Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

New gTLD prices could be kept artificially high

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN might keep its new gTLD application fees artificially expensive in future in order to deter TLD warehousing.

Under a policy recommendation out from the New gTLDs Subsequent Procedures working group (SubPro) last week, ICANN should impose an “application fee floor” to help keep top-level domains out of the hands of gamers and miscreants.

In the 2012 application round, the $185,000 fee was calculated on a “cost-recovery basis”. That is, ICANN was not supposed to use it as a revenue source for its other activities.

But SubPro wants to amend that policy so that, should the costs of the program ever fall before a yet-to-be-determined minimum threshold, the application fee would be set at this fee floor and ICANN would take in more money from the program than it costs to run.

SubPro wrote:

The Working Group believes that it is appropriate to establish an application fee floor, or minimum application fee that would apply regardless of projected program costs that would need to be recovered through application fees collected. The purpose of an application fee floor is to deter speculation and potential warehousing of TLDs, as well as mitigate against the use of TLDs for abusive or malicious purposes. The Working Group’s support for a fee floor is also based on the recognition that the operation of a domain name registry is akin to the operation of a critical part of the Internet infrastructure.

The working group did not put a figure on what the fee floor should be, instead entrusting ICANN to do the math (and publicly show its working).

But SubPro agreed that ICANN should not use what essentially amounts to a profit to fund its other activities.

The excess cash could only be used for things related to the new gTLD program, such as publicizing the availability of new gTLDs or subsidizing poorer applicants via the Applicant Support Program.

ICANN already accounts for its costs related to the program separately. It took in $361 million in application fees back in 2012 and as of the end of 2019 it had $62 million remaining.

Does that mean fees could come down by as much as 17% in the next application round based on ICANN’s experience? Not necessarily — about a third of the $185,000 fee was allocated to a “risk fund” used to cover unexpected developments such as lawsuits, and that risk profile hasn’t necessarily changed in the last eight years.

Fees could be lowered for other reasons also.

As I blogged earlier today, a new registry service provider pre-evaluation program could reduce the application fee for the vast majority of applicants by eliminating redundancies and shifting the cost of technical evaluations from applicants to RSPs.

The financial evaluation is also being radically simplified, which could reduce the application fee.

In 2012, evaluations were carried out based on the applicant’s modelling of how many domains it expected to sell and how that would cover its expenses, but many applicants were way off base with their projections, rendering the process flawed.

SubPro proposes to do away with this in favor generally of applicants self-certifying that their financial situation meets the challenge. Public companies on the world’s largest 25 exchanges won’t have to prove they’re financially capable of running a gTLD at all.

The working group is also proposing changes to the Applicant Support Program, under which ICANN subsidizes the application fee for needy applicants. It wasn’t used much in 2012, a failure largely attributed to ICANN’s lack of outreach in the Global South.

Under SubPro’s recommendations, ICANN would be required to do a much better job of advertising the program’s existence, and subsidies would extend beyond the application fee to additional services such as consultants and lawyers.

Language from the existing policy restricting the program to a few dozen of the world’s poorest countries (which was, in practice, ignored in 2012 anyway), would also be removed and ICANN would be encouraged to conduct outreach in a broader range of countries.

In terms of costs, dot-brand applicants also get some love from SubPro. These applicants will be spared the requirement to have a so-called Continuing Operations Instrument.

The COI is basically a financial safeguard for registrants, usually a letter of credit from a big bank. In the event that a registry goes out of business, the COI is tapped to pay for three years of operations, enabling registrants to peacefully transition to a different TLD.

Given that the only registrant of a dot-brand gTLD is the registry itself, this protection clearly isn’t needed, so SubPro is making dot-brand applicants exempt.

Overall, it seems very likely that the cost of applying for a new gTLD is going to come down in the next round. Whether it comes down to something in excess of the fee floor or below it is going to depend entirely on ICANN’s models and estimates over the coming couple of years.

No ICANN tax relief for Chinese registrars

ICANN has declined a request from dozens Chinese registrars for a fee waiver due to the impact of coronavirus.

In February, almost 50 China-based accredited registries and registrars said they were suffering financially as a result of the outbreak and asked ICANN for an “immediate fee waiver” to “greatly help stabilize our business in the difficult time”.

ICANN has denied this request. In a letter (pdf), senior director of gTLD accounts and services Russ Weinstein wrote:

While we sympathize with the potential financial impact this unprecedented event may have on contracted parties, we are not prepared to provide a waiver at this time. We are closely monitoring the situation and its impact on the domain industry. We are interested in hearing more from representatives from the contracted parties to better understand the problems both the contracted parties and the registrants are facing and ideas for potential solutions.

As I said back in February, what was then largely a Chinese problem looked likely to quickly become a global problem, which unfortunately seems to be the course we’re on. Just six weeks later, China isn’t even the worst-affected country any more.

Even without fee waivers, ICANN has noted that it expects a “significant” impact on it is 2020-21 budget due to the pandemic.

Chinese registrars ask ICANN to waive fees due to Coronavirus

Almost 50 registries and registrars based in China have asked ICANN to temporarily waive its fees due to the economic impact they say Covid-19 — the new Coronavirus — is having on them.

They’ve all put their names to a February 21 letter (pdf) that ICANN published over the weekend, saying they “believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China”.

The letter, signed by more than half of the currently accredited registrars in China, notes the cancellation of the Cancun public meeting, adding:

We highly respect and welcome ICANN’s approach to keep our community safe. Meanwhile, the contracted parties in China, including their staff, suppliers, and relevant business counterparts, are being hit and suffered by the 2019-nCoV in a much greater scale than in other countries and regions combined since January 2020. Many of the staff members have been restrained to perform sales and support functions at the level they are required to. There are significant delays in collections, payments and wire transfers. While we expect that the scale of 2019-nCoV could not go greater, the business growth estimate in 2020 has been jeopardized and the time of recovery can be very long.

While domestic aid on tax, rentals, etc. are being discussed and confirmed, we believe that it’s essential that ICANN provides immediate fee waiver to registries and registrars in China. The waiver of 2020 fees, including annual fees and transaction fees, will greatly help stabilize our business in the difficult time.

This is not a small ask. ICANN collects fees based on transaction volume, and many millions of transactions originate in China. That’s particularly true in the new gTLD space, where China dominates.

The Chinese companies say that ICANN could afford to waive the fees due to the money they say ICANN will save by cancelling Cancun and other international travel.

My hunch is that ICANN won’t agree to these demands. While China is currently undoubtedly disproportionately affected by Covid-19, that situation is rapidly changing.

In the coming weeks and months it’s quite possible — worst-case scenario — the rest of the world could be similarly affected. Is ICANN prepared to set a precedent that could see it sacrifice its entire annual budget? I doubt it.

All previous requests for ICANN to waive its fees for various other reasons have been denied.

.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.

  • Page 1 of 2
  • 1
  • 2
  • >