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Internet to lose its .co.ck? Cook Islands mulls name change

The government of the Cook Islands is reportedly thinking about changing its name, putting a question mark over the long-term longevity of its .ck top-level domain.

The AFP is reporting that an exploratory committee has been set up to pick a new name for the country, which is currently named after British explorer James Cook.

The new name would be in the local language, Cook Islands Maori, but would also reflect the country’s Polynesian heritage and “strong Christian belief”, AFP reports.

The Cook Islands is in the Pacific Ocean, about 3,000km from New Zealand. It gained independence in 1965 but retains strong ties to NZ. It has about 12,000 citizens.

Telecom Cook Islands has been running its ccTLD, .ck, since 1995. Registrations, which are a few hundred bucks a year, are only possible at the third level, under .co.ck, .org.ck and so on.

It appears from reporting that any formal name change is still a long way off, but it seems possible that a change of name could well lead to a change of ISO 3166-1 string and therefore a change of ccTLD.

As I explained in my post about the possible loss of .io last week, any such change would take years to roll through the ICANN system. Nobody would lose their domains overnight.

But perhaps the most famous .ck domain appears to have already gone dormant.

Fictional mid-noughties hipster Nathan Barley, antihero of the Charlie Brooker sitcom of the same name, owned trashbat.co.ck, as the opening shot of the show established.

Trashbat

Sadly, that domain, which unlike clownpenis.fart actually existed and was used to promote the short-lived series, appears to stop resolving three or four years ago.

UN ruling may put .io domains at risk

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2019, Domain Policy

The future of .io domains may have been cast into doubt, following a ruling from the UN’s highest court.

The International Court of Justice this afternoon ruled (pdf) by a 13-1 majority that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”.

The Chagos Archipelago is a cluster of islands that the UK calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

It was originally part of Mauritius, but was retained by the UK shortly before Mauritius gained independence in 1968, so a strategic US military base could be built on Diego Garcia, one of the islands.

The native Chagossians were all forcibly relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles over the next several years. Today, most everyone who lives there are British or American military.

But the ICJ ruled today, after decades of Mauritian outrage, that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago”.

So BIOT, if the UK government follows the ruling, may cease to exist in the not-too-distant future.

BIOT’s ccTLD is .io, which has become popular with tech startups over the last few years and has over 270,000 domains.

It’s run by London-based Internet Computer Bureau Ltd, which Afilias bought for $70 million almost two years ago.

Could it soon become a ccTLD without a territory, leaving it open to retirement and removal from the DNS root?

It’s not impossible, but I’ll freely admit that I’m getting into heavy, early speculation here.

There are a lot of moving parts to consider, and at time of writing the UK government has not even stated how it will respond to the non-binding ICJ ruling.

Should the UK abide by the ruling and wind down BIOT, its IO reservation on the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 list could then be removed by the International Standards Organisation.

That would mean .io no longer fits the ICANN criteria for being a ccTLD, leaving it subject to forced retirement.

Retired TLDs are removed from the DNS root, meaning all the second-level domains under them stop working, obviously.

It’s not entirely clear how this would happen. ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization has not finished work on its policy for the retirement of ccTLDs.

TLDs are certainly not retired overnight, without the chance of an orderly winding-down.

Judging by the current state of ccNSO discussions, it appears that ccTLDs could in future be retired with or without the consent of their registry, with a five-to-10-year clock starting from the string’s removal from the ISO 3166-1 list.

Under existing ICANN procedures, I’m aware of at least two ccTLDs that have been retired in recent years.

Timor-Leste was given .tl a few years after it rebranded from Portuguese Timor, and .tp was removed from the DNS a decade later. It took five years for .an to be retired after the Netherlands Antilles’ split into several distinct territories in 2010.

But there are also weird hangers-on, such as the Soviet Union’s .su, which has an “exceptional reservation” on the ISO list and is still active (and inexplicably popular) as a ccTLD.

As I say, I’m in heavy speculative territory when it comes to .io, but it strikes me that not many registrants will consider when buying their names that the territory their TLD represents may one day simple poof out of existence at the stroke of a pen.

Afilias declined to comment for this article.

Right of the colon? IDN getting killed over dot confusion

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registries

An internationalized domain name ccTLD is reportedly getting buried because of a confusion about how many dots should appear.

Armenia’s .հայ (.xn--y9a3aq) today has fewer than 300 registered domains, well under 1% of the volume enjoyed by the Latin-script .am, apparently due to a unique quirk of the Armenian language.

According to a report in the local tech press, sourcing a registry VP, .հայ domains are not working because of how the Armenian script uses punctuation.

