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GoDaddy wins .tv contract after Verisign blows off 20-year deal

Kevin Murphy, December 14, 2021, Domain Registries

GoDaddy is taking over the contract to run .tv from Verisign, after Verisign didn’t even bother to bid for renewal.

The deal brings to an end a relationship between Verisign and the tiny Pacific island nation of Tuvalu that has lasted 20 years and contributed millions to the country’s economy.

The country’s communications ministry said on its Facebook page that GoDaddy Registry was selected after a “competitive tender process”, but DI understands that Verisign did not participate.

While terms of the new GoDaddy deal have not been disclosed, it seems likely that Tuvalu was looking for a far bigger slice of the pie than the $5 million a year it was getting from Verisign, and for moneybags Verisign, with its .com cash-printing machine, it simply wasn’t worth the hassle.

Tuvalu has around 11,000 inhabitants and gross national income of around $60 million — its .tv money was a big deal for the country, even at the amount Verisign was paying.

With a likely bigger chunk of change coming from GoDaddy, it’s going to have more to invest in what it calls its “digital nation” strategy, which appears to involve investing heavily in blockchain-based technologies to compensate for the fact that it may well disappear beneath the waves over the next few decades.

.tv is a cornerstone of this strategy, the government says.

There’s thought to be at least half a million registered .tv domains, and the bog-standard non-premiums retail for about $50 a year, so it’s been a nice little earner for Verisign over the last two decades.

The company first took on .tv in 2001 when it acquired startup .tv Corp, which had inked the original deal with Tuvalu in 1998, for $45 million. The contract has been renewed a few times since then.

The ccTLD was the first example of a mainstream TLD offering tiered pricing, with premium strings carrying bigger price tags — controversial 20 years ago, almost standard practice today.

There have been reports over the years that the country thought it was getting short-changed by the deal, and the contract was put up for bidding earlier this year.

Despite reports that the tender seemed suspiciously tailored for a Donuts win, it seems GoDaddy has emerged the victor.

One can only assume it’s offered Tuvalu a bigger slice of the pie, which is what it had to do (under its previous incarnation as Neustar) to keep hold of the contract to run Colombia’s .co last year.

Neither Verisign nor GoDaddy has publicly released a statement about the switch. While it’s a lot of money, it’s not strictly material to either company’s already swollen top lines.

.org back-end deal will come up for re-bid, PIR says as it acquires four new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 8, 2021, Domain Registries

The industry’s most lucrative back-end registry services contract will be rebid, Public Interest Registry said today.

The deal, which sees PIR pay Afilias $18.3 million a year to run .org, according to tax records, will see a request for proposals issued in the back half of 2023, according to PIR.

Given that’s two years away, it’s strange timing for the announcement, which came at the bottom of a press release and blog post announcing that the company is acquiring four new gTLDs, three of which belong to Afilias’ new owner, Donuts.

PIR said Donuts is to transfer control of .charity, .foundation and .gives, which will be “reintroduced” to the market. .foundation currently has about 20,000 registered domains; the other two have a few thousand each.

It’s also acquiring the unlaunched gTLD .giving from a company called Giving Ltd.

All four are on-message for PIR’s not-for-profit portfolio, which also includes the barely-used .ngo and .ong for non-governmental organizations.

Those two gTLDs are getting decoupled, allowing registrants to register one without having to buy the other, PIR also said today.

The last time the PIR back-end contract came up for renewal, in 2015, Afilias was also the incumbent but increased competition — it was up against 20 rivals — meant that its slice of .org revenue was cut in half.

Donuts shuts down 14 registrars, but it’s “not related to DropZone”

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2021, Domain Registrars

Donut has let 14 of its shell registrar accreditations expire, but told DI it’s not related to its recently approve drop-catching service, DropZone.

ICANN records show that the companies, with names such as Name118 Inc and Name104 Inc, all basically mini-clones of Name.com, recently had their registrar contracts terminated.

This kind of thing happens fairly regularly with companies resizing the networks they use for catching dropping domains. Donuts still has at least half a dozen active accreditations, records show.

But the move comes just weeks after ICANN approved a controversial new Donuts service called DropZone, which would see dropping domains across Donuts’ portfolio of 250+ gTLDs being handled by a dedicated parallel registry.

DropZone would reduce the need for owning vast numbers of shell accreditations in order to effectively drop-catch, but has faced criticism from rival DropCatch because a) Donuts may charge registrars for access and b) claims that Donuts-owned registrars would have an advantage.

