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Pheenix adds 300 more registrars to drop-catch arsenal

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Services

The domain drop-catching arms race is heating up, with budget player Pheenix this week acquiring 300 more registrar accreditations from ICANN.

According to DI records, the company now has almost 500 registrar accreditations in its family.

More accreditations means more registry connections with which to attempt to acquire expired domains as they return to the available pool.

It also means that Pheenix’s dropnet (a word I just made up that sounds a bit like “botnet” in a pathetic attempt to coin a term for once in my career) is now a bit bigger than that of Web.com, the registrar pool behind Namejet and SnapNames.

It’s still a long way behind TurnCommerce, owner of DropCatch, which two weeks ago added a whopping 500 new accreditations, bringing its total to over 1,250.

An extra 300 accreditations would have cost Pheenix over $1 million in up-front ICANN fees and will incur ongoing fixed annual fees in excess of $1.2 million.

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Neustar agrees to go private in $2.9 billion deal

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Registries

Struggling infrastructure services firm and domain registry Neustar is set to go private in a $2.9 billion deal.

The company, best known for .biz, .co and .us, has agreed to be bought out by a group led by Golden Gate Capital.

The $33.50-per-share offer, announced on Wednesday and which Neustar’s board has approved, is a 45% premium over the closing price the day before Golden Gate first disclosed it had a stake.

That’s still hell and gone from the roughly $45 the shares were trading for a few years ago, before the company first raised concerns that its lucrative number portability deal with the US government was on the ropes.

Since it became apparent that the numbering contract, which accounts for about half of Neustar’s revenue, was at risk, the company has attempted to focus its efforts on marketing services, security and domains.

That effort included the $87 million acquisition of registry rival Bombora (owner of ARI and AusRegistry) last year.

Earlier this year, the company announced its intention to split into two, basically spinning off all of its businesses not exposed to the US government contract.

It’s not entirely clear whether that plan will be followed through, but Neustar can no doubt be expected to go through some significant restructuring under new ownership. Golden Gate et al are not altruists, after all.

Neustar has 30 days to consider better offers from other white knights, under the terms of the deal.

If ultimately given the final rubber stamp, the deal may still not close until the third quarter of 2017, Neustar said.

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After Zika threat passes, ICANN confirms return to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN will hold its first public meeting of 2018 in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which was originally supposed to the venue for this October’s meeting.

ICANN moved ICANN 57 from San Juan to Hyderabad, India in May, at the height of the scare about the Zika virus.

Zika is spread by mosquitoes and sex and can cause horrible birth defects. An epidemic, beginning in 2015, saw thousands affected in the Americas and South-East Asia.

Puerto Rico was one of the affected regions. At the time of the ICANN postponement, numerous government travel warnings were in effect.

The World Health Organization announced last month that the epidemic is over.

It was always understood that Puerto Rico had been merely postponed rather than permanently canceled, and ICANN’s board of directors this week resolved to hold the March 2018 meeting — ICANN 61 — there.

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Go Daddy’s Merdinger named DNA chair

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Services

Go Daddy VP of domains Rich Merdinger has been appointed interim chair of the Domain Name Association, replacing Neustar’s Adrian Kinderis.

In a blog post, Merdinger said the DNA will become more “vocal” under its new leadership and outlined three priorities for 2017 — awareness, adoption and access.

He said the DNA will share ways businesses can pursue a strategy of “blending” TLD types in their online activities, promote domains as search engine optimization tools, and make it easier for DNA members to participate.

There will be a new series of DNA Virtual Town Hall meetings to facilliate communication. Merdinger wrote:

Expect to see a more vocal DNA – whether it is at the next virtual town hall or learning about new research on domain name strategies and their business impact. As Interim Chair, I will be working with our leadership team on ways to spotlight how domain names are being used strategically and tactically to support business objectives in 2017 and beyond.

He replaces Kinderis, formerly CEO of AusRegistry/ARI/Bombora, who is now, post-acquisition, VP of corporate development at Neustar.

Kinderis, DNA’s founding chair in April 2013, will remain on the DNA’s board of directors, representing Neustar.

It’s interesting that Merdinger’s appointment to chair is being linked with the DNA becoming more “vocal”.

While Merdinger certainly isn’t a shrinking violet, Kinderis, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying, is one of the bluntest, mouthiest guys in the industry.

That said, GoDaddy has name recognition and has proven to be a bit of a headline magnet over the last decade or so.

It surely has a higher profile among would-be registrants — a big part of the DNA’s audience — than Neustar, which isn’t primarily a domain name company or even necessarily primarily an internet company.

The DNA will continue to operate without an in-house staff, having dumped its second executive director earlier this year in favor of outsourcing to a trade group management company, to cut costs.

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Donuts acquires stagnant .irish TLD

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2016, Domain Registries

Donuts has acquired the new gTLD .irish, which is struggling to gain volume after about 18 months on the market.

The gTLD was applied for and operated by Dot-Irish LLC, a US company founded by Irish and Northern Irish entrepreneurs.

Since going to general availability in June last year, it managed to grow its zone file to a peak of about 2,300 names in the first year.

That’s since dropped off to about 2,000 names.

Even self-consciously Irish registrar Blacknight has only managed to shift fewer than 500 names.

These numbers are disappointing any way you look at them, with the original gTLD application talking about an addressable market of 6 million Irish citizens and 80 million more in the Irish diaspora.

Registrar support does not seem to have been the issue. Registrars with reach, including Tucows, Name.com, Host Europe Group and Go Daddy all sell the names.

Pricing may be a factor. While Blacknight promotes .irish prominently for about $10 a year, elsewhere prices can range from $40 to $50.

The terms of the acquisition, which Donuts said closed last month, have not been disclosed.

Donuts said it will migrate .irish to its own infrastructure March 1, 2017. All policies and protection mechanisms that apply to the rest of the 198-strong Donuts stables will be applied to .irish, the company said.

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