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Google launches com.google

Google has launched com.google, one of its batch of 2015 April Fool’s Day jokes.

Visiting the domain today will reveal a reversed perspective on the usual Google home page.

Even the results pages are reversed.

It’s probably the most inventive use of a dot-brand new gTLD to date.

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That mystery $1 million .sucks fee explained, and it’s probably not what you thought

Vox Populi has agreed to pay ICANN up to $1 million in extra fees in order to pay off the debts of affiliated deadbeat registrars, I can reveal.

The formerly mysterious fees, which comprise a $100,000 start-up payment and $1 for each of its first 900,000 .sucks transactions, were discovered by ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency, as I reported Friday.

I speculated that the payments may have related to ICANN padding out its legal defense fund, rather like it did with .xxx a few years ago, but it turns out that guess was dead wrong.

ICANN has told DI:

Some affiliates of Momentous, the majority owners of Vox Populi Registry, had previously defaulted on substantial payments to ICANN. Given this previous experience, ICANN negotiated special contract provisions in the Vox Populi Registry Agreement to provide additional financial assurances. Those provisions were added solely for that reason and were not related to the nature of this specific TLD.

I gather that the affiliated companies in question were shell registrars that went out of business a while ago.

Momentous company Pool.com used large numbers of empty registrar accreditations in order to drop-catch expiring domain names. Fairly standard practice in the drop-catching game.

But many of these entities were shut down, owing ICANN a whole bunch of cash in unpaid registrar fees.

ICANN has now chosen to recoup the money by extracting it from the .sucks registry, which according to its new gTLD application is majority-owned by Momentous.

The .sucks contract calls the $100,000 a “registry access fee” and the $1-a-name charge as “registry administration fee”.

For avoidance of doubt, this post is not an April Fool joke.

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.sucks launches despite trademark lobby outrage

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi took its .sucks new gTLD into its sunrise period as planned today, despite an 11th-hour outcry from trademark lawyers.

Pricing varies wildly between registrars.

Registry CEO John Berard told DI today that the TLD became available to trademark owners at a minute after midnight UTC this morning as scheduled.

ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency had asked ICANN’s top brass late Friday (mid-way through California’s final working day before the sunrise was due to begin) to “halt” the launch.

I’ve yet to hear confirmation from ICANN that it will not take action as a result of the IPC’s letter, but it has evidently not so far chosen to intervene.

The IPC described .sucks, with its suggested $2,500 sunrise fee, as a “shakedown” and a “perversion” of the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms.

Vox Pop has also published its registry-level fees.

It turns out its sunrise fee is $1,999, with a suggested retail price of $2,499.

That’s an attractive mark-up for registrars, but it’s not clear from the registry’s web site how many of its 30-plus contracted registrars have chosen to participate in the sunrise phase.

With the current volume of sunrise registrations running at fewer than 1,000 per TLD, and most registrations coming via a small number of brand protection registrars, it’s debateable whether it’s worthwhile for most registrars to bother with the extra implementation work.

Several retail registrars I checked are not currently offering sunrise names.

One corporate registrar, IPC member MarkMonitor, has promised to only mark up registrations by $25 per name, saying it refuses to profit from .sucks. Presumably, therefore, it is selling sunrise names for $2,024.

Of the registrars I checked that publish their prices on their web sites, Marcaria and 101domain are selling for $2,199. LexSynergy is priced in GBP that works out to $2,533 a year. Rebel.com has gone for $2,600 (including a $100 non-refundable application fee).

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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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