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Net4 domains now parked after “fraud” ruling

The primary operating domain names of disgraced registrar Net 4 India are now parked, after the company lost its ICANN accrediation and was hit by a finding of fraud in an insolvency case.

The names net4.com and net4.in, which once hosted its customer-facing retail site, now return parking pages.

It emerged in recent court documents that Net4 paid $14,068 for net4.com in March 2011 via Sedo.

Net4 saw its ICANN termination terminated in May. All of its gTLD domains under management were transferred to PublicDomainRegistry, which also made side deals with registries to accept .tv, .me and .cc domains.

.in registrant were being dealt with by NIXI, the local ccTLD registry.

Net4 had been in insolvency proceedings for a few years before its customers started noticing serious problems renewing and transferring their names, or even contacting customer support.

Now it emerged that the insolvency court in late May found that Net4 had acted “fraudulently” in order to “defraud” its creditors.

The company had defaulted on millions of dollars in loans from the State Bank of India, debts that were subsequently sold to a debt recovery company called Edelweiss, which filed for Net4’s insolvency.

In a lengthy and complex May ruling (pdf), the Delhi insolvency court found that Net4 had transferred its primary operating assets including its domains, trademarks and registrar business to a former subsidiary, Net4 Network, in order to keep them out of the hands of Edelweiss.

Net4 had “fraudulently transferred” the assets in “undervalued and fraudulent transactions” designed to put the assets “beyond the reach of the Creditors so as to defraud the Creditors”, the court ruled.

The court ruled that the resolution professional handling the case is now free to pursue Net4 Network and its director for the money that would have otherwise have been held by Net4 proper.

PDR wins beauty contest to take over Net4’s stranded customers

PublicDomainRegistry.com, part of the new Newfold Digital registrar group, has been picked to take over thousands of domain names from disgraced and defunct Net 4 India.

ICANN seems to have used the beauty contest method of picking Net4’s successor, saying that PDR was picked in part because it already operates in the region. It’s based in Mumbai.

ICANN expects PDR to start reaching out to its new customers next week with instructions on how to get access to their domains at their new registrar.

It goes without saying that Net4 customers should be wary of possible scams, which sometimes accompany this kind of event.

Customers won’t be charged for the transfers, and they won’t have to deal with transfer authorization codes, ICANN said.

PDR was part of the Endurance group until its recent merger with the Web.com group, which created Newfold.

It’s the second-largest registrar group and undoubtedly a safer set of hands than Net4, which has left thousands of customers struggling to renew, manage and transfer their domains for several months.

The bulk transfer to PDR comes after ICANN terminated Net4’s contract for multiple breaches.

Net4 nightmare almost over as court rules ICANN can shut down chaotic registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

ICANN is finally moving to shut down Net 4 India’s gTLD domains business, after months of upheaval and thousands of customer complaints.

An Indian insolvency court this week lifted its ban on ICANN terminating Net4’s registrar contract, after ICANN appealed to it with a wealth of evidence showing how critical services such as hospitals and train services were being harmed by registrants being unable to transfer their domains away.

ICANN has now invoked its De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure, which will see Net4’s tens of thousands of gTLD domains transferred to a different, more stable registrar, according to head of compliance Jamie Hedlund.

The Org had terminated Net4’s contract in February after hearing from thousands of customers whose names had ceased to work, expired, or were locked-in to Net4 due to its broken transfers function.

But the Delhi court handling the registrar’s insolvency asked ICANN in March to delay the termination at the behest of the resolution professional attempting to extract as much value as possible from Net4 in service of its creditors.

That order was lifted orally after a hearing on Tuesday, according to ICANN.

Under the DARTP, either the dying registrar picks a successor or ICANN picks one, either from a rotation of pre-approved registrars or by rolling out a full registrar application process.

Given the timing crisis, and Net4’s irresponsible behavior to date, it appears most likely that ICANN will hand-pick a gaining registrar from the pre-qualified pool.

Hedlund blogged that ICANN expects to name Net4’s successor within two weeks, after which the gaining registrar will reach out to registrants to inform them how to proceed.

Registrants will not be charged for the bulk transfer.

Net4 had over 70,000 gTLD domains under management at the end of 2020, but this number has likely decreased in the intervening time.

ccTLDs such as India’s .in will not be covered by the bulk transfer. It will be up to local registry NIXI to minimize disruption for Net4’s .in registrants.

ICANN asks registries to freeze Net 4 India’s expired domains

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2021, Domain Registrars

ICANN has asked all domain registries to exempt from deletion expired names registered via collapsed Indian registrar Net 4 India.

