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CentralNic parking boosts revenue even as its registrars suffer

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2020, Domain Registrars

CentralNic reported what it called “outstanding” first-half financial results yesterday, with growth from its new parking business more than offsetting a decline in its registrar business.

The company reported H1 revenue of $111.1 million, up 124% year over year. Adjusted EBITDA was up 64% to $15.1 million.

But these remarkable numbers were driven primarily by acquisitions — CentralNic made four in the second half of last year. Its estimated organic growth was more modest.

On an apples-to-apples basis, revenue was up 18% and adjusted EBITDA was up 16%.

The company has reorganized how it reports its various segments into “direct”, “indirect” and “monetization”. Two of those segments grew while one shrank.

The direct segment, which basically means CentralNic’s collection of retail registrars, saw revenue down 11% at $21.6 million, but a lot of that was due to rejiggering the reporting segments. Apples-to-apples, revenue was down 1% at $20.9 million.

Indirect, which bundles together its wholesale registrars, registry and registry back-end services, saw revenue up 62% at $41.2 million. Apples-to-apples, the growth was 9%.

But the standout performer was the new monetization segment — domain parking, which became a big deal after CentralNic acquired German outfit Team Internet last year — which saw revenue up 38% at $48.5 million.

The one worryingly dark spot in this segment is the fact that one customer is responsible for over 92% of revenue.

Schreiber really did sue you all, sorry

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2020, Domain Policy

It seems the aggrieved domain registrant and troll Graham Schreiber really has filed a lawsuit against scores of current and former domain name industry and ICANN community members.

You may recall that last week I blogged about a purported lawsuit by Schreiber against many industry professionals, as well as people who’ve been heavily involved in ICANN over the last couple decades.

I noted that there was no independent confirmation that any complaint has actually been filed in any court, but it turns out a complaint has now actually been filed.

A search on the Canadian Federal Court system reveals:

Schreiber

That appears to be an intellectual property lawsuit filed August 25 by Schreiber against “Jeffrey Levee et al”.

That’s five days after the document started circulating among defendants and my original coverage.

Levee is the long-time outside counsel for ICANN, working for Jones Day for two decades. In the org’s early days, his name often popped up in conspiracy theories.

The Schreiber document that was circulated last week just happened to name Levee as his first defendant, followed by several dozen more, often far less influential, individuals and companies.

To see my original coverage of the pretty much incomprehensible complaint, along with a link to the document, go here.

It’s a CONSPIRACY! Canadian registrant “sues” pretty much everybody

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2020, Domain Policy

Canadian domain registrant and noted industry troll Graham Schreiber has sued, or at least claims to have sued, just about every notable figure in the ICANN community.

A document purporting to be a lawsuit is being circulated today among some of the dozens of named defendants, which include several people who’ve not been involved with ICANN for many years.

It names 27 volunteers from ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency, 21 current and former senior executives of registries and registrars, several members of the US and UK governments, an FBI agent, an unnamed “White House Conspirator”, as well as lawyers for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, ICANN, Google and the UK Intellectual Property Office.

It’s my job to tell you in simple terms what the alleged lawsuit alleges, but I’m afraid I’m at an utter loss with this one. It reads like the fever dream of a conspiracy theorist that would make the average Qanon believer appear the model of reason and clarity.

Schreiber variously refers to his defendants as “Kingpins” involved in a “Cartel” or “Conspiracy”, the factual details of which he never quite gets to.

Here’s a representative sample paragraph, unedited:

If and when, the “Defensive Registrations” obliged by ICANN’s R[r]egistry & R[r]egistrar “Stakeholders” = “Kingpins” and specifically CentralNic [ weren’t purchased ] assailants would strike; and Infringe, Dilute, Blur and Pass-Off as our online business, individually with identical and confusingly similar domain name, faking to be appointed or an authorized agent of the primary Registrant, in a country’s entrepreneurs Intellectual Property may or may not have been protectable at Common Law Trademark, under Madrid Protocol Rules, as it / they fulfilled the obligations of local National laws, to become a Registered Trademark, as I secured in the USA with USPTO, after the CIPO did their work.

At one point, he admits to trolling the defendants on social media since 2012, and points to their failure to sue him as evidence of a conspiracy:

I’ve made statements via those Social Media resources which would, if they were untrue, subject me to a singular lawsuit or multiple lawsuits from the Defendants listed, for: Defamation, Slander and Libel.

