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.whoswho survives!

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2019, Domain Registries

The registry running the failing new gTLD .whoswho has managed to avoid having its contract terminated by ICANN.

According to an update on the ICANN web site, Who’s Who Registry came back into compliance with its obligations earlier this week, meaning it can continue operating.

It had been under a cloud of uncertainty since January, when ICANN Compliance sent off a breach notice saying the company was overdue with its $25,000-a-year fees.

Who’s Who originally had until a date in February to pay up, but this deadline has been extended repeatedly over the course of the year.

Registry CEO John McCabe had told ICANN last November that the fee is “onerous” and “the single largest item in .whoswho’s budget”.

ICANN later rejected his request for a fee reduction.

.whoswho, which seeks to replicate the once-popular biography compilation books of the same name, has fewer than 100 real registrations to its name, most of which appear to be defensive, despite being live for five years.

At about $70 a pop, that’s still not nearly enough to cover ICANN fees, never mind other operating costs.

It sold barely a dozen names in the first half of this year.

I thought it was a goner for sure.

But it looks like it’s been saved from the axe for now, so maybe there’s time to turn things around.

Pay up or sell up, ICANN tells failing new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN has responded to a request for it to reduce the $25,000 annual fee it charges gTLD registries.

The answer is no.

That wholly unsurprising reply came in a letter from registry services director Russ Weinstein to John McCabe, CEO of failing new gTLD operator Who’s Who Registry.

McCabe, in November, had asked ICANN to reduce its fees for TLDs, such as its own .whoswho, that have zero levels of abuse. ICANN fees are the “single biggest item” in the company’s budget, he said.

His request coincided with ICANN commencing compliance proceedings against the company for failure to pay these fees

Weinstein wrote, in a letter (pdf) published today:

We sympathize with the financial challenges that some new gTLD registry operators may be facing in the early periods of these new businesses. New gTLD operators face a challenging task of building consumer awareness and this can and may take significant time and effort.

But he goes on to point out that the $25,000-a-year fee was known to all applicants before they applied, and had been subject to numerous rounds of public comment before the Applicant Guidebook was finalized.

Weinstein writes:

The AGB made clear that evaluation phase was to determine whether an applicant had the requisite technical, operation and financial capabilities to operate a registry, and was not a assessment nor an endorsement of a particular business plan.

It’s pretty clear that the .whoswho business plan has failed. It’s sold no more than a handful of non-defensive domains over the four years it has been available.

Weinstein concludes his letter by pointing out that all new gTLD registries are free to terminate their contracts for any reason, and that it’s perfectly permissible under ICANN rules to sell your contract to another registry.

ICANN told Who’s Who earlier this month that it has until February 10 to pay its overdue fees or risk having its contract terminated.

New gTLD fees could be kept artificially high

Kevin Murphy, July 6, 2018, Domain Policy

More windfalls for ICANN? It’s possible that application fees for new gTLDs could be artificially propped up in order to discourage gaming.

In the newly published draft policy recommendations for the next new gTLD round, ICANN volunteers expressed support for keeping fees high “to deter speculation, warehousing of
TLDs, and mitigating against the use of TLDs for abusive or malicious purposes”.

It’s one of the ideas posed in the the Initial Report on the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, published this week.

It recommends that ICANN continues to price its application fees on a revenue-neutral basis, but with one big exception.

The report notes that there’s support for an “application fee floor” — a minimum fee threshold that would not be crossed no matter how cheap application processing actually becomes:

there might be a case where a revenue neutral approach results in a fee that is “too low,” which could result in an excessive amount of applications (e.g., making warehousing, squatting, or otherwise potentially frivolous applications much easier to submit), reduce the sense of responsibility and value in managing a distinct and unique piece of the Internet, and diminish the seriousness of the commitment to owning a TLD.

The subgroup looking at fees was “generally supportive” of the notion of a floor, the report says.

If the fee floor were used, excess funds would have to be pumped into efforts such as “universal acceptance”, the ongoing outreach project that hopes to persuade developers to ensure their software supports all TLDs.

It could also be used to support applications from the poorer regions of the world.

I wonder how much of a deterrent to warehousing an artificially high application fee would be; deep-pocketed Google and Amazon appear to have warehoused dozens of TLDs they applied for in the 2012 round.

The application fee in 2012 was $185,000 per string, priced on a “cost recovery” basis. The idea was that ICANN shouldn’t use the fees to subsidize its regular operations and vice versa.

But with roughly one third of that amount earmarked for unexpected contingencies — basically a legal defense fund — ICANN currently has close to $100 million in unspent fees sitting idle in a dedicated bank account.

The Initial Report also discusses whether application fees should be varied based on application type, as well as posing dozens of other questions for the community on the rules for the next round of new gTLDs.

Comment here.

$44 billion company is latest deadbeat gTLD registry

Indian car-making giant Tata Motors has become the latest new gTLD registry to fail to pay its ICANN fees.

According to a breach notice (pdf), $44 billion-a-year Tata hasn’t paid its $6,250 quarterly registry fee since at least November last year (though probably much earlier).

