Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

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.

CentralNic to pay $3.4 million for iwantmyname

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2019, Domain Registrars

CentralNic has made yet another registrar acquisition, picking up New Zealand-based Ideegeo Group for the equivalent of $3.4 million.

The company said it will pay NZD 5.2 million, of which 10% is being deferred until May 2021.

Ideegeo runs the registrar iwantmyname.com. It’s not ICANN-accredited in its own right, rather it’s a reseller of Hexonet, which CentralNic has also acquired.

With 180,000 names under management, Ideegeo accounted for a little under 5% of Hexonet’s business in terms of domain names.

Ideegeo had revenue last year of NZD 6.2 million ($4.2 million) and EBITDA of NZD 0.9 million ($600,000), CentralNic said.

CentralNic indicated that the acquisition has enabled it to lock in that revenue, preventing iwantmyname switching to a different reseller network.

But it’s not just the DUM CentralNic is interested in. It also said it wants its user-friendly interface, which it intends to roll out across its other retail registrar web sites.

There are also up-sell opportunities, as iwantmyname currently sells only domain names and none of the usually associated accoutrements.

It’s CentralNic’s fifth acquisition in the last 12 months.

It still has plenty of money left over from a recent €50 million ($56 million) bond issue, so don’t expect it to be the last.

CEO lost millions on Manhattan apartment deal just days before AlpNames went dark

The CEO of AlpNames lost his $2.1 million deposit on a $10.6 million Manhattan apartment just days before his company went belly-up earlier this year, DI can reveal.

ApartmentsA New York District Court judge in February found in favor of property developer Highline Associates, which had sued Iain Roache for his deposit after he failed to pay the balance of the luxury residence’s purchase price in 2017.

The ruling appears to have been published February 25 this year. By March 7, just 10 days later, ICANN had already started compliance proceedings against AlpNames.

The timing could just be a coincidence. Or it might not.

According to Judge Robert Sweet (in what appears to be one of his final decisions before his death at 96 in March this year), Roache agreed in December 2015 to buy a condo, parking space and storage unit at 520 West 28th St, a then under-development luxury apartment complex designed by award-winning architect Zaha Hadid, in Manhattan’s fashionable Chelsea district.

The purchase price of the one-bedroom apartment was an eye-watering $9.8 million. Another $770,000 for the parking space and storage unit brought the total agreed price to $10,565,000. Roache plunked $2,113,000 of that into escrow as a deposit.

At that time, AlpNames, majority-owned by Roache, was quite a young company.

It was on the cusp of selling its millionth domain, and had got to that milestone in just over a year in business. Earlier in 2015, it had been bragging about how it was second only to GoDaddy in terms of new gTLD domains sold.

Famous Four Media, the new gTLD registry that Roache also led (also no longer a going concern), had already launched 10 of its eventual 16 TLDs. In total, the portfolio had roughly 1.5 million domains under management. It was one of the leaders, volume-wise, of the new gTLD industry.

When the apartment was finally ready to move into, in June 2017, Highline approached Roach to close the deal.

According to the court’s findings, Roache declined to immediately pay and seems to have given the developer the runaround for several months, requesting and receiving multiple extensions to the closing date.

It wasn’t until early 2018 that Highline, apparently determining that it was never going to see the money, terminated the contract and attempted to take ownership of the $2.1 million deposit.

But Roache’s lawyers instructed the escrow agent not to release the funds without a court order. Obligingly, Highline sued in February 2018.

During the case, Roache argued among other things that he had been verbally duped into signing the purchase agreement, but the judge wasn’t buying it.

He noted that Roache is a “sophisticated businessman” who had hired an experienced New York real estate lawyer to advise him on the purchase.

He also noted that the contract specifically said that the buyer is buying based on the contents of the agreement and specifically not any prior verbal representations (nice clause for all those bullshit-happy real estate agents out there, I reckon).

The judge finally decided that Highline, and not Roache, was rightfully owed the $2.1 million deposit.

It wasn’t long after the ruling that AlpNames customers started experiencing issues.

I first reported that the web site was offline, and had been offline for at least a few days, on March 12 this year. A NamePros thread first mentioned the downtime March 10.

It later emerged (pdf) that ICANN had already started calling AlpNames on March 7, after receiving complaints from AlpNames’ customers that the site was down.