As yet, these well taunted Defendants have all conspired together, in collective silence, anticipating that their grandeur and my insignificance would, maintain safe passage, for them to continue.

As the vast majority of the Defendants are well schooled, powerful U.S. Attorneys, it’s my expectation that the Court oblige them to address the charges here stated, or collectively for their defence, they must File a lawsuit with this Court, charging me for what could be [ but aren’t ] remarks constituting Defamation, Slander & Libel against them, which again, I’ve posted on some of the Defendants own clients, Social Media Platforms

Schreiber was once a regular fixture in DI’s comments section too. Thankfully, we’ve not heard from him in years.

The root cause of the “lawsuit” appears to be an old beef Schreiber has with CentralNic.

He says he owns what he calls a “common law trademark” on the term “Landcruise” and he once used the matching .com domain to operate a motor-home rental business.

At some point in 2011, he became aware that a British registrant had registered landcruise.co.uk and landcruise.uk.com.

At the time, CentralNic was primarily in the business of selling domains at the third level in pseudo-gTLDs such as uk.com, gb.com and us.com.

Schreiber tried and failed (twice) to get the .uk domain transferred under Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service, and then he took his beef to the courts.

In 2012, he sued CentralNic, ICANN, Verisign, eNom, and Network Solutions in a complaint that barely made much more sense than the “lawsuit” being circulated today.

That case was thrown out of court in 2013.

I expect the same fate to befall the current lawsuit, if indeed it has even been filed in a court.

Schreiber wants $5 million from every defendant.

If you want to check whether you’re one of them, read the PDF “complaint” here.

CentralNic does not expect big coronavirus impact as it posts almost-doubled revenue for 2019

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2020, Domain Registrars

CentralNic has added its name to the list of domain name companies not expecting to see a significant financial hit from coronavirus.

The company this morning posted its full 2019 results and first-quarter 2020 trading update, saying it expects to be “resilient” to the pandemic.

For 2019, the company saw revenue grow by 95% to $109.2 million. Profits at the adjusted EBITDA level was $17.9 million, again almost double the 2018 results.

Pre-tax loss was $8.2 million, compared to $5 million for the previous year. At the operating level, CentralNic lost half a million bucks, but that was smaller than the $3.6 million it lost in 2018.

The first quarter trading update was even rosier. It expects revenue to come in at $56 million — the same revenue figure as for the whole of 2018 — with adjusted EBITDA of $8.1 million.

The growth is of course all coming from recent acquisitions. CentralNic sees itself as an industry consolidator. It has recently integrated the reseller-focused businesses Key-Systems, Hexonet, PartnerGate, TPP Wholesale and Toweb, as well as retail registrar Ideegeo and domain monetization outfit Team Internet.

The company said it has delayed a planned shareholder dividend — its first — in order to keep more cash on hand for even more acquisitions.

On coronavirus, CentralNic said:

Despite [the pandemic], trading for the Group in Q1 2020 was in line with expectations, despite the global business restrictions to slow the progress of COVID-19… As a profitable provider of online subscription services with high cash conversion and solid organic growth, we do not expect CentralNic to be severely affected by COVID-19, but we will take the necessary precautions to preserve our cash and review our acquisition pipeline and financing plans to ensure that we maintain stability and optimise our business strategies in the new global climate.

It’s the third domain company in recent days, after Verisignafter Verisign and Dutch ccTLD registry SIDNDutch ccTLD registry SIDN, to say that they don’t expect to be badly hit by the pandemic.

CentralNic seeing no impact from coronavirus

CentralNic, the triple-play domain company, has told the markets that the coronavirus pandemic is not having an impact on its financial health.

In a statement yesterday, the company said:

To date, CentralNic has not experienced interruptions in its services to customers or in its supply chain, and the Company confirms that its current trading is in line with market expectations.

CentralNic’s business is expected to remain resilient. Its services are procured and delivered over the internet, and the majority of CentralNic’s revenues are payments from existing subscribers and customers on rolling contracts. The Company’s core product is the sale of domain names, which are core infrastructure that enable the functioning of email and websites — the most important communication tools used between work colleagues working remotely and between companies and their customers.

The company makes most of its money from the retail side of the industry nowadays, largely via a network of thousands of resellers, but it also runs its own TLD registries and acts as a back-end for some high-volume TLDs such as .xyz.

