TLD Registry sells 20k+ IDN gTLD names to Chinese gov

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2014, Domain Registries

TLD Registry has sold 20,452 new gTLD domain names to the Chinese government as it prepares to launch .中文网 (“.chinesewebsite”) and .在线 (“.online”) tomorrow.

The deal, signed this week with the Service Development Center of the State Council Office for Public Sector Reform (SCOPSR) is for 10,226 names in each gTLD.

The domains include the Chinese-script names of every city in China with a population of over 200,000, as well as counties, municipalities and other regional names.

Strings that translate to things like “invest in [place name]” and “tourism [place name]” have also been registered to the government in both TLDs, according to the company.

It looks like this is the first significant anchor tenant deal we’ve seen in the new gTLD program.

Assuming China actually uses these names, it could be great publicity for the new registry’s gTLDs. The government has a policy of transitioning all of its services to fully IDN.IDN domains.

If not, it still means that both gTLDs stand to launch with over 10,000 names in each zone file on day one, even before regular registrants have had a chance to buy them.

The company is also set to auction a bunch of premium names in both namespaces on Friday simultaneously via Sedo and a live event at a private members’ club in Macau.

I’m posting this from Hong Kong airport, en route to the Macau event. As a matter of disclosure: TLD Registry is paying for my flights and accommodation.

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Weirdest new gTLD launch yet? .wed launches with a single registrar

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .wed went into sunrise yesterday with the strangest pricing model yet and a stringent Registry-Registrar Agreement that seems to have scared off all but one registrar.

Atgron is positioning .wed as a space for marrying couples to celebrate their weddings, but only temporarily.

It seemingly has little interest in domain investors or ongoing customer relationships beyond one or two years.

If you register a second-level .wed domain, you can have it for $150 a year for the first two years, according to the Atgron web site. After that, the price rockets to $30,000 a year.

Registrars, resellers and wedding-oriented businesses are allowed to opt out of the third-year spike on their own .wed names if they join Atgron’s reseller program and sell at least 10 a year.

Unlike Vox Populi, which is actively marketing .sucks domains at $25,000 as a reasonable value proposition, Atgron jacks the price up as a deterrent to registrants holding on to names too long. It says:

.WED domain names are sold to couples for one or two years to celebrate their wedding. The domain names then become available to another couple… Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED and then YES the next Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED a year or two later and so on and so on.

That alone would be enough to put off most registrars, which value the recurring revenue from ongoing annual renewals, but I gather that the .wed RRA contains even more Draconian requirements.

Incredulous registrars tell me that Atgron wants them to create an entirely new web site to market .wed domains — they’re not allowed to sell the names via their existing storefronts.

The only registrar to bite so far is EnCirca, known historically for promoting obscure gTLDs such as .pro and .travel, which is selling .wed via a new standalone site at encirca.wed.

I also gather that Atgron won’t let registrars opt out of selling its third-level .wed domains, which are expected to go for about $50 a year with no third-year spike.

That didn’t work well for .name — registrars hated its three-level structure, forcing the registry to ultimately go two-level — and I don’t think it’s going to work for .wed either.

Registrars also tell me that Atgron wants to ban them from charging a fee for Whois privacy on .wed domains. They can offer privacy, but only if it’s free to the registrant.

With privacy a relatively high-margin value-add for registrars, it’s hardly surprising that they would balk at having this up-sell taken away from them.

As weird as this all sounds, it is of course an example of the kind of innovative business models that the new gTLD program was designed to create. Mission accomplished on that count.

Another thing the program was designed to create is competition, something Atgron will soon encounter when Minds + Machines arrives with .wedding and eats .wed’s lunch. In my view.

The .wed launch period is also quite unusual.

Atgron is running a landrush period concurrently with its 30-day sunrise period.

Even if you don’t own a trademark, you can apply for a .wed domain today. You’ll get a refund if your name is registered by a trademark owner during sunrise, and names won’t go live until April 20.

The registry has extended the 90-day Trademark Claims period to cover the sunrise period too, so it appears to be in compliance with ICANN rights protection rules on that count.

It’s a 30-day sunrise, so it’s first-come, first served if you’re a trademark owner.

As for sunrise pricing, the third-year spike appears to apply too.

Atgron documentation does say there’s going to be an option to purchase a 10-year trademark block for a one-time fee, but I couldn’t find any way to do this on the EnCirca.wed web site today.

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Registrars screwing up new gTLD launches?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registrars

Some of the largest domain name registrars are failing to support new gTLDs properly, leading to would-be registrants being told unregistered names are unavailable.

The .menu gTLD went into general availability yesterday, gathering some 1,649 registrations in its first half day.

It’s not a great start for the new gTLD by any stretch, but how much of it has to do with the channel?

I tested out searches for available names at some of the biggest registrars and got widely different results, apparently because they don’t all properly support tiered pricing.

Market leader Go Daddy even refuses to sell available names.

The .menu gTLD is being operated by a What Box? subsidiary, the inappropriately named Wedding TLD2.

The company has selected at least three pricing tiers as far as I can tell — $25 is the baseline registry fee, but many unreserved “premium” names are priced by the registry at $50 and $65 a year.

For my test, I used noodleshop.menu, which seems to carry the $65 fee. Whois records show it as unregistered and it’s not showing up in today’s .menu zone file. It’s available.

This pricing seems to be accurately reflected at registrars including Name.com and 101domain.

Name.com, for example, says that the name is available and offers to sell it to me for $81.25.

Name.com

Likewise, 101domain reports its availability and a price of $97.49. There’s even a little medal icon next to the name to illustrate the fact that it’s at a premium price.

101domain

So far so good. However, other registrars fare less well.

