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ICANN outs two more deadbeat new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2018, Domain Services

ICANN has published breach notices it has sent to two more new gTLD registries, which it says have failed to pay their quarterly accreditation fees.

One is a dot-brand, the other is not.

The brand is the Arabic اتصالات . (.xn--mgbaakc7dvf), managed by Emirati telecommunications powerhouse Etisalat.

With about $14 billion of annual revenue, no domains other than its obligatory NIC site, and an allegedly non-functioning contact phone number, it appears the UAE-based company may simply have forgotten its dot-brand exists.

The other registry allegedly in breach is Desi Networks, the US-based company that targets .desi at people hailing from the Indian subcontinent.

While it’s been on the market for over four years, and has an addressable market of over a billion people, .desi has failed to claw together much more than 3,700 domains under management.

I thought it would have performed better. The ccTLD for India has over two million domains, and the country has a thriving domain market.

With a retail price in the region of $20 per year, it’s easy to see why the .desi may be having trouble scraping together the $6,250 quarterly flat fee ICANN registry contracts demand.

Desi Networks also commits on its web site to donate some portion of its reg fees to worthy causes in the South Asian region, which was probably optimistic with hindsight.

ICANN first sent notices of late payment to both registries in September, but did not receive the requested money.

Both have until the first week of January to pay up, or ICANN will initiate termination proceedings.

No .web until 2021 after Afilias files ICANN appeal

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has taken ICANN to arbitration to prevent .web being delegated to Verisign.

The company, which came second in the $135 million auction that Verisign won in 2016, filed Independent Review Process documents in late November.

The upshot of the filing is that .web, considered by many the best potential competitor for .com — Afilias describes it as “crown jewels of the New gTLD Program” — is very probably not going to hit the market for at least a couple more years.

Afilias says in in its filing that:

ICANN is enabling VeriSign to acquire the .WEB gTLD, the next closest competitor to VeriSign’s monopoly, and in so doing has eviscerated one of the central pillars of the New gTLD Program: to introduce and promote competition in the Internet namespace in order to break VeriSign’s monopoly

Its beef is that Verisign acquired the rights to .web by hiding behind a third-party proxy, Nu Dot Co, the shell corporation linked to the co-founders of .CO Internet that appears to have been set up in 2012 purely to make money by losing new gTLD auctions.

Afilias says NDC broke the rules of the new gTLD program by failing to notify ICANN that it had made an agreement with Verisign to sign over its rights to .web in advance of the auction.

The company says that NDC’s “obligation to immediately assign .WEB to VeriSign fundamentally changed the nature of NDC’s application” and that ICANN and the other .web applicants should have been told.

NDC’s application had stated that .web was going to compete with .com, and Verisign’s acquisition of the contract would make that claim false, Afilias says.

This means ICANN broke its bylaws commitment to apply its policies, “neutrally, objectively, and fairly”, Afilias claims.

Allowing Verisign to acquire its most significant potential competitor also breaks ICANN’s commitment to introduce competition to the gTLD market, the company reckons.

It will be up to a three-person panel of retired judges to decide whether these claims holds water.

The IRP filing was not unexpected. I noted that it seemed likely after a court threw out a Donuts lawsuit against ICANN which attempted to overturn the auction result for pretty much the same reasons.

The judge in that case ruled that new gTLD applicants’ covenant not to sue ICANN was valid, largely because alternatives such as IRP are available.

ICANN has a recent track record of performing poorly under IRP scrutiny, but this case is by no means a slam-dunk for Afilias.

ICANN could argue that the .web case was not unique, for starters.

The .blog contention set was won by an affiliate of WordPress maker Automattic under almost identical circumstances earlier in 2016, with Colombian-linked applicant Primer Nivel paying $19 million at private auction, secretly bankrolled by WordPress.

Nobody complained about that outcome, probably because it was a private auction so all the other .blog applicants got an even split of the winning bid.