It expects to report its 2019 financial results and a summary of its Q1 performance a few weeks from now.

Is the .co rebid biased toward Afilias? Yeah, kinda

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2020, Domain Registries

The Colombian government has come under fire for opening up the .co registry contract for rebid in a way that seems predetermined to pick Afilias as the winner, displacing its fierce rival Neustar.

As I blogged in November, Colombia thinks it might be able to secure a better registry deal, so it plans to shortly open .co up to competitive proposals.

A company called .CO Internet, acquired by Neustar for $109 million in 2014, has been running the ccTLD for the last decade. There are currently around 2.3 million .co domains under management, according to Colombia.

With the renewal deadline looming, the government’s technology ministry, MinTIC, published an eyebrow-raising request for proposals last month.

What’s surprising about the RFP is that some of the four main technical performance criteria listed are so stringent that probably only two companies in the industry qualify — Verisign and Afilias, and so far Verisign has not been involved in the RFP process.

The companies that have been engaging with the government to date are Afilias, Neustar/.CO, Nominet, CentralNic and Donuts.

First, MinTIC wants a registry that’s had at least two million domains under management across its portfolio continuously for two years. All five registries qualify there.

Second, it wants a registry that’s been involved in the migration of a TLD of at least one million names, either as the gaining or losing back-end.

That immediately narrows the pack to just two of the five aforementioned registries — Neustar and Afilias.

Verisign would also qualify, if it’s in the bidding, but I suspect it’s not. Taking over .co would look like a “buy it to kill it” strategy, which would be horrible optics for the Colombian government.

There have only ever been three migrations over one million names, to my knowledge: the Verisign->Afilias .org transition of 2003, the Neustar->Afilias .au move of 2018, and last year’s Afilias->Neustar .in handover.

CentralNic, Nominet and Donuts have all moved numerous TLDs between back-ends, but with much smaller per-TLD domain volumes.

Third — and here’s the kicker — the successful .co bidder will have to show that it processes on average 25 million registry transactions — defined as “billable EPP (write) transactions, as well as all EPP search (read) transactions” — per day. (All of the RFP quotes in this post have been machine-translated from Spanish by Google and run by a few generous Spanish speakers for verification.)

The RFP is not entirely clear on what exact data points it’s looking at here, but my take is that qualifying transactions include, at an absolute minimum, attempts to create a domain, renew a domain, transfer a domain and check whether a domain is registered.

The vast majority of such transactions are in the check and create functions, and I believe a great deal of that activity relates to drop-catching, where registries are flooded with add requests for just-deleted domains.

Whichever way you split it, 25 million a day is a ludicrously high number. Literally only .com, which sees 2.3 billion checks and 1.5 billion adds per month, sees that kind of action.

According to Neustar, which actually runs .co, it only sees 6.4 million transactions per day on average. The requirement to handle 25 million a day is “exaggerated, unjustified and discriminatory” against Neustar, Neustar told MinTIC.

But the RFP allows for the bidding registries to spread their 25-million-a-day quota across all of the TLDs they manage, and this MAY sneak Afilias over the line.

I say MAY in big letters because I don’t believe the numbers that Afilias (and probably other registries too) reports to ICANN every month are reliable.

If you add up the reported, qualifying EPP transactions for September in Afilias’ top four legacy gTLDs — .org, .info, .mobi and .pro — you get to over 25 million per day.

But those same records show that, for example, .mobi, .pro and .info had exactly the same number of EPP availability checks that month — 215,988,497 each.

This is clearly bad data.

I reported on this issue last May, when ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee informed ICANN that major registries were providing “not reliable” or possibly “fabricated” data about port 43 Whois queries.

Afilias, which was one of the apparent offenders, told me at the time that it was addressing the issue with ICANN, but it does not yet appear to have fully fixed its reporting to enable TLD-by-TLD breakdowns of its registry activity.

It is of course quite possible, even very likely, that Afilias has on average more than 25 million qualifying EPP transactions per day, but how’s it going to prove that to the Colombian government when the numbers it reports under contract to ICANN are clearly unreliable?

It’s a little harder to determine whether Neustar would qualify under the 25-million transaction rule, because some of its largest zones are ccTLDs — .co, .in and .us — that do not publicly report this kind of data. Its comments to the RFP suggest it would not.

