Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Huge registrar shake-up coming to .biz and .info

Afilias and Neustar will be soon able to sell .biz and .info domains direct, and may have to shut down registrars that refuse to sign up to the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Those are two of the biggest changes proposed to the companies’ ICANN contracts, drafts of which were published this morning six months after their last registry agreements expired.

The new .biz and .info deals would allow both companies to vertically integrate — that is, own a controlling position in a registrar that sells domains in their respective gTLDs.

This would remove unwanted friction from their sales and marketing efforts, but would mean both registries would start competing with their own registrar channel in the retail market.

That’s currently not allowed in almost all gTLD contracts, but is expected to become commonplace in the era of new gTLDs, which have no such ownership restrictions.

These new vertical integration clauses were not unexpected; it’s been envisaged for a couple of years that the restrictions would be dropped in legacy gTLDs.

What is surprising are newly proposed clauses that would oblige Neustar and Afilias to terminate accredited registrars’ access to their TLDs if they don’t sign up to the 2013 RAA.

Under the process set out in the contracts, when registrars representing 67% of the domains in each given TLD have signed up to the 2013 RAA, all the other registrars would have between 270 and 330 days to also sign up to it or lose their ability to access the .biz/.info registries.

That would mean no selling new names and no accepting inbound transfers — a growth death sentence in the affected TLDs.

In the case of .info, in which Go Daddy has a 45% market share, it would only take the top four registrars to sign up to the 2013 RAA before the clock started ticking for the others.

However, this 67% rule would only kick in for Afilias and Neustar if Public Interest Registry and Verisign also voluntarily agree to the same rules for their .org, .com and .net gTLDs.

It’s a pretty aggressive move by ICANN to push the 2013 RAA onto registrars via its contracts with registries, but not the first.

In the separately proposed base New gTLD Registry Agreement, expected to be finalized in the next few weeks, registrars can only sell new gTLD domains if they’re on the 2013 RAA.

Other changes to the .biz and .info contracts include giving the registries the ability to block certain domains from registration to deal with security threats. Registries have been doing this since Conficker, but now they’ll be explicitly allowed to under their contracts.

They’ll also now be subject to the same emergency back-end transition provisions as new gTLDs, in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Both companies will also get to keep their ability to raise registry fees by 10% a year.

Presumably, given that the US Department of Commerce is not party to the .biz and .info deals, neither registry will get the same nasty surprise that Verisign got last year when Commerce froze its prices.

Both proposed contracts are now open for public comment at ICANN, here and here.

The previous contracts actually expired last December but were extended for six months due to ICANN’s focus on new gTLDs and the fact that it wanted to bring both agreements closer to the new gTLD contract.

ICANN selects new gTLD backup providers

Neustar, Nominet and CNNIC have been picked to provide backup registry services for new gTLDs that fail.

ICANN has named the three companies as Emergency Back-End Registry Operators for the new gTLD program.

They’ll be responsible for taking over the management of any new gTLD that goes out of business, putting registrants at risk of losing DNS resolution and registry functions.

The idea is that the EBERO(s) would be paid out of funds placed in escrow by gTLD applicants, in order to gracefully wind down any failed TLD over the space of a few years.

In reality, I doubt there’s going to be much call for their services; M&A activity is a more likely outcome for gTLDs that fail to meet their sales expectations.

ICANN highlighted the geographic diversity of the three companies (Nominet is British, Neustar American and CNNIC Chinese) as a stability benefit of its selections.

The three were chosen from 14 respondents to an RFI published last year.

The absence of an EBERO was one of the shortfalls of the new gTLD program highlighted by Verisign in its recent letter warning ICANN about perceived security and stability risks.

While ICANN has acknowledged that the EBEROs are unlikely to be ready to roll before the first new gTLDs start to launch, it has noted that they don’t need to be.

If any new gTLD catastrophically fails during the first few months of launch, it will reflect extremely poorly on the financial and technical evaluations applicants have been undergoing for the last nine months.

.info and .biz prices to go up

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have separately announced increased to the registry fees for .info and .biz domain names.

Afilias yesterday said the maximum wholesale price for a .info domain would increase to $8.16 effective September 1, a 10% increase on the current rate of $7.42 per year.

The last 10% hike, which the company is allowed to take under its ICANN registry agreement, came in July 2011.

Neustar last week also said it was taking its permitted 10% increase.

The maximum registry fee for .biz will go up to $8.63, also starting September 1. It last increased its prices in February 2012.

.info and .biz contracts extended after expiring

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have had their key gTLD registry contracts temporarily extended after they expired on New Year’s Eve.

The .info and .biz agreements, which were both signed with ICANN in 2006, both ended on December 31 2012.

Both deals, of course, have a presumption of renewal. They’ve been extended for six months while renewal terms are finalized.

I understand that the delay in getting new contracts negotiated and approved is due largely to all the other stuff going on at ICANN right now.

(New gTLD applicants planning to negotiate a non-standard contract with ICANN, take note.)

According to ICANN, drafts of the the next versions of the .info and .biz contracts will be posted for public comment this month.

I’d expect to see some of the same minor technical and legal changes made as those that were made to Verisign’s .net contract, which was renegotiated in 2011.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether .info and .biz will keep the same rights to increase registry fees, in light of the US Department of Commerce’s move to freeze .com prices.

However, .com is a special case and Commerce does not have a built-in right to examine .biz and .info contracts.

ARI expands its DNS business

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2012, Domain Services

ARI Registry Services officially announced its aggressive targeting of the DNS services market at an event in Toronto last week.

The company says it is the named DNS provider in over 450 new gTLD applications, giving it a substantial foot in the door should they be approved by ICANN.

That’s almost three times as many applications as ARI is involved with as registry provider.

“To our competitors, we are coming for you,” a tired and emotional ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis said during the launch event at a club in Toronto last Tuesday, which DI attended.

“Bring it on,” equally tired and emotional executives from larger competitors were heard to mutter in the audience.

ARI seems to be targeting just TLD operators to begin with, while competitors such as Verisign, Neustar and Afilias also offer managed DNS to enterprises.

ARI already runs the DNS for Australia’s .au.