Afilias wants the .web IRP panel to declare NDC’s bid invalid and award .web to Afilias at its final bid price.

For those champing at the bit to register .web domains, and there are some, the filing means they’ve likely got another couple years to wait.

I’ve never known an IRP to take under a year to complete, from filing to final declaration. We’re likely looking at something closer to 18 months.

Even after the declaration, we’d be looking at more months for ICANN’s board to figure out how to implement the decision, and more months still for the implementation itself.

Barring further appeals, I’d say it’s very unlikely .web will start being sold until 2021 at the very earliest, assuming the winning registry is actually motivated to bring it to market as quickly as possible.

The IRP is no skin off Verisign’s nose, of course. Its acquisition of .web was, in my opinion, more about restricting competition than expanding its revenue streams, so a delay simply plays into its hands.

ICANN attendance soars but “females” stay away

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2018, Domain Policy

ICANN attendees identifying themselves as female plummeted to 20% of the total at ICANN 63, even as overall attendance rocketed.

According to just-published stats from ICANN, 2,639 people checked in at the Barcelona venue for the late-October meeting.

That compares favorably to the Abu Dhabi meeting a year earlier, which saw 1,929 participants show up, to the last European meeting, Copenhagen in March last year, where there were 2,089 attendees, and to the last European AGM, 2015’s Dublin meeting with its 2,395 people.

Oddly, the number of people self-declaring their femaleness was down hugely. It reliably hovers around the 33% mark usually, but in Barcelona it was down to one in five.

The number of “males” was also down, from 59% in Abu Dhabi to 53% in at 63.

It seems very likely that the gender balance has not substantially changed, but that fewer people are ticking the gender box when they sign up.

The number of participants who chose not to disclose their gender was 27%, up from 10% in Abu Dhabi, 11% at ICANN 61 and 14% at ICANN 62.

There were wide regional differences in gender balance.

There were 1,440 attendees from Europe in Barcelona, more than half the total, and 28% of them did not disclose their gender. That number was just 8% among North Americans and 9% for Africans.

I’m at a loss to explain why the number of undeclareds would see such a sharp increase — did ICANN change how it gathers gender data this time around, or are people, women in particular, becoming more reticent to disclose their gender?

Perhaps Europeans registering on-site, where perhaps the gender option was easier to ignore on the terminals, tilted the balance? I’m speculating.

In other stats, it seems the number of sessions and session-hours is (thankfully) on the decline.

There were 338 session at 63, down from 407 a year ago, and the number of hours was down by 100, from 696 to 596.

The numbers also show a strong bias towards sessions involving the Governmental Advisory Committee when it comes to attendance, but that’s probably due to the GAC being so bloody big compared to other groups.

All this, and more additional statistics than anyone could possibly ever find useful, can be found here.

Amazon countries fighting back against .amazon gTLD

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2018, Domain Policy

When ICANN’s board of directors voted in late October to let Amazon have its controversial .amazon gTLD, it was not entirely clear what governments in the Amazon region of South America thought about it.

Now, it is: they’re pissed.

The governments of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization have cancelled planned peace talks with the retailer and ICANN boss Goran Marby and have filed an appeal against the board’s decision.

It even seems that the negotiations — aimed at obtaining ACTO’s blessing by stuffing the .amazon registry agreement with cultural safeguards and augmenting it with financial sweeteners — may be dead before they even started.

The rapid deterioration of the relationship between ACTO and ICANN plays out in a series of letters between Marby and ACTO secretary general Jacqueline Mendoza, published last week by ICANN.

After the board’s October 25 resolution, which gave .amazon a pardon from its longstanding “Will Not Proceed” death sentence, it took just 10 days for ACTO to file a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, asking the board to rethink its resolution.

In a cover letter to the November 5 request, Mendoza said that ACTO was still happy to have Marby facilitate talks between the governments and Amazon, “to develop a mutually acceptable solution for the delegation” of .amazon.

