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CentralNic now owns .sk after $30m deal closes

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2017, Domain Registries

CentralNic has just closed its acquisition of SK-NIC, the ccTLD operator for Slovakia, the company announced today.

The London-based firm announced the deal back in August, when it was to be worth €21.27 million up front, with a deferred performance-related cash payout of €4.85 million cash over three years.

But the deal, originally intended to close in September, was delayed by legal “complexities” and restructured from an asset purchase to a purchase of SK-NIC, including its liabilities, in its entirety.

The purchase price is now €20.27 million in advance, with €5.85 million deferred. That’s still a total of €26.12 million ($30.67 million).

The acquisition is unusual in that it sees a ccTLD transferring to control of a foreign entity, and was opposed by many in the Slovakian internet community.

A petition was organized calling for the transfer of .sk to a new independent body with more community and government oversight.

There had been fears that CentralNic would do to .sk what it has to Laos’ .la — repurpose it to mean something other than “Slovakia” — but CentralNic told DI that it will no do so.

The deal means .sk will move from its outdated old registry infrastructure to CentralNic’s standards-based EPP platform, which should make it easier for registrars to integrate.

It’s also likely to mean it’s going to be much easier for non-Slovaks to be able to register .sk domains.

SK-NIC currently has about 360,000 domains under management.

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As .wed goes EBERO, did the first new gTLD just fail?

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

A wedding-themed gTLD with a Bizarro World business model may become the first commercial gTLD to outright fail.

.wed, run by a small US outfit named Atgron, has become the first non-brand gTLD to be placed under ICANN’s emergency control, after it lost its back-end provider.

DI understands that Atgron’s arrangement with its small New Zealand back-end registry services provider CoCCA expired at the end of November and that there was a “controlled” transition to ICANN’s Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program.

The TLD is now being managed by Nominet, one of ICANN’s approved EBERO providers.

It’s the first commercial gTLD to go to EBERO, which is considered a platform of last resort for failing gTLDs.

A couple of unused dot-brands have previously switched to EBERO, but they were single-registrant spaces with no active domains.

.wed, by contrast, had about 40 domains under management at the last count, some apparently belonging to actual third-party registrants.

Under the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement, ICANN can put a TLD in the emergency program if they fail to meet up-time targets in any of five critical registry functions.

In this case, ICANN said that Atgron had failed to provide Whois services as required by contract. The threshold for Whois triggering EBERO is 24 hours downtime over a week.

ICANN said:

Registry operator, Atgron, Inc., which operates gTLD .WED, experienced a Registration Data Directory Services failure, and ICANN designated EBERO provider Nominet as emergency interim registry operator. Nominet has now stepped in and is restoring service for the TLD.

The EBERO program is designed to be activated should a registry operator require assistance to sustain critical registry functions for a period of time. The primary concern of the EBERO program is to protect registrants by ensuring that the five critical registry functions are available. ICANN’s goal is to have the emergency event resolved as soon as possible.

However, the situation looks to me a lot more like a business failure than a technical failure.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the transition tell me that the Whois was turned off deliberately, purely to provide a triggering event for the EBERO failover system, after Atgron’s back-end contract with CoCCA expired.

The logic was that turning off Whois would be far less disruptive for registrants and internet users than losing DNS resolution, DNSSEC, data escrow or EPP.

ICANN was aware of the situation and it all happened in a coordinated fashion. ICANN told DI:

WED’s backend registry operator recently notified ICANN that they would likely cease to provide backend registry services for .WED and provided us with the time and date that this would occur. As such, we were aware of the pending failure worked to minimize impact to registrants and end users during the transition to the Emergency Back-end Registry Operator (EBERO) service provider.

In its first statement, ICANN said that Nominet has only been appointed as the “interim” registry, while Atgron works on its issues.

It’s quite possible that the registry will bounce back and sign a deal with a new back-end provider, or build its own infrastructure.

KSregistry, part of the KeyDrive group, briefly provided services to .wed last week before the EBERO took over, but I gather that no permanent deal has been signed.

One wonders whether it’s worth Atgron’s effort to carry on with the .wed project, which clearly isn’t working out.

The company was founded by an American defense contractor with no previous experience of the domain name industry after she read a newspaper article about the new gTLD program, and has a business model that has so far failed to attract customers.

The key thing keeping registrars and registrants away in droves has been its policy that domains could be registered (for about $50 a year) for a maximum period of two years before a $30,000 renewal fee kicked in.

That wasn’t an attempt to rip anybody off, however, it was an attempt to incentivize registrants to allow their domains to expire and be used by other people, pretty much the antithesis of standard industry practice (and arguably long-term business success).