Numbers aside, I’ll note that there’s very probably an inherent bias towards legacy gTLD operators like Afilias and against relative newcomers such as CentralNic if you’re counting EPP transactions. As I noted above, a lot of these transactions are coming from drop-catch activity, which is more prevalent on larger, older TLDs where there are more dropping domains that are more likely to have existing backlinks and traffic.

The fourth technical requirement in the Colombian RFP that looks a bit fishy is the requirement that the new registry must have channel relationships with at least 10 of the largest 25 registrars, as listed by a web site called domainstate.com.

I can’t say I’ve looked at domainstate.com very often, if at all, but a quick look at its numbers for September strongly suggests to me that it does not count post-2012 new gTLD registrations in its registrar league table. One registrar with almost four million domains under management doesn’t even show up on the list. This arguably could give an advantage to a registry that plays strongly in legacy gTLDs.

That said, it’s probably an academic point — I don’t think any of the bidders for the .co contract would have difficulty showing that they have 10 of the top 25 registrars on board, whichever way you calculate that league table.

Cumulatively, these four technical hurdles have led some to suggest that Afilias has somehow steered MinTIC towards creating an RFP only it could win.

Apart from what I’ve discussed here, I’ve no evidence that is the case, and Afilias has not yet responded to my request for comment today.

Luckily for the bidding registries, the Columbian RFP has not yet been finalized. Comments submitted by the bidders and others are apparently going to be taken on board, so the barriers to entry for respondents could be lowered before bids are finally accepted.

MinTIC posted an update last night that extends the period that the RFP could run, and the transition period should Neustar lose the contract. A handover, should one happen at all, could now happen as late as February next year.

.gay prices and availability revealed as registry promises to give 20% of revenue to charity

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2020, Domain Registries

The long-fought, once-controversial gTLD .gay is to launch a month from now.

Top Level Design, which won the string at auction against three other applicants last February, this week informed registrars that its sunrise period will begin February 10 this year. General availability will start May 20.

The registry, which beat a mission-focused, restricted “community” applicant for .gay, also said that it will give 20% of its top-line registration revenue to two LGBT charities — GLAAD and CenterLink.

With base registry fee of $25 per domain, that’s at least $5 going to gay charities for every domain sold. Registrars are being encouraged to match that donation at the retail level.

There will also be six tiers of “premium” domains — $100, $250, $650, $2,000, $5,000 and $12,500 — for which the 20% donation will also apply. Premium domains will renew at premium prices.

Top Level Design also says it is to enforce an anti-bullying policy. Any registrant using a .gay domain for “harassment, threats, and hate speech” will stand to lose their name. It’s a complaint-based enforcement policy; the registry will not actively monitor content.

Registrants who have forums on their .gay web sites will also have to police their user-generated content, to keep it in line with registry policy.

Its official policy even includes helpline numbers for bullied gay people who are feeling suicidal.

The registry appears to be making the right noises when it comes to calming concerns that an unrestricted, non-community .gay space could do more harm than good.

The key area where it diverges from the community application, which had been backed by dozens of gay-rights groups, is the lack of a ban on pornography. I’d hazard a guess that a good chunk of registration volume will come from that space.

The launch will comprise two sunrise periods and an early access period, before .gay goes to GA.

The first sunrise is the ICANN-mandated period, open only to those trademark owners with listings in the official Trademark Clearinghouse. That will run from February 10 to March 31. A second sunrise will be open to other trademarks, validated by back-end provider CentralNic. That runs from April 6 to May 6.

Both sunrise periods will include the automatic reservation of 10 potentially confusing Latin internationalized domain name variants, generated by CentralNic algorithm. This will include strings that transpose 0 and O or e and ë, for example.

EAP, the period in which early birds can grab the names they want for premium fees that decrease every day, runs from May 11 to May 17. Prices are not yet available.

GA is May 20.

Top Level Design originally planned to launch .gay last year, timed to coincide with National Coming Out Day in the US.

The new GA date appears to land on the anniversary of a landmark gay rights ruling in the US Supreme Court, Romer v Evans, but this may just be a coincidence.

.gay is launching about a month before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, in June, so we might see some marketing around that event.

Registrars signing up to sell .gay domains are also being given some schooling, apparently courtesy of GLAAD, about what language is currently cool and uncool to use in marketing.

Apparently, the terms “homosexual”, “sexual preference” and “transvestite” are considered offensive nowadays and are therefore verboten in registrar marketing. “Queer”, as a partially reclaimed offensive term, should be used with caution.

