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Another dot-brand bites the dust

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registries

Honeywell International, a $40-billion-a-year US conglomerate, has become the last major company to dump its dot-brand gTLD.

The company informed ICANN in February that it no longer wishes to run .honeywell, and ICANN yesterday published its preliminary decision not to transition the TLD to a new owner.

Honeywell never used .honeywell, which has been in the DNS root since June 2016, beyond the contractually mandated placeholder at nic.honeywell.

It becomes the 46th new gTLD registry to request a termination since 2015. Almost all have been dot-brands.

The company’s request is open for public comment until April 14. To date, there have been no public comments on any voluntary registry termination.

Honeywell is involved in the aerospace, building and consumer goods sectors. It has 130,000 employees and reported revenue of $40.5 billion for 2018.

It’s the first new gTLD termination request of 2019.

The DNS’s former overseer now has its own domain name

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Policy

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which for many years was the instrument of the US government’s oversight of the DNS root zone, has got its first proper domain name.

It’s been operating at ntia.doc.gov forever, but today announced that it’s upgrading to the second-level ntia.gov.

The agency said the switch “will make NTIA’s site consistent with most other Department of Commerce websites”.

Staff there will also get new ntia.gov email addresses, starting from today. Their old addresses will continue to forward.

NTIA was part of the DNS root management triumvirate, along with ICANN/IANA and Verisign, until the IANA transition in 2016.

The agency still has a contractual relationship with Verisign concerning the operation of .com.

UDRP complaints hit new high at WIPO

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Policy

The World Intellectual Property Organization handled 3,447 UDRP cases in 2018, a new high for the 20-year-old anti-cybersquatting policy.

The filings represent an increase of over 12% compared to the 3,074 UDRP cases filed with WIPO in 2017. There were 3,036 cases in 2016

But the number of unique domains complained about decreased over the same period, from 6,370 in 2017 to 5,655 domains in 2018, WIPO said today.

The numbers cover only cases handled by WIPO, which is one of several UDRP providers. They may represent increases or decreases in cybersquatting, or simply WIPO’s market share fluctuating.

The numbers seem to indicate that the new policy of redacting Whois information due to GDPR, which came into effect mid-year, has had little impact on trademark owners’ ability to file UDRP claims.

UPDATE: This post was updated a few hours after publication to remove references to the respective shares of the UDRP caseload of .com compared to new gTLDs. WIPO appears to have published some wonky math, as OnlineDomain noticed.

.vu to relaunch under mystery new registry

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2019, Domain Registries

Vanuatu is to attempt to broaden the appeal of its .vu domain globally by switching to a new shared registry system.

The changes were initiated last week in Kobe, when the ICANN board of directors gave the final stamp of approval on the redelegation of the ccTLD.

.vu is now delegated to country’s Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR), having been managed since 1995 by Telecom Vanuatu Limited (TVL). The government passed a law in 2016 calling for the redelegation.

Under its new management, the market for .vu domains will be opened up at the registrar level. To date, TVL has operated as a sole source for .vu domains. From now on, it will just be one registrar among (presumably) many.

A registry back-end has already been selected, after tenders were received from nine companies, but it’s still in contract talks and TRBR is not ready to name the successful party just yet.

The Vanuatu government wants to encourage local ISPs and web developers to consider signing up as registrars or resellers, but the SRS will also be open to established international players.

Brand protection registrars and TLD completionists will no doubt begin to carry .vu directly as soon as they’re able to plug in to the new system.

But off the top of my head, I’m struggling to think of a strong global sales pitch for the string, other than a phonetic similarity to “view”.

It doesn’t stand for much as an acronym, doesn’t seem to work well in English as a domain hack, and doesn’t seem to mean much in other widely spoken languages (other than French, where it means “seen”, as in “déjà-vu”).

We can only hope the new management doesn’t attempt to market it with some kind of pathetic backronym.

Domains in .vu currently cost $50 (USD) per year when bought from TVL. I have no current data on how many .vu domains are registered.

InternetNZ’s Keith Davidson assisted in the redelegation and is handling comms during the handover.

Vanuatu is a Pacific archipelago nation, previously known as the New Hebrides, that gained independence from the UK and France in 1980. It had roughly 272,000 inhabitants at the last count.

