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First deadbeat dot-brand ripped from the root

ICANN has terminated a dot-brand gTLD contract for non-payment of fees for the first time.

The unlucky recipient of the termination notice is aigo, a privately held Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer.

ICANN first hit the company with a breach of contract notice in March 2018, noting its non-payment and a litany of other infractions.

The two parties have been in mediation and arbitration ever since, but the arbitrator found aigo was in fact in breach in late May.

ICANN issued its termination notice June 25 and IANA yanked .aigo from the DNS root servers a couple of days later.

While aigo is not the first dot-brand registry to be hit with a non-payment breach notice, it is the first to have it escalated all the way to involuntary termination.

Also recently, .intel and .metlife — run by the chipmaker and insurance company respectively — both decided to voluntarily their dot-brand registry agreements.

The total number of voluntary terminations is now 78.

More dot-brands dump their gTLDs

A further three new gTLDs have applied to ICANN for self-termination over the last few months, bringing the total to 76.

They’re all dot-brands: .sbs, .rightathome and .symantec.

The most recent application came from the Australian broadcaster SBS, for Special Broadcasting Service. This seems to be a case of a brand owner briefly experimenting with redirects to its .au domain, then deciding against it.

.symantec is biting the dust because the security company Symantec recently rebranded as NortonLifeLock Inc.

.rightathome also appears to be a case of a discontinued brand, in this case formerly used by consumer products firm SC Johnson.

CSC removes reference to “retiring” new gTLD domain after retiring new gTLD domain

The corporate registrar and new gTLD management consultant CSC Global has ditched a new gTLD domain in favor of a .com, but edited its announcement after the poor optics became clear.

In a brief blog post this week, the company wrote:

We’re retiring cscdigitalbrand.services to give you a more user-friendly interface at cscdbs.com.

From the trusted provider of choice for Forbes Global 2000 companies, this more user-friendly site is filled with information you need to secure and protect your brand. You’ll experience a brand new look and feel, at-a-glance facts and figures, learn about the latest digital threats, access our trusted resources, and see what our customers are saying.

Visit the site to learn more about our core solutions: domain management, domain security, and brand and fraud protection.

But the current version of the post expunges the first paragraph, referring to the retirement of its .services domain, entirely.

I’m going to guess this happened after OnlineDomain reported the move.

But the original text is still in the blog’s cached RSS feed at Feedly.

CSC blog post

It’s perhaps not surprising that CSC would not want to draw attention to the fact that it’s withdrawn to a .com from a .services, the gTLD managed by Donuts.

After all, CSC manages dozens of new gTLDs for clients including Apple, Yahoo and Home Depot, and releases quarterly reports tracking and encouraging activation of dot-brands.

Interestingly, and I’m veering a little off-topic here, there is a .csc new gTLD but CSC does not own it. It was delegated to a company called Computer Sciences Corporation (ironically through an application managed by CSC rival MarkMonitor) which also owns csc.com.

Computer Sciences Corporation never really got around to using .csc, and in 2017 merged with a unit of HP to form DXC Technology.

If you visit nic.csc today, you’ll be redirected to dxc.technology/nic, which bears a notice that it’s the “registry for the .dxc top-level domain”.

Given that the .dxc top-level domain doesn’t actually exist, I think this might make DXC the first company to openly declare its intent to go after a dot-brand in the next round of new gTLDs.

Four more dot-brands join the gTLD deadpool

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2020, Domain Registries

Four big-brand gTLDs have asked ICANN to terminate their contracts so far this year, bringing the total number of voluntarily discontinued strings to 73.

Notable among the terminations are two of the three remaining gTLDs being held by luxury goods maker Richemont, both of them Chinese-language generics.

It’s dumped .珠宝 (.xn--pbt977c) which is “.jewelry”, and .手表 (.xn--kpu716f) which is “.watches”.

The company, which applied for 14 gTLDs in the 2012 round, has already gotten rid of nine dot-brands. Only the English-language .watches remains of its former portfolio.

Also being terminated is .esurance, named for an American insurance provider owned by Allstate. This appears to be related to Allstate’s plan to discontinue the Esurance brand altogether this year.

There is still one .esurance domain active and listed in Google’s index: homeowners.esurance.

Allstate continues to own .allstate, which has a few active domains (which forward to its primary .com domain).

Finally, French reinsurance giant SCOR wants rid of .scor, which it has not been using.

