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Contract breach cited as TLD Registry switches from Afilias to Chinese government back-end

The break between TLD Registry and former back-end provider Afilias may be even less amicable than first thought.

I’m hearing that TLDR served Afilias with a “Notice of Material Breach” of contract earlier this year, threatening to move its two gTLDs to a rival owned by the Chinese government.

There may even be pending litigation.

Today TLDR confirmed in a statement that it’s switching the roughly 30,000 names in .在线 (.xn--3ds443g, “Chinese online”) and .中文网 (.xn--fiq228c5hs, “Chinese website”) from Afilias to Beijing Teleinfo Network Technology Co.

Tele-info is a little-known back-end provider currently servicing four pre-launch Latin-script Chinese gTLDs.

According to TLDR, the company is owned by the Chinese Academy of Telecommunication Research, which appears to be part of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

According to a source, back in February TLDR told Afilias that it would switch to Tele-info if Afilias was “unable or unwilling to remedy” unspecified contractual breaches by mid-May.

I don’t know what the alleged breaches were and neither company wants to talk about it.

“Afilias does not comment on pending litigation,” a spokesperson said.

“We are not commenting on contractual or litigation matters,” a TLDR spokesperson said.

TLDR said in a statement that the switch to Tele-info will help it get a Chinese government license, so Chinese registrants will be able to start using their domains. CEO Arto Isokoski said:

The completion of this milestone will hopefully pave the way for our accreditation with Chinese regulators, which ultimately allows our China-based customer’s names to resolve legally to a website hosted from within China.

It’s hard to argue with that logic — if it’s using a government back-end for its SRS, one can see how that would oil the gears of bureaucracy.

UPDATE 1753 UTC: Afilias has just provided DI with the following statement:

With respect to TLD Registry’s charges of breach of contract, Afilias categorically denies any breach of any kind whatsoever. Afilias has complied completely with our contractual obligations and responded to all requests for assistance with their various business priorities. Since we began supporting these 2 TLDs, Afilias has met every SLA and enabled the 2 TLDS to be 100% compliant with their technical and contractual obligations to ICANN. Afilias has provided 100% compliance on every SRS requirement, and maintained their DNS with 100% availability throughout the entire period of our stewardship. TLD Registry’s charges are completely without merit.

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Afilias loses back-end deals on two Chinese gTLDs

TLD Registry, the Finnish/Irish registry that runs two Chinese-script gTLDs, has ditched Afilias in favor of a Chinese back-end provider.

Afilias said tonight that as of Friday it will no longer be the back-end for .在线 (.xn--3ds443g, “Chinese online”) and .中文网 (.xn--fiq228c5hs, “Chinese website”).

The company said:

Afilias has been directed by TLD Registry to shut down the Afilias operated SRS’s for .xn—3ds443g and .xn—fiq228c5hs on June 17, 2016 at 00:00:00 UTC and transfer the registry files to TLD Registry and its new provider. In accordance with this directive from our client, the SRS will be shut down and the files will be transferred, and Afilias will no longer operate the SRS for these two strings.

TLD Registry VP Pinky Brand declined to name the registry’s new back-end provider, beyond that the winning provider is Chinese.

The new back-end will be named in the next day or so, he said.

Registrars have been informed about the switch, Afilias said.

It’s not yet clear whether TLD Registry has decided to switch providers for cost reasons or in order to more deeply embed itself in China.

The company was founded by and is managed by Finns and is legally based in Ireland, but it only runs Chinese-script gTLDs.

The Chinese government has regulations, and is proposing more, preventing Chinese citizens using domains that do not meet certain guidelines, which include a corporate presence in China.

Several registries are opening up offices in China in order to abide by these rules, but I’m not aware of any that have switched back-ends for that reason.

The two gTLDs have fewer than 30,000 domains in their zone files between them.

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Judge throws out DotConnectAfrica’s case against ZACR

Kevin Murphy, June 15, 2016, Domain Policy

South African registry ZACR did not engage in a fraudulent conspiracy with ICANN to get its .africa gTLD application approved, a court ruled yesterday.

The California judge in the case of DotConnectAfrica vs ICANN and ZACR threw out all of DCA’s claims against ZACR, approving ZACR’s motion to dismiss.

The judge said DCA had failed to make claims for fraud, contract intereference and unfair competition.

He also threw out DCA’s demand for ZACR’s .africa Registry Agreement to be scrapped.

The case is not over, however.

DCA’s claims against ICANN still stand and ICANN, perhaps regrettably, withdrew its own motion to dismiss the case weeks ago. The case still looks like heading to trial.

DCA reckons ICANN, ZACR, independent evaluator InterConnect Communications, and the Governmental Advisory Committee improperly ganged up on it, in breach of its new gTLD application contract.

The judge has already ruled that the litigation waiver DCA signed when it applied for .dotafrica .africa may be unenforceable.

He also based a decision to give DCA’s claims the benefit of the doubt on a huge misunderstanding of the facts, which he has yet to address publicly.

You can read the judge’s latest order here (pdf).

Under an injunction DCA won, .africa cannot be delegated until the case is resolved.

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At least one in 10 new gTLDs are shrinking

While the universe of new gTLDs is growing at a rapid clip, DI research shows that at least one in 10 individual new gTLDs are shrinking.

Using zone file data, I’ve also established that almost a third of new gTLDs were smaller June 1 than they were 90 days earlier, and that more than one in five shrunk over a 12-month period.

There’s been a lot written recently, here and elsewhere, about the volume boom at the top-end of the new gTLD league tables, driven by the inexplicable hunger in China for worthless domain names, so I thought I’d try to balance it out by looking at those not benefiting from the budget land-grab madness.