AlpNames could get PAID for abandoning its customers

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2019, Domain Registrars

So it turns out selling domain names for peanuts to spammers isn’t a viable business model. Who’d have thunk?

As you’ll have no doubt already read elsewhere, ICANN has shut down AlpNames, the deep-discounting registrar with an unenviable reputation for attracting abusive registrants.

But there’s a chance that the company might actually get paid for its customer base, under ICANN rules.

ICANN today terminated AlpNames’ contract, effective immediately, having discovered the “discontinuance of its operations”.

It’s a rare case of ICANN going straight to richly deserved termination, skipping over the breach notice phase.

The former registrar’s web site has been down for the best part of a week, resolving to a Cloudflare error message saying the AlpNames web server is missing its SSL certificate.

But it appears its customers may have been experiencing problems accessing their accounts even earlier.

Judging by ICANN’s termination notice, the organization has had just about as much luck contacting AlpNames management as DI, which is to say: none.

CEO Iain Roache appears to have simply stopped paying attention to the company, for reasons unknown, allowing it to simply fade away.

At least three members of senior staff have left the company over the last several months, with former COO Damon Barnard telling DI he was asked to leave as a cost-cutting measure as Roache attempted to relocate the company from Gibraltar to the UK.

I gather that Roache is also currently tied up in litigation related to the failure of his old registry management business, Famous Four Media, which was removed by gTLD portfolio owner Domain Venture Partners last year.

So what happens now to AlpNames customers?

Fortunately, most of them should suffer only minor inconvenience.

ICANN has initiated its De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure, which will see all of AlpNames’ domains forcibly transferred to another registrar.

This often uses the data that registrars are obliged to periodically escrow, but in this case AlpNames uses LogicBoxes as a registrar back-end, so presumably LogicBoxes still has fresh, live data.

AlpNames had 532,941 domain names across all gTLDs on its IANA tag at the last official count, at the end of November. It’s believed to be closer to 700,000 today.

In November, its top two gTLDs were .top and .gdn, which had 280,000 names between them. It had over 19,000 .com names under management

Almost 700,000 names is a big deal, making AlpNames a top 40 registrar, and would make a nice growth spurt for any number of struggling registrars.

The portfolio could be a bit of a poisoned chalice, however, containing as it likely does a great many low-quality and some possibly abusive registrations.

At least one registrar, Epik, has publicly stated its desire to take over these domains, but due to the volume of AlpNames DUM it could be a competitive bidding process between multiple registrars.

Under the ICANN rules (pdf), a “full application process” is generally favored for defunct registrars with over 1,000 domains, when the de-accredited registrar has not named a successor.

The scoring system used to pick a winner has many criteria, but it generally favors larger registrars. They have to show they have the scale to handle the extra technical and customer support load required by the transition, for example.

It also favors registrars with breadth of gTLD coverage. They have to be accredited in all the gTLDs the dead registrar was. AlpNames supported 352 gTLDs and had active domains in 270 of them, according to November’s registry reports.

Language support may be an issue too, in case for example a substantial chunk of AlpNames business came from, say, China.

All applying registrars that score above a certain threshold are considered tied, and the tie-breaker is how much they’re willing to pay for the portfolio.

Unlike gTLD auctions, ICANN does not receive the proceeds of this auction, however. According to the policy (with my emphasis):

This procedure is not intended to create a new form of revenue for ICANN. To the extent payment is received as part of a bulk transfer, ICANN will apply funds against any debt owed by the registrar to ICANN and forward the remaining funds, if any, to the de-accredited registrar.

That’s right, there’s a chance AlpNames might actually get a small windfall, despite essentially abandoning its customers.

Think about it like the government using eminent domain to buy a house it wishes to demolish to make way for a new road. Except the house’s cellar is full of kidnapped children. And it’s on fire.

Of course, this might not happen. ICANN might decide that there’s not enough time to run a full application process without risk to AlpNames’ customers and instead simply award the dead registrar’s portfolio to one of the registrars in its pre-approved pool of gaining registrars.

That choice would be partly based on ICANN judgement and partly on which registrar is next in the round-robin queue of pre-qualified registrars.

Here’s a handy diagram that shows the procedure.

Deaccred