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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.

Afilias takes over .hotel, sidelines Krischenowski over hacking claims

Afilias has sought to distance itself from DotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski, due to ongoing claims that he improperly accessed secret data on rival .hotel applicants.

The company revealed in a recent letter to ICANN that it has bought out Krischenowski’s 48.8% stake in successful .hotel applicant Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl and that Afilias will become the sole shareholder of HTLD.

The move is linked to claims that Krischenowski exploited a glitch in ICANN’s new gTLD applicants’ portal to access confidential financial and technical information belonging to rival .hotel applicants.

These competing applicants have ganged up to demand that HTLD should lose its rights to .hotel, which it obtained by winning a controversial Community Priority Evaluation.

Afilias chairman Philipp Grabensee, now “sole managing director” of HTLD, wrote ICANN last month (pdf) to explain the nature of the HTLD’s relationship with Krischenowski and deny that HTLD had benefited from the alleged data compromise.

He said that, at the time of the incidents, Krischenowski was the 50% owner and managing director of a German company that in turn was a 48.8% owner of HTLD. He was also an HTLD consultant, though Grabensee played down that role.

He was responding to a March ICANN letter (pdf) which claimed that Krischenowski’s portal credentials were used at least eight times to access confidential data on .hotel bids. It said:

It appears that Mr Krischenowski accessed and downloaded, at minimum, the financial projections for Despegar’s applications for .HOTEL, .HOTEIS and .HOTELES, and the technical overview for Despegar’s applications for .HOTEIS and .HOTEL. Mr Krischenowski appears to have specifically searched for terms and question types related to financial or technical portions of the application.

Krischenowski has denied any wrongdoing and told DI last month that he simply used the portal assuming it was functioning as intended.

Grabensee said in his letter that any data Krischenowski may have obtained was not given to HTLD, and that his alleged actions were not done with HTLD’s knowledge or consent.

He added that obtaining the data would not have helped HTLD’s application anyway, given that the incident took place after HTLD had already submitted its application. HTLD did not substantially alter its application after the incident, he said.

HTLD’s rival .hotel applicants do not seem to have alleged that HTLD won the contention set due to the confidential data.

Rather, they’ve said via their lawyer that HTLD should be disqualified on the grounds that new gTLD program rules disqualify people who have been convicted of computer crime.

Even that’s a bit tenuous, however, given that Krischenowski has not been convicted of, or even charged with, a computer crime.

The other .hotel applicants are Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry.

ICANN is now pressing HTLD for more specific information about Krischenowski’s relationship with HTLD at specific times over the last few years, in a letter (pdf) published last night, so it appears that its overdue investigation is not yet complete.

Afilias goes it alone with .green as DotGreen bows out

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2016, Domain Registries

DotGreen Community has withdrawn from its partnership with Afilias, leaving the registry operating the .green gTLD solo.

The new management means that renewal prices for sunrise names will be slashed, and the size of the premium names list will be reduced.

DotGreen was originally a .green gTLD applicant, but it withdrew its application before the auction, which Afilias subsequently won.

It made a deal with Afilias to run sales and marketing for the domains, with Afilias handling all the technical stuff. The plan was to use profits to help environmental causes.

But Afilias told its registrars in an email this week:

Unfortunately, DotGreen Community has informed us that it is no longer able to discharge these responsibilities, and has turned the sales and marketing responsibilities back over to Afilias.

The gTLD has a new logo and a new website at get.green.

Afilias said it will no longer charge a extra $50 for renewals of sunrise period names.

It also plans to revise its premium names list by November, and will probably reduce the size of the list, releasing names at regular registry prices.

.green domains haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves with DotGreen running marketing.

It went into general availability in March last year but only has about 2,200 names in its zone file.

Nominet has sights set on .org after M+M deal

Nominet chief Russell Haworth is hopeful that its new outsourcing deal with Minds + Machines will help it win a much more lucrative back-end contract — .org.

The company is among the 20-plus companies that have responded to Public Interest Registry’s request for proposals, as its back-end deal with Afilias comes to an end.

Nominet is one of a handful of companies — which would also include Verisign, Afilias, CNNIC and DENIC — that currently handles zones the size or larger than .org, which at over 10 million names is about the same size as .uk.

It, like PIR, is also a not-for-profit entity that donates excess funds to good causes, which could count in its favor.

But Haworth told DI today that showing the ability to handle a complex TLD migration may help its bid.

“I personally think that it would stand us in good stead, but we’ll have to see how the process plays out,” he told DI today. “With .org there’s 19-odd players pitching for that, so it’s a fairly competitive field.”

If the migration were to happen today, we’d be looking at around 300,000 domains changing hands. It’s likely to be a somewhat larger number by the time it actually happens.

