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Afilias gives its gTLDs a kick up the bum with U-turn 101domain buy

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias, once one of the fiercest opponents of registries owning registrars, has acquired 101domain to gain its first significant foothold in the registrar market.

Wolfgang Reile, president and CEO of 101domain, said he would be quitting the company and that COO/CFO Anthony Beltran will be leading the new Afilias unit in future.

The acquisition, which closed September 2, was for an undisclosed amount, but I’d say it was easily a seven-figure deal.

When Afilias rival CentralNic acquired last year, it paid $7.5 million.

California-based 101domain is currently about a quarter of the size that was when it was bought, based on gTLD domains under management, with a little over 120,000 names on its books as of June this year, according to registry reports.

But the company is well known as a go-to registrar if you want a broad choice of TLDs — it says it currently supports over 900. Its ccTLD sales may make the company much bigger.

Getting its stable of registry offerings to market is one of the reasons Afilias was drawn to 101domain.

Afilias’ own portfolio of TLDs contain some semi-restricted strings — such as .vote, which has a no-domaining policy — that would not be automatically attractive to many registrars.

Afilias told DI:

This acquisition furthers our post-vertical integration strategy of establishing a capability that enables us to both service our registry customers and ensure an outlet for TLDs of our own that may not be easy to find at a traditional registrar. 101domain is expected to continue to operate as it does today.

Afilias actually already had a registrar division — Emerald Registrar, which does business from — but had fewer than 1,500 domains under management at the last count.

Its registry business has over 20 million domains.

If you have a long memory, you may recall that Afilias was once dead-set against the concept of vertical integration — registries and registrars under the same ownership — which in the post-2012 new gTLD world has become industry standard.

The ICANN working group that was tasked with reforming ownership rule was held in stalemate by Afilias and Go Daddy back in 2010, before ICANN finally broke the deadlock.

New gTLD portfolio registries including Uniregistry, Google, Minds + Machines and Rightside have registrar businesses already. Famous Four seems to be closely aligned with Alpnames, and Donuts is tight with Rightside.

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DI will be live-blogging ICANN 54

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2015, Domain Policy

I’m going to be doing something a little different for ICANN’s latest public meeting.

For various tedious reasons I was unable to attend in person ICANN 54, which started in Dublin this morning, so I thought I’d try to make the best of the advantages of remote participation and a friendly time zone to try something new.

Namely, live-blogging.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a live-blog is essentially a single blog post that is updated and amended in real-time as a quickly developing news story continues to roll.

You can think of it a little like a Twitter feed, but without the restrictions.

If you have your browser open to the live-blog post, the updates should be automatically pushed to you in near real-tie without the need to manually refresh the page.

I say “should” because I’ve never done this before and, despite a bit of testing, the back-end software may not function precisely as I expect.

The auto-refresh function only seems to work, by design, in single-post view. If you’re looking at the DI front page you probably won’t get the auto-updates unless you manually refresh.

It’s all very experimental and I may quickly abandon the idea if it doesn’t seem to be working. Feedback is welcome.

The intention in some cases is to live-blog individual sessions, when they’re important enough to warrant my undivided attention — such as the opening ceremony or the meeting between the ICANN board and the Governmental Advisory Committee.

In other cases, the blog may dip in and out of conflicting sessions depending on what seems most interesting at the time.

While ICANN 54 doesn’t officially start until Monday, long-time ICANN watchers know that the real discussions begin much earlier.

In fact, in Dublin, they’ve already started.

A three-hour session of the community working group tasked with improving ICANN’s accountability, known as the CCWG, showed strong indications this morning that it may be ready to be the first blink in its ongoing confrontation with the ICANN board.

You can expect a lot of coverage of the accountability discussions, which have multiple sessions devoted to them, over the coming seven days.

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Andruff fuming after ICANN leadership snub

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2015, Domain Policy

Long-time ICANN volunteer Ron Andruff has complained to the ICANN board of directors after he was passed over for a key leadership position.