But Donuts says the two things are unrelated. Name.com senior product marketing manager Ethan Conley said in an email:

We did recently let 14 ICANN registrar accreditations expire. These accreditations had become an administrative headache and a point of confusion for customers. This decision was not related to DropZone, and the domain drop business has not been a core focus of Name.com for quite some time.

It’s worth noting that cancelling registrar accreditations would also have an affect on the ability to catch names in other, unaffiliated gTLDs, including .com.

Donuts’ DropZone approved despite competition fears

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2021, Domain Registries

ICANN has approved Donuts’ proposed drop-catching service, DropZone, despite concerns it could add cost to the dropping domains market.

The Org and Donuts subsidiaries representing over 200 gTLDs signed amendments September 29 that incorporate DropZone into their Registry Agreements, according to ICANN records.

The full new text in the amendments, which does a pretty good job of describing the service, is:

Dropzone Service

Registry Operator may offer the Dropzone service, which is a Registry Service that will manage the release of domain names that have reached the end of their life cycle.

The Dropzone is a separate system, parallel to the main EPP system, that will manage on a daily basis the release of domain names that have been purged for a short period of time, called the Dropzone. Any TLD-accredited registrars may use the Dropzone to register a recently-purged domain name.

On a daily basis, at the end of the Dropzone period, the Registry will execute an awarding process, which will select, per domain name, the first domain creation request submitted (first come, first serve).

What the amendment doesn’t mention are fees. The original Donuts Registry Service Evaluation Request stated in August:

In addition to the standard or premium registration prices of a given domain name, The Dropzone service can support additional application fees to be configured on a per TLD basis. Applications fees where applicable will be charged in addition to the standard registration price of a domain name.

This caused concern at TurnCommerce, the company that runs the DropCatch.com network of registrars, which told ICANN last month that DropZone was anti-competitive and could raise the price of dropping domains.

But ICANN responded that DropZone passed its competition sniff test, and would not be referred to government authorities.

Donuts has not yet publicly announced plans to launch DropZone.

A virtually identical service, that did not mention added fees in its RSEP, was previous approved for Afilias, the registry operator Donuts acquired at the start of the year.

Donuts’ drop-catching service not anti-competitive, ICANN says

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts’ proposed DropZone service, which could see the registry start charging drop-catchers additional fees, is not anti-competitive, according to ICANN.

The service “does not raise any competition concerns”, ICANN VP Russ Weinstein said in a letter to registrar TurnCommerce, the company behind DropCatch.com.

He was responding to TurnCommerce’s concern that DropZone would allow Donuts to charge unlimited extra fees to register expiring names, while giving an advantage to its in-house registrars.

But Weinstein wrote (pdf):

The information received in the Dropzone RSEP request was thoroughly evaluated pursuant to our process, which included consideration of the matters raised in your letter. ICANN org determined that the Dropzone service as submitted by Donuts Inc. on behalf of [Donuts subsidiaries] Binky Moon, LLC and Dog Beach, LLC does not raise any competition concerns requiring ICANN org to refer either RSEP to a relevant competition authority.

DropZone would see Donuts handle its dropping names on a parallel registry system that registrars would have to obtain separate access to. Its Registry Service Evaluation Process request raises the prospect of new fees for such access.

DropCatch raises antitrust concerns about Donuts’ Dropzone proposal

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2021, Domain Registrars

TurnCommerce, the company behind DropCatch.com and hundreds of accredited domain name registrars, reckons Donuts’ proposed Dropzone service would be anticompetitive.

Company co-founder Jeff Reberry has written to ICANN to complain that Dropzone would introduce new fees to the dropping domains market, raising the costs involved in the aftermarket.

He also writes that Donuts’ ownership of Name.com, a registrar that DropCatch competes with in the drop market, would have an “unfair competitive advantage” if Dropzone is allowed to go ahead:

Donuts is effectively asking every entity in the ICANN ecosystem to bear the costs of introducing a new service with no benefit outside of a financial benefit to itself, while forcing all registrars to spend more money and resources to register available domain names.

Donuts is proposing Dropzone across its whole portfolio of 200+ gTLDs. It’s a parallel registry infrastructure that would exist just to handle dropping domains in more orderly fashion.

Today, companies such as TurnCommerce own huge collections of shell registrars that are used to ping registries with EPP Create commands around the time valuable domains are going to delete.

