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US confirms Neustar to lose $475m-a-year contract

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Neustar still seems set to lose a critical US government contract that provides half of its annual revenue.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously last week to begin talks with rival contract bidder Telcordia, saying it will save the US consumer hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Since 1997, Neustar has administered the telephone number portability system in the US. It’s not related to domain names.

Neustar, which also runs .us, .biz and .co, made $474.8 million from the deal in 2014, 49% of its annual revenue.

Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement:

Should we now declare Telcordia the next local number portability administrator? When you compare the numbers, the answer is clear. Last year, the current contract cost about $460 million. In contrast, Telcordia bid less than $1 billion for a seven-year term — that’s less than $143 million per year. That’s substantial savings for the American public.

Neustar told Bloomberg that the ruling was “procedurally defective” and that the company is “considering all options to address the significant flaws.”

Some kind of legal action to attempt to block the negotiations seems possible.

The company has also initiated a share buy-back to prop up its stock in light of the bad news.

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Will Vox Populi eat its own .sucks dog food?

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi has yet to decide whether it will put its mouth where its money is and open up its own brand for the .sucks treatment.

In a radio interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Day 6 show broadcast on Friday, registry CEO John Berard was asked whether the company would register voxpopuli.sucks and allow it to be used as a third-party criticism site.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a space where big brands and others register names in order to solicit useful commentary, criticism and conversation from their customers.

So the correct answer to the question would have been: “Yes, of course we will do that.”

But Berard was more ambiguous in his response:

HOST: What will you do with the voxpopuli.sucks web site? Will you put it up or will you hold it?

BERARD: My instinct would be to put it up.

HOST: But there’s a possibility that you won’t?

BERARD: It’s a business decision we’ll have to make and I think it’s probably the smarter business decision to put it up.

In my view, the company would be mad to sit on voxpopuli.sucks and related names.

By eating its own dog food, it would send the message that it actually believes its own marketing line.

I’m frankly surprised that Vox Pop has not already enthusiastically confirmed it will open itself up to the same kind of treatment as its sunrise period customers.

The full 15-minute CBC piece, which includes four minutes of yours truly busting his radio cherry and five of domain investor Rick Schwartz bitching about how “corrupt” ICANN is, can be streamed here.

The .sucks sunrise period begins today, with a controversial recommended retail price of $2,500 per year.

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Chehade tries to explain domain “hogging” comments

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Gossip

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade has distanced himself from comments in which he seemed to equate domain investing with “cybersquatting”.

In January, Chehade said in a Huffington Post interview that new gTLDs would help prevent domain “hogging”, which was widely interpreted as his taking a dim view of domaining.

When asked about his remarks last month, he did not backtrack.

Now he has backtracked, responding to an angry letter from the Internet Commerce Association, which represents many of the largest domainers.

In March 24 letter (pdf) published over the weekend, Chehade said that he interpreted the HuffPo interviewer’s question to refer to the practice of registries holding back premium domains, rather than secondary market activity:

I regret that the ICA interpreted some of my comments in the interview as expressing a “disdainful view” of domain investing. As you might have gathered from the reporter’s questions, some people have asked whether the new gTLD program might have created an opportunity for “land grabb[ing]” by industry insiders. It was not my impression that the question being asked referred to established practices in the secondary market; rather, I believe the reporter was inquiring about some of the very practices by registries you cited in your letter. My response — that alternatives are available in different gTLDs — was intended to try to allay the concern that the program was creating artificial scarcity of domains, not to criticize participants in the marketplace.

Was this a fair interpretation of the interviewer’s question? Is this just a misunderstanding?

Watch the two-minute video above to make up your own mind.

Addressing the ICA’s concerns that he had equated domain investing with cyberquatting, Chehade wrote:

We are in complete agreement that there is a very important legal distinction between registering generically-termed domain names and cybersquatting.

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Man escapes from prison by typosquatting

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Gossip

A convicted fraudster reportedly escaped from a UK prison by typosquatting.

Neil Moore was serving time on remand when he used a smuggled mobile phone to register a domain name that looked a lot like that of the UK court service, according to local media reports.

The domain, registered last March, was hmcts-gsi-gov.org.uk, a typo of the genuine hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.

Had Moore registered the name after last June, when Nominet enabled direct second-level .uk registrations, he would have been able to get a much more convincing typo.

He populated the Whois with the name of his case’s investigating officer and the address for the Royal Courts of Justice.

