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What time is it? For ICANN, even that can be a controversial question

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2019, Domain Tech

ICANN has found itself involved in a debate about whether Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea should be recognized.

It’s not unusual for ICANN to find itself in geopolitical controversies — see .amazon for the most recent example — but this time, it’s not about domain names.

It’s about time zones.

One of the little-known functions ICANN provides via its IANA division is the hosting of the so-called TZ Database, which keeps track of all international time zones, daylight savings time practices, and so on.

The database is referenced by scores of operating systems, web sites, libraries and software development kits. It’s used by MacOS, many major Unix/Linux distributions, Java and PHP.

IANA took over the database in 2011, after the original administrator, David Olson, was hit with a bogus lawsuit from an astrology company.

It’s currently managed by University of California computer scientist Paul Eggert. He’s not an ICANN employee. He’s responsible for making changes to the database, which IANA hosts.

There are no complex layers of policy-making and bureaucracy, just an ICANN-hosted mailing list. it very much harks back to the pre-ICANN/Jon Postel/Just A Guy model of international database administration.

But because time zones are set by the governments of territories, and the ownership of territories is sometimes in dispute, the TZ Database often finds itself involved in political debates.

The latest of these relates to Crimea.

As you will recall, back in 2014 the Russian Federation annexed Crimea — part of Ukraine and formerly part of the Soviet Union.

The United Nations condemned the move as illegal and still refuses to recognize the region as part of Russia. The de facto capital city of Crimea is now Simferopol.

As part of the takeover, Russia switched its new territories over to Moscow Time (MSK), a time zone three hours ahead of UTC that does not observe daylight savings.

The rest of Ukraine continues to use Eastern European Time, which is UTC+2, and Eastern European Summer Time (UTC+3).

This means that in the winter months, Crimea is an hour out of whack with the rest of Ukraine.

Currently, the TZ Database’s entry for Simferpol contains the country code “RU”, instead of “UA”.

This means that if you go to Crimea and try to configure your Unix-based system to the local time, you’ll see an indication in the interface that you’re in Russia, which understandably pisses off Ukrainians and is not in line with what most governments think.

You can check this out on some time zone web sites. The services at time.is and timeanddate.com both refer to Europe/Simferopol as being in Ukraine, while WorldTimeServer says it’s in Russia.

The TZ Database mailing list has recently received a couple of complaints from Ukrainians, including the head of the local cyber police, about this issue.

Serhii Demediuk, head of the Cyberpolice Department of the National Police of Ukraine, wrote in December:

by referring Crimea with the country code “RU”, your organization actually accepts and supports the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation who’s armed forces annexed this part of Ukraine. Such recognition may be considered as a criminal offense by the Ukrainian criminal law and we will be obliged to start formal criminal proceedings

It’s the longstanding principle of the TZ Database administrators that they’re not taking political positions when they assign country-codes to time zones, they’re just trying to be practical.

If somebody shows up for a business meeting in Crimea in December, they don’t want their clock to be an hour behind their local host’s for the sake of political correctness.

But Eggert nevertheless has proposed a patch that he believes may address Ukrainian concerns. It appears to have Simferopol listed as both RU and UA.

ICANN launches cash-for-kids scheme

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN will hand over cash to help community members cover their childcare commitments, the organization announced yesterday.

If you show up to an ICANN public meeting with an ankle-biter under 12 years of age, ICANN will give you up to $750 to cover the cost of babysitting.

You’ll have to show receipts, and ICANN will not cover stuff like travel, lodging, tourism or other costs that parents would have during the normal course of owning a kid.

Only volunteer community members will qualify, not staffers. The full list of rules can be found here.

While the announcement may seem unusual, it does not come out of the blue. There have been a number of public calls, from a handful of single parents, for ICANN to lay on some kind of on-site childcare services over the last several years.

It isn’t doing that, however. Good grief, imagine the optics if ICANN accidentally killed a kid…

Instead, it will only give parents a list of nearby childcare providers, which it will not formally vet or recommend, and let them make their own minds up.

The program is a pilot, and will run at the next three meetings in Montreal, Cancun and Kuala Lumpur.

After $30 million deal, is a .voice gTLD now inevitable?

Do big second-level domain sales translate into new gTLD success, and does the record-breaking $30 million sale of voice.com this week make a .voice gTLD inevitable?

The answers, I believe, are no and maybe.

Before the 2012 new gTLD application round, one way applicants picked their strings was by combing through the .com zone file to find frequently-occurring words that terminated the second level string.

This is where we get the likes of .site and .online from Radix and much of Donuts’ portfolio.

But applicants also looked at lists of high-priced secondary market sales for inspiration.

This is where we get the likes of .vodka, from MMX.

The latter strategy has seen mixed-to-poor results.

