governments don’t even protect two-letter strings in their own ccTLDs.

But some GAC reps disagreed.

China stated (via the official interpreter): “We believe the board doesn’t have the right or the mandate to decide whether GAC members have the right over two-character domain names.”

While no government spoke in favor of the ICANN policy on Wednesday, the complaining governments do appear to be in a minority of the GAC.

Despite this, they seem to have been effective in swaying fellow committee members to issue some stern new advice. The Copenhagen communique, published last night (pdf), reads:

a. The GAC advises the ICANN Board to:

I. Take into account the serious concerns expressed by some GAC Members as contained in previous GAC Advice

II. Engage with concerned governments by the next ICANN meeting to resolve those concerns.

III. Immediately explore measures to find a satisfactory solution of the matter to meet the concerns of these countries before being further aggravated.

IV. Provide clarification of the decision-making process and of the rationale for the November 2016 resolution, particularly in regard to consideration of the GAC advice, timing and level of support for this resolution.

ICANN is being compelled to retroactively revisit a policy that was issued in compliance with previous GAC advice, it seems.

The next ICANN meeting is being held in Johannesburg in June, so the clock is ticking.

Two-letter domains are valuable properties even in new gTLDs. With each expected to sell for thousands, two-letter names are likely to be a multimillion dollar windfall for even moderately sized portfolio registries.

CentralNic says revenue more than doubled in 2016

CentralNic’s revenue was up 110% in 2016, according to the company.

The registry today released its unaudited results for last year, showing EBITDA up 65% at £5.5 million ($6.7 million) on revenue of £22.1 million ($26.9 million)

The company, which has expanded into registrar services via acquisition in the last few years, said its recurring revenue — mainly domain registrations — now account for about 80% of revenue.

CentralNic has about a third of the new gTLD back-end market, primarily because it’s the provider for .xyz’s millions of cheapo registrations.

In its statement, it said it hopes to focus on growing more in China, where clients including .xyz were recently licensed.

It also intends to make more acquisitions, where the deals “meet clear strategic criteria including being earnings accretive in the short term with a strong recurring revenues base”.

How .com became a restricted TLD

Verisign has been given approval to start restricting who can and cannot register .com and .net domain names in various countries.

Customers of Chinese registrars are the first to be affected by the change to the registry’s back-end system, which was made last year.

ICANN last week gave Verisign a “free to deploy” notice for a new “Verification Code Extension” system that enables the company to stop domains registered via selected registrars from resolving unless the registrant’s identity has been verified and the name is not on China’s banned list.

It appears to be the system Verisign deployed in order to receive its Chinese government license to operate in China.

Under Verification Code Extension, Verisign uses ICANN records to identify which registrars are based in countries that have governmental restrictions. I believe China is currently the only affected country.

Those registrars are able to register domains normally, but Verisign will prevent the names from resolving (placing them in serverHold status and keeping them out of the zone file) unless the registration is accompanied by a verification code.

These codes are distributed to the affected registrars by at least two verification service providers. Verisign, in response to DI questions, declined to name them.

Under its “free to deploy” agreement with ICANN (pdf), Verisign is unable to offer verification services itself. It must use third parties.

The company added the functionality to its .com and .net registry as an option in February 2016, according to ICANN records. It seems to have been implemented last July.

A Verisign spokesperson said the company “has implemented” the system.

The Verification Code Extension — technically, it’s an extension to the EPP protocol pretty much all registries use — was outlined in a Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) last May, and approved by ICANN not long after.

Verisign was approved to operate in China last August in the first wave of gTLD registries to obtain government licenses.

Under Chinese regulations, domain names registered in TLDs not approved by the government may not resolve. Registrars are obliged to verify the identities of their registrants and names containing certain sensitive terms are not permitted.

Other gTLDs, including .vip, .club, .xyz .site and .shop have been granted approval over the last few months.

Some have chosen to work with registration gateway providers in China to comply with the local rules.

Apart from XYZ.com and Verisign, no registry has sought ICANN approval for their particular implementation of Chinese law.

Because Chinese influence over ICANN is a politically sensitive issue right now, it should be pointed out that the Verification Code Extension is not something that ICANN came up with in response to Chinese demands.

Rather, it’s something Verisign came up with in response to Chinese market realities. ICANN has merely rubber-stamped a service requested by Verisign.

This, in other words, is a case of China flexing market muscle, not political muscle. Verisign, like many other gTLD registries, is over-exposed to the Chinese market.

It should also be pointed out for avoidance of doubt that the Chinese restrictions do not apply to customers of non-Chinese registrars.

However, it appears that Verisign now has a mechanism baked into its .com and .net registries that would make it much easier to implement .com restrictions that other governments might choose to put into their own legislation in future.