Collectively, it will be one of the largest back-end transitions to date, though the largest individual affected gTLD, .work, currently has fewer than 100,000 names in its zone.

Haworth said that the plan is to migrate M+M’s portfolio over to Nominet’s systems one at a time.

He was hesitant to characterize the migration process as “easy”, but said Nominet already has such systems in place due to its role as one of ICANN’s Emergency Back-End Registry Operators.

Earlier this year, Nominet temporarily took over defunct dot-brand .doosan, in order to test the EBERO process.

A back-end migration primarily covers DNS resolution and EPP systems.

It sounds like the EPP portion may be the more complex. Some of M+M’s gTLDs have restrictions and tiered pricing that may require EPP extensions Nominet does not currently use in its TLDs.

But the DNS piece may hold the most risk — if something breaks, registrants names stop resolving and web sites go dark.

Haworth said Nominet is also talking to other new gTLD registries about taking over back-end operations. Registries signed three, five or seven-year contracts with their RSPs when the 2012 application round opened, and some are coming up for renewal soon, he said.

Nominet says it will become a top ten back-end after the M+M migration is done.

Over 20 companies fighting for .org contract

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2016, Domain Registries

More than 20 companies want to take over the back-end registry for the .org gTLD, according to Public Interest Registry.

PIR put the contract, currently held by Afilias, up for bidding with a formal Request For Information in February.

It’s believed to be worth north of $33 million to Afilias per year.

PIR told DI today that it “received more than 20 responses to its RFI for back-end providers from organisations representing 15 countries.”

That represents a substantial chunk of the back-end market, but there are only a handful of registry service providers currently handling zones as big as .org.

.org has about 11 million names under management. Only .com, .net and a few ccTLDs (Germany, China and the UK spring to mind) have zones the same size or larger.

PIR said it would not be making any specific details about the bidders available.

The non-profit says it plans to award the contract by the end of the year.

$33 million .org contract up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2016, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry, operator of .org, has put its back-end registry services contract up for grabs.

The deal could be worth around $33 million a year, judging by its current relationship with incumbent back-end Afilias.

PIR said in a statement today:

The organisation desires to contract with a qualified back-end registry services provider that shares a similar reputation and holds itself to the highest operational and ethical standards. The selected back-end registry service provider should be a “valued business partner” – an organisation that combines outstanding qualifications in service delivery with the ability to engage Public Interest Registry in a business relationship that seeks strategic and innovative approaches to enhance the capability and efficiency of service delivery.

The contract was actually supposed to end in January, according to the Internet Society resolution that approved it back in 2010.

According to PIR’s most recent available tax return (pdf), Afilias was paid $33.2 million in 2014.

It was paid $31 million in 2013 when its total revenue for the year we know to be $77 million. So it’s a pretty big deal for Afilias.

The payments are mainly, but not exclusively, for domain name registry services, according to PIR’s tax returns.

Afilias also operates a few additional services related to PIR’s expansion in the non-governmental organization market, such as a database of NGOs used for validation purposes.

But if we over-simplify things, a roughly $33 million annual payout for a 10-million-domain zone works to something in the ballpark of $3 per name per year.

Given some of the numbers I’ve heard thrown around over the last few years, I expect there are a few back-end providers out there that would be more than happy to offer a cheaper deal.

It will be the first time Afilias has had to fight for the .org contract since 2010, thought PIR has done a couple of analyses over the last few years to make sure it’s getting a fair deal in line with market prices.

Since 2010 the number of back-end registry providers has exploded due to the advent of the new gTLD program, so there will be more competition for the .org contract.

That said, none of the new providers are yet proven at the scale of .org, which has over 10.6 million names at the last count.

PIR expects to award the contract before December 2016.

Interested vendors have until March 5 to express their interest on this web site.

Afilias $10 million court win slashed by judge

Kevin Murphy, January 18, 2016, Domain Services

A US judge has dramatically reduced a $10 million ruling Afilias won against Architelos in a trade secrets case.

Architelos, which a jury decided had misappropriated trade secrets from Afilias in order to build its patented NameSentry domain security service, may even be thrown a lifeline enabling it to continue business.

A little over a week ago, the judge ordered (pdf) that the $10 million judgment originally imposed by the jury should be reduced to $2 million.

That won’t be finalized, however, until she’s ruled on an outstanding injunction demanded by Afilias.

The judge said in court that the original jury award had been based on inflated Architelos revenue projections.

The company has made only around $300,000 from NameSentry subscriptions since launch, and its sales pipeline dried up following the jury’s verdict in August.

