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CADNA calls for mandatory .xxx-style sunrises

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2011, Domain Policy

The Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse has asked ICANN to make one-time trademark blocks, much like those offered by .xxx operator ICM Registry, mandatory in most new top-level domains.

In a letter to ICANN bosses (pdf) sent last week, CADNA president Josh Bourne wrote:

ICANN should consider including a requirement in the Applicant Guidebook that all new gTLD registries that choose to sell second-level domains to registrants adopt a low-cost, one-time block for trademark owners to protect their marks in perpetuity.

ICANN should require registries to give brand owners the option to buy low-cost blocks on their trademarks before any registration period (Sunrise or Landrush) opens. This can be offered at a lower cost than sunrise registrations have been priced at in the past – this precedent has been set with the blocks offered in .XXX, where the blocks are made in perpetuity for a single, nonrecurring fee.

The recommendation is one of several. CADNA also reckons ICANN needs to name the date for its second round of new gTLD applications, and that “.brand” applicants should get discounts for multiple gTLD applications.

The letter comes as opposition to the new gTLD program in the US becomes deafening and ICANN’s board of directors have reportedly scheduled an impromptu meeting next week to determine whether the January 12 launch is still a good idea.

CADNA is no longer opposed to the program itself. Fairwinds Partners, the company that runs the lobbyist, recently restyled itself as a new gTLD consultancy.

But there’s a virtually zero chance the letter will come to anything, unless ICANN were to decide to open up the Applicant Guidebook for public comments again.

I also doubt the call for a mandatory ICM-style “block” service would be well-received by anyone other than ICANN’s intellectual property constituency.

The problem with such systems is that trademarks do not grant exclusive rights to strings, despite what some organizations would like to think.

It’s quite possible for ABC the taxi company to live alongside ABC television in the trademark world. Is it a good idea to allow the TV station to perpetually block abc.taxi from registration?

Some would say yes. The Better Business Bureau and Meetup.com, to name two examples, both recently went before Congress to bemoan the fact that they could not block bbb.xxx and meetup.xxx – both of which have meaning in the adult entertainment context and were reserved as premium names – using ICM’s Sunrise B.

With that all said, there’s nothing stopping new gTLD applicants from voluntarily offering .xxx-style blocking services, or indeed any form of novel IP rights protection mechanisms.

Some applicants may have even looked at the recent .xxx sunrise with envious eyes – with something like 80,000 defensive registrations at about $160 a pop, ICM made over $12 million in revenue and profit well into seven figures.

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Let’s all beat up Go Daddy!

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2011, Domain Registrars

I think it’s fair to say that Go Daddy is ending 2011 on a bum note.

A handful of competitors, notably Namecheap, are exploiting the recent outrage about the company’s support for the Stop Online Piracy Act (since recanted) to really stick the boot in.

NameCheap today called for December 29 to be marked as Move Your Domain Day and is currently sponsoring the hashtag #BoycottGoDaddy on Twitter.

It also said it will donate $1 to the Electronic Frontier Foundation for every domain transferred to it that day using the coupon code SOPASUCKS.

Other registrars are joining in with somewhat less gusto.

Dotster, for example, is offering cheap transfers with the discount code NOFLIPFLOP, a reference to Go Daddy’s changed position on SOPA.

So what’s the net effect of all this on Go Daddy’s business? It’s difficult to tell with much accuracy at this point.

NameCheap claims to have seen 40,000 inbound transfers in the last week, most of them presumably coming from former Go Daddy customers.

That’s going to be a difficult claim to verify however, even when December’s official gTLD registry reports are published a few months from now.

Unlike most ICANN-accredited registrars, NameCheap does not register domains directly — it has fewer than 200 .com domains under management, according to the most recent registry report.

The company started off life as an eNom reseller and appears to have never gotten around to migrating its customers.

(I wonder how many people transferring their domains this week are aware that some of their fees are probably flowing into the coffers of Demand Media, another popular internet hate figure.)

Several media articles have sourced DomainTool’s DailyChanges service for numbers of transfers out of domaincontrol.com, Go Daddy’s default name server constellation.