On March 15, after receiving no response from Roache, ICANN made the decision to immediately terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

A couple of weeks later, CentralNic took over AlpNames’ customer base and around 600,000 domain names, under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

That’s the timeline of events.

Am I saying that there was a causal link between Roache’s real estate deal going south and AlpNames going AWOL within a couple of weeks? Nope. I don’t have any evidence for that.

Am I saying it’s possible? Yup. The timing sure does look fishy, doesn’t it?

CentralNic boosts reseller biz with $11.3 million Hexonet buy

CentralNic is to acquire rival reseller-based registrar Hexonet for up to €10 million ($11.3 million), its fourth acquisition in the last 12 months.

Hexonet has over 3.8 million domains under management, according to CentralNic, sold either directly or via one of its over 1,000 resellers.

Hexonet’s primary ICANN accreditation, 1API.net, was responsible for roughly 760,000 gTLD domains at the last count, but appeared to be on the decline.

CentralNic said its reseller business will grow by about 28% in terms of domains due to the deal.

Hexonet had revenue last year of about €16.5 million ($19.4 million) and EBIDTDA of about €0.8 million ($0.9 million), and will immediately contribute to the bottom line, CentralNic said.

But it’s probably not great news for everyone — in order to receive the full €10 million Hexonet had to slash €300,000 from its budget.

CentralNic is paying €7 million in cash now, covered by the €50 million bond it recently issued, and will pay another €3 million in either cash or shares (its choice) on the one-year anniversary of the deal closing, expected this month.

Hexonet has offices in Canada and close to CentralNic’s recently acquired Germany operations.

Hexonet also acts as the de facto exclusive registrar for a handful of dot-brands, including .audi, .volskwagen and .bugatti, relationships that one imagines CentralNic’s registry back-end business could try to leverage.

In the last year, CentralNic has acquired KeyDrive, TPP Wholesale and GlobeHosting.

CentralNic grabs more of the reseller market with $16.5 million acquisition

CentralNic is living up to its self-described role as an industry “consolidator” with the acquisition of Australian domain wholesaler TPP Wholesale.

The company, assuming it manages to find the financial backing, will pay AUD 24 million ($16.5 million) for the business, currently a unit of ARQ Group (formerly known as Melbourne IT).

TPP has 14,000 resellers and 840,000 domains under management, including 19% of all .com.au registrations, according to CentralNic.

The company reckons the unit had revenue of AUD 17 million ($11.7 million) and EBITDA of AUD 3.9 million ($2.7 million) in 2018, which makes the purchase look like a bit of a bargain when compared to its acquisition of Instra a few years ago.

CentralNic gets 680,000 AlpNames domains for free, kinda

CentralNic has emerged as the gaining registrar for AlpNames’ entire portfolio of gTLD domains.

The company announced late last week that three registrars in its stable — Moniker, Key-Systems LLC and Key-Systems GmbH — will take over roughly 680,000 domains that were left stranded when AlpNames management went AWOL.

US-based Key-Systems LLC appears to be the biggest gainer. It will be taking over domains in every gTLD except .biz, .com, .info, .net, .org, which are going to Moniker, and .pro, which are going to the German Key-Systems division.

While most registrars see their domains under management concentrated in these legacy gTLDs, by volume AlpNames had far more registrations in new 2012-round gTLDs.

It had just 19,000 .com DUM at the last count, compared to hundreds of thousands in new gTLDs such as .top and .gdn.

CentralNic said in a press release that ICANN selected its registrars after a competitive bidding process, which I’ve previously outlined here, but that it did not pay for the names. So AlpNames, presumably, won’t be getting the payday it could have received under the rules.

The transfer won’t be entirely cost-free, of course. CentralNic is going to have to provide support to its incoming customers — who will all be emailed with the details of their new Moniker accounts — for starters.

There’s also the issue of abuse. AlpNames was notorious as a haven for spammers and the like, due to its cheap prices and bulk-registration tools, so CentralNic may find itself having to deal with this legacy.

But CentralNic said it expects these incidental costs to be “minimal”.

The transfers are a big boost for CentralNic’s registrar volume, at least in the short term. The three selected registrars had a combined total of roughly two million gTLD domains at the last count. CentralNic says it acts as registrar for over seven million domains across its 13 accreditations.

For every AlpNames domain that gets renewed, CentralNic gets paid. But if AlpNames’ own track record is any guide, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of drops over the coming year.