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After .org price outrage, ICANN says it has NOT scrapped public comments

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN this evening said that it will continue to open up gTLD registry contract amendments for public comment periods, despite posting information yesterday suggesting that it would stop doing so.

The organization recently formalized what it calls “internal guidelines” on when public comment periods are required, and provided a summary in a blog post yesterday.

It was very easy to infer from the wording of the post that ICANN, in the wake of the controversy over the renegotiation of Public Interest Registry’s .org contract, had decided to no longer ask for public comments on future legacy gTLD contract amendments.

I inferred as much, as did another domain news blogger and a few other interested parties I pinged today.

I asked ICANN if that was a correct inference and Cyrus Namazi, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, replied:

No, that is not correct. All Registry contract amendments will continue to be posted for public comment same as before.

He went on to say that contract changes that come about as a result of Registry Service Evaluation Process requests or stuff like change of ownership will continue to not be subject to full public comment periods (though RSEP does have its own, less-publicized comment system).

The ICANN blog post lists several scenarios in which ICANN is required to open a public comment period. On the list is this:

ICANN org base agreements with registry operators and registrars.

The word “base” raised at least eight eyebrows of people who read the post, including my two.

The “base” agreements ICANN has with registries and registrars are the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement and the 2012/2017 Registry Agreement.

The RAA applies to all accredited registrars and the base RA applies to all new gTLD registries that applied in the 2012 round.

Registries that applied for, or were already running, gTLDs prior to 2012 all have bespoke contracts that have been gradually brought more — but not necessarily fully — into line with the 2012/17 RA in renewal renegotiations over the last several years.

In all cases, the renegotiated legacy contracts have been subject to public comment, but in no cases have the comments had any meaningful impact on their ultimate approval by ICANN.

The most recent such renewal was Public Interest Registry’s .org contract.

Among the changes were the introduction of the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting policy, and the removal of price caps that had limited PIR to a 10% increase per year.

The comment period on this contract attracted over 3,200 comments, almost all of which objected to the price regulation changes or the URS.

But the contract was signed regardless, unaffected by the comments, which caused one registrar, NameCheap, to describe the process as a “sham”.

With this apparently specific reference to “base” agreements coming so soon thereafter, it’s easy to see how we could have assumed ICANN had decided to cut off public comment on these contentious issues altogether, but that appears to not be the case.

What this seems to mean is that when .com next comes up for renewal, it will be open for comment.

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.

These 27 companies have ditched the .com for their dot-brand

Earlier today, I listed what I believe might be the top 10 dot-brand gTLDs with the most active web sites, but noted that it was probably a rubbish way to gauge the success of the dot-brand concept.

As a follow-up, I thought I’d figure out which brands have taken the bold step of ditching the .com and made their dot-brand their primary web destination.

I found 27 TLDs, which is simultaneously not a lot and easily twice as many as I was expecting.

The most-popular second-level string was “home”, with 12 examples. The string “global” occurs five times on the list.

I did this research manually with Google and a list of 275 dot-brands — anything with Spec 13 in its contract and more than two domains in its zone file — culled from my database.

To get on this list, at least one of the following had to be true:

  • The dot-brand was the top hit on Google when searching for the brand in question.
  • The .com redirects to the dot-brand.

Sometimes I had to factor out Google’s enormously irritating habit of localizing results, which would prioritize a .uk domain, particularly in the case of automotive brands.

On a few occasions, if I could not be certain whether the “official” primary site was in a ccTLD or the dot-brand, I used the brand’s Wikipedia page as a tie-breaker.

Some entries on the list may be a bit debatable.

I’m not sure whether .barclays should be there, for example. There’s little doubt in my mind that barclays.co.uk is the site that the majority of Barclays’ banking customers use, but barclays.com redirects visitors to home.barclays, so it fits my criteria.

In general, I’ve erred on the side of caution. If the top search result was for the brand’s .com, it was immediately ruled out, no matter how enthusiastic a dot-brand user the company otherwise appeared to be.

Here’s the list. Please let me know if you think I’ve missed any.

TLDBrand2LD
bnpparibasBNP Paribasgroup
bradescoBanco Bradesco S.A.banco
canonCanon Inc.global
cernEuropean Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)home
cuisinellaSALM S.A.S.ma
dhlDeutsche Post AGlogistics
fageFage International S.A.home
hisamitsuHisamitsu Pharmaceutical Co.,Inc.global
ipirangaIpiranga Produtos de Petroleo S.A.portal
komatsuKomatsu Ltd.home
kpmgKPMG International Cooperativehome
locusLocus Analytics LLChome
neustarNeuStar, Inc.home
pictetPictet Europe S.A.group
pioneerPioneer Corporationglobal
praxiPraxi S.p.A.praxi
sandvikSandvik ABhome
saxoSaxo Bank A/Shome
schmidtSALM S.A.S.home-design
senerSener Ingeniería y Sistemas, S.A.ingenieriayconstruccion
toyotaToyota Motor Corpglobal
warmanWeir Group IP Limitedhome*
weberSaint-Gobain Weber SAhome
weirWeir Group IP Limitedglobal

Twenty-seven gTLDs is not a great many, of course, considering that some dot-brands have been delegated for half a decade already.

It’s about half as many as have already torn up their ICANN registry agreements, and it represents less than 6% of the new gTLDs that my database says have Spec 13 in their contracts.