Under Dropzone, they’d instead submit create requests with the Dropzone service, and Donuts would give out the rights to register the domains in question on a first-come, first-served basis.

While ICANN had approved a similar request from Afilias before it was acquired by Donuts, the Dropzone proposed by Donuts has one major difference — it proposes a new fee for accessing the system.

No details about this fee have been revealed, which has TurnCommerce nervous.

Donuts is asking for Dropzone via the Registry Services Evaluation Process and ICANN has not yet approved it.

Reberry says ICANN should consult with the relevant governmental competition authorities before it approves the proposal.

You can read Reberry’s letter here (pdf) and our original article about Dropzone here.

Dropping domains might get more expensive at Donuts

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts is planning to change the way its registry handles dropping domains and may charge additional fees for access.

According to a service request filed with ICANN, Donuts wants to migrate its hundreds of gTLDs to the “Dropzone” system originally deployed by Afilias, which the company acquired at the end of 2020.

Instead of domains separately dropping according to their expiry time, Dropzone sees them pooled together into daily batches for a more orderly release.

Registrars are still awarded dropping domains on a first-come, first-served basis, according to when they submit their EPP create requests to the Dropzone environment, according to Donuts.

Donuts reckons this system will allow it to better manage traffic load on its registry. Presumably, registrars won’t need to send so many creates, as the drop time is synchronized for all deleting domains.

It also thinks the process will help level the playing field for registrars trying to register expired domains.

But the ICANN request (pdf) also suggests that, unlike Afilias, it might add additional fees for registrars to access Dropzone:

In addition to the standard or premium registration prices of a given domain name, The Dropzone service can support additional application fees to be configured on a per TLD basis. Applications fees where applicable will be charged in addition to the standard registration price of a domain name.

Such charges would presumably be passed on to registrants.

Afilias’ original request for Dropzone approval stated that the fee to catch a drop would be the same as a standard registration fee.

Registrars will have to reconfigure their systems to use Dropzone, which exists on a separate host.

Afilias’ 21 gTLDs have been using Dropzone since ICANN approved the service last year.

“Crimes against humanity” claims against Afilias

Kevin Murphy, August 4, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts subsidiary Afilias has been accused of participating in “crimes against humanity” and imperialist “apartheid”, due to its management of the contested .io ccTLD.

A London-based lawyer has filed a complaint with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, seeking either the redelegation of .io or a big chunk of its profits.

The complaint was filed on behalf of Crypto Currency Resolution Trust (CCRT), representing people allegedly ripped off by cryptocurrency scams on .io domains, and the Chagos Refugees Group UK (CRG UK).

The latter group represents some of the people forcibly deported from the Chagos Islands in the 1970s, when the British government evicted the entire native population to make way for a US military base on Diego Garcia, the largest island.

The islands were renamed the British Indian Ocean Territory and, in the early days of the DNS, became eligible for the ccTLD .io

The TLD was delegated by IANA to Paul Kane’s London-based outfit Internet Computer Bureau in 1997, in the pre-ICANN days when such decisions were made without very much oversight.

ICB was quietly bought by Afilias for $70 million in 2017, as I broke the following year.

In 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK’s continued administration of BIOT is unlawful, and that the territory should be returned to the Chagossians, but the current Conservative UK government has shown no indication that it plans to abide by that ruling.

The lawyer for the Chagossians, Jonathan Levy, now claims in his OECD complaint that for Afilias to continue to run .io — which he reckons brings in over €10 million a year — amounts to a human rights abuse in violation of OECD guidelines.

The complaint states:

The British military occupation of the Chagos Archipelago has been severe and resulted in the Chagossians wandering the globe as a displaced people deported from their homeland in a forcible exile reminiscent of British tactics also used on Irish home rule advocates in the 19th Century. It is just simply an outrage that an Irish multinational company is deliberately complicit in crimes against humanity and apartheid on behalf of one of last vestiges of British imperialism and apartheid.

While Levy recognizes on his blog that Afilias has been acquired by US-based Donuts, only Afilias and its subsidiaries in the UK and Ireland are named as respondents.

In a second prong of the attack, Levy claims that Afilias is somehow complicit in cryptocurrency frauds carried out using .io domains.

Blaming a registry for the actions of its registrants is pretty tenuous. Imagine if Verisign got blamed for every nefarious action carried out with a .com domain — there would not be enough lawyers in the world to handle that workload.

