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ICANN may not meet again for a looong time

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2020, Domain Policy

The grim reality of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic seems to be sinking in at ICANN.

Management and board all but confirmed yesterday that ICANN 70, currently still scheduled for Cancun, Mexico next March, will instead take place online via Zoom.

“We would all like to get back to face-to-face, but at this moment Cancun is not looking good for now,” chair Maarten Botterman said during a community discussion about meetings at ICANN 69, also online-only.

CEO Goran Marby said that there’s a “high probability” that Cancun will be virtual.

The session, “Board/Community Focus on ICANN Meetings” was notable for being extremely depressing rather than merely boring.

Several participants spoke in terms of ICANN meetings being virtual “for the foreseeable future”.

“With the world as it is right now, it’s very hard to say when we come back to full-fledged physical meetings,” CEO Göran Marby said.

He said there’s a possibility of “hybrid” meetings, where a face-to-face gathering could take place in a part of the world where the pandemic was under control, but he noted that this would put online participants at a disadvantage.

The overall vibe of the session was that things probably aren’t going to be back to “normal” for some time.

Even though coronavirus vaccines are already reportedly rolling off the presses right now and will be in the hands of governments by the start of 2021, many experts say the logistical problem of distributing vaccine widely enough to ensure herd immunity is tough enough that the “return to normal” is still a long way off.

Meeting participant Susan Anthony predicted that airline fares will be sky-high next year, limiting the ability of many would-be participants, particularly the smaller, less well-funded ones, to show up in person.

She said virtual or hybrid meetings could be around for “the indefinite future”.

Afilias director Jonathan Robinson concurred, saying “the world may have changed immeasurably and somewhat permanently”.

ICANN director Tripti Sinha later compared the post-pandemic world to the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

There was lots of talk about dumping 2020’s practice of holding the meetings during the time zone of the originally planned host country — the Hamburg time zone has been particularly tough on those in the Americas, who have to start their working day at about midnight — in favor of a utilitarian approach that is least inconvenient for the largest number of participants.

It seems to me that one reason that ICANN has yet to formally cancel Cancun — it’s not even on the board’s agenda this week — is that it’s toying with longer-term plan that may mean standard face-to-face ICANN meetings are a long way off indeed.

It’s difficult to believe that it was only June when some ICANN directors thought Hamburg would be sufficiently safe to return to face-to-face meetings this week.

Lockdown bump was worth $600,000 to ICANN, but end of Club Med saves 10x as much

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2020, Domain Policy

The coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and the resulting bump in domain name sales caused ICANN’s revenue to come out $600,000 ahead of expectations, up 4%, the org disclosed last week.

But ICANN saved almost 10 times as much by shifting two of its fiscal year 2020 public meetings to an online-only format, due to travel and gathering restrictions.

The organization’s FY20 revenue was $141 million, up by $5 million on FY19, against a rounded projection of $140 million. ICANN’s financial years end June 30.

ICANN said it is “uncertain if these market trends will continue”.

Back in April, the organization lowered its revenue forecast for FY21 by 8%, or $11 million.

Expenses were down $11.1 million at $126 million, 8% lower that expectations and $4 million lower than the 2019 number.

That was mostly due to a $6.2 million saving from having two public meetings online-only.

ICANN typically spends $2 million per meeting funding over 500 travelers, both ICANN staff and community members, but that was down to almost nothing for the first two meetings of this year.

Pre-pandemic, ICANN expected these meetings, slated for Cancun and Kuala Lumpur, to cost $4.2 million and $3.4 million respectively, but the switch to Zoom brought them in at $1.4 million and $0.4 million.

ICANN would have occurred some pre-meeting travel expenses for the Cancun gathering, which was cancelled at the last minute, as well as cancellation fees on flights and hotels.

The org has previously stated that the switch away from face-to-face meetings could save as much as $8 million this calendar year.

The rest of the savings ICANN chalked down to lower-than-expected personnel costs, with hiring slowing during the pandemic.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the headline above, it’s a reference to a notorious 2009 WSJ article, and outrage about ICANN’s then $12 million travel budget.

Eleven years later, the FY20 travel budget was $15.7 million.

EURid suspends and delays thousands of coronavirus domains

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2020, Domain Registries

Thousands of .eu domains containing words related to the coronavirus pandemic have either been suspended or frozen due to suspicions the registrants may have been up to no good, EURid reported this week.