End of the road for Neustar as GoDaddy U-turns again and buys out its registry biz

GoDaddy has changed its mind about the registry side of the industry yet again, and has acquired the business of Neustar, one of the largest and oldest registries.

The deal will see GoDaddy purchase, for an undisclosed sum, all of Neustar’s registry assets, amounting to 215 TLDs and about 12 million domains.

It means the gTLD .biz is now under the new GoDaddy Registry umbrella, as are the contracts to run the ccTLDs .us, .in, and .co, 130 dot-brand gTLDs and 70 open gTLDs.

Neustar’s registry staff are also being taken on.

“We’re bringing the whole team aboard. One of the things we’re very excited about is bringing the team aboard,” Andrew Low Ah Kee, GoDaddy’s chief operating officer, told DI today.

He added that, due to coronavirus job insecurities wracking many minds right now, GoDaddy has promised its entire workforce that there will be no layoffs in the second quarter.

Nicolai Bezsonoff, currently senior VP of Neustar’s registry business, will run the new unit. He said for him the opportunity for “innovation” was at the heart of the deal.

“We’ve always been one step removed from the customer, so it can be hard to understand what customer wants to do,” he said. “This gives us huge customer insight into what customers want and how they want to use domains.”

Pressed for hypothetical examples of innovation, Bezsonoff floated ideas about selling domains for partial-year periods, or doing more to crack down on DNS abuse.

The deal is an example of “vertical integration”, which has been controversial due to the potential risk of a dominant registry playing favorites with its in-house registrar, or vice versa.

While registries such as Donuts, CentralNic and until recently Uniregistry vertically integrated with little complaint, the industry is currently nervous about Verisign’s newfound ability under its ICANN contract to own and run a registrar.

Because GoDaddy is the Verisign — the runaway market leader — of the registrar side of the industry, one might expect this deal (expected to close this quarter) to get more scrutiny than most.

But the company says it’s going to “strictly adhere to a governance model that maintains independence between the GoDaddy registry and registrar businesses”.

Low Ah Kee said that this means the registry and registrar “won’t share any information that gives or appears to given any unfair advantage” to the GoDaddy registrar, that their business performance will be assessed separately, and that they’ll be audited to make sure they’re not breaking this separation.

If GoDaddy appears to be preemptively expecting criticism, there’s a good reason why: the proposed acquisition of .org manager PIR by private equity group Ethos Capital has caused huge upset in recent months, and there are some parallels here.

First, like .org, pricing restrictions were lifted in Neustar’s .biz under a contract renewal with ICANN last year. It fell under the radar a little as .biz is substantially smaller, not a legacy gTLD as such, and not widely used.

Like the .org deal, the transfer of control of .biz will also be subject to ICANN’s approval before GoDaddy and Neustar can seal the deal.

Could we be looking at another big public fight over a gTLD acquisition?

But unlike Ethos with .org, GoDaddy says it has no intention of raising prices with .biz.

“We will not be raising prices, in fact we will look into reducing prices for some TLDs,” Bezsonoff said.

One TLD where one assumes prices won’t be going down is .co, where Neustar has just had its margins massively slashed by the Colombian government.

The acquisition was announced just days after the Colombian government announced that it has renewed its contract with Neustar to run .co for another five years, but under financial terms hugely more favorable to itself.

Whereas the initial 10-year term saw the government being paid 6% to 7% of the .co take, that number has soared to 81%, making .co — arguably Neustar’s registry crown jewel — a substantially less-attractive TLD to manage.

One assumes that the acquisition price would have fluctuated wildly based on the outcome of the .co renegotiation, but the GoDaddy/Neustar execs I talked to today didn’t want to talk about terms.

GoDaddy’s history with the registry side of the business has been changeable.

As far as ICANN contract is concerned, it is already a registry because it owns the .godaddy dot-brand. But that’s currently unused, with the registry functions outsourced to — cough — Neustar’s arch-rival Afilias.

Given Neustar’s religious devotion to the dot-brand concept, and the weirdness of using one of your primary competitors for a key function, one might expect both of those situations to change.

GoDaddy did also apply for .casa and .home back in 2012, but changed its mind and abandoned both bids fairly early in the process.

The sudden excitement about the registry business today begs the question of why GoDaddy didn’t buy Uniregistry’s registry business at the same time as it bought its secondary market and registrar earlier this year, but apparently it was not for sale.

Following the acquisition, Neustar is keeping its DNS resolution services and GoDaddy will continue to use them, so Neustar is not entirely out of the domain game, but it looks like the end of the road for Neustar as a brand I regularly report on.