He then emailed the prison from his new domain with instructions for his bail.

Prison staff fell for it and he was released.

The scam went unnoticed for three days until his lawyers went to interview him. He handed himself back in to police hours later.

Moore was in prison for socially engineering over £1.8 million ($2.6 million) out of major firms by pretending to be bank staff.

He’s fessed up to several counts of fraud and one count of escape from lawful custody. He’ll be sentenced in April.

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“Halt perverted .sucks shakedown now!” demands IPC

Kevin Murphy, March 27, 2015, Domain Registries

Intellectual property interests have asked ICANN to put an immediate stop to the roll-out of the .sucks new gTLD.

A letter to Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah, sent by the Intellectual Property Constituency this evening and seen by DI, calls the registry’s plans, which include an “exorbitant” $2,500 sunrise fee, a “shakedown scheme”.

It’s also emerged that Vox Populi, the .sucks registry, has agreed to pay ICANN up to a million dollars in mysterious fees that apply to no other new gTLD registry.

The IPC letter states.

the Intellectual Property Constituency is formally asking ICANN to halt the rollout of the .SUCKS new gTLD operated by Vox Populi Registry Inc. (“Vox Populi”), so that the community can examine the validity of Vox Populi’s recently announced plans to: (1) to categorize TMCH-registered marks as “premium names,” (2) charge exorbitant sums to brand owners who seek to secure a registration in .SUCKS, and (3) conspire with an (alleged) third party to “subsidize” a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme.

Vox Populi intends to take .sucks to sunrise on Monday, so the IPC wants ICANN to take immediate action.

The high price of registration, the IPC believes, will discourage trademark owners from using the sunrise period to defensively register their marks.

Meanwhile, the registry’s plan to make the domains available for $10 under a “Consumer Advocate Subsidy”, will encourage cybersquatting, the IPC says.

by discouraging trademark owners from using a key RPM, we believe that the registry operator’s actions in establishing this predatory scheme are complicit in, and encourage bad faith registrations by third parties at the second level of the .SUCKS gTLD, and thus drastically increase the likelihood of trademark infringement, all for commercial gain

The letter goes on to say that Vox Populi may be in violation of its registry contract and the Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Policy, which was created to prevent registries turning a blind eye to mass cybersquatting.

There’s also a vague threat of legal action for contributory trademark infringement.

The IPC has particular beef with the registry’s Sunrise Premium program. This is a list of strings — mostly trademarks — that have been defensively registered in earlier sunrise periods.

Sunrise Premium names will always cost $2,500, even after sunrise, when registered by the trademark owner.

The IPC says:

Vox Populi is targeting and punishing brand owners who have availed themselves of the RPMs or shown that they are susceptible to purchasing defensive registrations… This will have a chilling effect on TMCH registrations and consequently discredit all of the New gTLD Program RPMs in the eyes of brand owners, whose buy-in and adoption of new gTLDs is widely acknowledged to be critical to the success of the new gTLD program.

Finally, and perhaps more disturbingly, the IPC has discovered that the .sucks registry agreement calls for Vox Populi to pay ICANN up to a million dollars in extra fees.

As well as the usual $25,000-a-year fee and $0.25 per-transaction fee, .sucks has already paid ICANN a $100,000 “registry access fee” and has promised to pay a $1 “registry administration fee” per transaction on its first 900,000 domains.

Its contract states:

Registry Operator shall also pay ICANN (i) a one-time fixed registry access fee of US$100,000 as of the Effective Date of this Agreement, and (ii) a registry administration fee of US$1.00 for each of the first 900,000 Transactions. For the avoidance of doubt, the registry administration fee shall not be subject to the limitations of the Transaction Threshold.

This makes ICANN look absolutely terrible.

What the hell is a “registry access fee”? What’s a “registry administration fee”?

One guess would be that it’s ICANN stocking up its legal defense fund, suspecting the kerfuffle .sucks is going to cause.

But by taking the Vox Pop shilling, ICANN has opened itself up to accusations that it’s complicit in the “shakedown”.

If it does not block .sucks (which was probably the most likely outcome even without mysterious fees) the IPC and other .sucks critics will be able to point to the $1 million as a “bribe”.

The behavior is not without precedent, however.

There’s a reason ICM Registry pays ICANN a $2 fee for every .xxx registration, rather than the much lower fees charged to other gTLD registries.

Read the IPC letter here.

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