The company has been in receipt of an ICANN termination notice since the end of February, but it’s in insolvency proceedings and ICANN says the insolvency court is preventing it from carrying out the execution.

Net4’s customers have been plagued with problems such as the inability to renew or transfer their domains for well over half a year, and ICANN has issued three public breach notices since December.

ICANN says it has received more than 8,000 complaints related to the registrar — which does not even seem to have a functioning web site any more — since things got real bad last September.

Today, ICANN’s head of compliance Jamie Hedlund blogged:

While we await a final order from the insolvency court, ICANN has requested that all registries not delete expired domain names registered through Net 4 India that registrants have not been able to renew or transfer.

While this may not solve every technical issue experienced by Net4 customers, it should at least prevent them permanently losing their domains, assuming a high level of registry compliance with ICANN’s request.

Registrants won’t be fully safe until ICANN is able to carry out the termination and move Net4’s domains to a stable third-party registrar.

While ICANN disputes whether the Indian insolvency court has jurisdiction over it, it is nevertheless currently complying with its instruction to delay termination until further notice.

Hedlund wrote:

ICANN org is taking actions permitted by its agreements, policies, and law to protect registrants and to facilitate the bulk transfer of the Net 4 India registrations to a functioning registrar that can service its customers. ICANN also is being respectful of the [National Company Law Tribunal’s] processes with this case, which have not yet concluded.

He wrote that the next scheduled hearing of the NCLT is tomorrow, April 27. It appears to have been called due to Hedlund recently impressing upon the court the importance of the crisis.

Net4’s “complete breakdown” is bringing India to a screeching halt, and ICANN could have prevented it

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2021, Domain Registrars

Domains belonging to hospitals, power grids, public transit services, banks, and other critical services have gone offline due to the collapse of a major local registrar whose troubles ICANN has been aware of for years.

Net 4 India, which has been slowly imploding over the last year, saw a number of its name servers stop functioning last week, leading to customers’ web sites and email services ceasing to work.

Affected customers are not only domainers, web developers, mom-n-pop stores, and small businesses. We’re talking about major players in India’s physical infrastructure, some with billions of dollars of annual revenue.

Power Grid Corporation of India, for example, has complained to ICANN that its primary web site, at powergridindia.com, has gone down, and that its email at that domain is no longer working.

That’s a government-owned company that according to Wikipedia takes in $5.4 billion per year and is responsible for transmitting 50% of the electricity generated in India, a nation of almost 1.4 billion people.

“We are facing problems with DNS of Net4India and due to non availability of email service our operations would affect badly,” a Power Grid employee told ICANN, according to papers filed with Net4’s insolvency court at the weekend.

Others to inform ICANN of outages include:

  • The Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, which with over four million passengers per day is India’s largest mass transit rail network.
  • Multi-billion-dollar conglomerate Bharti Group, which has its fingers in pies such as telecoms, insurance and food, said its “email and other essential business services have been rendered defunct”.
  • The Punjab National Bank, which had revenue of over $9 billion last year, named eight domains, seven of which were in gTLDs, that were with Net4 but no longer work.
  • Global Hospitals India, a private healthcare provider that sees to 18,000 transplant surgeries per year, has seen its .com domain stop working and has been unable to secure an auth code for a transfer out.

I’ve not seen any reports of these internet-based problems spilling over into actual life-threatening issues such as power outages or failures of critical hospital functions, but one can only assume that not having functional email represents a risk of this kind of thing happening.

The customer testimonies cited above were part of a second batch (pdf) sent to the insolvency court handling Net4’s case by ICANN’s head of compliance, Jamie Hedlund, on Sunday.

And those are just a sampling of the over 2,400 complaints about Net4 that ICANN said it received between April 14 and April 16 last week.

Net4’s own web site appears to have been dark for most or all of this month.

And this is all happening as India’s struggle with the coronavirus pandemic hits a low point. Not only have many heavily-populated areas of the country been forced into lockdown in recent days, but the country seems to have spawned its own virus variant, which is raising concerns among scientists worldwide.

A major internet infrastructure crisis couldn’t come at a worse time, but ICANN not only could fix it now but could have prevented it years ago.

ICANN on February 26 told Net4 it would terminate the company’s Registrar Accreditation Agreement, after the company did not get its act together to fix three previous breach notices detailing its customers’ woes, the first of which was issued December 10.

