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There’s one obvious pick for next year’s ICANN Community Excellence Award

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has opened up nominations for its 2021 ICANN Community Excellence Award, and I don’t think it would be inappropriate of me to suggest that one likely nomination seems like a shoo-in: the late Marilyn Cade.

The award, now in its eighth year, is given to a community member who “deeply invested in consensus-based solutions and contributed substantively to the ICANN multistakeholder model”.

It’s judged by a cross-constituency panel of community leaders and awarded in June each year, using three criteria:

  • Demonstrated ability to work across community lines with both familiar and unfamiliar ICANN stakeholders with the aim of building consensus.
  • Facilitator of dialogue and open discussion in a fair and collegial manner, through the spirit of collaboration as shown through empathy, and demonstrating a sincere desire to engage with people from other backgrounds, cultures, and interests.
  • Demonstrated additional support for the ICANN multistakeholder model and its overall effectiveness through volunteer service via working groups or committees.

I believe Cade, who died last month at 73, fits easily into each of these.

She participated in ICANN’s formation in the late 1990s and participated in almost every public meeting since. She was a long-time member, and three-year chair, of the Business Constituency, and participated in several key volunteer working groups.

There’s a rather fascinating and lengthy audio interview with Cade, conducted by Ayden Férdeline shortly before her death, in which she discusses her involvement with the creation of ICANN, over here.

At the time of her death, ICANN CEO Göran Marby said: “Marilyn had strong views and opinions on many matters but always supported the multistakeholder model. She wanted people to be involved in ICANN and to maximize the potential of the Internet.”

While her views and positions may not have been universally loved, the hundreds of public tributes paid since her death reveal a consensus view that, regardless of competing affiliations, Cade was strongly active in community-building and mentoring new community members, particularly from underrepresented demographics.

It would not be the first time ICANN has given this award posthumously. In 2018, it was awarded to former GNSO Council chair Stéphane Van Gelder after his untimely death earlier that year.

It is of course easier to evaluate an individual’s contribution when their entire body of work is known.

From its inaugural 2014 round, the prize was known as the ICANN Ethos Award. The name was changed earlier this year, most probably to avoid alluding to the private equity firm Ethos Capital, which at the time was involved in a high-profile dispute with the org.

The winner will be announced at the ICANN 71 meeting, wherever that may be, next June.

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ICANN could block Donuts from buying Afilias

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2020, Domain Registries

In what appears to be an almost unprecedented move, ICANN is to review Donuts’ proposed acquisition of rival Afilias at the highest level, raising a question mark over the industry mega-merger.

The org’s board of directors will meet Thursday to consider, among other things, “Afilias Change of Control Approval Request”.

It’s highly unusual for a change of control to be discussed at such a high level.

Every registry contract contains clauses requiring ICANN’s consent before a registry switches owners, and it has approved hundreds over the last decade. But the process is usually handled by legal staff, without board involvement.

The only time, to my memory, that the board has got involved was when it withheld consent from .org manager Public Interest Registry earlier this year.

It’s not entirely clear why Afilias has been singled out for special treatment.

It’s probably not due to its status as a legacy gTLD registry operator because of .info — when GoDaddy bought .biz operator Neustar’s registry business earlier this year, there was no such board review.

In addition, the .info contract’s change of control provisions are very similar to those in the standard new gTLD contract.

Could it be due to Donuts executives former ties to ICANN and the perception of a conflict of interest? Again, it seems unlikely.

While Donuts CEO Akram Atallah is former president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé is no longer involved with Donuts owner Abry Partners, having jumped to erstwhile PIR bidder Ethos Capital this July.

Are there competition concerns? It’s a possibility.

Afilias holds the contracts for 24 gTLDs new and legacy, but supports a couple hundred more, while Donuts is contracted for over 240.

But between them, they have barely 10 million domains under management. Donuts isn’t even the market leader in terms of new gTLD registrations.

And ICANN avoids making competition pronouncements like the plague, preferring instead to refer to national competition regulators.

Could ICANN’s interest have been perked by the fact that Afilias is the back-end provider for .org’s 10 million domains, and the proposed Donuts deal comes hot on the heels of the failed PIR acquisition? Again, it’s a possibility.

But none of the dangers ICANN identified in the .org deal — such as pricing, freedom of speech, and the change from a non-profit to for-profit corporate structure — appear to apply here.

There could be technical concerns. Atallah told DI a couple weeks ago that the plan was to ultimately migrate its managed TLDs to its Amazon cloud-based registry.

But moving its clients’ TLDs to a new back-end infrastructure would require their consent — it would be up to PIR and its overlords at the Internet Society to agree to moving .org to the cloud.

