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GoDaddy, PorkBun and Endurance win domain “blocking” court fight

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2020, Domain Policy

Three large registrar groups last week emerged mostly victorious from a court battle in which a $5.4 billion-a-year consumer goods giant sought to get domains being used in huge scam operations permanently blocked.

Hindustan Unilever, known as HUL, named Endurance, GoDaddy and PorkBun in a lawsuit against unknown scammers who were using cybersquatted domains to rip off Indians who thought they were signing up to become official distributors.

The .in ccTLD registry, NIXI, was also named in the suit. All of the domains in question were .in names.

Among other things, HUL wanted the registrars to “suspend and ensure the continued suspension of and block access to” the fraudulent domains in question, but the judge had a problem with this.

He’d had the domain name lifecycle explained to him and he decided in a June 12 order (pdf) that it was not technically possible for a registrar to permanently suspend a domain, taking into account that the registration will one day expire.

He also defined “block access to” rather narrowly to mean the way ISPs block access to sites at the network level, once again letting the registrar off the hook.

Judge GS Patel of the Bombay High Court wrote:

Any domain name Registrar can always suspend a domain that is registered. But the entire process of registration itself is entirely automated and machine-driven. No domain name registrar can put any domain names on a black list or a block list.

Where he seems to have messed up is by ignoring the role of the registry, where it’s perfectly possible for a domain name to be permanently blocked.

NIXI may not have its hands directly on the technology, but .in’s EPP registry is run by back-end Neustar (now owned by GoDaddy but not directly named in the suit), which like all gTLD registries already has many thousands of names permanently reserved under ICANN’s direction.

Patel also seems to assume that NIXI doesn’t get paid for the domain names its registrar sells. He wrote:

The relief against Defendants Nos. 14 and 15, the dot-IN registry and NIEI [NIXI] at least to the extent of asking that they be ordered to de-register or block access is misdirected. Neither of these is a registrar. Neither of these receives registration consideration. Neither of these registers any domain name. The reliefs against them cannot therefore be granted.

NIXI actually charges INR 350 ($4.60) per second-level .in name per year, of which a reported $0.70 goes to Neustar.

The judge also ruled that the registrars have to hand over contact information for each of the cybersquatters.

He also ordered several banks, apparently used by the scammers, to hand over information in the hope of bringing the culprits to justice.

End of the road for Neustar as GoDaddy U-turns again and buys out its registry biz

GoDaddy has changed its mind about the registry side of the industry yet again, and has acquired the business of Neustar, one of the largest and oldest registries.

The deal will see GoDaddy purchase, for an undisclosed sum, all of Neustar’s registry assets, amounting to 215 TLDs and about 12 million domains.

It means the gTLD .biz is now under the new GoDaddy Registry umbrella, as are the contracts to run the ccTLDs .us, .in, and .co, 130 dot-brand gTLDs and 70 open gTLDs.

Neustar’s registry staff are also being taken on.

“We’re bringing the whole team aboard. One of the things we’re very excited about is bringing the team aboard,” Andrew Low Ah Kee, GoDaddy’s chief operating officer, told DI today.

He added that, due to coronavirus job insecurities wracking many minds right now, GoDaddy has promised its entire workforce that there will be no layoffs in the second quarter.

Nicolai Bezsonoff, currently senior VP of Neustar’s registry business, will run the new unit. He said for him the opportunity for “innovation” was at the heart of the deal.

“We’ve always been one step removed from the customer, so it can be hard to understand what customer wants to do,” he said. “This gives us huge customer insight into what customers want and how they want to use domains.”

Pressed for hypothetical examples of innovation, Bezsonoff floated ideas about selling domains for partial-year periods, or doing more to crack down on DNS abuse.

The deal is an example of “vertical integration”, which has been controversial due to the potential risk of a dominant registry playing favorites with its in-house registrar, or vice versa.

While registries such as Donuts, CentralNic and until recently Uniregistry vertically integrated with little complaint, the industry is currently nervous about Verisign’s newfound ability under its ICANN contract to own and run a registrar.

Because GoDaddy is the Verisign — the runaway market leader — of the registrar side of the industry, one might expect this deal (expected to close this quarter) to get more scrutiny than most.

But the company says it’s going to “strictly adhere to a governance model that maintains independence between the GoDaddy registry and registrar businesses”.

Low Ah Kee said that this means the registry and registrar “won’t share any information that gives or appears to given any unfair advantage” to the GoDaddy registrar, that their business performance will be assessed separately, and that they’ll be audited to make sure they’re not breaking this separation.