The company started scanning new and recent registrations for these keywords at the start of April.

It found 3,489 such domains registered in the first quarter, and it suspended 1,709 of them because the registrant failed to verify their identity and confirm that the registration was made in good faith.

From April to the end of September, 4,656 domains triggered the system and were delayed from going live until EURid carried out its checks. Only a quarter of these names have so far passed the checks, EURid said.

While there are many legit sites providing pandemic-related information, the high-profile disease has also attracted many fraudsters.

Portugal reports lockdown boom continued through the summer

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2020, Domain Registries

While the coronavirus pandemic is well past its first peak in western Europe, the lingering effects of government restrictions is a gift that continues to give for at least one ccTLD.

Associação DNS.PT today reported that total registrations of .pt names in August (6,843) were 35% higher than during the same period last year, and that July’s number was 17.28% higher than the year-ago month.

The registry added that the trend seems to be continuing into September.

The company said that registrations were mostly driven by “catering and domestic service companies, gyms and social solidarity projects” getting online for the first time due to pandemic restrictions.

Oddly, the new numbers appear to have been presented today at an in-person, though socially distanced, lecture by DNS.PT and government officials.

No ICANN meetings until 2021

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2020, Domain Policy

Community members itching to be able to suck up to (or berate) ICANN staffers in person rather than over the phone or videoconferencing will have to wait a little longer.

The Org announced today that all face-to-face meetings have been cancelled until the end of the year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

It doesn’t affect any of the big public meetings — the AGM in October was relocated from Hamburg to Zoom a few months ago — but regular business travel and intersessional meetings are hit.

It also means ICANN staffers will continue to work from home until January at the earliest, ICANN said.

The health and safety of our community and staff are always our top concern, and we believe it is not prudent to travel or encourage gatherings until at least the end of 2020. The ongoing and long-term health impact of COVID-19 on our community and staff is a risk that we are not willing to take. In addition, the travel landscape has not yet stabilized, which makes any travel complicated and risky.

Call me a pessimist, but I’d be very surprised if this is the last time the travel ban is extended.

Radix premium renewals approach $1 million

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2020, Domain Sales

New gTLD registry Radix made almost a million bucks in the first half of the year from renewal fees on its premium domains.

That’s one data point that jumps out from Radix’s latest premium sales report, released last night.

The company said that it made $1.96 million at the top line from premiums in the period, up 19% on the second half of 2019.

It added that $996,771 of that was from renewals, up from $903,687 in H2 2019.

Radix is one of the registries that charges a premium fee every year over the lifetime of the registration, a practice controversial among domain investors.

Still, it appears there is demand (or, at least, acceptance) among end users. Radix said it saw a 41% sequential increase in the number of premium sales in H1.

.tech, .online and .store were the biggest sellers, with the vast majority of sold names clustering in the $250 to $2,500 range.

The renewal rate after the first year was 63%, growing to 72% at the second renewal and a very respectable 78% thereafter.

Radix said it saw .store premium sales grow by more than fivefold during the half, which it attributed to the coronavirus pandemic:

While premium registrations and revenue have grown steadily for five quarters since Q2 2019, the 2020 pandemic has led to significant demand in eCommerce and have urged businesses from all verticals to build a strong web presence.

This has led to a surge in the adoption of premium domain names on meaningful extensions that are most suited for these businesses such as .STORE. Premium registrations for .STORE in Q2 2020 was up by 5.5X compared to Q2 2019.

More stats can be found here.

ICANN will spend $51,000 on your broadband

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has set aside up to $51,000 to reimburse community members for their broadband costs during its next public meeting.

Under the newly agreed Pandemic Internet Access Reimbursement Program Pilot, participants in ICANN 69 will get a maximum of $60 each to cover the costs of increased bandwidth or data caps during the month of October.

The pilot is limited to only those who already have their travel funded from the ICANN budget, such as members of important committees and the Fellowship program.

They’ll have to provide receipts from a legit ISP showing how much they paid to participate in the meeting, which will be the third in a row to be carried out via Zoom.

Anyone who wants the reimbursement will have to apply before October 2, and payouts will be made in November.

ICANN will also publish the names of those who receive the payments, as it does with travel reimbursements, which should discourage abuse.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN is saving millions this year by eschewing in-person meetings, and $51,000 really is a drop in that ocean.

ICANN 69 runs from October 17 to October 22. It had originally been scheduled to run in Hamburg.