I think it’s likely that a combination of all the above factors, and maybe others, are what’s driving the Afilias acquisition to the ICANN boardroom. It will be interesting to see what the board decrees.

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Westerdal offloads two more gTLDs to Donuts

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2020, Domain Registries

Donuts has bulked out its gTLD portfolio yet again, acquiring two more strings from Fegistry and Top Level Spectrum.

ICANN records show that it recently took over the contracts for .observer and .realty.

They’re both launched, active TLDs. Both selling registries are backed by investor Jay Westerdal.

.observer was bought dormant by TLS from the British newspaper of the same name in 2016 and launched the following year with .com-competitive prices.

TLS has been marketing it as a place for news organizations, though it’s unrestricted. Registrations plateaued at about 1,000 a couple of years ago and haven’t seen much movement since.

.realty is a different story.

Fegistry paid ICANN $5,588,888 at a public auction — beating Donuts, in fact — in 2014, and launched it in 2017 with a roughly $300-a-year retail price.

It’s been cruising along with about 2,200 names under management for the last couple of years, until this September and early October, when its zone file shot up to almost 18,000 domains.

This seems to have been the result of a $0.99 promotion at Epik, which has since ended.

One would have to assume that the vast majority of those new domains will be speculative and are unlikely to renew at the full $300 reg fee a year from now.

While the contracts changed hands in late October, it’s inconceivable that Donuts was not aware of the quality of the recent registrations.

It’s not the first time Westerdal’s businesses have sold to Donuts, which took .contact off Top Level Spectrum’s hands in April 2019. That gTLD entered general availability this week.

It’s also handed off responsibility for .forum to MMX, which plans to launch it with a puzzling $1,000 price tag next March, although TLS is still listed as the ICANN contractor.

TLS still runs the controversial gripe site TLD .feedback, along with the unlaunched head-scratcher .pid.

Fegistry is still fighting for .hotel, along with rival applicants, in ICANN’s quasi-judicial Independent Review Process.

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Whois privacy group finds its new chair

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2020, Domain Policy

Verisign’s top policy veep is set to become the third chair of the ICANN working group looking at Whois policy in the post-GDPR world.

Keith Drazek has been recommended to head the long-running group, known as the EPDP, and the GNSO Council is due to vote on his appointment next week. He’s likely to be a shoo-in.

He’s VP of policy and government relations at the .com registry, and a long-standing member of the ICANN policy-making community.

I recently opined that ICANN was looking for a “masochistic mug” to chair the group. Drazek was until October the chair of the GNSO Council, and is therefore perfectly qualified for the role.

The third phase of the EPDP process, which in typical ICANNese is denominated “phase 2a”, is likely to be slightly less controversial than the first two.

The EPDP has already decided that ICANN should probably create a Standardized System for Access and Disclosure — SSAD — that may enable law enforcement and intellectual property owners to get their hands on unredacted Whois records.

But governments, IP interests and others have already dismissed the plan as useless, and there’s still a big question mark over whether SSAD is too complex and expensive to be worth implementing.

In the third phase, EPDP members will be discussing rules on distinguishing between legal and natural persons when record-holders decide what info to make public, and whether there should be a standardized system of unique, anonymized email forwarders to contact domain registrants.

They’re both less divisive topics than have been previously addressed, but not without the potential for fireworks.

The email issue, for example, could theoretically enable people to harvest a registrant’s entire portfolio of domains, something very useful for law enforcement and IP lawyers but abhorrent to privacy advocates.

The previous two phases were chaired by Kurt Pritz and Janis Karklins, with Rafik Dammak acting as vice-chair.

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Three more new gTLDs blink out of existence

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2020, Domain Registrars

Another new gTLD registry operator, representing three dot-brands, has told ICANN that they want their contracts scrapped.

The registry is CNH Industrial, and the gTLDs are .case, .caseih and .newholland.

To be honest, if you’d asked me yesterday whether these TLDs existed or not, I would have guessed not.

But CNH is a pretty big deal — a New York-listed multinational maker of construction and agricultural equipment and vehicles with over $28 billion in revenue last year. Case and New Holland are two of its brands.

The brands do not appear to have been discontinued, so this seems to be a typical case of company simply deciding against using its TLDs, which it probably shouldn’t have applied for in the first place.

None of them has any domains beyond the mandatory nic.example site.

Interestingly, it has a fourth dot-brand, .iveco, representing a vehicle brand, that so far it does not seem to have terminated, judging by ICANN records. But that’s not in use either.

The terminations bring the total dead dot-brands to 85, 16 of which died this year.

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NamesCon Europe founder Dietmar Stefitz reportedly dies

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2020, Domain Services

I’m very sorry to report that Dietmar Stefitz, founder of the domainer conference that would become NamesCon Europe, has died, according to social media posts.

