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Chinese registrars ask ICANN to waive fees due to Coronavirus

Almost 50 registries and registrars based in China have asked ICANN to temporarily waive its fees due to the economic impact they say Covid-19 — the new Coronavirus — is having on them.

They’ve all put their names to a February 21 letter (pdf) that ICANN published over the weekend, saying they “believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China”.

The letter, signed by more than half of the currently accredited registrars in China, notes the cancellation of the Cancun public meeting, adding:

We highly respect and welcome ICANN’s approach to keep our community safe. Meanwhile, the contracted parties in China, including their staff, suppliers, and relevant business counterparts, are being hit and suffered by the 2019-nCoV in a much greater scale than in other countries and regions combined since January 2020. Many of the staff members have been restrained to perform sales and support functions at the level they are required to. There are significant delays in collections, payments and wire transfers. While we expect that the scale of 2019-nCoV could not go greater, the business growth estimate in 2020 has been jeopardized and the time of recovery can be very long.

While domestic aid on tax, rentals, etc. are being discussed and confirmed, we believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China. The waiver of 2020 fees, including annual fees and transaction fees, will greatly help stabilize our business in the difficult time.

This is not a small ask. ICANN collects fees based on transaction volume, and many millions of transactions originate in China. That’s particularly true in the new gTLD space, where China dominates.

The Chinese companies say that ICANN could afford to waive the fees due to the money they say ICANN will save by cancelling Cancun and other international travel.

My hunch is that ICANN won’t agree to these demands. While China is currently undoubtedly disproportionately affected by Covid-19, that situation is rapidly changing.

In the coming weeks and months it’s quite possible — worst-case scenario — the rest of the world could be similarly affected. Is ICANN prepared to set a precedent that could see it sacrifice its entire annual budget? I doubt it.

All previous requests for ICANN to waive its fees for various other reasons have been denied.

As Cancun looms, ICANN bans China travel because of Coronavirus

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has banned its staff from travelling to China because of Coronavirus.

The organization said at the weekend that it has implemented the ban, which includes connecting flights of “an abundance of caution”. The ban includes the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macau.

The move matches travel bans imposed on staff by other multi-national technology outfits, and comes as countries including the US place precautionary restrictions on flights from China.

ICANN has in the recent past changed the venues of public meetings twice due to worries about the unrelated Zika virus, but it has no meetings lined up in China any time soon.

Next month, the community will meet in Cancun, Mexico. According to the European Centre for Disease Control, there are currently no reported cases of the disease in that country.

There are usually plenty of Chinese nationals at ICANN meetings, of course, which could put ICANN in a tricky ethical/practical position as 67 draws closer, depending on how the global spread of the disease progresses.

ICANN said: “As of now, we fully intend to move forward with ICANN67 in Cancún, Mexico.”

The ECDC says there have been 20,626 confirmed cases of the virus since it was identified in December, almost all in China, and 427 deaths, all Chinese.

Paranoid ICANN opens another root server in China

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2019, Domain Tech

ICANN has announced the creation of another root server instance in China, which definitely, DEFINITELY won’t let the Chinese government mess with the interwebs.

ICANN said this week that it’s opened an instance of the L-root that it manages in Shanghai.

It’s the third L-root in China but only the first outside of Beijing.

In a press release announcing the installation, which was carried out with technical support from CNNIC and Shanghai Telecom, ICANN decided to preemptively head off any concerns that putting an important piece of internet infrastructure in China comes with added security risk:

Contrary to common misconception, root servers do not control the Internet. The operation of an instance also does not provide any mechanism to alter content of the DNS. Any modification of root zone content will be mitigated by a part of the DNS protocol known as the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) and if an instance fail to respond to a query, resolvers will ask the same question to another instance or root server.

It’s merely the latest of 168 L-root installations and 1,015 copies of the 13 logical root servers, which all use IP Anycast to more quickly serve DNS answers to their local users.

Given how big and populous China is, there are surprisingly few root server instances in the country, according to root-servers.org.

In addition to ICANN’s three boxes, Verisign’s J-root and Internet Systems Consortium’s F-root have three in Beijing and two in Hangzhou between them. The K, I and F roots each have one instance in Beijing.

That’s eight nodes in China proper, which has 800 million internet users. Cross the border into semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which has a population of under eight million people, and there are nine root instances.

The city of Bucharest, Romania (pop. 1.8 million) has the same number of root instances as China.

.wang cut off with Chinese red tape

The registry behind .wang and several Chinese-language gTLDs has seen its official registry web site blocked due to Chinese regulations.

Zodiac Registry, which also runs .商城, .八卦 and .网店 (“mail”, “gossip” and “shop”), has seen zodiacregistry.com intercepted by its web host and replaced with a placeholder message explaining that the site lacks the proper government license.