I suppose Top Level Design had better hope the word “gay” is not added to this list any time soon, otherwise it has a serious problem on its hands.

AlpNames died months ago. Why is it still the “most-abused” registrar?

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2019, Domain Registrars

Despite going out of business, being terminated by ICANN, and losing all its domains several months ago, defunct AlpNames is still being listed as the world’s most-abused registrar by a leading spam-fighting organization.

SpamHaus currently ranks the Gibraltar-based company as #1 on its list of the “The 10 Most Abused Domain Registrars”, saying 98.7% of its domains are being used to send spam.

But AlpNames customers and regular DI readers will recall that AlpNames mysteriously went titsup in March, then got terminated by ICANN, then had its entire customer base migrated over to CentralNic in April.

So what’s this about?

SpamHaus

I asked SpamHaus earlier this week, and it turns out that Whois query throttling is to blame.

It seems SpamHaus only pings Whois to update the registrar associated with a specific domain when the domain expires, or the name servers change, or where it’s a new registration with an unknown registrar.

I gather that when CentralNic took over AlpNames’ customer base, it did so with all the original name server information intact.

So, SpamHaus’ database still associates the domains with AlpNames even though it’s been out of business for the better part of a year.

A SpamHaus spokesperson said:

This is a very unusual situation, as a huge majority of the domains that contribute to the Top 10 list in question are created, abused, and burnt quickly; meaning a change of registrar is exceptionally rare. However, in the case of these particular domains registered with AlpNames we can only assume that the sheer volume of unused domains was too high for the owner to use in one single hit.

The actual number of “AlpNames” domains rated as spammy by SpamHaus is pretty low — 1,976 of the 2,002 domains it saw were rated as “bad”.

GMO, at #4 on the list, had over 40,000 “bad” domains, but a lower percentage given the larger number of total domains seen.

Radix acquires another gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Domain Registries

Radix has added the 10th new gTLD to its portfolio with an acquisition last month, bringing its total TLD stable to 11.

The company has acquired .uno from Missouri-based Dot Latin LLC for an undisclosed amount.

.uno, which of course means “one” in Spanish, has been around for over five years but has struggled to grow.

It’s current ranked as the 131st largest new gTLD, with 16,271 domains in its zone file. It peaked at about 22,000 about three years ago.

That said, it appears to have rather strong renewals, at least by Radix standards, with no evidence of relying on discounts or throwaway one-year registrations for growth.

.uno names can currently be obtained for roughly $12 to $20 per year.

Radix said its expects to migrate the TLD off its current Neustar back-end onto long-time registry partner CentralNic by “early 2020”.

The company appears to be excited that its only the second three-letter TLD in its portfolio.

It already runs .fun, along with the likes of .website, .tech and .online. It also runs .pw, the repurposed ccTLD for Palau.

.uno was Dot Latin’s only gTLD, though affiliated entity Dot Registry LLC signed its ICANN registry agreement for .llp (for “Limited Liability Partnership”) in August. That TLD has yet to launch.

.blog registry handover did NOT go smoothly

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2019, Domain Registries

The transition of .blog between registry back-end providers ended up taking six times longer than originally planned, due to “a series of unforeseen issues”.

Registry Knock Knock Whois There today told registrars that the move from Nominet to CentralNic took 18 hours to complete, far longer than the two to three hours anticipated.

An “unexpected database error” was blamed at one point for the delay, but KKWT said it is still conducting a post-mortem to figure out exactly what went wrong.

During the downtime, .blog registrations, renewals, transfers and general domain management at the registry level would not have been possible.

DNS resolution was not affected, so registrants of .blog domains would have been able to use their web sites and email as usual.

The migration, which covered roughly 200,000 domains, wrapped up at around 0800 UTC this morning. It seems engineers at the two back-end providers, both based in the UK, will have been working throughout the night to fix the issues.

KKWT reported the new CentralNIC EPP back-end functioning as expected but that several days of “post-migration clean-up” are to be expected.

Eighteen hours is more than the acceptable 14 hours of monthly downtime for EPP services under ICANN’s standard Registry Agreement, but below the 24 hours of weekly downtime at which emergency measures kick in.

CentralNic already handles very large TLDs, including .xyz, but I believe this is the largest incoming migration it’s handled to date.

KKWT is owned by Automattic, the same company as WordPress.com.