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Neustar’s .au deal in peril as Aussies look in-house

Australian ccTLD registry auDA is looking at bringing its back-end infrastructure in house, to the possible detriment of Neustar.

In a surprise move, auDA said late last month that several months of talks with AusRegistry, aimed at possibly extending its current back-end contract beyond 2018, had failed.

AusRegistry has operated .au for auDA since 2002, during which time the ccTLD has grown to 3.1 million domains.

The company was acquired by Neustar in 2015 as part of its $87 million acquisition of Bombora Technologies, parent to AusRegistry and ARI.

auDA said it has now launched an invitation-only “restricted tender exercise” to find advisers to help it build its own registry back-end.

AusRegistry will be among those invited to participate, auDA confirmed.

This week, the registry also announced that it has hired Bruce Tonkin, formerly of Melbourne IT and the ICANN board of directors, to be its “Registry Transformation Project Lead”.

It will also form an “Industry-led Advisory Panel” to give .au registrars a say in how the new registry is designed and built.

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.gay, .music and others in limbo as ICANN probes itself

Kevin Murphy, May 8, 2017, Domain Policy

Several new gTLD applicants have slammed ICANN for conducting an investigation into its own controversial practices that seems to be as opaque as the practices themselves.

Seven proposed new gTLDs, including the much-anticipated .music and .gay, are currently trapped in ICANN red tape hell as the organization conducts a secretive probe into how its own staff handled Community Priority Evaluations.

The now broad-ranging investigation seems have been going on for over six months but does not appear to have a set deadline for completion.

Applicants affected by the delays don’t know who is conducting the probe, and say they have not been contacted by anyone for their input.

At issue is the CPE process, designed to give genuine “community” gTLD applicants a way to avoid a costly auction in the event that their choice of string was contested.

The results of the roughly 25 CPE decisions, all conducted by the independent Economist Intelligence Unit, were sometimes divergent from each other or just baffling.

Many of the losers complained via ICANN’s in-house Requests for Reconsideration and then Independent Review Process mechanisms.

One such IRP complaint — related to Dot Registry’s .inc, .llc, .llp applications — led to two of the three-person IRP panel deciding last July that ICANN had serious questions to answer about how the CPE process was carried out.

While no evidence was found that ICANN had coached the EIU on scoring, it did emerge that ICANN staff had supplied margin notes to the supposedly independent EIU that had subsequently been incorporated into its final decision.

The IRP panel majority wrote that the EIU “did not act on its own in performing the CPEs” and “ICANN staff was intimately involved in the process”.

A month or so later, the ICANN board of directors passed a resolution calling for the CEO to “undertake an independent review of the process by which ICANN staff interacted with the CPE provider”.

Another month later, in October, the Board Governance Committee broadened the scope of the investigation and asked the EIU to supply it with documents it used to reach its decisions in multiple controversial CPE cases.

A couple of weeks ago, BGC chair Chris Disspain explained all this (pdf) to the applicants for .music, .gay, hotel, .cpa, .llc, .inc, .llp and .merck, all of which are affected by the delay caused by the investigation.

He said that the investigation would be completed “as soon as practicable”.

But in response, Dot Registry and lawyers for fellow failed CPE applicant DotMusic have fired off more letters of complaint to ICANN.

(UPDATE: Dot Registry CEO Shaul Jolles got in touch to say his letter was actually sent before Disspain’s, despite the dates on the letters as published by ICANN suggesting the opposite).

Both applicants note that they have no idea who the independent party investigating the CPEs is. That’s because ICANN hasn’t identified them publicly or privately, and the evaluator has not contacted the applicants for their side of the story.

DotMusic’s lawyer wrote (pdf):

DotMusic’s rights are thus being decided by a process about which it: (1) possesses minimal information; (2) carried out by an individual or organization whose identity ICANN is shielding; (3) whose mandate is secret; (4) whose methods are unknown; and (5) whose report may never be made public by ICANN’s Board.

He added, pointedly:

The exclusion of directly affected parties from participation eerily reproduces the shortcomings of the EIU evaluations that are under scrutiny in the first place.

Dot Registry CEO Shaul Jolles, in his letter (pdf), quoted Disspain saying at a public forum in Copenhagen this March that a blog post addressing the concerns had been drafted and would be published “shortly”, but wasn’t.

He suggested the investigation is “smoke and mirrors” and, along with DotMusic, demanded more information about the investigator’s identity and methods.

It does strike me as a looking a bit like history repeating itself: ICANN comes under fire for non-transparently influencing a supposedly independent review and addresses those criticisms by launching another non-transparent supposedly independent review.

No matter what I feel about the merits of the “community” claims of some of these applicants, it has been over five years now since they submitted their applications and the courtesy of transparency — if closure itself its not yet possible — doesn’t seem like a great deal to ask.

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XYZ acquires .storage, its 10th gTLD

XYZ.com said today that it has acquired the half-launched new gTLD .storage from its original owner.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but CEO Daniel Negari said in a blog post that it has been funded using some of the “excess of cash flow” from sales of .xyz domains.

The original .storage registry was Extra Space Storage, which rents out physical storage units in the US.

It started its protracted launch period a little over a year ago but had not planned to go to general availability until July this year.

Having apparently passed through its sunrise period and a special landrush for the storage industry, which ended in January, it has fewer than 800 domains in its zone file.

It looks like XYZ will be essentially relaunching the gTLD from scratch, with a new sunrise period penciled in for November and an early access period and GA slated for December.

Pre-launch pricing is around the $80 mark at the few registrars I checked today, and it looks like that will remain under the new management.

That’s despite XYZ talking today about .storage as a “premium” vertically-focused TLD along the lines of its $3,000 .cars or $750 .theatre.

The company said that it will not hold back reserved names at higher, premium pricing. Even nice-looking domains such as cloud.storage will be available at the base fee, it said.

The new acquisition becomes the 10th that XYZ has a hand in running, if you count the three car-related gTLDs it manages in a joint venture with Uniregistry. The others are .security, .rent, .protection, .theatre, and .college.

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ICANN changes Panama meeting dates to avoid Muslim holiday

Kevin Murphy, May 3, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has changed the dates of next year’s ICANN 62 public meeting to accommodate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.

Eid is the movable festival marking the end of the fasting month Ramadan, when observant Muslims are allowed to start eating during daylight hours again.

In 2018, it runs from June 14-15, which would have made things difficult for Muslims hoping to attend ICANN’s mid-year meeting, previously slated to begin June 18.

So ICANN has pushed it back a week. ICANN 62 will now begin June 25. As a mid-year Policy Forum, it is the shortest meeting of the year.

The meeting is due to be held in Panama City, Panama.

Its the second change for the Panama meeting. ICANN had originally planned to meet there for ICANN 56 in mid-2016, but relocated the event to Helsinki due to the panic about Zika virus.

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More change at the top at Donuts as Tindal steps down

Donuts has lost co-founder and COO Richard Tindal, who has announced his retirement.

Tindal was one of the four domain industry executives who founded Donuts in order to take advantage of ICANN’s new gTLD program about seven years ago.

No reason was given for his departure, which was announced in a blog post, beyond “retirement”.

Co-founders Paul Stahura, Jon Nevett and Dan Schindler are all still with the company, but founding CEO Stahura recently stepped into the chairman’s role to give venture capitalist Bruce Jaffe the corner office.

Tindal had previously worked in senior roles for Verisign, Neustar and Demand Media (now Rightside).

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