Wang blocked

It seems to have happened relatively recently. Google’s cache shows results from the page resolving normally in late May.

Ironically, its host is Alibaba, which also happens to be its largest registrar partner.

There’s no suggestion that registry operations or registrants have been affected. Domain availability checks at registrars for Zodiac TLDs appear to be working as normal.

The downtime appears to be a configuration problem. Alibaba requires customers to submit their Internet Content Provider license number before it will allow their sites to resolve properly.

ICP licenses are part of China’s censorship regime, issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. They must be obtained by any Chinese web site that wants to operate in China.

Zodiac does in fact have such a license, which according to the MIIT web site is active on at least six other domains.

While zodiacregistry.com is the domain officially listed with IANA for the company, it also operates TLD-specific sites such as bagua.wang for the “gossip” registry. None of these have been affected by the licensing issue.

UPDATE June 12: The site is now back online as normal.

.icu gets China nod as it tops 900,000 regs

Chinese regulators have approved .icu for sale and use in China, according to the registry.

ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas told DI today that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has approved its year-old gTLD for mainland use.

The company plans to launch .icu there formally June 12, he said.

Kopas also said that .icu has recently topped 900,000 registrations.

It’s a remarkable growth achievement for a gTLD with barely a year on the clock, given that SpamHaus stats show that its level of spam abuse is still comparable to .com.

But with prices at around $1.50 at its largest registrars and very little semantic value, one has to assume that a lot of its registrations are speculative. Its first junk drop could be brutal.

MIIT approval may help it continue its growth trend. To date, China-based registrars have recorded no .icu sales.

Huge batch of Afilias TLDs approved in China

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2019, Domain Registries

Seventeen Afilias-operated gTLDs have been approved for use in China.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced yesterday that the following Afilias-owned TLDs now have its official seal of approval: .archi, .bio, .black, .blue, .green, .lotto, .organic, .pet, .pink, .poker, .promo, .ski, .vote, .voto and .移动 (xn--6frz82g, means “mobile”),

Also approved are .asia and .网站 (.xn--5tzm5g means “website”), which to the best of my knowledge are not owned by Afilias but are quite closely managed by it.

All 17 were approved via the same Shanghai-based Afilias subsidiary, due to MIIT’s local presence requirements.

Chinese approval means Chinese registrants using Chinese registrars will be permitted to have their names resolve in China, subject to the country’s rather stringent censorship practices.

It’s the first batch of Afilias names to get the nod since April 2017, when .info, .pro and .mobi were approved.

.cloud gets the China blessing

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2018, Domain Registries

.cloud, run by Italian registry Aruba, has become the latest TLD to get the official nod to sell in China.

The blessing from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology came at the end of October and the company announced it today.

The accreditation means .cloud domains sold to residents of the Chinese mainland will now be resolvable, and subject to China’s onerous censorship rules.

It’s the first Latin-script TLD to be approved by MIIT since July.

.cloud says it currently has 155,000 domains registered to customers in 180 countries.

Chinese registrars on the decline

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2018, Domain Registrars

Having been on a growth trajectory for some years, the number of ICANN-accredited registrars based in China appears to be on the decline.

According to my records, so far this year 26 registrar contracts have been terminated, voluntarily or otherwise, 11 of which were Chinese. I’m excluding the mass drop of Pheenix accreditations from these numbers.

The country with the next-highest number of terminations was the USA, with three.

ICANN has terminated nine registrars for breaches of the RAA this year, six of which were Chinese.

All the Chinese notices included non-payment of ICANN fees as a reason for termination, though it appears that most of them had a negligible number of gTLD domains under management.

ICANN Compliance tells me there’s no particular focus of China at the moment, this is all a result of regular day-to-day enforcement.

ICANN has sent breach notices to 28 companies this year, seven of which were to Chinese registrars.

Meanwhile, 22.cn has moved 13 of its accredited shell registrars to Hong Kong. Another registrar moved its base from China to Australia.

Seven Chinese registrars have been newly accredited this year,

Net, this has all reduced the number of accredited registrars based in China to 91.

The country still has the second-most registrars ahead of the US, with its almost 2,000 registrars, and a clear 31 registrars ahead of third-place India.

MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.

Baidu gets Chinese approval for .baidu

It seems China’s Draconian licensing program for TLD registries is not limited to foreigners.

Chinese internet giant Baidu on Friday became the latest new gTLD registry operator to get the nod to run a TLD by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The approval was for .baidu, which is currently pre-launch with no launch plan on record.

Despite the brand match, it’s not technically a dot-brand gTLD — its ICANN contract has no Specification 13, which contains various carve-outs for single-registrant spaces.

While not particularly well-known in the English-speaking world, Baidu is second only to Google in terms of search engine market share, due to its dominance in China.

The company had 2017 revenue of almost CNY 85 billion ($12.5 billion).