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Dot-brand early adopter becomes 48th to disappear

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2019, Domain Registries

A Singaporean telecommunications company has become the latest gTLD registry to voluntarily drop its dot-brand.

StarHub, which had 2018 revenue equivalent to $1.73 billion, told ICANN it no longer wished to operate .starhub in February and ICANN opened its request up for a month of public comment last week (a formality).

It’s the 48th of the several hundred original dot-brand applications to change its mind after delegation.

Notably, StarHub was one of the first companies to announce its participation in, and tout the expected benefits of, the new gTLD program.

Back in February 2012, when most applicants were playing their cards close to their chest because the application window was still open, Oliver Chong, assistant vice president of brand and marketing communications at StarHub, said:

We believe the ‘.starhub’ Top-Level Domain will deliver clear marketing and advertising benefits to StarHub, such as improved online brand recall and a more intuitive consumer experience with easy to remember domain names such as ‘mobile.starhub’. We also anticipate potential Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) benefits by operating a more targeted and relevant naming system that is clearly matched with our website content.

Yeah… so, none of that actually happened.

Like all the other dot-brands to self-terminate, StarHub never actually used .starhub, other than the obligatory nic.starhub placeholder.

As an aside that may counterbalance this bad news for the perception of new gTLDs, one of StarHub’s competitors in the Singapore mobile market is called Circles.Life. It uses circles.life as its primary domain and has apparently performed respectably since its launch in 2016.

Imagine that! A mobile phone operator being successful using a new gTLD domain!

Donuts acquires its 242nd gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registrars

Donuts, the registry with the largest stable of new gTLDs, has added its 242nd string to its bow.

The company seems to have acquired .contact from, nominally at least, smaller portfolio rival Top Level Spectrum.

The ICANN contract for the gTLD was transferred to one of Donuts’ subsidiaries a couple weeks ago.

According to TLS CEO Jay Westerdal, while TLS was the signatory of the contract the “economic owner” of the TLD was Whitepages.com, an online directory services provider, which paid for the original uncontested .contact application.

Whitepages.com doesn’t appear in the application, the registry agreement, or the IANA records. I was unaware of the connection until today.

Despite being in the root since December 2015, .contact never actually launched. Donuts has not yet filed its launch dates with ICANN either, but it’s usually fairly speedy about pumping out strings.

Non-profits worth $2.6 billion a year say .org price caps should stay

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registries

Eight large US-based non-profits, several of them household names, have put their names to a letter demanding that Public Interest Registry should not be allowed to increase its .org registry fees beyond 10% a year.

Combined, these eight outfits have revenue of roughly $2.6 billion per year.

PIR’s fees are currently under $10 per domain per year. It has roughly 10.6 million names under management.

The organizations signing the letter are TV network C-SPAN, broadcaster NPR, conservation charity the National Trust for Historic Preservation, retired persons advocate the AARP, environmental groups the National Geographic Society, the Conservation Fund and Oceana, and disco legends YMCA of the USA.

In a joint letter, submitted as part of ICANN’s public comment period on the renewal of PIR’s .org contract, they write:

We agree with the current .org registry operator, the Public Interest Registry, that the .org gTLD “has assumed the reputation as the domain of choice for organisations dedicated to serving the public interest.” We have come to rely on this reputation to help distinguish the online presence of our organizations from the online presence of organizations that are not intended to serve the public interest. As nonprofit organizations, we also have come to rely on the certainty and predictability of reasonable domain name registration expenses when allocating our limited resources.

Sourced from Wikipedia and tax returns, here’s how much revenue these non-profits bring in per year:

  • NPR — $208 million (2016)
  • C-SPAN — $73.2 million (2014)
  • YMCA of the USA — $169.5 million (2017)
  • National Geographic Society — $188 million (2017)
  • AARP — $1.6 billion (2016)
  • The Conservation Fund — $238 million (2017)
  • Oceana — $53 million (2017)
  • National Trust for Historic Preservation — $62.9 million (2017)

Limited resources indeed.

The deadline for comments is midnight UTC tonight, about two hours from the dateline on this post.

Governments demand Whois reopened within a year

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN’s government advisers wants cops, trademark owners and others to get access to private Whois data in under a year from now.

The Governmental Advisory Committee wants to see “considerable and demonstrable progress, if not completion” of the so-called “unified access model” for Whois by ICANN66 in Montreal, a meeting due to kick off November 4 this year.