It’s been about two and a half years since the first new gTLDs of the 2012 round were delegated. A few hundred were in general availability by the end of 2014.

These are the ones I chose to look at for this article.

Taking the full list of delegated 2012-round gTLDs, I first disregarded any dot-brands. For me, that’s any gTLD that has Specifications 9 or 13 in its ICANN Registry Agreement.

Volume is not a measure of success for dot-brands in general, where only the registry can own names, so we’re not interested in their growth rates.

Then I disregarded any gTLD that had a general availability date after March 14, 2015.

That date was selected because it’s 445 days before June 1, 2016 — enough time for a gTLD to go through its first renewal/deletion cycle.

There’s no point looking at TLDs less than a year old as they can only be growing.

This whittling process left me with 334 gTLDs.

Counting the domains in those gTLDs’ zone files, I found that:

  • 96 (28.7%) were smaller June 1 than they were 30 days earlier.
  • 104 (31.1%) were smaller June 1 than they were 90 days earlier.
  • 76 (22.7%) were smaller June 1 than they were 366 days earlier.
  • 35 (10.4%) were smaller on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis.

Zone files don’t include all registered domains, of course, but the proportion of those excluded tends to be broadly similar between gTLDs. Apples-to-apples comparisons are, I believe, fair.

And I think it’s fair to say that if a gTLD has gotten smaller over the previous month, quarter and year, that gTLD is “shrinking”.

There are the TLDs.

TLDRegistryDomainsAnnual ChangeQuarterly ChangeMonthly Change
.网址 (xn--ses554g)KNET330554-7487-11016-3699
guruDonuts59631-5940-6219-448
ninjaRightside45705-3548-7272-6247
МОСКВА (xn--80adxhks)FAITID15190-2769-1075-87
موقع. (xn--4gbrim)Suhub760-2168-813-13
moscowFAITID17816-1296-624-160
directoryDonuts17203-1229-1963-180
futbolRightside3326-1192-76-4
..在线 (xn--3ds443g)TLD Registry34800-1161-1183-1124
singlesDonuts4585-1058-1003-24
cheapDonuts3504-826-29-36
estateDonuts9291-737-1083-192
bargainsDonuts2582-718-80-25
plumbingDonuts3709-478-583-11
voyageDonuts2627-452-474-22
floristDonuts2722-439-306-222
holidayDonuts5035-386-309-295
.شبكة (xn--ngbc5azd)International Domain Registry1103-379-150-84
immobilienRightside7827-336-52-42
democratRightside990-332-38-19
buildersDonuts3957-316-349-326
viajesDonuts1259-226-8-12
limoDonuts2728-201-266-24
contractorsDonuts4278-150-348-16
luxuryLuxury Partners1007-128-4-12
.ОНЛАЙН (xn--80asehdb)CORE Association2350-128-157-215
glassDonuts3410-89-176-217
qpondotCOOL538-63-10-4
exposedDonuts2731-42-14-71
versicherungDotversicherung-registry2580-40-79-83
kaufenRightside9246-38-10-8
hivUniregistry434-21-22-6
republicanRightside778-19-6-16
wedAtgron144-12-41-16
.САЙТ (xn--80aswg)CORE Association1072-8-46-65

Concerning those 35 shrinking gTLDs:

  • The average size of the zones, as of June 1, was 17,299 domains.
  • Combined, they accounted for 605,472 domains, down 34,412 on the year. That’s a small portion of the gTLD universe, which is currently over 20 million.
  • The smallest was .wed, with 144 domains and annual shrinkage of 12. The largest was .网址 (Chinese for “.website”) which had 330,554 domains and annual shrinkage of 7,487.
  • The mean shrinkage over the year was 983 domains per gTLD. Over the quarter it was 1,025. Over the month it was 400.

Sixteen of the 35 domains belong to Donuts, which is perhaps to be expected given that it has the largest stable and was the most aggressive early mover.

Of its first batch of seven domains to go to GA, way back in February 2014, only three — .guru, .singles, and .plumbing — are on our list of shrinkers.

A Donuts spokesperson told DI today that its overall number of registrations is on the increase and that “too much focus on individual TLDs doesn’t accurately indicate the overall health of the TLD program in general and of our portfolio specifically.”

He pointed out that Donuts has not pursued the domainer market with aggressive promotions, targeting instead small and medium businesses that are more likely to actually use their domains.

“As initial domainer investors shake out, you’re likely to see some degradation in the size of the zone,” he said.

He added that Donuts has seen second-year renewal rates of 72%, which were higher than the first year.

“That indicates that there’s more steadiness in the registration base today than there was when first-year renewals were due,” he said.

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.shop pricing sunrise renewals at $1,000

If you’ve spent over $40 million on a gTLD, you need to make your money back somehow, right?

It’s emerged that GMO Registry, which paid ICANN a record $41.5 million for .shop back in January, plans to charge $1,000 renewal fees, wholesale, on domains registered during its upcoming sunrise period.

Trademark owners will seemingly have to pay over the odds for domains matching their trademarks, while regular registrants will have a much more manageable annual fee of $24.

The prices were disclosed in a blog post from the registrar OpenProvider last week, in which the company urged GMO to lower its prices.

Sunrise is due to start June 30, running for 60 days, so there’s still a chance prices could change before then.

It’s not the first registry to charge more for sunrise renewals than regular renewals.

Any company that bought a .sucks domain during sunrise was lumbered with a recurring $2,499 registry fee.

.green also had a $50 annual sunrise renewal premium before Afilias took over the gTLD in April.

Others have charged higher non-recurring sunrise fees. With .cars, the sunrise fee was $3,000, which was $1,000 more than the regular GA price.

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