But as Andrew Allemann and Elliot Silver have already noted, those numbers are not a reliable indication of how many domains are being transferred from Go Daddy to other registrars.

Here’s a graph showing the transfers in and out of domaincontrol.com since the start of the month.

graph

Transfers out briefly overtook transfers in this week, but by a negligible number.

The two big spikes you can see – both of which occur before the boycott began on December 22 – can be attributed to domainers (possibly a single domainer) moving thousands of domains from domaincontrol.com to internettraffic.com, a parking service, and back again.

Those movements had nothing to do with SOPA or the boycott, nor do they indicate that the domains were transferred away from Go Daddy. Name server changes != transfers.

Facts shouldn’t get in the way of a good story, however.

That’s probably why NameCheap seems to have got away with its insinuations about Go Daddy “blocking” transfers yesterday, which turned out to be highly questionable.

It transpires that transfers into NameCheap were failing not because of any nefarious activity by Go Daddy, but because NameCheap’s Whois queries were being automatically rate limited.

This was likely because NameCheap failed to white-list the IP addresses it uses for port 43 Whois look-ups either using ICANN’s RADAR tool or by notifying Go Daddy directly.

Registrar expert Jothan Frakes said as much on this blog yesterday, as did Michele Neylon of the unrelated registrar Blacknight on Twitter.

Go Daddy senior direct of product development Rich Merdinger suggested in a statement last night that NameCheap looked for the PR opportunity before picking up the phone:

Namecheap posted their accusations in a blog, but to the best our of knowledge, has yet to contact Go Daddy directly, which would be common practice for situations like this. Normally, the fellow registrar would make a request for us to remove the normal rate limiting block which is a standard practice used by Go Daddy, and many other registrars, to rate limit Whois queries to combat WhoIs abuse.

NameCheap has naturally disputed this interpretation of events, saying it had tried to get in touch with Go Daddy but received no response for 24 hours (Christmas Day, presumably).

Regardless of the he said/she said, the narrative in the media and on Twitter for the last couple of days has been pretty clear — Go Daddy: Bad, NameCheap: Good.

The SOPA story seems to have hit a nerve, and there are no shortage of pissed-off Go Daddy customers with horror stories to recount or just general criticisms of the company’s fairly brash image.

Warren Adelman picked a hell of a time to take over as CEO.

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Whois throttling returns to bite Go Daddy on the ass

Kevin Murphy, December 26, 2011, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy has been accused by a competitor of “thwarting” domain name transfers in violation of ICANN rules. (Note: story has been updated, see below).

The problem has reared its head due to the ongoing SOPA-related boycott of the company’s services, and appears to be related to Go Daddy’s decision earlier this year to throttle Whois queries.

NameCheap, one of the registrars that has been offering discounts to Go Daddy customers outraged by its recently recanted support of the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act, blogged today:

As many customers have recently complained of transfer issues, we suspect that this competitor [Go Daddy] is thwarting efforts to transfer domains away from them.

Specifically, GoDaddy appears to be returning incomplete WHOIS information to Namecheap, delaying the transfer process. This practice is against ICANN rules.

We at Namecheap believe that this action speaks volumes about the impact that informed customers are having on GoDaddy’s business.

It’s a shame that GoDaddy feels they have to block their (former) customers from voting with their dollars. We can only guess that at GoDaddy, desperate times call for desperate measures.

Part of transferring a domain from Go Daddy to NameCheap involves checking the identity of the registrant against Whois records.

Judging by a number of complaints made by Reddit readers today, it appears that NameCheap and other registrars are attempting to automatically query Go Daddy’s Whois database on port 43 at sufficient volume to trigger whatever throttling algorithm Go Daddy has in place to prevent the “harvesting” of contact data.

Go Daddy caused a similar ruckus earlier this year when it started blocking DomainTools and other Whois aggregation services from collecting full Whois records.

The registrar giant claimed then that it was trying to protect its customers by preventing the inappropriate use of their contact data.

However, while blocking a third-party information tool is merely annoying and disturbing, interfering with legitimate inter-registrar transfers could get Go Daddy into hot water, even if it is inadvertent.