Listed on the New York Stock Exchange and elsewhere and part of the Indian conglomerate Tata Group, the company runs .tatamotors as a dot-brand gTLD.

The breach notice, dated 10 days ago, also says that the company is in breach of its contract for failing to publish an abuse contact on its nic.tatamotors web site, something it seems to have corrected.

.tatamotors had half a dozen domains under management at the last count and seems to have at least experimented with using the TLD for private purposes.

Tata becomes the second dot-brand registry to get a slap for non-payment this year.

Back in April, the bank Kuwait Finance House, with revenues of $700 million a year, was also told it was late paying its fees.

$55 billion bank not paying its $6,250 ICANN fees

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registries

Kuwait Finance House has become the latest new gTLD registry to get slapped with an ICANN breach notice for not paying its quarterly fees.

The company is a 40-year-old, Sharia-compliant Kuwaiti bank managing assets of $55.52 billion, according to Wikipedia. It has annual revenue in excess of $700 million.

But apparently it has not paid its fixed ICANN dues — $6,250 per quarter — for at least six months, according to ICANN’s breach letter (pdf).

KFH runs .kfh and the Arabic internationalized domain name equivalent .بيتك (.xn--ngbe9e0a) as closed, dot-brand domains.

Neither appears to have any live sites, but both appear to be in their launch ramp-up phase.

ICANN has been nagging the company to pay overdue fees since November, without success, according to its letter.

They’re the third and fourth new gTLD registries to get deadbeat breach notices this month, after .qpon and .fan and .fans.

Another failing new gTLD stopped paying its dues

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2018, Domain Registries

Another new gTLD registry has been slapped with an ICANN breach notice after failing to pay its fees.

California-based dotCOOL, which runs .qpon, seems to be at least six months late in making its $6,250 quarterly payment to ICANN, according to the notice (pdf).

It’s perhaps not surprising. The TLD has been live since mid-2014 and yet has failed to top more than about 650 simultaneous domains under management, at least 100 of which were registry-owned.

Right now, its zone file contains about 470 domains.

It typically sells new domains in the single digits each month, with retail prices in the $15 to $20 range.

With that volume and the inferred registry fee, a full year’s revenue probably wouldn’t cover one quarter of ICANN fees.

The string “qpon” is a pun on “coupon”. The idea was that companies would use the TLD to push discount coupons on their customers.

But they didn’t.

The number of live sites indexed by Google is in the single figures and none of them are using .qpon for its intended purpose.

ICANN’s breach notice also demands the company start publishing a DNSSEC Practice Statement on its registry web site, but that seems like the least of its worries.

As a novel, non-dictionary string, I worry that .qpon may struggle to find a buyer.

Last week, .fan and .fans, both operated by Asiamix Digital, got similar breach notices from ICANN.

Double-charging claims as registries ramp up new gTLD refund demands

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2017, Domain Registries

Registry operators have stepped up demands for ICANN to dip into its $100 million new gTLD cash pile to temporarily lower their “burdensome” accreditation fees.

A new missive from the Registries Stakeholder Group to ICANN this week also introduces a remarkable claim that ICANN may have “double charged” new gTLD applications to the tune of potentially about $6 million.

The RySG wants ICANN to reduce the quarterly fixed fees new gTLD registries must pay by 75% from the current $6,250, for a year, at a cost to ICANN of $16.87 million.

ICANN still has roughly $96 million in leftover money from the $185,000 per-TLD application fees paid in 2012, roughly a third of which had been earmarked for unexpected expenses.

When Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah refused this request in August, he listed some of the previously unexpected items ICANN has had to pay for related to the program, one of which was “implementation of the Trademark Clearinghouse”.

But in last week’s letter (pdf), the RySG points out that each registry was already billed an additional $5,000 fee specifically to set up the TMCH.

Your letter states that registry operators knew about the fee structure from the start and implies that changes of circumstance should be irrelevant. The TMCH charge, however, was not detailed in the applicant guidebook. ICANN added it on its own after all applications were accepted and without community input. Therefore, ICANN is very much in a position to refund registry operators for this overcharge, and we request that ICANN do so. Essentially, you would be refunding the amounts we paid with our own application fees, which should have been used to set up the TMCH in the first place.

These additional fees could have easily topped $6 million, given that there are over 1,200 live new gTLDs.

Was this a case of double-charging, as the RySG says?

My gut feeling is that Atallah probably just forgot about the extra TMCH fee and misspoke in his August letter. The alternative would be a significant accounting balls-up that would need rectifying.

RySG has asked ICANN for a “detailed accounting” of its new gTLD program expenses to date. If produced, that could clear up any confusion.

Group chair Paul Diaz, who signed the letter, has also asked for a meeting with Atallah at the Abu Dhabi public meeting later this month, to discuss the issue.

The letter also accuses ICANN of costing applicants lost revenue by introducing policies such as the ban on two-letter domains, increased trademark protections, and other government-requested restrictions that were introduced after application fees had already been paid.

The tone of the letter is polite, but seems to mask an underlying resentment among registries that ICANN has not been giving them a fair chance to grow their businesses.