Andruff this week filed a Request for Reconsideration after the board appointed Stephane van Gelder chair of the ICANN Nominating Committee for a second year, despite Andruff serving as “chair-elect” in the 2015 NomCom.

According to ICANN bylaws, it is “anticipated” that NomCom chairs-elect take over from their chairs each year, but the board has the “discretion” to pick somebody entirely different.

That’s discretion the board exercised last week when it picked Van Gelder, executive VP at new gTLD registry Starting Dot, to continue on as chair.

Andruff was replaced as chair-elect by Hans Petter Holen, who comes from the IP address side of the community.

NomCom is tasked with the selection of three ICANN board members each year. The chair and chair-elect positions are picked by the ICANN board, but are non-voting.

Now Andruff’s mad that “a subset of mean-spirited and targeted attacks on my reputation by a few individuals” have cost him the chair’s gig. He said the board:

is meddling in the affairs of the supposedly independent Nominating Committee. Interfering with successful and efficient processes within the body that selects 2-3 Board members each year is not only wholly unnecessary, it triggers suspicion about the very independence of the Nom Com. It is also likely to deter others from volunteering their time and energy within the NomCom and other ICANN bodies as they become aware of how review processes that are supposed to foster self-improvement can instead be used to unfairly tarnish reputations.

The ICANN board seems to have come to its decision based at least in part on the results of a “360-degree” evaluation of Andruff by his NomCom peers.

These reviews invite committee members to score each other based on criteria such as leadership skills, honesty and good judgment.

The anonymous comments attached to the scores can be both fawning and really rather scathing.

A perfect score would be 55. Andruff scored 42.3.

Van Gelder scored 50.1 this year and 49.7 when he was in Andruff’s position last year.

Andruff’s report card also seems to contain more negative, and more negative, written comments than Van Gelder’s.

A minority of respondents questioned his neutrality, leadership skills and tone. A sample:

Ron constantly provided negative, arbitrary comments which carried underlying messages that he is the hardest worker in the group – more so than anyone else. He appeared to be a bully toward other members on many occasions – very opinionated and controlling, particularly about process. Ron does not use his influence appropriately regarding candidates. There is concern about his ability next year to separate his constituencies’ interests from the supposed independent role of the NomCom Chair. His style of using influence is often neither appropriate nor effective.

Andruff takes issue with the fact that the board chose to use his 360 review at all. In his RfR, he writes:

the reviews were intended to be a tool for improvement, rather than a basis for disqualification. That is especially true in regard to a review such as my own, which was strong overall while revealing a few areas that could be a focus for further improvement.

He also says he was told by an ICANN director that he “lacks cultural sensitivity”, a claim that he says came without any evidence.

He wrote:

I have absolutely no doubt, based on my personal interactions as well as the result of the 360 review, that if my ascension to Chair was put to a vote of the Nom Com members with whom I have served over the past year I would win by a substantial margin.

Andruff is CEO of his own firm, ONR Consulting, which also goes by the name ICANN Sherpa, and he’s worried that the board’s snub will cost him business.

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which made the original recommendation to reappoint Van Gelder and remove Andruff, intends to discuss Andruff’s complaint on Sunday.

Documentation on NomCom 2015, including the 360 reviews, can be found here.

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Odd-couple coalition wants URS deleted from legacy gTLD contracts

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2015, Domain Registries

Commercial and non-commercial interests within ICANN have formed a rare alliance in order to oppose the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy in three new legacy gTLD contracts.

The groups want ICANN to delete URS from the .travel, .cat and .pro Registry Agreements, which were all renewed for 10-year terms last week.

The Business Constituency and the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group put their names to a Request for Reconsideration filed with ICANN yesterday.

The Internet Commerce Association, a member of the BC, filed a separate RfR asking for the same thing yesterday too.

These groups believe that ICANN contracting staff are trying to create consensus policy by the back door, from the top down, by imposing URS on gTLDs that were delegated before the 2012 application round.