Amazon is said to have offered concessions such as the protection of culturally sensitive names, along with $5 million worth of free Kindles, in order to get ACTO to back down.

But the governments had yet to see any proposal from Amazon for them to consider, Mendoza wrote a month ago.

At some point Marby then agreed to meet with the ACTO governments — Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela — in Bolivia on November 29.

He froze their reconsideration request pending this meeting, according to his November 20 letter (pdf), which also bulletted out the sequence of events that led to the ICANN resolution.

It seems ICANN has been working rather closely with, and had been hearing encouraging noises from, Brazil’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative, over the last 12 months. Indeed, it seems it was Brazil that said the reconsideration should be put on hold, pending the November 29 meeting.

But on November 22, Mendoza cancelled the summit (pdf), taking a hard line against the unfreezing of the applications.

Four days later, she told Marby and ICANN chair Cherine Chalaby that ICANN should be dealing with ACTO, not its individual members.

She said that a “positive reaction” to the reconsideration request and the request for the board resolution to be “cancelled” are “indispensable pre-requisites for such a meeting to take place”.

The short version: ICANN jumped the gun when it unfroze the .amazon gTLD applications, at least in ACTO’s view.

ACTO didn’t even receive Amazon’s latest proposal until November 23, the day after the talks were cancelled, according to ICANN.

And, judging by the latest missive in this infuriating thread, ICANN may have thrown in the towel already.

Marby informed GAC chair Manal Ismail (pdf) last Wednesday that the “facilitation process” ICANN had resolved to lead “has been unsuccessful” and “has not been able to reach its desired conclusion.”

While he added ICANN remains “open to assist and facilitate this matter, should it be considered useful”, there’s otherwise an air of finality about the choice of language in his letter.

As for the reconsideration request (pdf), it seems to be still active, so there’s a chance for the board to change its mind about .amazon’s status.

It will be interesting to see whether the request will be approved by the board for the sake of political expediency.

Reconsideration requests are almost unfailingly tossed out for failing to reach the threshold of providing the board with information it was not aware of at the time of its contested resolution.

In this case, ACTO claims that the board was wrongly informed that the ACTO members had seen and liked Amazon’s latest proposal, presumably because ICANN had been feeling positive vibes from Brazil.

It’s not impossible that the board might agree this is true, put .amazon back on ice, and try again at the “facilitation” route.

But should it? Part of me wonders why the hell ICANN resources — that is, registrants’ money — should be diverted to pay for ICANN to act as an unpaid lobbyist for one of the world’s wealthiest companies, which can’t seem to actually put a proposal on the table in a timely fashion, or for eight national governments who don’t seem to be even talking to each other on an issue they claim is of the utmost importance.

Exclusive: Tiny island sues to take control of lucrative .nu

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2018, Domain Registries

The tiny Pacific island of Niue has sued the Swedish ccTLD registry to gain control of its own ccTLD, .nu, DI has learned.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Stockholm, claims that the Internet Foundation In Sweden (IIS) acted illegally when it essentially took control of .nu in 2013, paying its American owner millions of dollars a year for the privilege.

Niue wants the whole ccTLD registry transferred to its control at IIS’s expense, along with all the profits IIS has made from .nu since 2013 — many millions of dollars.

It also plans to file a lawsuit in Niue, and to formally request a redelegation from IANA.

While .nu is the code assigned to Niue, it has always been marketed in northern Europe, particularly Sweden, in countries where the string means “now”.

It currently has just shy of 400,000 domains under management, according to IIS’s web site, having seen a 50,000-name slump just a couple weeks ago.

It was expected to be worth a additional roughly $5 million a year for the registry’s top line, according to IIS documents dated 2012, a time when it only had about 240,000 domains.

For comparison, Niue’s entire GDP has been estimated at a mere $10 million, according to the CIA World Factbook. The island has about 1,800 inhabitants and relies heavily on tourism and handouts from New Zealand.