Verisign measures the industry’s lockdown bump

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2020, Domain Registries

The domain name industry added a net 400,000 extra domain registrations in the second quarter, when compared to the same quarter a year ago.

That’s according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, which is arguably the most comprehensive data on how domain names fared while much of the developed world was subject to coronavirus lockdown.

The second quarter of 2020 ended with 370.1 million regs across all TLDs, up by 3.3 million sequentially and 15.3 million year over year, Verisign said.

That compares to a Q2 2019 increase of 2.9 million domains.

ccTLDs appear — at least at first glance — to have performed particularly strongly, adding a net 2.6 million regs to end June at 160 million. That compared to Q2 2019 net adds of 1.9 million.

Unfortunately, those numbers include the free ccTLD .tk, which never deletes a domain, and that space saw 2.4 million adds in the quarter, dramatically damaging the optics for ccTLDs as a whole.

New gTLDs as a whole fared poorly, losing a net 600,000 names during the period, to end Q2 at 31.6 million.

Most of that dip is attributable to the fast-selling new gTLD .icu, which lost 400,000 domains during the quarter due to the effects of its first junk drop.

Verisign’s own .com was up by at 1.4 million names to 148.7 million at the end of June; .net was flat at 13.4 million.

The company sold 1.1 million more domains in Q2 2020 than it did in Q2 2019.

You can read the Q2 DNIB here (pdf).

ICANN might pay for your lockdown broadband

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is to seriously consider requests that community volunteers should have their broadband costs subsidized out of the ICANN budget.

On Thursday, its board of directors will meet to discuss what it’s calling the “ICANN Pandemic Internet Access Reimbursement Program Pilot”.

No additional information is currently available, but the name of the proposed pilot is pretty descriptive.

The agenda item follows calls from some community members for ICANN to help out with the costs of broadband (and potentially hotel rooms) for those who have incurred out-of-pocket expenses to participate in ICANN’s remote Zoom meetings.

ICANN typically covers the travel and accommodation for certain key policy-making volunteers attending its thrice-yearly public meetings and occasional intersessional face-to-face gatherings.

With coronavirus confining most of these people to their home offices for the last several months, and with all official ICANN meetings going virtual, ICANN could save as much as $8 million this calendar year

Paying the broadband costs of a handful of community members would likely amount to a mere drop in that ocean.

However, while the details of the proposed pilot program are not yet known, one could imagine how galling it would be to many if ICANN opened its piggy-bank to North American lawyers on six-figure salaries, rather than only to volunteers from the broadband-poor developing world.

As a reminder, ICANN’s budget primarily comes from the “tax” registrants pay whenever they register a gTLD domain name.

Still, we shouldn’t prejudge these things. Perhaps the policy will be sensible.

ICANN introduced a similar pilot reimbursement program for community members with childcare needs last year, largely without controversy. Due to the absence of face-to-face meetings this year, this cash-for-kids scheme will run until ICANN 71 in June next year.

No lockdown bump for .eu as domain base shrinks in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2020, Domain Registries

The European Union ccTLD .eu did not see an overall benefit from the pandemic lockdowns that affected many of its member states in the second quarter.

Registry operator EURid this week said that its total domains under management for .eu was 3,606,143 at the end of June, down by 16,907 from 3,623,050 at the end of March.

The company blamed Brexit for the decline, as Brits will no longer be eligible for .eu domains after the political transition period expires at the end of the year and many are therefore being allowed to expire.

This has been EURid’s story for many quarters, with the exception of a discount-related Portuguese aberration in Q1.

The number of regs from the UK dropped by 16.6% year-over-year and 5.1% quarter-over-quarter, to wind up at 135,355.

But .eu did not see the lockdown bump experienced by many other registries and registrars during the quarter either.

New regs in Q2 were at 163,277, compared to 190,011 in Q1 and 164,906 in Q2 2019. It sold fewer domains, even as its peers reported significant increases in sales.

I expect this is fairly easily explained.

Anecdotally, much of the pandemic-related boost the industry has experienced has been due to bricks-and-mortar microbusinesses such as mom-n-pop retailers, bars and restaurants selling online for the first time and needing domain names to make the switch.

These types of registrants, serving a small local area, don’t need a TLD reflecting their membership of a vast trading union, and are probably better served by their national ccTLD or a descriptive generic, so .eu got overlooked.

When it comes to the lockdown bump, it appears .eu was the exception to the rule.