URS was created specifically for the new gTLD program and therefore should not apply to legacy gTLDs, they say. The BC/NCSG request states:

Our joint concern… is that a unilateral decision by ICANN contractual staff within the [Global Domains Division] to take the new gTLD registry agreement as the starting point for renewal RAs for legacy gTLDs has the effect of transforming the PDDRP [Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Process] and the URS into de facto Consensus Policies without following the procedures laid out in ICANN’s Bylaws for their creation. To be clear, we take no objection to a registry voluntarily agreeing to adopt RPMs in their contractual negotiations with ICANN.

The ICA has the same objections. It’s primarily concerned that the new contracts set a precedent that will ultimately force URS into the .com space, when Verisign’s contract comes up for renewal.

Both RfRs ask ICANN to delete the URS requirements from the just-signed .pro, .travel and .cat registry agreements.

The requesters suspect that rather than including URS as “the result of even-handed ‘bilateral negotiations'”, it was “staff insistence that the registries accept it to achieve timely registry agreement renewal.”

They want the ICANN board to demand to see the emails that were exchanged during negotiations in order to determine whether the registries were strong-armed into signing up for URS.

The BC/NCSG request is here. The ICA request is here.

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XYZ to put global block on domains banned in China

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2015, Domain Registries plans to slap a global ban on domain names censored by the Chinese government.

Chinese words meaning things such as “human rights” and “democracy” are believed to be on the block list, which an industry source says could contain as many as 40,000 words, names and phrases.

(UPDATE: Gavin Brown, CTO of XYZ back-end CentralNic, tweeted that the list is nowhere near 40,000 names long.)

The registry seems to be planning to allow the Chinese government to censor its new gTLDs, which include .xyz, .college, .rent, .protection and .security, in every country of the world.

And it might not be the last non-Chinese registry to implement such a ban.

The surprising revelation came in a fresh Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf), filed with ICANN on Friday.

The RSEP asks ICANN to approve the use of a gateway service on the Chinese mainland, which the company says it needs in order to comply with Chinese law.

As previously reported, Chinese citizens are allowed to register domains in non-Chinese registries, but they may not activate them unless the registry complies with the law.

That law requires the registry to be located on the Chinese mainland. XYZ plans to comply by hiring local player ZDNS to proxy its EPP systems and mirror its Whois.

But the Chinese government also bans certain strings — which I gather are mostly but not exclusively in Chinese script — from being registered in domain names.

Rather than block them at the ZDNS proxy, where only Chinese users would be affected, XYZ has decided to ban them internationally.

Registrants in North America or Europe, for example, will not be able to register domains that are banned in China. XYZ said in its RSEP:

XYZ will reserve names prohibited for registration by the Chinese government at the registry level internationally, so the Gateway itself will not need to be used to block the registration of of any names. Therefore, a registrant in China will be able to register the same domain names as anyone else in the world.

It seems that XYZ plans to keep its banned domain list updated as China adds more strings to its own list, which I gather it does regularly.

Customers outside of China who have already registered banned domains will not be affected, XYZ says.

If China subsequently bans more strings, international customers who already own matching domains will also not be affected, it says.

CEO Daniel Negari told DI: “To be clear, we will not be taking action against names registered outside of China based on Chinese government requests.”

But Chinese registrants do face the prospect losing their domains, if China subsequently bans the words and XYZ receives a complaint from Chinese authorities.

“We treat requests from the Chinese government just like we treat requests from the US government or any other government,” Negari said.

“When we receive a valid government or court order to take action against a name and the government has jurisdiction over the registration, we will take action the registration,” he said.

Up to a third of the .xyz zone — about three hundred thousand names — is believed to be owned by Chinese registrants who are currently unable to actually use their names.

The company clearly has compelling business reasons to comply with Chinese law.

But is giving the Chinese government the ongoing right to ban tens of thousands of domain names internationally a step too far?

ICANN allows anyone to file public comments on RSEP requests. I expect we’ll see a few this time.

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