Five of the top domain sales, as compiled by Domain Name Journal, were not eligible for gTLD status are they are too short.

Of the remaining 15 strings, “sex” (which occurs twice), “fund”, “porn”, “toys” and “vodka” were all applied for in 2012 and are currently on sale.

The strings “clothes” and “diamond” do not appear as gTLDs, but Donuts runs both .clothing and .diamonds.

Not delegated in any fashion are “porno” (unless you count it as a derivative of “porn”), “slots”, “tesla”, “whisky” and “california”. A company called IntercontinentalExchange runs .ice as a dot-brand.

As well as .clothing and .diamonds, .fund and .toys are both also Donuts TLDs. None of them are doing spectacularly well.

At the lower end, .diamonds currently has fewer than 3,000 domain under management, but has a relatively high price compared to the the higher-volume TLDs in Donuts’ stable.

At the high-volume end, .fund has just shy of 16,000 names and .clothing has about 12,000.

Judging by their retail prices, and the fact that Donuts benefits from the economies of scale of a 240-strong TLD portfolio, I’m going to guess these domains are profitable, but not hugely so.

If we turn our attention to .vodka, with its roughly 1,500 domains, it seems clear that MMX is barely covering the cost of its annual ICANN fees. Yet vodka.com sold for $3 million.

So will anyone be tempted to apply for .voice in the next gTLD application round? I’d say it’s very possible.

First, “voice” is a nice enough string. It could apply to telephony services, but also to general publishing platforms that give their customers a “voice”. I’d say it could gather up enough registrations to fit profitably into a large portfolio, but would not break any records in terms of volume.

But perhaps the existence of voice.com buyer Block.one as a possible applicant will raise some other applicants out of the woodwork.

Block.one, which uses a new gTLD and an alt-ccTLD (.io) for its primary web sites, is certainly not out-of-touch when it come to alternative domain names.

Could it apply for .voice, and if it does how much would it be willing to spend to pay off rival applicants? It still apparently has billions of dollars from its internet coin offering in the bank.

How much of that would it be prepared to pay for .voice at private auction?

That prospect alone might be enough to stir the interest of some would-be applicants, but it has to be said that it’s by no means certain that the highly gameable application process ICANN deployed in 2012 is going to look the same next time around.

.gay not coming out this year after all

We won’t be seeing .gay on the internet this year.

Top Level Design has postponed the release of its hard-won gTLD until the second quarter of 2020, having recently said it was planning an October 2019 launch.

The company told registrars yesterday that it wants “to move forward on a timeline that will allow us to create greater impact in a more measured manner”.

The October date was meant to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which I said was “absolutely perfect”.

The 2020 date will instead coincide with one of the Pride events, the registry said.

The story is that Top Level Design wants to spend more time building up support from gay community groups, before it comes to market.

But CEO Ray King denied that it’s facing resistance from groups that supported the rival community-based application from dotgay LLC, which lost the chance to run .gay when it was auctioned.

“It’s really just about having enough time to do a thoughtful launch,” King told DI.

The company recently blogged about one of its .gay marketing brainstorming sessions.

India’s largest registrar goes insolvent, gets suspended

India’s largest independent registrar has been found insolvent by a local court, after failing to pay back $28 million in bank loans.

Net 4 India has now also had its right to sell gTLD domains suspended by ICANN as a result.

Judging by legal papers (pdf) buried on Net4’s web site, the insolvency relates to a series of loans the company took out with the State Bank of India between 2002 and 2012.

After the company failed to pay those loans back, in 2014 the debt was acquired from SBI by Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction, which specializes in buying debt cheap then recovering it through the courts.

Edelweiss sued Net4 to get its money back a couple of years ago and, in March this year after what appears to have been a slam-dunk, won its case.

The ruling states that the outstanding debt in 2017 was almost two billion rupees — Rs 1,940,860,284, which works out to just short of $28 million at today’s rates.

Having learned about the insolvency in April, ICANN set about trying to contact Net4’s management to see if the company was coming back into compliance.

ICANN’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement says ICANN can terminate registrars’ contracts if they are in insolvency proceedings for more than 30 days.

After the company failed to show it was compliant, this week its RAA was suspended from June 21 to September 19.

During that period, Net4 will not be able to sell new domain registrations or accept incoming transfers. It will also have to display a notice on its web site to that effect.

If it has not demonstrated compliance by August 28, ICANN may start its termination process.

Net4 is the largest ICANN-accredited registrar based in India, as measured by number of registered gTLD domains (excluding Public Domain Registry, LogicBoxes, and several affiliated dummy accreditations, which are all owned by US-based Endurance International).

It had over 100,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of February — almost all in .com and other legacy gTLDs — but its DUM had been shrinking hard for many months.

At some point, Net4 appears to have been listed on both India’s National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange, but was delisted about a year ago.