His Facebook profile this morning filled with tributes, variously describing him as “passionate”, “kind” and “genuine”, after his niece announced his death.

Stefitz was best known in the domain industry for founding the Domaining Europe conference in 2008, which he hosted annually, typically in his home town of Valencia, Spain, for a decade.

The event was eventually merged with GoDaddy’s NamesCon to become NamesCon Europe in 2018, and Stefitz took a backseat role in its management.

I did not know Dietmar well, but I spent a enjoyable evening at his table during the inaugural NamesCon Europe and found him warm and engaging.

Eerily, Stefitz’s Twitter profile was updated this afternoon, encouraging readers to “take advantage of the little moments”, over 15 hours after his death was announced. I don’t know whether it was a time-delayed post or was posted by a relative.

While the tweeted video prominently features the character of the Grim Reaper, and it’s a Christmas advertisement for meat products, it does carry the message “Disfruta en vida”, which I believe translates as “Enjoy Life”.

It’s a message that, by all accounts, Stefitz lived by.

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Credit union gTLD changes hands to perhaps surprising buyer

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2020, Domain Registries

Yet another new gTLD is moving to a new registry, but this time it’s not a case of a large gTLD holder bulking up its portfolio.

This time it’s .creditunion, and the new registry is 18-year-old .coop registry DotCooperation, according to ICANN records.

.creditunion was delegated to the Credit Union Nation Association, the trade group for US credit unions, in 2015 and launched in 2017.

Like .coop, it’s a tightly restricted TLD, with eligibility only for those with a “meaningful nexus to the credit union sector”.

It had 580 domains at the last count, having peaked at 640 a couple years ago. The domains are being used as primary domains by at least a couple dozen credit unions.

But volume was never the plan for .creditunion, with CUNA specifically citing .coop as its role model in its 2012 new gTLD application.

“The success of the gTLD will not be measured by the number of domain names registered. Instead, it will be measured by the level of consumer recognition and trust,” CUNA said back then.

CUNA actually announced the DotCooperation deal in a press release on its web site at the end of September, but I don’t think anyone in the domain industry noticed.

.coop, which is reserved for co-operative associations, was one of the original 2000-round new gTLDs. It’s been chugging along at relatively low volume for the last two decades, peaking at 15,000 in February 2013.

For the last few years, it’s been growing by maybe a dozen or so domains a month, and currently stands at about 8,300 names.

DotCooperation is jointly owned by the National Cooperative Business Association and the International Cooperative Alliance.

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After 20 years, DomainTools takes its first VC dough

Kevin Murphy, December 3, 2020, Domain Tech

DomainTools has taken a “significant” investment from a venture capital firm, the first outside funding its received in its 20-year history.

The amount of the investment is undisclosed, but DomainTools said its investor is Battery Ventures.

Battery already owns stakes in numerous software and technology companies, but this appears to be its first foray into the domain name space.

Its principal, Jordan Welu, and partner Dave Tabors will join DomainTools’ board of directors and Andy Rothery, a Battery “executive-in-residence”, will become its executive chairman.

DomainTools said in a press release:

This investment will drive more rapid innovation in DomainTools’ platform capabilities for machine learning-based threat analytics and predictive risk scoring, along with enhanced product development around automating threat intelligence and incident response workflows.

The company is all about the “threat intelligence” nowadays, no doubt partly due to the fact that its original mission of aggregating the world’s Whois data will become decreasingly useful in light of privacy laws such as GDPR.

As a private company its financial position is unknown, but I’ll note that it did take a big chunk of change out of the US taxpayers’ pocket earlier this year under a government coronavirus-related corporate-relief program.

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Gay charities get first taste of domain cash

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2020, Domain Registries

Top Level Design, which runs .gay, said today it has released its first tranche of cash to LGBTQ charities.

Since its September launch, it’s handed $124,400 to non-profits CenterLink and GLAAD, the company said.

Top Level Design has long promised to give 20% of its top line to these charities. At $25 a pop, that’s a $5 donation per domain.

This initial handout seems to be high, given the current level of domains under management, presumably due to higher sunrise fees and premium domains pricing.

The gTLD currently has 6,345 domains in its zone file.

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CIRA hits major .ca milestone on 20th anniversary

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2020, Domain Registries

Canadian ccTLD registry CIRA has registered its three millionth domain, having grown .ca by over 160,000 names this year.

By happy coincidence, the milestone was hit November 30, exactly 20 years after CIRA officially took over the registry from its predecessor.

CIRA said that regs are up 34% this year, the boosted growth largely due to more small businesses coming online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This all means that .ca is the 12th-largest ccTLD in the world, according to the registry.

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