If GoDaddy appears to be preemptively expecting criticism, there’s a good reason why: the proposed acquisition of .org manager PIR by private equity group Ethos Capital has caused huge upset in recent months, and there are some parallels here.

First, like .org, pricing restrictions were lifted in Neustar’s .biz under a contract renewal with ICANN last year. It fell under the radar a little as .biz is substantially smaller, not a legacy gTLD as such, and not widely used.

Like the .org deal, the transfer of control of .biz will also be subject to ICANN’s approval before GoDaddy and Neustar can seal the deal.

Could we be looking at another big public fight over a gTLD acquisition?

But unlike Ethos with .org, GoDaddy says it has no intention of raising prices with .biz.

“We will not be raising prices, in fact we will look into reducing prices for some TLDs,” Bezsonoff said.

One TLD where one assumes prices won’t be going down is .co, where Neustar has just had its margins massively slashed by the Colombian government.

The acquisition was announced just days after the Colombian government announced that it has renewed its contract with Neustar to run .co for another five years, but under financial terms hugely more favorable to itself.

Whereas the initial 10-year term saw the government being paid 6% to 7% of the .co take, that number has soared to 81%, making .co — arguably Neustar’s registry crown jewel — a substantially less-attractive TLD to manage.

One assumes that the acquisition price would have fluctuated wildly based on the outcome of the .co renegotiation, but the GoDaddy/Neustar execs I talked to today didn’t want to talk about terms.

GoDaddy’s history with the registry side of the business has been changeable.

As far as ICANN contract is concerned, it is already a registry because it owns the .godaddy dot-brand. But that’s currently unused, with the registry functions outsourced to — cough — Neustar’s arch-rival Afilias.

Given Neustar’s religious devotion to the dot-brand concept, and the weirdness of using one of your primary competitors for a key function, one might expect both of those situations to change.

GoDaddy did also apply for .casa and .home back in 2012, but changed its mind and abandoned both bids fairly early in the process.

The sudden excitement about the registry business today begs the question of why GoDaddy didn’t buy Uniregistry’s registry business at the same time as it bought its secondary market and registrar earlier this year, but apparently it was not for sale.

Following the acquisition, Neustar is keeping its DNS resolution services and GoDaddy will continue to use them, so Neustar is not entirely out of the domain game, but it looks like the end of the road for Neustar as a brand I regularly report on.

The registry started life in 2000 as “NeuLevel”, a joint-venture between Neustar and Aussie registrar Melbourne IT formed to apply to ICANN for new gTLDs. It wanted .web, but got .biz, which now has about 1.7 million names under management, down from a 2014 peak of 2.7 million.

Neustar completes .in migration

The transfer of India’s suite of ccTLDs from Afilias to Neustar is done.

NIXI, the .in registry, announced today: “The transition of .IN to its new Neustar-backed Registry platform is now complete.”

With 2.2 million names, not counting names in NIXI’s plethora of localized transliterations, .in is the third-largest TLD migration, behind the 3.1 million .au names that made the reverse journey from Neustar to Afilias last year and the 2.7 million .org names that went from Verisign to Afilias in 2003.

The .in migration started yesterday. NIXI had expected up to 48 hours downtime at the registry EPP level, with obviously no DNS downtime.

The name servers for .in and its IDN equivalents currently all simultaneously include Afilias-owned and Neustar-owned servers.

An Afilias lawsuit against the Indian government, which claimed Neustar lacked experience with Indian scripts and attempted to block the transition, appears to have been dropped last week.

Neustar is reportedly charging NIXI $0.70 per transaction, $0.40 less than Afilias had bid to renew its contract. It won the contract after an open bidding process last August.

Despite Afilias lawsuit, Neustar names date for Indian takeaway

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has named the date for the transition of the .in registry away from incumbent Afilias..

It’s due to happen February 28, according to a new web site the company has set up to publicize the handover.

The registry will be down for up to 48 hours, starting from 1830 UTC, February 17, as a result.

There will be no new adds, and registrants won’t be able to update their domains, during the downtime. DNS will not be affected, so domains should still resolve.

Neustar won the back-end contract from .in manager NIXI last year, out from under Afilias, after reportedly undercutting Afilias’ $1.10 per-domain-per-year bid with a $0.70 bid of its own.

Given the 2.2 million domains in .in, that makes the contract worth about $7.7 million over its five-year duration.