The demand came in a letter (pdf) last week from GAC chair Manal Ismail to her ICANN board counterpart Cherine Chalaby.

She wrote that the GAC wants “phase 2” of the ongoing Expedited Policy Development Process on Whois not only concluded but also implemented “within 12 months or less” of now.

It’s a more specific version of the generic “hurry up” advice delivered formally in last month’s Kobe GAC communique.

It strikes me as a ludicrously ambitious deadline.

Phase 2 of the EPDP’s work involves deciding what “legitimate interests” should be able to request access to unredacted private Whois data, and how such requests should be handled.

The GAC believes “legitimate interests include civil, administrative and criminal law enforcement, cybersecurity, consumer protection and IP rights protection”.

IP interests including Facebook want to be able to vacuum up as much data as they want more or less on demand, but they face resistance from privacy advocates in the non-commercial sector (which want to make access as restrictive as possible) and to a lesser extent registries and registrars (which want something as cheap and easy as possible to implement and operate that does not open them up to legal liability).

Ismail’s letter suggests that work could be sped up by starting the implementation of stuff the EPDP group agrees to as it agrees to it, rather than waiting for its full workload to be complete.

Given the likelihood that there will be a great many dependencies between the various recommendations the group will come up with, this suggestion also comes across as ambitious.

The EPDP group is currently in a bit of a lull, following the delivery of its phase 1 report to ICANN, which is expected to approve its recommendations next month.

Since the phase 1 work finished in late February, there’s been a change of leadership of the group, and bunch of its volunteer members have been swapped out.

Volunteers have also complained about burnout, and there’s been some pressure for the pace of work — which included four to five hours of teleconferences per week for six months — to be scaled back for the second phase.

The group’s leadership has discussed 12 to 18 months as a “realistic and desirable” timeframe for it to reach its Initial Report stage on the phase 2 work.

For comparison, it published its Initial Report for phase 1 after only six stressful months on the job, and not only have its recommendations not been implemented, they’ve not even been approved by ICANN’s board of directors yet. That’s expected to happen this Friday, at the board’s retreat in Istanbul.

With this previous experience in mind, the chances of the GAC getting a unified Whois access service implemented within a year seem very remote.

These people support scrapping .org price caps

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registries

The first examples of people supporting the scrapping of price caps in .org have emerged.

ICANN’s Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency have both in the last few hours filed comments on the proposed renewal of Public Interest Registry’s .org contract, which includes the controversial removal of the current 10%-a-year price caps.

The BC expresses outright support for the end of caps — the first example I’ve seen of explicit support for the move — while the IPC utterly fails to address it.

A prominent US antitrust lawyer has also weighed in to claim that approving the new provisions would not raise competition concerns.

Both the IPC and BC seem happy to accept the proposed pricing regime, given that PIR’s new contract will also include new rights protection mechanisms, such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension process.

The BC wrote in its comment to ICANN:

Given the BC’s established position that ICANN should not be a price regulator, and considering that .ORG and .INFO are adopting RPMs and other registrant provisions we favor, the BC supports broader implementation of the Base Registry Agreement, including removal of price controls

Seemingly uninterested in price caps whatsoever, the IPC wrote:

The IPC applauds Public Interest Registry and other Registry Operators that choose to implement enhanced rights protection mechanisms for third party trademark owners, and to take on enhanced responsibilities for the Registry Operator to prevent use of registrations for abusive purposes, including but not limited to violations of intellectual property rights.

From outside the ICANN community, Washington DC-based antitrust attorney David Balto, a former Federal Trade Commission official, has submitted a brief analysis in which he finds little to be concerned about from a competition perspective. He writes:

An analysis of the .org gTLD under competition would likely find that it has little market power, and thus would be unable to unreasonably raise prices. Any attempt to do so should result in users defecting to alternative gTLDs.

Users have ample protections in the form of marketplace competition and contract provisions that allow users to be notified of price increases and lock in rates for up to ten years.

These arguments stand in stark contrast to those made by many in the domainer community, such as in Andrew Allemann’s post today.

Balto says that “market power” — a legal test under US competition law — starts to kick in at about 30% market share. But .org only has about 5.5%, he wrote.

The lawyer does not identify a client affiliation in his letter.

With just a few hours left on the clock before public comments close, there have been 3,129 submitted comments, the vast majority coming from domain investors.

Some non-profit groups have also registered their objections.