That’s one among many contractual reasons that only one registrar ever signed up to sell .wed domains.

Atgron’s domains under management peaked at a bit over 300 in March 2016 and were down to 42 in August this year, making it probably the failiest commercial new gTLD from the 2012 round.

In short, .wed isn’t dead, but it certainly appears extremely unwell.

UPDATE: This post was updated December 12 with a statement from ICANN.

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ICANN: tell us how you will break Whois rules

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN has invited registrars and registries to formally describe how they plan to break the current rules governing Whois in order to come into compliance with European Union law.

The organization today published a set of guidelines for companies to submit proposals for closing off parts of Whois to most internet users.

It’s the latest stage of the increasingly panicky path towards reconciling ICANN’s contracts with the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU law that comes into full effect in a little over five months.

GDPR is designed to protect the privacy of EU citizens. It’s generally thought to essentially ban the full, blanket, open publication of individual registrants’ contact information, but there’s still some confusion about what exactly registries and registrars can do to become compliant.

Fines maxing out at of millions of euros could be levied against companies that break the GDPR.

ICANN said last month that it would not pursue contracted parties that have to breach their agreements in order to avoid breaking the law.

The catch was that they would have to submit their proposals for revised Whois services to ICANN for approval first. Today is the first time since then that ICANN has officially requested such proposals.

The request appears fairly comprehensive.

Registries and registrars will have to describe how their Whois would differ from the norm, how it would affect interoperability, how protected data could be accessed by parties with “legitimate interests”, and so on.

Proposals would be given to ICANN’s legal adviser on GDPR, the Swedish law firm Hamilton, and published on ICANN’s web site.

ICANN notes that submitting a proposal does not guarantee that it will be accepted.

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ICANN punts o.com auction to US watchdogs

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

Verisign’s proposed auction of the domain o.com might have a negative effect on competition and has been referred to US regulators.

That’s according to ICANN’s response to the .com registry’s request to release the domain, which is among the 23 single-letter domains currently reserved under the terms of its contract.

ICANN has determined that the release “might raise significant competition issues” and has therefore been referred to “to the appropriate governmental competition authority”.

It’s forwarded Verisign’s request to the US Department of Justice.

Verisign late last month asked ICANN if it could release o.com to auction as a test that could presumably lead to other single-character .com names being released in future.

The plan is for a charity auction, in which almost all the proceeds are donated to internet-related good causes.

Only the company running the auction would make any significant money; Verisign would just take its standard $7.85 annual fee.

ICANN told the company that it could find no technical reason that the release could not go ahead.

The only barrier is the fact that Verisign arguably has government-approved, cash-printing, market dominance and is therefore in a sensitive political position.

Whether its profitless plan will be enough to see the auction given the nod remains to be seen.

A certain bidder in the proposed auction would be Overstock.com, the online retailer, which has been pressuring ICANN and Verisign for the release of O.com for well over a decade and even owns trademarks covering the domain.

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.

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Numeric .xyz names plummet despite dollar deal

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2017, Domain Registries

XYZ.com’s effort to sell over a billion numeric .xyz domains at just $0.65 each does not appear to be gaining traction.

The number of qualifying domains in the .xyz zone file has plummeted by almost 200,000 since the deal was introduced and dipped by over 4,000 since the blanket discount went live.

The $0.65 registry fee applies to what XYZ calls the “1.111B Class” of domains — all 1.111 billion possible six, seven, eight and nine-digit numeric .xyz domains.

These domains carry a recommended retail price of $0.99.

It’s not a promotional price. It’s permanent and also applies to renewals.

Some registrars opted to start offering the lower price from June 1, but it did not come into effect automatically for all .xyz registrars until November 11

The number of domains in this class seems to be on a downward trend, regardless.

There were 272,589 such domains May 31, according to my analysis of .xyz zone files, but that was down to 74,864 on December 5.

On November 10, the day before the pricing became uniform, there were 78,256 such domains. That shows a decline of over 4,000 domains over the last four weeks.

It’s possible that the 1.111B offer is attracting registrants, but that their positive impact on the numbers is being drowned out by unrelated negative factors.

The period of the 200,000-name decline coincides with the massive mid-July junk drop, in which .xyz lost over half of its total active domains due to the expiration of domains registered for just a penny or two in mid-2015.

Many of those penny domains were numeric, due to interest from speculators from China, where such names have currency.

The period also coincides with a time in which XYZ was prohibited from selling via Chinese registrars, due to a problem changing its Real Names Verification provider.

In recent marketing, XYZ has highlighted some interesting uses of 1.111B domains, including a partnership with blockchain cryptocurrency Ethereum.

Other registrants are using the domains to match important dates and autonomous system numbers.

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