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ICANN slashes new gTLD income forecast AGAIN

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN has yet again been forced to lower its funding expectations from new gTLDs, as the industry continues to face growth challenges.

In its latest draft fiscal year 2019 budget, likely to be approved at the end of the month, it’s cut $1.7 million from the amount it expects to receive in new gTLD transaction fees.

That’s even after cutting its estimates for fiscal 2018 in half just a few months back.

New gTLD registry transaction fees — the $0.25 collected whenever a new gTLD domain is registered, renewed or transferred, provided that the gTLD has over 50,000 domains under management — are now estimated at $5.1 million for FY19

That’s up just $500,000 from where it expects FY18, which ends June 30 this year, to finish off.

But it’s down $900,000 or 15% from the $6 million in transaction fees it was forecasting just four months ago.

It’s also still a huge way off the $8.7 million ICANN had predicted for FY18 in March 2017.

Registrar new gTLD transaction fees for FY19, paid by registrars regardless of the size of the TLD, are now estimated to come in at $4.3 million, up $400,000 from the expect FY18 year-end sum.

But, again, that number is down $800,000 from the $5.1 million in registrar fees that ICANN was forecasting in its first-draft FY19 budget.

In short, even when it was slashing its FY18 expectations in half, it was still over-confident on FY19.

On the bright side, at least ICANN is predicting some growth in new gTLD transactions.

And the story is almost exactly reversed when it comes to pre-2012 gTLDs.

For legacy gTLD registry transaction fees — the majority of which are paid by Verisign for .com and .net — ICANN has upped its expectations for FY19 to $49.6 million, compared to its January estimate of $48.7 million (another $900,000 difference, but in the opposite direction).

That growth will be offset by lower growth at the registrar level, where transaction fees for legacy gTLDs are now expected to be $30.2 million for FY19, compared to its January estimate of $30.4 million, a $200,000 deficit.

None of ICANN’s estimates for FY18 transaction fees have changed since the previous budget draft.

But ICANN has also slashed its expectation in terms of fixed fees from new gTLD registries — the $25,000 a year they all must pay regardless of volume.

The org now expects to end FY18 with 1,218 registries paying fees and for that to creep up slightly to 1,221 by the end of FY19.

Back in January, it was hoping to have 1,228 and 1,231 at those milestones respectively.

Basically, it’s decided that 10 TLDs it expected to start paying fees this year actually won’t, and that they won’t next year either. These fixed fees kick in when TLDs are delegated and stop when the contract is terminated.

It now expects registry fixed fees (legacy and new) of $30.5 million for FY19, down from expected $30.6 million for FY18 and and down from its January prediction of $31.1 million.

ICANN’s budget documents can be downloaded here.

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Sedo’s cunning GDPR workaround

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2018, Domain Services

With full Whois records set to disappear from public view for most domain names this Friday, auction house Sedo has had to resort to some technical trickery to enable its users to prove they own the domains they list for sale.

Until now, when listing a domain at Sedo, the company has checked whether the Whois record matches the data it has on file for the customer.

With that no longer possible in many cases, Sedo told users yesterday it instead wants them make updates to their DNS records, which will obviously remain public data post-GDPR.

Sedo will give each customer a personal identification number, which they will have to add to the all-purpose TXT field of their domain’s DNS record.

That’s a fairly straightforward process at most registrars, though volume domainers had better hope their registrar of choice allows DNS changes to be made in bulk.

Sedo’s calling the process “Owner Self-Verification”.

Customers who do not use the system will have to wait three business days before their names are verified. Sedo said it will manually spot-check domains and may ask for other forms of proof of ownership.

UPDATE: Many thanks to all the people on Twitter telling me this system has been in place for years. You’re all very clever. Your cookies/cigars are in the mail.

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ICANN board talking GDPR “litigation”

Kevin Murphy, May 21, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is meeting today to discuss its “litigation strategy” concerning the General Data Protection Regulation, the EU privacy legislation due to make Whois unrecognizable come Friday.

Those two words are basically the only item on its agenda for a special board meeting today.

I’ve been unable to squeeze any further information out of ICANN, but I can speculate about a few different things it could mean.

The first thing that springs to mind is a blog post by CEO Goran Marby dated April 12, in which he wrote:

Without a moratorium on enforcement, WHOIS will become fragmented and we must take steps to mitigate this issue. As such, we are studying all available remedies, including legal action in Europe to clarify our ability to continue to properly coordinate this important global information resource. We will provide more information in the coming days.

To my knowledge, no additional information on this “legal action in Europe” has ever been released.

Could ICANN be ready to take a data protection authority to court preemptively, as a test case to insulate the industry against enforcement action from DPAs? Your guess is as good as mine at this stage.

Another possibility, still in speculative territory, is that the board will be discussing the many calls from the industry for some kind of legal or financial indemnification against GDPR-related regulatory actions. I’d assign a relatively low probability to that idea.

A third notion that springs to mind, slightly more realistically, is that the board could simply be discussing how ICANN would defend itself from incoming litigation related to its GDPR response.

It usually takes ICANN a few days to post the results of its board meetings, but on important hot topics it’s not hugely unusual to see same-day publication.

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Failure to launch: 10 years-old gTLDs that are still dormant

Over six years after the last new gTLD application window closed, more than one in 10 new gTLDs have yet to launch, even though some have been delegated for over four years.

Once you filter out duplicates, withdrawals and terminations from the original 1,930 applications, there were a maximum of roughly 1,300 potential new gTLDs from the 2012 round.

But, by my calculations, 144 of those have yet to even get around to their sunrise period. Most of those haven’t even filed their launch plans with ICANN yet.