UPDATE: This story was updated October 12 to correct the estimate of the total amount of TMCH setup fees collected.

New gTLD registries want a $17 million ICANN rebate

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2017, Domain Registries

Many gTLDs are performing more poorly than expected and their registries want some money back from ICANN to compensate.

The Registries Stakeholder Group this week asked ICANN for a 75% credit on their quarterly fees, which they estimate would cost $16.875 million per year.

The money would come from leftover new gTLD application fee money, currently stashed in an ICANN war chest valued at nearly $100 million.

The RySG, in a letter to ICANN (pdf), also asked for $3 million from the fund to be used to pay for advertising the availability of new gTLDs.

“These measures combined would support ICANN’s mission to promote competition for the public interest and operational interoperability of the internet,” the proposal states.

Currently, all gTLDs on the 2012-round contract have to pay ICANN $25,000 per year, split into quarterly payments, in fixed fees.

Transaction volume over 50,000 transactions per year is taxed at $0.25 per add, renewal or transfer.

The RySG wants the $6,250 quarterly fee reduced by $4,687.50 for a year, with the possibility of the discount being renewed in subsequent years.

In its letter, it cites an example of 900 delegated gTLDs being affected, which would cost $16.875 million per year.

However, that’s only three quarters of the total number of new gTLDs in the root. That currently stands at over 1,200 string, so the actual cost would presumably be closer to £23 million.

Because the new gTLD program, with its $185,000 application fees, was never meant to turn a profit, the RySG thinks it’s fair that the excess money comes back to the companies that originally paid it.

The rationale for the discount is that many new gTLDs (not all, as the RySG is quick to point out) are struggling under poor sales volumes, meaning a 5,000-name TLD, of which there are many, is in effect costing the registry $5 per name per year in fixed ICANN fees.

But that rationale does not of course apply to all new gTLDs. There are currently almost 470 dot-brand gTLDs in the root, which have business models oriented on harder-to-quantify ROI rather than sales volumes and profits.

It’s not clear from the RySG letter whether the discount would apply to all gTLDs or only those with a straightforward old-school profit motive.

.xxx has its ICANN fees slashed and adopts URS

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2017, Domain Registries

ICM Registry is to see its .xxx ICANN registry fees hugely reduced in contractual amendments approved by ICANN last week.

The changes also mean that .xxx will now become subject to the Uniform Rapid Suspension anti-cybersquatting mechanism, despite it being a pre-2012 gTLD.

.xxx becomes the latest pre-2012 gTLD to move to a contract more closely aligned with the standard Registry Agreement from the new gTLD program.

Under the complex new deal, its per-transaction fee could be reduced from $2 to $0.25 by mid-2018.

Its quarterly fixed fee will go up from $2,500 to $6,250.

ICM has also agreed to take on many aspects of the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement, the most controversial of which is the URS.

The domainer group the Internet Commerce Association was fiercely critical of this addition to the contract, as it has been when URS was brought to .jobs, .travel, .cat, .pro and .mobi.

ICA is largely concerned that URS will also be pushed upon Verisign’s .net, which is up for contract renewal this year, and eventually .com.

.xxx to get lower ICANN fees, accept the URS

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2016, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has negotiated lower ICANN transaction fees as part of a broad amendment to its Registry Agreement that also includes new trademark protection measures.

The company’s uniquely high $2 per-transaction fee could be reduced to the industry standard $0.25 by mid-2018.

As part of the renegotiated contract, ICM has also agreed to impose the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy on its registrants.

URS is the faster, cheaper version of UDRP that allows trademark owners to have domain names suspended in more clear-cut cases of cybersquatting.

The $2 fee was demanded by ICANN when ICM first signed its RA in 2011.

At the time, ICANN said the higher fee, which had doubled from a 2010 draft of the contract, was to “account for anticipated risks and compliance activities”.

The organization seemed to have bought into the fears that .xxx would lead to widespread misuse — something that has noticeably failed to materialize — and was expecting higher legal costs as a result.

The companion TLDs .adult, .porn and .sex, all also managed by ICM, only pay $0.25 per transaction.

The overall effects on registrants, ICANN and ICM will likely be relatively trivial.

With .xxx holding at roughly 170,000 domains and a minimal amount of inter-registrar transfer activity, ICM seems to be paying ICANN under $400,000 a year in transaction fees at the moment.

Its registry fee is usually $62, though a substantial number of domains have been sold at lower promotional pricing, so the cost to registrants is not likely to change a great deal.

The reduction to $0.25 would have to be carried out in stages, with the earliest coming this quarter, and be reliant on ICM keeping a clean sheet with regards contract compliance.

Under the deal, ICM has agreed to adopt many of the provisions of the standard Registry Agreement for 2012-round gTLDs.

One of those is the URS, which may cause consternation among domainers fearful that the rights protection mechanism may one day also find its way into the .com registry contract.

ICM has also agreed to implement its existing policies on, for example, child abuse material prevention, into the contract as Public Interest Commitments.

The RA amendment is currently open for public comment at ICANN.