In Armenian, a full-stop or period is represented by two vertically aligned dots called a verjaket that looks pretty much identical to a colon in English and other Latin-based languages.

A single dot, looking and positioned exactly like a Latin period, is called a mijaket and is used in the same way English and other languages use a colon.

It’s not entirely clear whether the problem lies with the user, the keyboards, the browsers, or elsewhere, but it’s plain to see how confusion could arise when you have Armenian-script characters on both sides of a Latin-script dot.

The registry, ISOC Armenia, is today reporting just 298 .հայ domains, compared to 34,354 .am domains.

The Latin-script ccTLD has benefited in the past from its association elsewhere with AM radio. It’s also sometimes used as a domain hack, including by Instagram’s URL shortener.

It’s probably worth noting that while Armenia seems to have a unique problem, it’s far from unusual for an IDN ccTLD to perform poorly against its Latin stablemate.

.հայ, which transliterates to “.hay”, is an abbreviation of the Armenian name for Armenia, Հայաստան or “Hayastan”. It was delegated by ICANN in 2015 as part of its IDN ccTLD fast-track program.

Armenian has fewer than seven million speakers worldwide. Armenia has roughly three million inhabitants.

Brexit blamed as .eu hits six-year low

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2019, Domain Registries

EURid’s .eu top-level domain has hit a six-year low in terms of total registrations, and Brexit is to blame.

The registry has just announced that it had 3,684,750 domains under management at the end of 2018, down 63,129 domains compared to the 3,747,879 it had at the end of September.

That’s the lowest end-of-quarter number since September 2012, when it had 3,665,525 domains.

EURid said in a statement that the decline can be attributed to its “ramped up efforts towards tackling domain name abuse” and “uncertainty surrounding Brexit”.

The registry recently announced that UK-based .eu registrants can expect to lose their names by May, should the country crash out of the EU with no transition deal on March 29.

EU citizens living in the UK could also risk having their names temporarily suspended.

The number of .eu domains registered to the UK addresses dropped from 273,060 at the end of Q3 to 240,887 at the end of Q4, a 32,173 decline.

EURid said it also suspended 36,520 domains for abuse during the period.

Factoring out both of these drops, registrations would have otherwise been up by about 5,000.

.SE sells off $3.2 million registrar biz

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2019, Domain Registries

Swedish ccTLD registry IIS has sold off its registrar business, .SE Direkt, to a local registrar for an undisclosed sum.

The buyer is Loopia, a web hosting company focused on the Swedish market. It will take over in a couple of weeks.

IIS said that starting February 12, lasting a few days, its customers’ domains will be transferred to Loopia. No disruption is expected.

.SE Direkt had 121,836 .se domains under management and 87,852 customers at the last count. Its 2018 revenue was expected to be around $3.2 million.

Loopia has around 225,000 customers. It does not appear to be ICANN-accredited, but you don’t need to be to sell ccTLD names.

It might actually be good news for departing .SE Direkt customers. Loopia sells .se domains for SEK 149 ($16.50), whereas .SE Direkt’s list price is SEK 270 ($29).

IIS said the sale was finalized following a review of competing bids following its October announcement that the unit was up for sale.

The .SE Direkt business has been on the decline for the best part of a decade, apparently deliberately. It was created as part of .se’s transition to a two-tier registry-registrar model in 2009.

IIS had expected to divest the business earlier, but customers did not jump ship as fast as expected.

ICANN approves two new TLDs, including THAT one

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors has given the nod to two more country-code TLDs.

The eight-year-old nation of South Sudan is finally getting its possibly controversial .ss, while Mauritania is getting the Arabic-script version of its name, موريتانيا. (.xn--mgbah1a3hjkrd), to complement its existing .mr ccTLD.

Both TLDs were approved by ICANN after going through the usual, secretive IANA process, at its board meeting at the weekend.

The recipient of موريتانيا. is the Université de Nouakchott Al Aasriya, while .ss is going to National Communication Authority, a governmental agency.

As previously noted, .ss has the potential to be controversial due to its Nazi associations, and the fact that Nazis are precisely the kind of people who have trouble finding TLDs that will allow them to register names.

But none of that is ICANN’s business. It simply checks to make sure the requester has the support of the local internet community and that the string is on the ISO 3166 list.

The Mauritanian IDN has already been added to the DNS root, while .ss has not.

Brexit boost for Irish domains

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2019, Domain Registries

Irish ccTLD .ie saw record growth in 2018 after the registry relaxed its registration rules.

According to IEDR, there were 262,140 .ie domains at the end of the year, an increase of 10.4%.

There were 51,040 new registrations, a 29% increase, the registry said.