NameCheap says it is doing the required Whois look-ups manually for now, and that it will honor each transfer request.

Giving Go Daddy the benefit of the doubt, I assume that this problem is ongoing largely due to the Christmas holiday, and that it will be rectified as soon as the appropriate people become aware of it.

Add this to your list of reasons .com and .net need a thick Whois.

UPDATE: All registrars have access to an ICANN service called RADAR, which enables them to specify the IP addresses they use to query competitors’ Whois databases.

Whitelisting IP addresses in this way could prevent a registrar’s queries being throttled, but not all registrars use the service.

According to this screenshot, NameCheap has not whitelisted any IP addresses in RADAR, which may be the reason it is having problems transferring Go Daddy customers’ domains to itself.

DomainIncite

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New gTLD failure risk bond capped at $300k

Kevin Murphy, December 26, 2011, Domain Policy

New generic top-level domain applicants will have to find between $18,000 and $300,000 per gTLD to cover the risk of their business failing, according to ICANN.

ICANN revealed the figures, which have been calculated from prices quoted by 14 potential emergency back-end registry operators, in a pre-Christmas info-dump on Friday.

The so-called Continued Operations Instrument is designed to cover the cost of paying an EBERO to manage and/or wind down a failed gTLD business over up to three years.

All new gTLD applicants must either secure credit or put cash in escrow to cover the COI, the amount of which depends on how many domains under management they anticipate.

This table shows the size of the COI for various sizes of zone.

Projected Number of DomainsEstimated 3 Year COI (USD)
10,000$18,000
25,000$40,000
50,000$80,000
100,000$140,000
250,000$250,000
>250,000$300,000

This essentially means that any registry that plans to grow its gTLD into a commercially successful volume business needs to find $300,000 to cover the cost of its potential failure.

Only five previously introduced new gTLDs have topped 250,000 domains under management in their first five years: .info (with 8 million today), .biz, .name, .mobi and .tel (which peaked at 305,000).

Smaller gTLDs, comparable to a .cat, .jobs or .travel, will only have to find $40,000 to $80,000. It’s likely that the majority of .brand applicants will only need to secure the minimum $18,000.

While potentially expensive, it’s welcome clarity into new gTLD funding requirements, albeit coming just two weeks before ICANN begins to accept applications.

ICANN also threw a bone to potential applicants from countries with poor access to credit.

The organization previously only contemplated allowing credit from banks with an ‘A’ rating or higher, but it now says it will accept, in its discretion, financial instruments from the highest-rated institution available to the applicant.

ICANN said it may also consider becoming a party to these credit agreements, again in its sole discretion, but that such applicants could lose points when their application is scored as a result.

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Congressmen ask ICANN to delay new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2011, Domain Policy

Seventeen US Congressmen have put their names to a letter asking ICANN to delay its new generic top-level domains program.

The bipartisan group was led by Rep. Fred Upton, chairman of the House technology subcommittee that held a hearing into new gTLDs last week. They wrote:

Although we believe expanding gTLDs is a worthy goal that may lead to increased competition on the Internet, we are very concerned that there is a significant uncertainty in this process for businesses, non-profit organizations, and consumers. To that end, we urge you to delay the planned January 12, 2012 date for the acceptance of applications for new gTLDs.

The letter (pdf), sent yesterday to ICANN president Rod Beckstrom and chairman Steve Crocker, goes on to note the objections of several groups, including the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, that have opposed the program in recent weeks.

Given these widespread concerns, a short delay will allow interested parties to work with ICANN and offer changes to alleviate many of them, specifically concerns over law enforcement, cost and transparency that were discussed in recent Congressional hearings.

It is notable that the letter was sent directly to ICANN’s top brass.

Previous requests of this kind have been sent to ICANN’s overseers in the US Department of Commerce, which has already indicated that it does not intend to strong-arm ICANN into changing its new gTLD plans.

ICANN’s senior vice president Kurt Pritz said last week that the chance of delay was “above zero”.

Whether this latest letter changes the math remains to be seen.

Opposition to the January 12 launch date in the US currently appears to be reaching a critical mass.

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