That meant — or should have meant — that after March 13 ICANN would kick off its process of transferring Net4’s domains and customers to a third-party registrar, where none of this downtime nonsense would have occurred.

But the “resolution professional” trying to keep Net4 alive long enough to service its corporate creditors asked the insolvency court to ask ICANN to halt the termination, and the court complied.

Even though neither ICANN nor the court seems to be claiming that the court has any jurisdiction over a California non-profit and an RAA governed by California law, ICANN has nevertheless spent the last five weeks noticeably NOT terminating Net4 and saving its customers as promised.

Hedlund told the court (pdf) at the weekend:

Unfortunately, ICANN currently is not in a position to assist these individuals, businesses and organizations in transferring their domain names from Net 4 to another registrar because ICANN has no access to AuthInfo codes or the technical ability to generate them the way that registry operators, like the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), and registrars, like Net 4, can. Rather, ICANN can only assist these registrants by transitioning all of Net 4’s registrations to a functioning registrar through a bulk transfer in connection with ICANN’s termination of Net 4’s RAA, which ICANN has been prevented from doing as a result of this Hon’ble Tribunal’s Ad Interim Order of 16 March 2021

It’s not at all clear from the record why ICANN’s lawyers are allowing Net4’s customers to suffer — and its own compliance department to turn into a de facto replacement for Net4’s absentee customer service department — to abide by the suggestion of a court they claim has no power over it.

In fact, it’s not even clear why ICANN has been playing softball with Net4 since it first issued a breach notice against the firm in June 2019.

At that time, ICANN threatened to suspend Net4 for going into insolvency proceedings — the RAA gives it the right to do so unilaterally when “proceedings are instituted by or against Registrar under any bankruptcy, insolvency, reorganization or other laws relating to the relief of debtors”.

If it had wanted to, ICANN could have terminated Net4 and transferred its domains to a safe registrar in 2019, a year before its troubles (arguably exacerbated by the pandemic) started to cause serious problems for the registrar’s customers.

But ICANN did not act at that time. Instead, court filings and other documents suggest, it chose to cooperate with Net4 and the resolution professional, allowing Net4 to continue to market itself to new customers as an accredited registrar.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it’s something ICANN didn’t have in June 2019.

But now that we do have that luxury, surely we can say that the Net4 debacle is going to have to go down as one of ICANN’s all-time most humiliating and potentially dangerous failures.

As Net4 goes dark, NIXI says customers won’t lose their expired domains

Kevin Murphy, March 29, 2021, Domain Registrars

Indian ccTLD registry NIXI has thrown a life vest to the owners of some 73,000 .in domain names, giving them a way to transfer out of slowly sinking registrar Net 4 India.

NIXI also said that it will not cancel expired domains that registrants have been unable to renew due to Net4’s ongoing problems.

“NIXI has decided not to discontinue the .IN Services for those .IN domain end users whose renewal is due,” the company said in a statement (pdf).

It sounds rather like registrants will be able to renew directly with the registry. They’ll also be able to transfer to a new registrar by emailing NIXI from the address in the Whois or mailing proof of company identity.

Why NIXI has chosen to act now, when Net4’s troubles have been known for almost year, is not clear.

“In the recent days, NIXI was informed that Net 4 India, who is one of the registrars of NIXI for Country code domain “.IN” has some issues in maintaining domains,” its statement says.

Net4’s web site isn’t resolving right now, at least for me, which probably has something to do with it.

The company has been in insolvency proceedings since 2017, a fact ICANN discovered when it started missing payments two years ago, but it was not until mid-2020 that Net4’s customers started complaining en masse about problems renewing and transferring their domains.

ICANN has processed thousands of complaints since then.

The registrar was told last month that ICANN was terminating its accreditation to sell gTLDs. Registrants of names in .com for example should be pretty safe, with their names automatically transferred to a new registrar, should ICANN follow through on its threat.

The termination was challenged in the insolvency court shortly before it would have become effective two weeks ago.

While ICANN does not believe it is subject to the court’s jurisdiction, it has decided to wait for an official ruling on the matter.

ICANN finally cans Net 4 India

iCANN has terminated Net 4 India’s registrar accreditation, after many months of criticism and foot-dragging and a recent sharp uptick in customer complaints.

The move comes after an unprecedented four concurrent public breach notices over 20 months, almost four years after the company entered insolvency proceedings — grounds for termination which ICANN became aware of almost two years ago.

ICANN has received over 2,600 customer complaints over the last year, and almost 1,000 of these were submitted in February alone, according to the organization.