Almost 10,000 names are registered to Brits (excluding Northern Ireland), which IEDR chalks down to Brexit, saying:

Interestingly, new .ie registrations from Great Britain increased by 28% in 2018 compared to the previous year, a fact that may correlate with enduring Brexit uncertainty and suggests some migration of British businesses to Ireland.

The Irish Passport Service has reportedly seen a similar increase in business since the Brexit vote.

Irish registrar Blacknight also believes its own pricing promotions and marketing efforts are partly responsible for the increase in .ie reg numbers.

The .ie eligibility rules were changed in March last year to make it simpler to provide evidence of a connection to Ireland.

Nazis rejoice! A TLD for you could be coming soon

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2019, Domain Registries

The domain name system could soon get its first new standard country-code domain for eight years.

This weekend, ICANN’s board of directors is set to vote on whether to allow the delegation of a ccTLD for the relatively new nation of South Sudan.

The string would be .ss.

It would be the first Latin-script ccTLD added to the root since 2010, when .cw and .sx were delegated for Curaçao and Sint Maarten, two of the countries formed by the breakup of the Netherlands Antilles.

Dozens of internationalized domain name ccTLDs — those in non-Latin scripts — have been delegated in the meantime.

But South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It formed in 2011 following an independence referendum that saw it break away from Sudan.

It was recognized by the UN as a sovereign nation in July that year and was given the SS delegation by the International Standards Organization on the ISO 3166-2 list a month later.

The country has been wracked by civil war for almost all of its existence, which may well be a reason why it’s taken so long for a delegation request to come up for an ICANN vote. The warring sides agreed to a peace treaty last year.

South Sudan is among the world’s poorest and least-developed nations, with shocking levels of infant and maternal mortality. Having an unfortunate ccTLD is the very least of its problems.

The choice of .ss was made in 2011 by the new South Sudan government in the full knowledge that it has an uncomfortable alternate meaning in the global north, where the string denotes the Schutzstaffel, the properly evil, black-uniformed bastards in every World War II movie you’ve ever seen.

The Anti-Defamation League classifies “SS” as a “hate symbol” that has been “adopted by white supremacists and neo-Nazis worldwide”.

When South Sudan went to ISO for the SS delegation, then-secretary of telecommunications Stephen Lugga told Reuters

We want our domain name to be ‘SS’ for ‘South Sudan’, but people are telling us ‘SS’ has an association in Europe with Nazis… Some might prefer us to have a different one. We have applied for it anyway, SS, and we are waiting for a reply.

To be fair, it would have been pretty dumb to have applied for a different string, when SS, clearly the obvious choice, was available.

There’s nothing ICANN can do about the string. It takes its lead from the ISO 3166 list. Nor does it have the authority to impose any content-regulation rules on the new registry.

Unless the new South Sudan registry takes a hard line voluntarily, I think it’s a near-certainty that .ss will be used by neo-Nazis who have been turfed out of their regular domains.

The vote of ICANN’s board is scheduled to be part of its main agenda, rather than its consent agenda, so it’s not yet 100% certain that the delegation will be approved.

New gTLDs continue growth trend, but can it last?

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2018, Domain Registries

New gTLDs continued to bounce back following a year-long slump in registration volumes, according to Verisign data.

The company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, covering the third quarter, shows new gTLDs growing from 21.8 million names to 23.4 million names, a 1.6 million name increase.

New gTLDs also saw a 1.6 million-name sequential increase in the second quarter, which reversed five quarters of declines.

The sector has yet to surpass its peak of 25.6 million, which it reached in the fourth quarter of 2016.

It think it will take some time to get there, and that we’ll may well see a decline in next couple quarters.

The mid-point of the third quarter marked the end of deep discounting across the former Famous Four Media (now GRS Domains) portfolio (.men, .science, .loan, etc), but the expected downward pressure on volumes wasn’t greatly felt by the end of the period.

With GRS’s portfolio generally on the decline so far in Q4, we might expect it to have a tempering effect on gains elsewhere when the next DNIB is published.

Verisign’s data showed also that ccTLDs shrunk for the first time in a couple years, down by half a million names to 149.3 million. Both .uk and .de suffered six-figure losses.

Its own .net was flat at 14.1 million, showing no signs of recovery after several quarters of shrinkage, while .com increased by two million names to finish September with 137.6 under management.

Exclusive: Tiny island sues to take control of lucrative .nu

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2018, Domain Registries

The tiny Pacific island of Niue has sued the Swedish ccTLD registry to gain control of its own ccTLD, .nu, DI has learned.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Stockholm, claims that the Internet Foundation In Sweden (IIS) acted illegally when it essentially took control of .nu in 2013, paying its American owner millions of dollars a year for the privilege.