Go Daddy and Register.com, which are both accredited .menu registrars, don’t seem to recognize the higher-tier names at all.

Go Daddy reports the name is unavailable.

Go Daddy

And so does Register.com.

Register.com

For every .menu name that carried a premium price at Name.com, Go Daddy was reporting it as unavailable.

With Go Daddy owning almost half of the new gTLD market, you can see why its failure to recognize a significant portion of a new gTLD’s available nice-looking names might impact day-one volumes.

The experience at 1&1, which has pumped millions into marketing new gTLD pre-registrations, was also weird.

At 1&1, I was offered noodleshop.menu at the sale price of $29.99 for the first year and $49.99 thereafter, which for some reason I was told was a $240 saving.

1&1

Both the sale price and the regular price appear to be below the wholesale cost. Either 1&1 is committed to take a $15 loss on each top-tier .menu name forever, or it’s pricing its names incorrectly.

A reader informed me this morning that when he tried to buy a .menu premium at 1&1 today he was presented with a message saying he would be contacted within 24 hours about the name.

He said his credit card was billed for the $29.99, but the name (Whois records seem to confirm) remains unregistered.

I’d test this out myself but frankly I don’t want to risk my money. When I tried to register the same name as the reader on 1&1 today I was told it was still available.

If I were a new gTLD registry I’d be very worried about this state of affairs. Without registrars, there’s no sales, but some registrars appear to be unprepared, at least in the case of .menu.

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Full TMCH database published by registry?

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2014, Domain Policy

DotBerlin seems to have published the full list of trademarks and other strings protected by the Trademark Clearinghouse.

The list, published openly on nic.berlin as the .berlin new gTLD went through its sunrise period, contains 49,989 .berlin domain names that the registry says are protected.

Neither the TMCH nor DotBerlin have yet responded to a request for comment, so I can’t be 100% certain it’s the TMCH list, but it certainly appears to be. You can judge for yourself here (pdf).

UPDATE: DotBerlin told DI that it is “not the full list but part of a registry-reserved names list” that was published “accidentally” and has now been removed from its web site.

The DotBerlin web site calls the list “MarkenSchutzEngel-Domains” which I believe translates to something like “Trademark Guardian Angel Domains”.

While the TMCH says it has 26,802 listed marks, the document published by DotBerlin seems to also include thousands of strings that are protected under the “Trademark +50″ rule.

That allows companies that have won UDRP complaints to have those domains’ second-level strings added to their TMCH records. I see plenty of UDRP’d domains on this list.

The list also seems to include hundreds, possibly thousands, of variant strings that put hyphens between different words. For example, Santander appears to have registered:

a-bank-for-your-ideas
a-bank-for-yourideas
a-bank-foryour-ideas
a-bank-foryourideas
a-bankfor-your-ideas
a-bankfor-yourideas
a-bankforyour-ideas
a-bankforyourideas

I spotted dozens of examples of this, which is permitted under ICANN’s TMCH rules.

There are 2,462 internationalized domain names on the list.

I gather that the full TMCH list today is over 50,000 strings, a little larger than the DotBerlin document.

I took the liberty of comparing the list to a dictionary of 110,000 English words and found 1,941 matches. Strings such as “fish”, “vision”, “open”, “jump” and “mothers” are all protected.

A listing in the TMCH means you get the right to buy a domain matching your mark during new gTLD sunrise periods. Anyone else trying to register a matching name will also generate a Trademark Claims notice.

According to some registries I’ve spoken to today, the TMCH forbids the publication of the full database under the contract that all new gTLD registries must sign.

I’ve no idea whether the publication of a list of .berlin names means that DotBerlin broke its contract.

While the TMCH rules were being developed, trademark owners were adamant that the full database should not be published and should not be easily reverse engineered.

They were worried that to publish the list would reveal their trademark enforcement strategies, which may leave them open to abuse.

(Hat tip to Bart Mortelmans of bNamed.net for the link.)

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Verisign stock punished after US move from root control

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2014, Domain Registries

Verisign’s share price is down around 8% in early trading today, after analysts speculated that the US government’s planned move away from control of the DNS root put .com at risk.

The analyst firm Cowan & Co cut its rating on VRSN and reportedly told investors:

With less US control and without knowledge of what entity or entities will ultimately have power, we believe there is increased risk that VRSN may not be able to renew its .com and .net contracts in their current form.

It’s complete nonsense, of course.

The US announced on Friday it’s intention to step away from the trilateral agreements that govern control of the root between itself, ICANN and Verisign. But that deal has no dollar value to anyone.

What’s not affected, as ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade laboriously explained during his press conference Friday, are the contracts under which Verisign operates .com and .net.

The .com contract, through which Verisign derives most of its revenue, is slightly different to regular gTLD contracts in that the US has the right to veto terms if they’re considered anti-competitive.

The current contract, which runs through 2018, was originally going to retain Verisign’s right to increase its prices in most years, but it was vetoed by the US, freezing Verisign’s registry fee.

So not only has the US not said it will step away from .com oversight, but if it did it would be excellent news for Verisign, which would only have to strong-arm ICANN into letting it raise prices again.

Renewal of the .com and .net contracts shouldn’t be an issue either. The main rationale for putting .com up for rebid was to improve competition, but the new gTLD program is supposed to be doing that.

If new gTLDs, as a whole, are considered successful, I can’t see Verisign ever losing .com.

Verisign issued a statement before the markets opened today, saying:

The announcement by NTIA on Friday, March 14, 2014, does not affect Verisign’s operation of the .com and .net registries. The announcement does not impact Verisign’s .com or .net domain name business nor impact its .com or .net revenue or those agreements, which have presumptive rights of renewal.

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