“The termination of the RAA is due to Net 4 India’s repeated and consistent breaches of the RAA and failure to cure such breaches despite multiple notices from ICANN and opportunity to cure,” ICANN said in its ginormous 59-page execution warrant (pdf).

Among the charges ICANN levels at Net4 is its failure to operate a functioning Whois service, something it’s warned the company about 30 times since November.

This hindered ICANN’s ability to investigate the more serious charges — that Net4 transferred some of its customers’ domains to a different registrar, OpenProvider, without their knowledge or consent, in violation of ICANN transfer policies.

The registrar also failed to enable its customers to renew their expired domains or transfer them to other registrars, also in violation of binding policy, ICANN said.

ICANN said:

Currently, more than 400 cases remain unresolved; and hundreds of complaints are still under review, which, once vetted, will become more new cases. In addition, ICANN Contractual Compliance continues to receive more than 20 new complaints each day. And it is not known how many more complaints are pending with Net 4 India that have not yet been brought to ICANN’s attention.

The termination notice contains 10 pages of complaints from Net4 customers, saying their domains could not be renewed or transferred. Some came from non-profits and hospitals. One registrant said he was contemplating suicide.

Net4’s customer service was non-responsive in each of these cases, the complainants said.

While some of Net4’s problems could be chalked down to coronavirus-related restrictions, the company has been in trouble for much longer.

It entered insolvency proceedings in 2017 after a debt recovery company called Edelweiss bought roughly $28 million of unpaid debt from the State Bank of India and took Net4 to court.

ICANN did not find out about this until April 2019 — it’s probably not a coincidence that this was the same month Net4 was late paying its first ICANN invoice — and it issued its first public breach notice in June that year.

Insolvency is grounds for termination in itself under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

It’s never been clearly stated why ICANN did not escalate at that time. Had it done so, it could have saved Net4’s customers from a world of hurt.

The Indian insolvency court admitted last month that it had no jurisdiction over ICANN or the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, both of which are governed primarily by California law.

Nevertheless, the court asked ICANN to not terminate Net4’s contract until after April 25, to give the company time to get its house in order.

But the termination notice, issued on Friday, will see the RAA cut off March 13. ICANN notes that it hasn’t heard from the court-appointed resolution professional, to whom previous breach notices were addressed, since mid-January.

Affected domains — there are still thousands under Net4’s accreditation — will be moved to another registrar under ICANN’s De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure.

Net4 could have a say in where its domains wind up. It’s already an OpenProvider reseller so that’s a possibility. Otherwise, ICANN will pick a beneficiary from a queue of qualified candidates.

Time is running out for Net4 as ICANN questions Indian court ruling

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2021, Domain Registrars

Struggling registrar Net 4 India has been hit with an unprecedented fourth concurrent breach-of-contract notice by ICANN, but an Indian court has ruled that ICANN should NOT terminate its accreditation.

It also turns out that Public Interest Registry wants to terminate its Registry-Registrar Agreement with Net4, after it failed to deposit about $22,000 in its account to cover renewal fees, putting 1,644 .org domains at risk.

The latest ICANN breach notice is much the same as the two delivered in December, both of which suggest that Net4 has been transferring its customers’ domains to a partner registrar, OpenProvider, without the registrants’ knowledge or consent.

They further suggest that Net4 has not enabled its customers to renew their domains or reclaim them after they’ve expired, and claim that the company has consistently refused to hand over records proving that its disputed transfers were legit.

Net4 also owes ICANN thousands in past due fees.

The company has been in quasi-judicial insolvency proceedings since 2017 over $28 million in unpaid bank loans that were acquired by a debt recovery agency called Edelweiss; its first breach notice came two years later when ICANN first learned of the case.

For some reason, ICANN did not terminate or suspend Net4’s contract back then.

With hindsight, this may have proven a bad move — during India’s first coronavirus lockdown last year, hundreds of Net4 customers started complaining about lost domains and non-existent customer service.

It was not until December last year that these complaints were escalated to the level of formal breach notices, and more threats to terminate its Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Net4, in response, asked its insolvency court for a ruling preventing ICANN and PIR from terminating their respective agreements. It reckons it can get is house in order in the next five or six weeks.

ICANN presented what appears to be a wealth of evidence of the company’s misconduct and argued that the court has no jurisdiction over ICANN anyway, because the RAA is governed by California law and ICANN has no presence in India.

Nevertheless, the National Company Law Tribunal in New Delhi has ruled, in a virtually impenetrable word soup of a document (pdf) that reads like it was vomited up by a Victorian-era college freshman who’d just rolled up and smoked an entire legal dictionary, that ICANN and PIR should not “terminate these agreements at least until three months from hereof”.

