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Second-level .au names delayed

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2019, Domain Registries

If you’re champing at the bit to grab yourself some second-level .au domain names, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.

Australian ccTLD manager auDA said today that it is delaying the controversial release by three months, to give it more time to carry out public outreach.

In a statement, interim chair Suzanne Ewart said that “it is critically important that the changes are widely understood, backed by an education program and supported by robust business processes throughout industry.”

The original plan had been to been to make 2LDs available in a staggered manner starting at some point in the fourth quarter. The delay will push the release into 2020.

The proposed launch has been controversial among the domain investment part of the auDA membership, which largely believes that it could lead to confusion with the existing three-level structure of the .au space.

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ICANN names new directors, replaces Facebook exec

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Nominating Committee has picked two new directors to join the board of directors this November.

They are: Mandla Msimang, a South African technology policy consultant, and Ihab Osman, a serial director who ran Sudan’s ccTLD two decades ago but whose main current gig appears to be managing a Saudi Arabian dairy company.

Dutch domain industry figure Maarten Botterman, who had a stint heading Public Interest Registry, has been reappointed for his second three-year term.

But Tunisian Khaled Koubaa, head of public policy for North Africa at Facebook, who joined the board with Botterman in 2016 and also previously worked for PIR, is not being asked to return.

Msimang and Osman replace Koubaa and Cherine Chalaby, the current Egyptian-born chair, who after nine years on the board is term-limited.

Basically, it’s two Africans out, two Africans in.

In a statement, NomCom chair Damon Ashcraft noted that the committee had received 56 applications from Africa, more than any other region. Only two applications were received from North Americans.

This is perhaps unsurprising. NomCom had been duty-bound to pick at least one African, in order to maintain ICANN’s bylaws-mandated geographic balance, but there were no spots available for North Americans.

Replacing one male director with one female may also go some way to appease critics — including the ICANN board itself — who have claimed that the board needs to be more gender balanced.

The switch means that, after November, the eight NomCom appointees on the board will be evenly split in terms of gender. However, only seven out of the total 20 directors will be women.

The other directors are selected by ICANN’s various supporting organizations and advisory committees.

NomCom received applications from 42 women and 85 men this year.

ICANN has not yet published the official bios for the two new directors, but here’s what the internets has to say about about them.

Mandla Msimang. Msimang’s career appears to show her playing both hunter and gamekeeper in the South African telecommunications market, first working for the national regulator, and later for leading mobile phone operator Cell C. In 2007 she founded Pygma Consulting, a boutique IT consultancy, which she still runs.

Ihab Osman. Osman’s day job appears to be general manager of NADEC New Businesses, a unit of Nadec, a foods company partly owned by the Saudi government. He’s also president of the US-Sudan Business Council, which seeks to promote trade between the two countries. He has a long career in telecommunications, and from 1997 until 2002 was in charge of Sudan’s .sd ccTLD.

Both new directors will take their seats at the end of ICANN’s annual general meeting in Montreal this November.

There’s no word yet on who’s taking over as chair.

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After getting acquired, bank scraps its dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registries

Another dot-brand gTLD has bitten the dust, but this time it does not appear to be due to lack of interest.

TIAA Bank has told ICANN that it wants to terminate its contract to run .everbank, the dot-brand of a bank it acquired two years ago.

It’s only the second self-terminating dot-brand I’m aware of where the gTLD is actually being used. The first was .iselect a couple months ago.

EverBank had about.everbank and commercial.everbank live and resolving, but they currently both just bounce visitors to its .com site.

The EverBank brand was retired over a year ago, after TIAA acquired it and renamed it TIAA Bank, so it would be pointless to continue using the gTLD.

I think EverBank is catchier, but TIAA is still catchier than .teachersinsuranceandannuityassociationofamerica-collegeretirementequitiesfund, which, at 78 characters, is technically too long to be a TLD.

It’s the 53rd new gTLD to ask ICANN to terminate its registry contract.

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Porn-block retail prices revealed. Wow.

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

The first retail prices for MMX’s porn-blocking AdultBlock services have been revealed, and they ain’t cheap.

The registrar 101domain yesterday announced that it has started offering AdultBlock and sister service AdultBlock+, and published its pricing.

Trademark owners wanting to block a single string across .sex, .porn, .adult and .xxx will pay $349 per year with the vanilla, renew-annually service.

If they want the AdultBlock+ service, which also blocks homographs, they’ll pay $799 a year or $7,495 for the maximum 10-year term.

Compare this to the Sunrise B offer that ICM Registry made to trademark owners in 2011, where a string in .xxx cost roughly $200 to $300 for a 10-year block.

The two services are not directly comparable, of course. AdultBlock covers three additional TLDs and the AdultBlock+ service covers confusingly similar variants.