Niue wants the whole ccTLD registry transferred to its control at IIS’s expense, along with all the profits IIS has made from .nu since 2013 — many millions of dollars.

It also plans to file a lawsuit in Niue, and to formally request a redelegation from IANA.

While .nu is the code assigned to Niue, it has always been marketed in northern Europe, particularly Sweden, in countries where the string means “now”.

It currently has just shy of 400,000 domains under management, according to IIS’s web site, having seen a 50,000-name slump just a couple weeks ago.

It was expected to be worth a additional roughly $5 million a year for the registry’s top line, according to IIS documents dated 2012, a time when it only had about 240,000 domains.

For comparison, Niue’s entire GDP has been estimated at a mere $10 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. The island has about 1,800 inhabitants and relies heavily on tourism and handouts from New Zealand.

According to documents detailing its 2013 takeover, IIS agreed to pay a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the right to run the ccTLD, with a potential few million more in performance-related bonuses.

The Niue end of the lawsuit is being handled by Par Brumark, a Swedish national living in Denmark, who has been appointed by the Niuean government to act on its behalf on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, where he is currently a vice-chair.

Brumark told DI that IIS acted illegally when it took over .nu from previous registry, Massachusetts-based WorldNames, which had been running the ccTLD without the consent of Niue’s government since 1997.

The deal was characterized by WorldNames in 2013 as a back-end deal, with IIS taking over administrative and technical operations.

But IIS documents from 2012 reveal that it is actually more like a licensing deal, with IIS paying WorldNames the aforementioned minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the rights to manage, and profit from, the TLD.

The crux of the lawsuit appears to be the question of whether .nu can be considered a “Swedish national domain”.

IIS is a “foundation”, which under Swedish law has to stick to the purpose outlined in its founding charter.

That charter says, per IIS’s own translation, that the IIS “must particularly promote the development of the handling of domain names under the top-level domain .se and other national domains pertaining to Sweden.”

Brumark believes that .nu is not a national domain pertaining to Sweden, because it’s Niue’s national ccTLD.

One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the Swedish telecoms regulator, PTS, refuses to regulate .nu because it’s not Swedish. PTS is expected to be called as a witness.

But documents show that the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which regulates Foundations, gave permission in 2012 for IIS to run “additional top-level domains”.

Via Google Translate, the Board said: “The County Administrative Board finds that the Foundation’s proposed management measures to administer, managing and running additional top-level domains is acceptable.”

Brumark thinks this opinion was only supposed to apply to geographic gTLDs such as .stockholm, and not to ccTLD strings assigned by ISO to other nations.

The Stockholm Board did not mention .nu or make a distinction between ccTLD and gTLDs in its letter to IIS, but the letter was in response to a statement from an IIS lawyer that .nu, with 70% of its registrations in Sweden, could be considered a Swedish national domain under the IIS charter.

Brumark points to public statements made by IIS CEO Danny Aerts to the effect that IIS is limited to Swedish national domains. Here, for example, he says that IIS could not run .wales.

IIS did not respond to my requests for comment by close of business in Sweden today.

Niue claims that if .nu isn’t Swedish, IIS has no rights under its founding charter to run it, and that it should be transferred to a Niuean entity, the Niue Information Technology Committee.

That’s a governmental entity created by an act of the local parliament 18 years ago, when Niue first started its campaign to get control of .nu.

The history of .nu is a controversial one, previously characterized as “colonialism” by some.

The ccTLD was claimed by Boston-based WorldNames founder Bill Semich and an American resident of the island, in 1997. That’s pre-ICANN, when the IANA database was still being managed by Jon Postel.

At the time, governments had basically no say in how their ccTLDs were delegated. It’s not even clear if Niue was aware its TLD had gone live at the time.

The official sponsor of .nu, according to the IANA record, is the IUSN Foundation, which is controlled by WorldNames.

Under ICANN/IANA policy, the consent of the incumbent sponsor is required in order for a redelegation to occur, and WorldNames has been understandably reluctant to give up its cash cow, despite Niue trying to take control for the better part of two decades.

The 2000 act of parliament declared that NITC was the only true sponsor for .nu, but even Niuean law has so far not proved persuasive.

So the lawsuit against IIS is huge twist in the tale.

If Niue were to win, IIS would presumably be obliged to hand over all of its registry and customer data to Niue’s choice of back-end provider.

Both Afilias and Danish registrar One.com have previously expressed an interest in running .nu, providing a share of the revenue to Niue, according to court documents.

Brumark said that a settlement might also be possible, but that it would be very costly to IIS.

Readers might also be interested in my 2011 article about Niue, which was once widely referred to as the “WiFi Nation”.