That would stay Net4’s executive until April 25. The latest ICANN breach notice gives the company until February 19 to come back into compliance, though technically there’s nothing stopping it starting termination proceedings today based on past notices.

The orders given to ICANN and PIR are more “requests”, due to the fact that the court couldn’t decide whether its words had any jurisdictional power over either.

Rather hilariously, ICANN said in a press release late Friday:

When a registrar fails to allow registrants to renew, transfer, and manage their domain names, ICANN will not hesitate to take whatever actions are necessary, up to and including termination of the registrar, to protect registrants’ rights and interests.

These are words that ring hollow, given that it’s allowed Net4 to slide three times already and has been hesitating since June 2019.

Net 4 India gets unwelcome Christmas gift from ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 4, 2021, Domain Registrars

Struggling Indian registrar Net 4 India has been hit by its third notice of contract breach by ICANN, in a letter delivered Christmas Eve.

Net4 is on ICANN’s naughty list this time due to its alleged violations of ICANN’s transfer and expired domains policies. The breach notice is very similar to that delivered just two weeks earlier, concerning different domains.

ICANN reckons Net4, once India’s largest independent registrar, has in some cases been transferring domains to a partner registrar, OpenProvider, without the consent or knowledge of the registrant.

It’s been asking the company for records proving compliance, which Net4 has apparently not been providing. Therein lies the alleged breach.

Net4 has been persona non grata among many of its customers for several months, with complaints about billing and renewal failures, expirations, and a general lack of customer service availability compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

The company has also been fighting an insolvency proceeding over millions of dollars in allegedly unpaid debts for years, which has been the subject of an ICANN breach notice for about 18 months.

The Christmas Eve breach notice gives Net4 until January 14 to turn over the relevant records or possibly face termination.

But that might prove moot — the December 10 notice had a deadline of December 31, so the wheels may already be in motion.

ICANN throws the book at Net4 over dodgy transfer claims

Kevin Murphy, December 15, 2020, Domain Registrars

Struggling Indian registrar Net 4 India has been slammed with a massive breach notice by ICANN, following claims of domain transfers failing or happening without the consent of the registrant.

ICANN also accuses the company, which is or was India’s largest independent registrar, of trying to bullshit its compliance staff about whether expired domains had been renewed or not.

According to ICANN, Net4 is in breach of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement on four counts, three of which relate to domain ownership records.

ICANN says the company isn’t operating a Whois service on the web or port 43, has failed to escrow its registration data on two recent occasions, and has failed to hand over registrant information upon ICANN’s request.

It’s also past due with its fees, ICANN says.

ICANN’s been dealing with complaints about Net4 for months, after the company’s customer service system appeared to break down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of customers have said their domains were unrenewable and that they were unable to transfer to another registrar.

In the latest breach notice — the first published breach notice against any registrar since February — ICANN names almost 200 domain names that have allegedly been held hostage at Net4, despite the registrant’s efforts to transfer out.

ICANN wants proof that registrants were given transfer authorization codes and that their domains were unlocked.

In a smaller number of cases, ICANN wants proof that domains were transferred to Net4 partner Openprovider, for which it acts as a reseller, with the consent of the registrants.

It also claims that Net4 has more than once tried to prove that a registrant renewed their expired name by supplying the registry’s expiration date instead of its own, to blag its way out of accusations that registrants were unable to renew.

ICANN also accuses the registrar of dragging its feet to address complaints:

Over the past few months, the number of complaints ICANN Contractual Compliance has received from [registered name holders], and authorized representatives, asserting that Net 4 India is exhibiting a pattern of non-response to domain transfer and renewal requests has steadily increased. While addressing the relevant compliance cases, Net 4 India’s responses to ICANN Contractual Compliance have also regularly been untimely and incomplete.

Net4 is now in the unprecedented position of being subject to two different breach notices simultaneously.

ICANN actually issued a suspension notice in June 2019, after noticing that Net4 had been in insolvency proceedings for two years — a debt recovery agency is trying to recover $28 million in unpaid debts.

But that suspension deadline was paused after talks with the “resolution professional” handling the insolvency case, for reasons ICANN’s been rather quiet about, and it remains on pause to this date.

The newest breach notice has a December 31 deadline on it. Unless Net4 turns on its Whois and hands over the reams of requested data by then, ICANN could terminate its contract.

Assuming the insolvency court allows it to, presumably.

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