But trademark owners are buying peace of mind that their brands won’t be registered as porn sites, and the cost of that peace of mind just increased tenfold.

AdultBlock domains don’t resolve, and are a lot cheaper than domain registrations.

Renewing a single string in all four gTLDs at 101domain prices would cost around $480 a year, so customers will pay about 27% less buying a block instead.

The cost of the first year for those four domains would be $360, just $11 more than the AdultBlock price, according to 101domain’s price list.

MMX, which acquired the gTLD portfolio from ICM last year, is offering a discount on the AdultBlock+ service for customers buying before the end of 2019.

101domain is offering 10 years of AdultBlock+ for $3,999, a saving of $3,500.

101domain is not known as a particularly expensive registrar, so prices elsewhere in the industry could go higher.

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Registrars could be held liable for US gun violence

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Policy

A US presidential candidate has come out in support of amending the law to make domain name companies liable when customers use their services to incite violence.

Beto O’Rourke, a former member of Congress, stated last week that he wants to amend the Communications Decency Act to hold providers of “domain name servers” liable “where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence”.

He’s believed to be the first among the swarm of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls to lay out a plan to combat online hate speech.

The proposed amendments to Section 230 of the CDA are part of a sweeping package of reforms O’Rourke is proposing in order to tackle gun violence and domestic terrorism in the US.

He comes from El Paso, Texas, which was the target of a race-based terrorist attack a couple of weeks ago.

He’s also pushing for stricter gun controls, such as compulsory licensing and training.

But I’m not going to get into that stuff here. This is a blog about domain names. I’m British, so you can probably guess what my opinion on guns is.

In terms of online content, O’Rourke’s plan seems primarily aimed at getting the big social media platforms to more heavily moderate the content produced by their users.

But it specifically calls out domain name companies also:

Beto would require large internet platforms to adopt terms of service to ban hateful activities, defined as those that incite or engage in violence, intimidation, harassment, threats, or defamation targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability. These companies also would be required to put in place systems designed to identify and act on content violating the terms of service. Platforms must be transparent when they block content and provide for an appeal process in order to guard against abuse.

Beto supports amending Section 230 of the CDA to remove legal immunity from lawsuits for large social media platforms that fail to change their terms of service and put in place systems as described above. Informational service providers of all sizes, including domain name servers and social media platforms, also would be held liable where they are found to knowingly promote content that incites violence.

Should registrars be worried about this?

If the legal test was that registrars “knowingly promote content that incites violence”, that seems like a pretty high bar.

I’m not convinced even Epik, which has come under fire for providing domain services to the likes of Stormfront and 8chan — both of which O’Rourke cites in his policy — “knowingly promotes” incitements to violence.

That’s not to say that registrars couldn’t find themselves prosecuted or sued anyway, of course.

O’Rourke is not a current front-runner in the Democrat presidential pack. While still in the race, he’s towards the bottom of the top 10, polls suggest.

What O’Rourke’s policy statement does suggest is that the regulation of online speech could become a significant issue in the 2020 election, and that the domain name industry in the US could find itself a political football in an extremely divisive game.

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Three-letter .com owned by hospital “hijacked”

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

A California hospital has seen its three-letter .com domain reportedly hijacked and transferred to a registrar in China.

Sonoma Valley Hospital, a 75-bed facility north of San Francisco, was using svh.com as its primary domain until earlier this month, when it abruptly stopped working.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune reports that the domain was “maliciously acquired”, according to a hospital spokesperson.

It does not seem to be a case of a lapsed registration.

Historical Whois records archived by DomainTools show that svh.com, which had been registered with Network Solutions, had over a year left on its registration when it was transferred to BizCN in early August.

BizCN is based in China and has around 711,000 gTLD domains under management, having shrunk by about 300,000 names over the 12 months to April.

The Sonoma newspaper speculates that the domain may have been hijacked via a phishing attack. It’s not clear whether the hospital or NetSol, part of the Web.com group, was the target.

Three-letter .com names are highly prized, usually selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Domain investors should obviously steer clear of svh.com, which will is probably already up for sale.

Not only is there a possibility of attracting unwelcome legal attention, but there’s also the moral implications of paying somebody who would steal from a hospital.

The hospital in question has now changed its name to sonomavalleyhospital.org. This transition, which includes migrating the email addresses of all of its staff, seems to have taken several days.

Anyone sending personal medical information to the old svh.com email addresses may find that information in the wrong hands.

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“We’re Irish!” claim Brits as .eu shrinks yet again

Kevin Murphy, August 14, 2019, Domain Registries

British companies are moving their .eu domain names to their Irish branches in an effort to keep them after Brexit, according to the speculations of EURid.