The transition appears to be going ahead despite a lawsuit filed by Afilias against the Indian government last August, which sought to block the deal.

According to Neustar, the contract was awarded, regardless, last September.

But the lawsuit seems to be still active, judging by the latest filings published on the Delhi High Court web site, which show no judgement has yet been filed.

Afilias sues India to block $12 million Neustar back-end deal

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has sued the Indian government to prevent it awarding the .in ccTLD back-end registry contract to fierce rival Neustar.

The news emerged in local reports over the weekend and appears to be corroborated by published court documents.

According to Moneycontrol, the National Internet Exchange of India plans to award the technical service provider contract to Neustar, after over a decade under Afilias, but Afilias wants the deal blocked.

The contract would also include some 15 current internationalized domain name ccTLDs, with another seven on the way, in addition to .in.

That’s something Afilias reckons Neustar is not technically capable of, according to reports.

Afilias’ lawsuit reportedly alleges that Neustar “has no experience or technical capability to manage and support IDNs in Indian languages and scripts and neither does it claim to have prior experience in Indian languages”.

Neustar runs plenty of IDN TLDs for its dot-brand customers, but none of them appear to be in Indian scripts.

NIXI’s February request for proposals (pdf) contains the requirement: “Support of IDN TLDs in all twenty two scheduled Indian languages and Indian scripts”.

I suppose it’s debatable what this means. Actual, hands-on, operational experience running Indian-script TLDs at scale would be a hell of a requirement to put in an RFP, essentially locking Afilias into the contract for years to come.

Only Verisign and Public Interest Registry currently run delegated gTLDs that use officially recognized Indian scripts, according to my database. And those TLDs — such as Verisign’s .कॉम (the Devanagari .com) — are basically unused.

Neither Neustar nor Afilias have responded to DI’s requests for comment today.

.in has over 2.2 million domains under management, according to NIXI.

Neustar’s Indian subsidiary undercut its rival with a $0.70 per-domain-year offer, $0.40 cheaper than Afilias’ $1.10, according to Moneycontrol.

That would make the deal worth north of $12 million over five years for Afilias and over $7.7 million for Neustar.

One can’t help but be reminded of the two companies’ battle over Australia’s .au, which Afilias sneaked out from under long-time incumbent Neustar late last year.

That handover, the largest in DNS history, was completed relatively smoothly a couple months ago.

Five million Indian government workers to get IDN email

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2017, Domain Registries

The Indian government has announced plans to issue fully Hindi-script email addresses to some five million civil servants.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced the move, which will see each government employee given an @सरकार.भारत email address, in a statement this week.

सरकार.भारत transliterates as “sarkar.bharat”, or “government.india”.

The first stage of the roll-out will see the five million employees given @gov.in addresses, which apparently most of them do not already have.

Expanding the use of local scripts seems to be a secondary motivator to the government’s desire to bring control of government employee email back within its borders in a centralized fashion.

“The primary trigger behind the policy was Government data which resides on servers outside India and on servers beyond the control of the Government of India,” the MEITY press release states.

India currently has the largest number of internationalized domain names, at the top level, of any country.

NIXI, the local ccTLD manager, is in control of no fewer than 16 different ccTLDs in various scripts, with ample room for possible expansion in future.

The registry has been offering free IDN domains alongside .in registrations for about a year, according to local reports.

There are about two million .in domains registered today, according to the NIXI web site.

“Ditch .com!” government to tell Indians

The Indian government is to urge citizens to register .in domain names instead of .com, according to local reports.

The Economic Times reports today that the Ministry of Economy and IT is to launch a “massive advertising campaign aimed at companies, individuals and startups” promoting .in.

Rajiv Bansal, MEIT joint secretary, is reported as saying the campaign will play up to nationalist sentiments

The government wants to grow .in from about 2.1 million domains to 3 million domains by March next year, it said.

Prices could come down to the $2 to $3 range, the paper said.

The campaign is due to start in a month or so, it was reported.

ccTLD anger over IANA group “capture”

Kevin Murphy, July 23, 2014, Domain Policy

Operators of dozens of ccTLDs are said to be furious that they don’t have representation on the group coordinating the transition of the IANA functions from US oversight.

The IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has been “captured” by members of ICANN’s country-code Names Supporting Organization, which does not represent all ccTLDs, according to ccTLD sources.

While the ccNSO is the official body representing ccTLDs within ICANN, many refuse to participate.