But Levy reckons .io is a special case because BIOT lacks law enforcement and because Afilias promotes .io as the best TLD for tech companies “knowing full well” it is often used for crypto fraud. The complaint reads:

Complaina[n]ts submit that while other general purpose domains like GLTD .com may have as much or even more crypto fraud, ccTLD .io is an exception because it represents a political entity with no permanent population and no companies law and no law enforcement. Consequently, unlike ccTLD .com or .net where US authorities may seize websites; .io criminals have little to fear as BIOT has no civil police force nor financial intelligence unit. ICB has promoted ccTLD .io to the tech community knowing full well it will be misused by a significant criminal element specializing in crypto assets.

This still feels pretty tenuous to me. You cannot evade the long arm of the law simply by registering on offshore domain.

Still, Levy’s asking for restitution in the form of a percentage of the ICB acquisition price, ongoing and backdated royalties from the sale of .io domains and, failing that, redelegation of the ccTLD to the Chagossian people.

While I think the notion of Donuts/Afilias actively abusing human rights is pretty weak, there’s no denying it’s the beneficiary of an historical wrong. Imagine how many credibility points it could earn by voluntarily negotiating a profit-share with the displaced Chagossians.

ICANN waves off EFF concerns about the Ethos-Donuts deal

ICANN has dismissed concerns from the Electronic Frontier Foundation about the recent acquisition of Donuts by Ethos Capital.

Responding to a letter from EFF senior attorney Mitch Stoltz, ICANN chair Maarten Botterman said the deal had been thoroughly reviewed according to the necessary technical and financial stability standards.

In reviewing this transaction, the ICANN org team completed a thorough review and analysis of information provided by Ethos Capital and Donuts. Based on the review, the ICANN org team concluded that Donuts, as controlled by its proposed new owners would still meet or exceed the ICANN-adopted specifications or policies on registry operator criteria in effect, including with respect to financial resources, operational and technical capabilities, and overall compliance with ICANN’s contracts and Consensus Policies. Before its final decision on the matter, ICANN org provided multiple briefings to the Board. Following its final briefing and discussion with the Board, ICANN org approved the change of control in late March 2021.

The EFF had claimed that the anti-abuse parts of Donuts various registry agreements amounted to giving Donuts the right to “censor” domains, and it took issue with the Domain Protected Marks List domain blocking service.

Botterman noted that these predate the Ethos acquisition and were not reviewed.

Prior to the deal, which closed in March, Donuts was owned by another PE firm, Abry Partners. ICANN CEO Göran Marby had previously expressed puzzlement that the acquisition to lead to such concerns.

Afilias hints at more legal action over .web

As Verisign does everything but declare outright victory in last week’s Independent Review Process result, .web rival Afilias is now strongly hinting that its lawyers are not quite ready to retire.

John Kane, VP of Afilias (now Altanovo) said in a statement that Afilias is prepared to “take all actions necessary to protect our rights in this matter”.

This matter is of course the contested 2015 auction for the new gTLD .web, which was won by Nu Dot Co with $135 million of Verisign’s money.

Afilias thinks the winning bid should be voided because Verisign’s involvement had been kept a secret. The IRP panel stopped short of doing that, instead forcing ICANN’s board of directors to make a decision.

The earliest they’re likely to do this is at ICANN 71 later this month.

But with one IRP down, Afilias is now reminding ICANN that the board’s ultimate decision will also be “subject to review by an IRP Panel.”

So if ICANN decides to award .web to Verisign, Afilias could challenge it with another IRP, adding another two years to the go-live runway and another couple million dollars to the lawyers’ petty cash jar.

None of which should overly bother Verisign, of course, if one subscribes to the notion that its interest in .web is not in owning it but rather in preventing its competitors from owning it and aggressively marketing it against .com.

But Verisign also put out a statement reviewing the IRP panel’s decision last week, reiterating that it believes Afilias should be banned from the .web contest and banned from making any further complaints about Verisign’s bid.

While Afilias spent its press release focusing on trashing ICANN, Verisign instead focused its blog post on trashing Afilias.

According to Verisign, Afilias is no longer competent to run a registry (having sold those assets to Donuts) and is just looking for a payday by losing a private auction.

“Afilias no longer operates a registry business, and has neither the platform, organization, nor necessary consents from ICANN, to support one,” Verisign claims.

Afilias could of course outsource its would-be .web registry, as is fairly standard industry practice, either to Donuts or any other back-end operator.