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This latest Chinese bubble could deflate ccTLD growth

With many ccTLD operators recently reporting stagnant growth or shrinkage, one registry has performed stunningly well over the last year. Sadly, it bears the hallmarks of another speculative bubble originating in China.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief reported that ccTLDs, excluding the never-shrinking anomaly that is .tk, increased by 1.4 million domains in the first quarter of the year.

But it turns out about 1.2 million of those net new domains came from just one TLD: Taiwan’s .tw, operated by TWNIC.

Looking at the annual growth numbers, the DNIB reports that ccTLDs globally grew by 7.8 million names between the ends of March 2018 and March 2019.

But it also turns out that quite a lot of that — over five million names — also came from .tw.

Since August 2018, .tw has netted 5.8 million new registrations, ending May with 6.5 million names.

It’s come from basically nowhere to become the fifth-largest ccTLD by volume, or fourth if you exclude .tk, per the DNIB.

History tells us that when TLDs experience such huge, unprecedented growth spurts, it’s usually due to lowering prices or liberalizing registration policies.

In this case, it’s a bit of both. But mostly pricing.

TWNIC has made it much easier to get approved to sell .tw names if you’re already an ICANN-accredited registrar.

But it’s primarily a steep price cut that TWNIC briefly introduced last August that is behind huge uptick in sales.

Registry CEO Kenny Huang confirmed to DI that the pricing promo is behind the growth.

For about a month, registrants could obtain a one-year Latin or Chinese IDN .tw name for NTD 50 (about $1.50), a whopping 95% discount on its usual annual fee (about $30).

As a result, TWNIC added four million names in August and September, according to registry stats. The vast majority were Latin-script names.

According to China domain market experts Allegravita, and confirmed by Archive.org, one Taiwanese registrar was offering free .tw domains for a day whenever a Chinese Taipei athlete won a gold medal during the Asian Games, which ran over August and September. They wound up winning 17 golds.

Huang said that the majority of the regs came from mainland Chinese registrants.

History shows that big growth spurts like this inevitably lead to big declines a year or two later, in the “junk drop”. It’s not unusual for a registry to lose 90%+ of its free or cheap domains after the promotional first year is over.

Huang confirmed that he’s expecting .tw registrations to drop in the fourth quarter.

It seems likely that later this year we’re very likely going to see the impact of the .tw junk drop on ccTLD volumes overall, which are already perilously close to flat.

Speculative bubbles from China have in recent years contributed to wobbly performance from the new gTLD sector and even to .com itself.

ZADNA CEO suspended for “hybrid misconduct”

The CEO of South Africa’s ccTLD registry has reportedly been suspended amid claims of “acts of misconduct”.

According to reports in the local tech press, Vika Mpisane was suspended in early December and has been subject to a delayed disciplinary process since January.

“Mr Vika Mpisane was suspended for serious hybrid acts of misconduct including mismanagement of ZADNA funds and others,” ZADNA chair Motlatjo Ralefatane told MyBroadband.

While details are rather thin on the ground, there are local rumors that some of the allegations relate to Mpisane’s salary and bonuses.

Ralefatane reportedly said that forensic accounting investigations are ongoing.

ZADNA, the ZA Domain Name Authority, is a non-profit organization and official ccTLD manager for .za. It answers to the South African government, but is not funded by it. It should not be confused with ZACR, the commercial entity that actually runs the .za registry on ZADNA’s behalf.

Mpisane has come under increased scrutiny this week as it turns out he is running unopposed for the Southern Africa seat on the board of AFRINIC, the Regional Internet Registry responsible for handing out IP addresses on the continent, apparently without ZADNA’s knowledge.

According to MyBroadband, Ralefatane believes Mpisane should not be representing that he has ZADNA’s support for his run.

His CV (pdf), posted to the AFRINIC web site in April, states that he is the current CEO of ZADNA, with no reference to his suspension.

Ralefatane reportedly added that she is not sure if AFRINIC or ICANN are aware of the allegations against him. They are now.

Mpisane is still listed on ZADNA’s web site as its CEO, also with no reference to the suspension.

His bio on the site reads, in its entirety (errors from the original): “The voice of reason and wisdom An outstanding leader with passion about the internet and what is has to offer. He walks the talk and talks the talk”.

New gTLDs slip again in Q1

The number of domains registered in new gTLDs slipped again in the first quarter, but it was not as bad as it could have been.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, out today, reports that new gTLD domains dropped by 800,000 sequentially to end March at a round 23.0 million.

It could have been worse.

New gTLD regs in Q1 were actually up compared to the same period last year, by 2.8 million.

That’s despite the fact that GRS Domains, the old Famous Four portfolio, has lost about three million domains since last August.

Verisign’s own .com was up sequentially by two million domains and at 141 million, up by 7.1 million compared to Q1 2018. But .net’s decline continued. It was down from 14 million in December to 13.8 million in March.

Here’s a chart (click to enlarge) that may help visualize the respective growth of new gTLDs and .com over the last three years. The Y axes are in the millions of domains.

.com v new gs

New gTLDs have shrunk sequentially in six of the last 12 quarters, while .com has grown in all but two.

The ccTLD world, despite the woes reported by many European registries, was the strongest growth segment. It was up by 2.5 million sequentially and 10 million compared to a year ago to finish the period with 156.8 million.

But once you factor out .tk, the free TLD that does not delete expired or abusive names, ccTLDs were up by 1.4 million sequentially and 7.8 million on last year.

CENTR: domain growth now slowest EVER

The number of registered domain names in the world is growing at its slowest rate ever, according to CENTR.

Its latest CENTRstats Global TLD Report, covering the first quarter of 2019, shows median domain growth of 3.4% year-over-year, a “record low”.

That stat peaked at 29.8% in the third quarter of 2015, according to the report. That was when the first significant wave of new gTLDs were hitting the market.

The 3.4% figure is the median growth rate across the top 500 TLDs CENTR tracks.

The group tracks 1,486 TLDs in total, a little under the 1,531 currently in the root, ignoring TLDs that are too small or have unreliable data.

The report says that growth rates are similar across ccTLDs and gTLDs, though gTLDs seem to be faring slightly better.

The median growth rate of the top 300 gTLDs was 4.1%.

For ccTLDs, the percentage growth varied between regions, from 1.4% in the Americas to 6.3% in the still much smaller African markets.

CENTR estimates that there were 351 million registered domains at the end of the quarter.

.com outsells new gTLDs by 2:1 in 2018

The number of registered .com domains increased by more than double the growth of all new gTLDs last year, according to figures from Verisign.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief reports that .com grew by 7.1 million names in 2018, while new gTLDs grew by 3.2 million names.

.com ended the year with 139 million registered names, while the whole new gTLD industry finished with 23.8 million.

It wasn’t all good news for Verisign, however. Its .net gTLD shrunk by 500,000 names over the period, likely due to the ongoing impact of the new gTLD program.

New gTLDs now account for 6.8% of all registered domains, compared to 6.2% at the end of 2017, Verisign’s numbers state.

Country codes fared better than .com in terms of raw regs, growing by 8.2 million domains to finish 2018 with 154.3 million names.

But that’s including .tk, the free ccTLD where dropping or abusive domains are reclaimed and parked by the registry and never expire.

Excluding .tk, ccTLDs were up by 6.6 million names in the year. Verisign estimates .tk as having a modest 21.5 million names.

The latest DNIB, and quarterly archives, can be downloaded from here.