Here’s 10 from that list I’ve picked based on how interesting they appear to me, in no particular order.

Yes, DI is doing listicles now. Hate-mail to the usual address.

.forum

This one’s owned by Jay Westerdal’s Top Level Spectrum, the same company behind .feedback, .realty and others. I quite like the potential of this string — the internet is chock-full of forums due to the easy availability of open-source forum software — but so far nobody’s gotten to register one. It was delegated back in June 2015 and doesn’t have a published launch plan as yet. An FAQ reading just saying “Jay was here !!!!! Test deploy..delete me later…” has been up on its site since at least last September. TLS is also sitting on .contact and .pid (for “personal ID”) with no launch dates in sight.

.scholarships

Owned by Scholarships.com, there’s a whiff of the defensive about this one. It’s been in the root since March 2015 but its site states the registry “is still finishing launch plans and will provide updates as they become available”. Scholarships.com is a site that connects would-be higher education students to potential sources of funding. It’s difficult to imagine many ways the matching gTLD could possibly help in that mission.

.giving

JustGiving, the UK-based charity campaign aggregator, won this gTLD and had it delegated in August 2015, but seemingly still hasn’t figured out what it wants to do with it. It’s not a dot-brand, so it’s presumably mulling over ways to give .giving domains to fundraisers in a way that does not compromise credibility. Whatever its plans, it’s taking its sweet time over them.

.cancerresearch

This is a weird one. Delegated four years ago, the Australian Cancer Research Foundation rather quickly went live with a bunch of interlinked .cancerresearch web sites, using its contractually permitted allotment of promotional domains. Contractually, it’s not a dot-brand, but it’s basically acting like one, having never actually given ICANN any info about sunrise, eligibility, trademark claims, general availability, etc. Technically, it’s still pre-launch, and I can’t see any reason why it would want to budge from that status. Huge loophole in the ICANN rules?

.beauty

Another whiff of gaming here. International woman-shaming powerhouse L’Oreal still has no announced plans to launch .beauty, .skin or .hair, which it had originally wanted to run as so-called “closed generics” (presumably to keep the keywords out of the hands of competitors). Of its small portfolio of generic gTLDs, delegated in 2016, it has actually launched .makeup already, with a $6,000 retail price and a strategy seemingly based on registry-owned domains matching the names of makeup-focused social media influencers. At least it’s actually selling names, even if nobody’s bought one yet.

.budapest

One of three city TLDs that were delegated back in 2014 but have yet to start selling domains. MMX is to run it in partnership with the local government of the Hungarian city, if it ever gets off the ground. Madrid (.madrid) and Zurich (.zuerich) have both also yet to roll out, although Zurich has settled on early 2019 for its launch.

.fan

Regular DI readers won’t be surprised to see this one on the list. In what may turn out to be a shocking waste of money, .fans registry Asiamix Digital acquired the singular .fan from Donuts back in 2015 and promptly let it sit idle for the next three years. Currently, with .fans turning out to be a flop, Asiamix has money troubles and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it under new ownership before too long. It’s not a terrible string, so there’s some potential there.

.ком, etc

.ком is one of 11 internationalized domain name transliterations of .com — .कॉम, .ком, .点看, .คอม, .नेट, .닷컴, .大拿, .닷넷, .コム, .كوم and .קוֹם — that Verisign had delegated back in 2015. To date, only the Japanese .コム has launched, and the registry reportedly arsed it up quite badly. Records show .コム peaked at over 28,000 names and sits at fewer than 7,000 today. None of the remaining IDNs have launch dates attached.

Anything owned by Google or Amazon

When it comes to sitting on dormant gTLDs, you can’t top Google and Amazon for sheer numbers. Google has 19 strings in pre-launch states right now, while Amazon has a whopping 34. Amazon is letting the likes of .free, .wow, .now, .deal, .save and .secure sit idle, while Google is still stroking its chin on the likes of .eat, .meme, .fly and .channel. At the snail’s pace these companies roll out gTLDs, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these strings never hit the market.

.bom

Portuguese for “.good”, .bom was delegated to local ccTLD registry Nic.br in 2015 but has no published launch dates and no content on its nic.bom registry web site. I’d say more, but I expect a certain prolific DI commenter could do a better job of it, so I’ll turn it over to him

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EnCirca partners with PandoraBots to push .bot names to brands

Specialist registrar EnCirca has partnered with bot development framework vendor PandoraBots to market .bot domains at big brands.

The two companies are pushing their wares jointly at this week’s International Trademark Association annual meeting in Seattle.

In a press release, the companies said that PandoraBots is offering bot-creation “starter kits” for brand owners that tie in with .bot registration via EnCirca.

Bots are rudimentary artificial intelligences that can be tailored to answer customer support questions over social media. Because who wants to pay a human to answer the phones?

Amazon Registry’s .bot gTLD is a tightly restricted space with strict preregistration verification rules.

Basically, you have to have a live, functioning bot before you can even request a domain there.

Only bots created using Amazon Lex, Botkit Studio, Dialogflow, Gupshup, Microsoft Bot Framework, and Pandorabots are currently eligible, though Amazon occasionally updates its list of approved frameworks.

The .bot space has been in a limited registration period all year, but on May 31 it will enter a six-month sunrise period.

Despite not hitting general availability until November, it already has about close to 1,800 domains in its zone — most of which were registered via EnCirca — and hundreds of live sites.

EnCirca currently offers a $200 registration service for brand owners, in which the registrar handles eligibility for $125 and the first year reg for $75.

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