According to documents detailing its 2013 takeover, IIS agreed to pay a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the right to run the ccTLD, with a potential few million more in performance-related bonuses.

The Niue end of the lawsuit is being handled by Par Brumark, a Swedish national living in Denmark, who has been appointed by the Niuean government to act on its behalf on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, where he is currently a vice-chair.

Brumark told DI that IIS acted illegally when it took over .nu from previous registry, Massachusetts-based WorldNames, which had been running the ccTLD without the consent of Niue’s government since 1997.

The deal was characterized by WorldNames in 2013 as a back-end deal, with IIS taking over administrative and technical operations.

But IIS documents from 2012 reveal that it is actually more like a licensing deal, with IIS paying WorldNames the aforementioned minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the rights to manage, and profit from, the TLD.

The crux of the lawsuit appears to be the question of whether .nu can be considered a “Swedish national domain”.

IIS is a “foundation”, which under Swedish law has to stick to the purpose outlined in its founding charter.

That charter says, per IIS’s own translation, that the IIS “must particularly promote the development of the handling of domain names under the top-level domain .se and other national domains pertaining to Sweden.”

Brumark believes that .nu is not a national domain pertaining to Sweden, because it’s Niue’s national ccTLD.

One of his strongest pieces of evidence is that the Swedish telecoms regulator, PTS, refuses to regulate .nu because it’s not Swedish. PTS is expected to be called as a witness.

But documents show that the Stockholm County Administrative Board, which regulates Foundations, gave permission in 2012 for IIS to run “additional top-level domains”.

Via Google Translate, the Board said: “The County Administrative Board finds that the Foundation’s proposed management measures to administer, managing and running additional top-level domains is acceptable.”

Brumark thinks this opinion was only supposed to apply to geographic gTLDs such as .stockholm, and not to ccTLD strings assigned by ISO to other nations.

The Stockholm Board did not mention .nu or make a distinction between ccTLD and gTLDs in its letter to IIS, but the letter was in response to a statement from an IIS lawyer that .nu, with 70% of its registrations in Sweden, could be considered a Swedish national domain under the IIS charter.

Brumark points to public statements made by IIS CEO Danny Aerts to the effect that IIS is limited to Swedish national domains. Here, for example, he says that IIS could not run .wales.

IIS did not respond to my requests for comment by close of business in Sweden today.

Niue claims that if .nu isn’t Swedish, IIS has no rights under its founding charter to run it, and that it should be transferred to a Niuean entity, the Niue Information Technology Committee.

That’s a governmental entity created by an act of the local parliament 18 years ago, when Niue first started its campaign to get control of .nu.

The history of .nu is a controversial one, previously characterized as “colonialism” by some.

The ccTLD was claimed by Boston-based WorldNames founder Bill Semich and an American resident of the island, in 1997. That’s pre-ICANN, when the IANA database was still being managed by Jon Postel.

At the time, governments had basically no say in how their ccTLDs were delegated. It’s not even clear if Niue was aware its TLD had gone live at the time.

The official sponsor of .nu, according to the IANA record, is the IUSN Foundation, which is controlled by WorldNames.

Under ICANN/IANA policy, the consent of the incumbent sponsor is required in order for a redelegation to occur, and WorldNames has been understandably reluctant to give up its cash cow, despite Niue trying to take control for the better part of two decades.

The 2000 act of parliament declared that NITC was the only true sponsor for .nu, but even Niuean law has so far not proved persuasive.

So the lawsuit against IIS is huge twist in the tale.

If Niue were to win, IIS would presumably be obliged to hand over all of its registry and customer data to Niue’s choice of back-end provider.

Both Afilias and Danish registrar One.com have previously expressed an interest in running .nu, providing a share of the revenue to Niue, according to court documents.

Brumark said that a settlement might also be possible, but that it would be very costly to IIS.

Readers might also be interested in my 2011 article about Niue, which was once widely referred to as the “WiFi Nation”.