The registry started life in 2000 as “NeuLevel”, a joint-venture between Neustar and Aussie registrar Melbourne IT formed to apply to ICANN for new gTLDs. It wanted .web, but got .biz, which now has about 1.7 million names under management, down from a 2014 peak of 2.7 million.

Amazon governments vow revenge for “illegal and unjust” ICANN decision on .amazon

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2020, Domain Policy

The eight nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization are unhappy that ICANN is giving .amazon to Amazon the retailer and have vowed to spread the word that ICANN has acted “illegally”.

ACTO secretary general Alexandra Moreira has written (pdf) to ICANN CEO Göran Marby to say: “We consider this decision an illegal and unjust expropriation of our culture, tradition, history and image before the world.”

She said that ACTO is now “committed to disseminating news of this situation to all relevant groups”, adding:

the international community should be aware of the very real consequences or ramifications (be it economic, environmental, cultural or related to questions of sovereignty) of granting exclusive access to the domain “.Amazon” to a single company.

The delegation of .amazon to Amazon the company, “jeopardizes the continued well-being of the societies that live there”, she wrote, with no elaboration.

Amazon was last month told it could have the gTLD after a years-long battle with ACTO and the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee, which had advised ICANN by consensus to reject the .amazon application.

That consensus broke last year when the US government basically said enough was enough and refused to continue back the eight South American governments’ plight.

Under the terms of Amazon’s contract, it has to protect hundreds of culturally sensitive second-level domains of ACTO’s choosing, and to give each of its members a single domain that they can use to promote their portion of the Amazonian region.

ACTO had wanted more, basically demanding joint ownership of .amazon, which Amazon refused.

It remains to be seen whether ACTO’s reaction will be limited to harsh language, or whether its members will actively try to disrupt ICANN activities. The next GAC-ICANN face-to-face, set for Cancun in March, could be interesting viewing.

Amazon beats South America! Dot-brand contracts now signed

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Amazon has prevailed in its seven-year battle to obtain the right to run .amazon as a branded top-level domain.

The company signed contracts for .amazon and the Chinese and Japanese translations on Thursday, despite years-long protests from the eight South American governments that comprise the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

This means the three gTLDs are likely to be entered into the DNS root system within a matter of weeks, after ICANN has conducted pre-delegation testing to make sure the registry’s technical systems are up to standard. The back-end is being provided by Neustar, so this is pretty much a formality.

.amazon is pretty much a done deal, in other words, and there’s pretty much nothing ACTO can do within the ICANN system to get the contract unsigned.

ACTO was of course angry about .amazon because it thinks the people of the Amazonia region have greater rights to the string than the American e-commerce giant.

It had managed to muster broad support against the gTLD applications from its Governmental Advisory Committee colleagues until the United States, represented on the GAC by the National Telecommunications Administration did a U-turn this November and withdrew its backing for the consensus.

This coincided with Amazon hiring David Redl, the most-recent former head of the NTIA, as a consultant.

The applications were originally rejected by ICANN due to a GAC objection in 2013.

But Amazon invoked ICANN’s Independent Review Process to challenge the decision and won in 2017, with the IRP panel ruling that ICANN had paid too much deference to unjustified GAC demands.

More recently, ACTO had been demanding shared control of .amazon, while Amazon had offered instead to protect cultural interests through a series of Public Interest Commitments in its registry agreements that would be enforceable by governments via the PIC Dispute Resolution Procedure.

This wasn’t enough for ACTO, and the GAC demanded that ICANN facilitate bilateral talks with Amazon to come to a mutually acceptable solution.

But these talks never really got underway, largely due to ACTO internal disputes during the political crisis in Venezuela this year, and eventually ICANN drew a line in the sand and approved the applications.

After rejecting an appeal from Colombia in September, ICANN quietly published Amazon’s proposed PICs (pdf) for public comment.

Only four comments were received during the month-long consultation.

As a personal aside, I’d been assured by ICANN several months ago that there would be a public announcement when the PICs were published, which I even promised you I would blog about.

There was no such announcement, so I feel like a bit of a gullible prick right now. It’s my own stupid fault for taking this on trust and not manually checking the .amazon application periodically for updates — I fucked up, so I apologize.

PICs commenters, including a former GAC vice-chair, also noticed this lack of transparency.