.eu regs in Ireland grew 18% to 47,781 in the second quarter, according to the registry’s Q2 roundup. EURid said:

The high increase in Ireland could be related to the notice about UK withdrawal from the EU and its subsequence to UK .eu domain name holders. Some of the UK domain name holders may have had the chance to transfer the domain names to their branches in other countries of the EU and EEA, e.g. the neighboring Ireland.

Regs in the UK dropped by 13.9% compared to Q1 and by almost half — 46.7% — year over year. There are now 162,287 UK-based .eu domains.

Overall, .eu is still shrinking, partly as a result of this Brexit impact, which has been felt ever since the 2016 referendum.

There were 3,602,573 registered domains at the end of June, down from 3,661,899 at the end of March.

UK-based registrants have been told that they cannot continue to own .eu domains after Brexit, currently slated for October 31. It’s still a possibility that the date could change, or that Brexit may not happen at all.

Confusing matters, EU citizens living in the UK will still be eligible for .eu domains.

All this data, plus a whole lot more, can be read in the EURid Q2 report (pdf).

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Mystery .vu registry revealed

Kevin Murphy, August 13, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has been selected as the back-end domain registry operator for the nation of Vanuatu.

The company, and the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator, announced the appointment, which came after a competitive tender process between nine competing back-end providers, last night.

The ccTLD is .vu.

It’s unrestricted, with no local presence requirements, and currently costs $50 per year if you buy directly from the registry, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL).

Unusually, if you show up at TVL’s office in Vanuatu capital Port Vila, you can buy a domain for cash. I’ve never heard of that kind of “retail” domain name option before.

A handful of international registrars also sell the domains marked up, generally to over the $80 mark.

TVL was originally the sponsor of the ccTLD, but ICANN redelegated it to TRBR in March after Vanuatu’s government passed a law in 2016 calling for redelegation.

Under the deal, Neustar will take over the registry function from TVL after its 24 years in charge, bringing the .vu option to hundreds of other registrars.

Most registrars are already plugged in to Neustar, due to its operation of .us, .biz and .co. It also recently took over India’s .in.

There’s no public data on the number of domains under management, but Vanuatu is likely to have a much smaller footprint that Neustar’s main ccTLD clients.

It’s quite a young country, gaining independence from France and the UK in 1980, a Pacific archipelago of roughly 272,000 people.

Neustar expects the transition to its back-end to be completed September 30.

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Berkens says new gTLDs mostly suck but geos suck hardest

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Sales

Ever since he cashed out his massive portfolio of domain names in a bulk sale to GoDaddy three and a half years ago, domain investor Mike Berkens has been dabbling in new gTLDs, and so far he’s not impressed.

In a recent conference speech and blog post, he revealed some of his experiences parking and trying to sell his new g names, and he has come down particularly harshly on geographic TLDs.

City TLDs such as .london, .nyc and .miami are “death” to a domain investor, he said at a domainer meetup in Asheville, North Carolina last week.

His portfolio of 29 .miami names has had just 532 type-in visits in the last year, and have not received a single offer, he wrote on TheDomains.com.

On the flip-side, Berkens told his audience that domain combinations that naturally fit together, such as online.dating, atlantic.city, moving.company and bank.loans are profitable from type-in traffic and can get thousands of visitors a year.

They can be profitable even when the registry charges a premium renewal fee, he said. The domain obama.care makes him $500 a year parked and has a $150 annual renewal, he said.

But when asked directly whether he would recommend new gTLDs to domain investors, Berkens said he would not, citing among other things the added risk of unregulated price increases in the new gTLD space.

Berkens made eight figures selling his portfolio of 70,000 names to GoDaddy in 2015, but the deal apparently did not include the new gTLD names he’d picked up along the way.

You can watch his 24-minute talk here.

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.gay gets rooted

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .gay, which was often used as an example of a controversial TLD that could be blocked from the DNS, has finally made it to the DNS.

While no .gay domains are currently resolving, the TLD itself was added to the root zone over the weekend.

Its registry is Top Level Design, which currently also runs .design, .ink and .wiki.

The company won the string in February, after an auction with three other applicants.

While Top Level Design had planned to launch .gay this October on National Coming Out Day in the US, but had to postpone the release so as not to rush things.

It’s now eyeing a second-quarter 2020 launch, possibly timed to coincide with a major Pride event.

The registry is currently hiring marketing staff to assist in the launch.

It’s the first new TLD to hit the internet since February, when South Sudan acquired .ss.

But it’s been over a year since the last 2012-round new gTLD appeared, when .inc was delegated in July 2018.

There are currently 1,528 TLDs in the root. That’s actually down a bit compared to a year ago, due to the removal of several delegated dot-brands.

.gay was, prior to 2012, often used as an example of a string that could have been blocked by governments or others on “morality and public order” grounds.

But that never transpired. The protracted time it’s taken to get .gay into the root has been more a result of seemingly endless procedural reviews of ICANN decision-making.

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