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New back-end approval program could reduce the cost of a new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN will consider a new pre-approval program for registry back-end service providers in order to streamline the new gTLD application process and potentially reduce application fees.

The proposed “RSP pre-evaluation process” was one of the biggest changes to the new gTLD program agreed to by ICANN’s New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro), which published its final report for comment last week.

The recommendation addresses what was widely seen as a huge process inefficiency in the evaluation phase of the 2012 application round, which required each application to be subjected to a unique technical analysis by a team of outside experts.

This was perceived as costly, redundant and wasteful, given that the large majority of applications proposed to use the same handful of back-end RSPs.

Donuts, which applied for over 300 strings with virtual cookie-cutter business models and all using the same back-end, had to pay for over 300 technical evaluations, for example.

Similarly, clients of dot-brand service providers such as Neustar and Verisign each had to pay for the same evaluation as hundreds of fellow clients, despite the tech portions of the applications being largely copy-pasted from the same source.

For subsequent rounds, that will all change. ICANN will instead do the tech evals on a per-RSP, rather than per-application, basis.

All RSPs that intend to fight for business in the next round will undergo an evaluation before ICANN starts accepting applications. In a bit of a marketing coup for the RSPs, ICANN will then publish the names of all the companies that have passed evaluation.

The RSPs would have to cover the cost of the evaluation, and would have to be reevaluated prior to each application window. ICANN would be banned from making a profit on the procedure.

SubPro agreed that applicants selecting a pre-approved RSP should not have to pay the portion of the overall application fee — $185,000 in 2012 — that covers the tech eval.

RSPs may decide to recoup the costs from their clients via other means, of course, but even then the fee would be spread out among many clients.

The proposed policy, which is still subject to SubPro, GNSO Council and ICANN board approval, is a big win for the back-ends.

Not only do they get to offer prospective clients a financial incentive to choose them over an in-house solution, but ICANN will also essentially promote their services as part of the program’s communications outreach. Nice.

MMX switches porn TLDs from Afilias to Uniregistry

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2019, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is moving its four porn-themed gTLDs to a new back-end provider.

MMX CEO Toby Hall confirmed to DI today that the company is ditching Afilias, which had been providing registry services for .xxx since 2011.

“We’re in the process of switching the back-ends from Afilias to Uni for the ICM portfolio,” he said.

This portfolio, which MMX acquired last year, also includes .porn, .adult and .sex. There are roughly 170,000 domains under management in total, but about half of these are sunrise-period blocks in .xxx, which could add a wrinkle to the transition.

It appears that Afilias is still providing DNS for the TLDs, but Uniregistry has been named the official tech contact.

It’s not currently clear when the handover will be complete. Hall was not immediately available for further comment.

It’s also not currently clear why Uniregistry was selected. All of MMX’s 27 other gTLDs — the likes of .vip, .work and .law — have been running on Nominet’s platform since MMX dropped its own self-hosted infrastructure a few years back.

During the same restructuring, Uniregistry took on MMX’s registrar business.

Uniregistry has also been working closely with MMX on its recently launched AdultBlock trademark blocking services, which could wind up accounting for a big chunk of MMX’s porn-related revenue.

These latest four gTLDs to switch providers are merely the latest in a game of musical chairs that has been playing out for the last several months, five years after the first new gTLDs started going live and registries shop around for better back-end deals.

Nominet picked up most of Amazon’s portfolio, replacing Neustar, earlier this year.

But Nominet has lost high-profile .blog to CentralNic, and Afilias lost a Brazilian dot-brand to Nic.br

The registry back-end market numbers are in

The top five registry back-end providers account for almost 72% of all new generic top-level domain applications, according to DI’s preliminary numbers.

Neustar, Demand Media, Afilias, Verisign and ARI Registry Services take the top five spots in our new market share league table (see below).

Thirty-eight companies are listed as back-end providers (including those that plan to self-host their gTLDs) according to our initial analysis of ICANN’s 1,930 applications.

Big portfolio applicants obviously skew the numbers significantly.

All of the 101 applications naming Google as the back-end are from Google’s own subsidiaries, and Amazon’s 76 bids are responsible for Neustar’s position at the top of the table.

Likewise, more than 300 of Demand Media’s strings are associated with one client, Donuts, and 54 of Internet Systems Consortium’s 58 are from Uniregistry, the new Frank Schilling venture.

ARI (.au) is the most successful back-end from the ccTLD world, with 160 applications, followed by Minds + Machines (.fm) with 91, CentralNic (.la) with 60 and Afnic (.fr) with 17.

RSPApps%
Neustar35318.29
Demand Media33417.31
Afilias30515.80
Verisign23612.23
ARI Registry Services1608.29
Google1015.23
Minds + Machines874.50
CentralNic603.11
ISC583.01
KSRegistry271.40
GMO Registry271.40
KNET231.19
CORE231.19
OpenRegistry211.09
AFNIC170.88
Nic.at120.62
CoCCA110.57
Knipp110.57
Qinetics80.41
CNNIC70.36
Nominet70.36
Nic.br50.26
Uniforum40.21
N/A40.21
Registry.net40.21
SIDN30.16
KISA30.16
cctld.ru30.16
JPRS30.16
Go Daddy30.16
CONAC20.10
Smart Communications10.05
MTR10.05
TWNIC10.05
Commercial Connect10.05
Gransy10.05
Metaregistrar10.05
Thai Name Server Co10.05
NIC Mexico10.05
TOTAL1930100.00

The four N/A applications on the list were all filed by the same poorly advised applicant.

Some numbers differ slightly from what the respective companies announced. In some cases this could be accounted for by applicants withdrawing bids before Reveal Day.

The data above was generated semi-automatically from the DI PRO New gTLD Application Database, which matches each application to its back-end, and is preliminary in nature.

A full report will follow in due course.

UPDATE (June 19): Three applications originally assigned to KSRegistry have now been reassigned to Registry.net.

UPDATE (June 20): Four applications originally assigned to Minds + Machines have been reassigned to Neustar.