But I reiterate that this is not a list of companies using their dot-brands but rather of those apparently putting their .com firmly in the back seat to their dot-brand.

.com zone tops 140 million

The .com zone file passed the 140 million domain milestone for the first time today.

According to Verisign’s own count, today there are 140,016,726 .com names in the file. Yesterday, it had 139,979,307 names.

It’s taken since November 2017 to add the last 10 million names.

Adding registered names not in the zone, what Verisign calls its “Domain Name Base”, .com is currently at 141,857,360 domains.

Meanwhile, .net is continuing to shrink.

It has 13,441,748 names in its zone today, down from an October 2016 peak of over 15.8 million.

The .net domain name base is 13,668,548.

Pretty soon, if the slide continues, Verisign won’t be able to round up to 14 million in its quarterly reports any more.

ICA rallies the troops to defeat .org price hikes. It won’t work

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2019, Domain Registries

Over 100 letters have been sent to ICANN opposing the proposed lifting of price caps in .org, after the Internet Commerce Association reached out to rally its supporters.

This is an atypically large response to an ICANN public comment period, and there are four days left on the clock for more submissions to be made, but I doubt it will change ICANN’s mind.

Almost all of the 131 comments filed so far this month were submitted in the 24 hours after ICA published its comment submission form earlier this week.

About a third of the comments comprise simply the unedited ICA text. Others appeared to have been inspired by the campaign to write their own complaints about the proposal, which would scrap the 10%-a-year .org price increase cap Public Interest Registry currently has in place.

Zak Muscovitch, ICA’s general counsel, told DI that as of this morning the form generates different template text dynamically. I’ve spotted at least four completely different versions of the letter just by refreshing the page. This may make some comments appear to be the original thoughts of their senders.

This is the original text, as it relates to price caps:

I believe that legacy gTLDs are fundamentally different from for-profit new gTLDs. Legacy TLDs are essentially a public trust, unlike new gTLDs which were created, bought and paid for by private interests. Registrants of legacy TLDs are entitled to price stability and predictability, and should not be subject to price increases with no maximums. Unlike new gTLDs, registrants of legacy TLDs registered their names and made their online presence on legacy TLDs on the basis that price caps would continue to exist.

Unrestrained price increases on the millions of .org registrants who are not-for-profits or non-profits would be unfair to them. Unchecked price increases have the potential to result in hundreds of millions of dollars being transferred from these organizations to one non-profit, the Internet Society, with .org registrants receiving no benefit in return. ICANN should not allow one non-profit nearly unlimited access to the funds of other non-profits.

The gist of the other texts is the same — it’s not fair to lift price caps on domains largely used by non-profits that may have budget struggles and which have built their online presences on the old, predictable pricing rules.

The issues raised are probably fair, to a point.

Should the true “legacy” gTLDs — .com, .net and .org — which date from the 1980s and pose very little commercial risk to their registries, be treated the same as the exceptionally risky gTLD businesses that have been launched since?

Does changing the pricing rules amount to unfairly moving the goal posts for millions of registrants who have built their business on the legacy rules?

These are good, valid questions.

But I think it’s unlikely that the ICA’s campaign will get ICANN to change its mind. The opposition would have to be broader than from a single interest group.

First, the message about non-profits rings a bit hollow coming from an explicitly commercial organization whose members’ business model entails flipping domain names for large multiples.

If a non-profit can’t afford an extra 10 bucks a year for a .org renewal, can it afford the hundreds or thousands of dollars a domainer would charge for a transfer?

Even if PIR goes nuts, abandons its “public interest” mantra, and immediately significantly increases its prices, the retail price of a .org (currently around $20 at GoDaddy, which has about a third of all .orgs) would be unlikely to rise to above the price of PIR-owned .ong and .ngo domains, which sell for $32 to $50 retail.

Such an increase might adversely affect a small number of very low-budget registrants, but the biggest impact will be felt by the big for-profit portfolio owners: domainers.

Second, letter-writing campaigns don’t have a strong track record of persuading ICANN to change course.

The largest such campaign to date was organized by registrars in 2015 in response to proposals, made by members of the Privacy and Proxy Services Accreditation Issues working group, that would have would have essentially banned Whois privacy for commercial web sites.

Over 20,000 people signed petitions or sent semi-automated comments opposing that recommendation, and ICANN ended up not approving that specific proposal.

But the commercial web site privacy ban was a minority position written by IP lawyers, included as an addendum to the group’s recommendations, and it did not receive the consensus of the PPSAI working group.

In other words, ICANN almost certainly would not have implemented it anyway, due to lack of consensus, even if the public comment period had been silent.

The second-largest public comment period concerned the possible approval of .xxx in 2010, which attracted almost 14,000 semi-automated comments from members of American Christian-right groups and pornographers.

.xxx was nevertheless approved less than a year later.

ICANN also has a track record of not acceding to ICA’s demands when it comes to changes in registry agreements for pre-2012 gTLDs.

ICA, under former GC Phil Corwin, has also strongly objected to similar changes in .mobi, .jobs, .cat, .xxx and .travel over the last few years, and had no impact.

ICANN seems hell-bent on normalizing its gTLD contracts to the greatest extent possible. It’s also currently proposing to lift the price caps on .biz and .info.

This, through force of precedent codified in the contracts, could lead to the price caps one day, many years from now, being lifted on .com.

Which, let’s face it, is what most people really care about.

Info on the .org contract renewal public comment period can be found here.