ACTO itself commented:

The proposed PIC does not attend to the Amazon Countries public policy interests and concerns. Besides not being the result of a mutually acceptable solution dully endorsed by our countries, it fails to adequately safeguard the Amazon cultural and natural heritage against the the risks of monopolization of a TLD inextricably associated with a geographic region and its populations.

Its comments were backed up, in pretty much identical language, by the Brazilian government and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Under the Amazon PICs, ACTO and its eight members each get a .amazon domain that they can use for their own web sites.

But these domains must either match the local ccTLD or “the names of indigenous peoples’ groups, and national symbols of the countries in the Amazonia region, and the specific terms OTCA, culture, heritage, forest, river, and rainforest, in English, Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish”.

The ACTO nations also get to permanently block 1,500 domains that have the aforementioned cultural significance to the region.

The ACTO and Brazilian commenters don’t think this goes far enough.

But it’s what they’ve been given, so they’re stuck with it.

Three more dot-brands fizzle out. Total now 69, dudes

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2019, Domain Registries

Three more dot-brand registries have opted to kill off their own gTLDs, bringing the total to date to 69.

The three self-terminating gTLDs, which all informed ICANN of their intentions in October and November, are: .工行 (.xn--estv75g), .nadex and .vistaprint.

The .vistaprint termination is perhaps of note, given that online printing company Vistaprint was one of the bidders in the 2016 auction of .web, due to its application for .webs being ruled confusingly similar.

It wound up paying just a dollar for that gTLD, due to the complexity of the .web contention set, but even that appears to have been a defensive move.

Since then, Vistaprint has also terminated its .vista contract, and my records show that it has been “in contracting” with ICANN for .webs since August 2016. Clearly, it’s in no rush to ever actually use the thing.

Also noteworthy, .工行 becomes only the second internationalized domain name gTLD to self-terminate, after Walmart called it quits on its pre-delegation contract for .一号店.

.工行 was owned by the state-owned Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), which by many measures is the largest bank in the world. It had revenue of over $105 billion last year, so whatever factors drove its decision to dump its dot-brand, cost was not one of them.

Finally, Nadex, an online stock-trading platform, evidently couldn’t find a use for .nadex, so it’s jumped ship too.

Hundreds of dot-brands remain, collectively managing thousands of domains and web sites.

XYZ buys dormant gTLD from “pyramid scheme” operator

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2019, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has bought another unused dot-brand to add to its portfolio.

It’s taken over the contract for .quest from original registry Quest ION Ltd, a subsidiary of a Hong Kong-based multi-level marketing company called QNet, according to ICANN records.

The gTLD will become the 13th that XYZ has a stake in, and the second dormant dot-brand that it’s acquired, after .monster.

.quest has been delegated for a few years, but its owner had no live domains beyond the mandatory NIC site.

I have to say I was unfamiliar with the company until today, but QNet’s Wikipedia page makes it sound sufficiently dodgy that I’m surprised nobody raised questions about its suitability to be a registry during the ICANN application process.

Its multi-level marketing business model has been described as a “pyramid scheme” or “Ponzi scheme” by various governments and has seen QNet hit by serious legal challenges in many countries on at least four continents.

Loads of its executives, including at least one listed on the gTLD application, have been arrested over the years.

But I guess that’s water under the bridge now, because XYZ has taken control of .quest.

There’s no word yet on a launch date.

Rival dot-brand bidders in settlement talks, seek auction delay

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2019, Domain Registries

Two companies called Merck have managed to delay an ICANN auction for the .merck dot-brand top-level domain.

The two companies applied for .merck in 2012 and have spent the last almost eight years conducting a battle for the string using various ICANN conflict and appeals mechanisms.

Earlier this year, ICANN placed the two applications into a “last resort” auction, the proceeds of which would flow into ICANN’s own coffers.

Scheduled for July, it would have been the first time competing brands had fought for the same gTLD at ICANN auction.

But the two Mercks sought and received multiple extensions to the auction date, telling ICANN that they were in private settlement talks, until ICANN seemingly got bored and denied their last extension request.

The auction was set to go ahead in late October, but the two applicants managed to get another delay anyway by filing a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, asking that the refusal to extend be overturned.

While the request is likely to be rejected, the mere fact of its filing means both applications continue to be in “On Hold” status while the request is processed, buying the companies at least a month of extra time to come to their own less-expensive resolution.

The two companies are US-based Merck Registry Holdings, Inc. and its former parent, Germany-based Merck KGaA. The German company is over 350 years old and split from its American subsidiary when it was seized by the US government during World War I. They’re both in the chemicals business.