Some registries fear that signing up to ICANN and its rules may one day lead to them losing their delegations, while others have sovereignty or liability concerns.

It is believed that while 151 ccTLDs participate in the ccNSO, 104 do not.

None of these 104 are represented on the new ICG, which met for the first time to draft a charter in London last Thursday and Friday.

The ICG is tasked with holding the pen when the community writes a proposal for replacing the US government in the management of the DNS root zone and other IANA functions.

The ccTLD community was given four seats on the ICG, out of a total of 27. All four seats were taken by ccNSO members, picked by a five-person selection committee that included one non-ccNSO member.

I gather that about 20 non-ccNSO ccTLDs are up in arms about this state of affairs, which they believe has seen them “proactively excluded” from the ICG.

Some concerns originate from operators of ccTLDs for dependent territories that may face the risk of being taken over by governments in future.

Because IANA manages the DNS root zone, the transition process may ultimately impact ccTLD redelegations.

But the loudest voice, one of only two speaking on the record so far, is India’s government-established National Internet Exchange of India, which runs .in.

Dr Govind (apparently he doesn’t use his first name), CEO of NIXI, said in a statement last week:

Clearly the process has already been captured by a subset of the ccTLD community. The selection process controlled by the ccNSO resulted in all four seats being assigned to their members. A significant section of the ccTLD Registry operator community do not share the objectives of the ccNSO membership are now excluded from the process.

Balazs Martos, registry manager of Hungary’s .hu, added:

I am very concerned that the ccNSO seem to feel they speak for the whole ccTLD Community when dealing with every IANA matter. They do not, .HU is an IANA service user, but we are not a member of the ccNSO.

The joint statement also raises concerns about “cultural diversity”, which seems like a cheap move played from a position in the deck close to the race card.

The ccTLD representation on the ICG comprises the UK, New Zealand, China and Nigeria.

The chair of the ccNSO, .ca’s Byron Holland, has stated that the way the these four were selected from the 12 candidates (two of whom were non-ccNSO) was a “very difficult task”.

The selection committee had to consider factors such as geography, registry size, candidate expertise and available time, governance structure and business model, Holland said.

Blogging last week, addressing Govind’s concerns if not directly acknowledging them, he wrote:

Given the criteria we had to balance, there were no ‘reserved’ seats for any one group. The fact is four seats only allowed us to ensure some – not all – of the criteria were met. The discussion was difficult and the outcome was not unanimous. We did, however, reach consensus. In paring this list down to the final four, we balanced the selection criteria – balance being the keyword here. Geographic diversity is a good example of this – while there are five ICANN-defined geographic regions, we only had four seats on the Coordination Committee.

Did we meet the all of the criteria set out at the beginning of the process? No, but given the constraints we were facing – four seats to represent a community as large and diverse as ccTLDs – I have no hesitation in endorsing each of them for their ability to be representative of the global ccTLD community – both ccNSO members and non-members – effectively.

Registrars “unprepared” for DNSSEC

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2010, Domain Tech

Only one in 10 domain name registrars believes it is fully prepared to offer DNSSEC services today, according to new research out from Afilias, the .info registry.

The Registrar DNSSEC Readiness Report (pdf) also shows that a perceived lack of customer demand for the technology has translated into ambivalence at most registrars.

DNSSEC is a standard extension to DNS that helps prevent domain name hijacking through man-in-the-middle attacks.

The survey shows that 9.86% of registrars say they are “fully prepared” to offer DNSSEC to customers now, with 52.2% saying they were “somewhat” prepared. The remainder were not at all prepared.

A little over a quarter of respondents rated DNSSEC a “high” priority for the next 12 months, with less than 3% saying it was an “extremely high” priority.

Two of the biggest reasons for the lack of urgency were lack of customer demand – 59% of registrars said they saw no demand at all – and difficulties developing key management systems.

Despite this, when asked the question “Should TLD registries support DNSSEC?”, a whopping 80% responded in the affirmative.

I expect interest in the technology will pick up early next year, when VeriSign signs the .com zone.

The Afilias survey was conducted electronically earlier this month. The sample size was quite small, with only 71 respondents, and most of them were on the smaller side by domain count.

The report was released to coincide with Afilias’ launch of a broad effort to add DNSSEC support to all of the TLDs for which it provides registry services.

The company already offers the technology in .org, and that will now be extended to gTLDs including .info and ccTLDs such as .in. You can read the release at CircleID.