The service enables TLD registries to track and remediate domain abuse. It was built in part by former Afilias employees.

Afilias has a similar in-house system, not available on the open market, used by clients of its registry back-end business.

Even a reduced $2 million judgment is a bit too rich for Architelos, which is desperately trying to avoid bankruptcy, according to court documents.

But the judge seems to be considering an injunction that would enable Architelos to continue to exist.

It may even be permitted to sell NameSentry, as long as it gives almost a third of the product’s revenue to Afilias for up to five years or until the $2 million is paid off.

The injunction might also grant joint ownership of the disputed patents to the two companies, allowing them to jointly profit from the technology.

This has all yet to be finalized, however, and Afilias can always appeal whatever injunction the judge comes up with.

It emerged in court earlier this month that Architelos offered to give full ownership of its patent, along with NameSentry itself, to Afilias in order to settle the suit, but that Afilias refused.

Afilias is also suing Architelos over the same matters in Canada, but that case is progressing much more slowly.

Afilias seeks to freeze Architelos patent after $10m lawsuit win

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias seems bent on burying domain security software maker Architelos, after winning a $10 million lawsuit against it.

The registry on Friday filed a court motion to freeze the patent at the heart of the lawsuit, which Afilias says — and a jury agreed — was based on trade secrets misappropriated by former Afilias employees.

Afilias said it wants to make sure Architelos does not attempt to sell the so-called ‘801 patent, which covers domain abuse-monitoring software.

Its motion asks for a court order “prohibiting Architelos from taking any action that would dilute… or diminish Architelos’ rights or ownership interests” in the patent.

It notes that Architelos has stated that it does not have the means to pay the $10 million damages awarded by a jury in August, which might give it a reason to try to sell the patent.

Afilias said Architelos had “raised the prospect of bankruptcy” during post-trial negotiations.

The motion seems to have been filed now because the judge in the case is taking an unusually long time to render her final judgment.

Despite the case being heard on a so-called “rocket docket” in Virginia, the two companies haven’t heard a peep out of the court since late October.

According to Afilias’ motion, the judge has indicated that Afilias will wind up at least partially owning the ‘801 patent, but that the jury’s $10 million verdict may be “tweaked”.

Judging by a transcript of the August jury trial, the judge herself was not particularly impressed with Afilias’ case and did not expect the jury to crucify Architelos so badly.

Out of the jury’s earshot, she encouraged Afilias to attempt to settle the case and said “if the jury verdict comes in against what I think is the clear weight of the evidence, I will most likely adjust it.”

She also said: “I would have trouble believing that any reasonable jury would find even if they were to award damages to the plaintiff that there’s any significant amount here.”

She clearly misread the jury, which a few days later handed Afilias every penny of the $10 million it had asked for.

That’s much more money than Architelos is believed to have made in revenue since it launched four years ago.

Afilias’ latest motion is set to be heard in court in early January.

.pro now open to all

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias today made the .pro gTLD available to anyone, regardless of their professional qualifications.

The previously restricted TLD was able to do so as a result of its six-week-old contract with ICANN, which loosened many of the conditions former registry RegistryPro originally agreed to when the TLD was delegated 13 years ago.

Under the original Registry Agreements, RegistryPro — since acquired by Afilias — had to verify the professional credentials of potential registrants.

Now that .pro has been brought under something that looks a lot like the 2012 new gTLD RA, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.

The registry said in a press release:

despite demand from registrants and registrars alike, .PRO names have historically been denied to professionals from a wide range of fields such as policemen, firefighters, journalists, programmers, artists, writers, and many others.

In my personal experience, it has been possible to register a .pro domain without providing credentials. I’ve been paying for one for a few years, though I’ve been unable to actually use it.

The gTLD was approved in the original, first round of new gTLD applications, back in 2000.

Part of the original deal was that it would be restricted to three classes of professions — lawyer, doctor, accountant — and only available to buy at the third level.

The third-level limitation was lifted many years ago, but .pro continued to be restricted to people who could show a credential.

However, even as recently as 2012 then-RegistryPro-CEO Karim Jiwani was telling DI that the secret to growth was more restrictions, not less.

He’s no longer with the company.

.pro’s registration numbers have have been suffering the last few years.

The registry peaked at roughly 160,000 names in July 2012, and has been on a downward track ever since. It started this July with about 122,000 registrations.

As part of its new deal with ICANN, Afilias no longer has price caps — previously set around .com prices — and has had to implement some of the provisions of the new gTLD Registry Agreement.

One such provision is the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, which continues to cause controversy in the industry.

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 Internet.bs last year, it paid $7.5 million.

California-based 101domain is currently about a quarter of the size that Internet.bs 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 iDomains.com — 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.