Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Get drunk on Neustar’s tab and it will donate money to hurricane relief

Kevin Murphy, March 5, 2018, Gossip

Neustar has promised to donate thousands of dollars to a Puerto Rican hurricane relief charity, providng enough people show up to its open bar event in San Juan next week.

It’s fairly standard for domain companies of Neustar’s size to host free after-hours social events during ICANN meetings, but this time the company said it will donate $25 for each attendee to charity.

The beneficiary is the Puerto Rico Resistance Fund, operated by Americas for Conservation and the Arts, which is helping rebuild the island after Hurricane Maria hit it for six last September.

“We want to bring together the community, help spread awareness of the hardship and devastation in Puerto Rico, and make our community proud they are contributing in a small way financially,” Neustar VP Lori Anne Wardi told DI.

With the company telling me it expects 500 guests or more to the invitation-only event, expect a total donation topping $12,500.

The venue is the Antiguo Casino, which appears to be about a 10-minute taxi ride from the Puerto Rico Convention Center, at which the ICANN 61 public meeting is being held.

The event runs from 1900 to 2330 local time.

The official death toll in Puerto Rico from Maria was 64, but a New York Times analysis puts the number at closer to 1,000. Parts of the island, a US territory, are still suffering from infrastructure problems such as power outages.

auDA probably won’t pass on full Afilias savings to registrants

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2018, Domain Registries

Switching .au’s back-end to Afilias will cut auDA’s per-domain costs by more than half, but registrants are not likely to benefit from the full impact of the savings.

auDA’s Bruce Tonkin, who led the committee that selected Afilias to replace incumbent Neustar, told DI this week that the organization is likely to take a bigger cut of .au registration fees in future, in order to invest in marketing.

That would include marketing the ability of Aussies to register .au domains at the second level for the first time — a controversial, yet-to-roll-out proposal.

Tonkin confirmed that the back-end fee auDA will be paying Afilias is less than half of what it is currently paying Neustar — the unconfirmed rumor is that it’s 40% of the current rate — but said that Afilias was not the cheapest of the nine bidders.

While .au names are sold for a minimum of two years, the current wholesale price charged to registrars works out to AUD 8.75 ($6.85) per year, of which Neustar gets AUD 6.33; auDA receives the other AUD 2.42.

A back-end fee of roughly $5 (US) per domain per year is well above market rates, so it’s pretty clear why auDA chose to open the contract to competition.

Tonkin explained the process by which Afilias was selected:

We first considered scoring without price, and Afilias received the highest score for non-financial criteria.

We then considered pricing information to form an assessment of value for money. The average pricing across the 9 [Request For Tender] responses was less than half of the present registry back-end fee ($6.33). Afilias was close to the average pricing, and while it was not the cheapest price — it was considered best value for money when taking into account the highest score in non-financial criteria.

I asked Afilias for comment on rumors that its price was 60% down on the current rate and received this statement:

Afilias believes auDA chose us based on the best overall value for the Australian internet community. The evaluation heavily weighted expertise, quality and breadth of service over price. While we don’t know what others bid, Afilias works to be competitive in today’s market. Attempts to price significantly higher than market without a value proposition are unrealistic and could even be considered price gouging.

It’s not known what price Neustar bid for the continuation of the contract, but I expect it will have also offered a deep discount to its current rate.

By switching, auDA is basically going to be saving itself over AUD 3 per domain per year, which works out to a total of AUD 9 million ($7 million) per year at least.

But the organization has yet to decide how much of that money, if any, to pass on to its registrars and ultimately registrants.

The auDA board of directors will meet in March to discuss this, Tonkin (who is in charge of the registry transition project but not on the board) said.

“We don’t want to set expectations that the wholesale price is going to change massively,” he said.

“I don’t expect it’s going to be any higher than the current wholesale price,” he said.

But he said he expects auDA to increase its slice of the pie in order to raise more money for marketing. The organization does “basically no marketing” now, he said.

“There’s certainly strong interest in doing more to market and grow the namespace,” he said. “One option is that more money is put into marketing the namespace and growing awareness of .au… That AUD 2.42, I expect that to change.”

This would include marketing direct second-level registrations, an incoming change to how .au names are sold that has domain investors worried about confusion and market dilution.

Outrage over the 2LD proposal — it appears to be a done deal, even if the details and timeline have yet to be finalized — has started attracting the attention of business media in Australia recently.

But auDA’s own research shows that opposition is not that substantial outside of these “special interests”.

A survey last year showed that 40% of .com.au registrants “support” or “strongly support” the direct registration proposal, with 18% “opposed” or “strongly opposed” Another 42% were completely unaware of the changes.

Support among .org.au registrants was lower, and it was higher among .net.au registrants.

But 36% of “special interests” — which appears to mean people who discovered the survey due to their close involvement in the domain industry — were opposed to the plan.

There’s no current timeline for the introduction of direct registrations, but the back-end handover from Neustar to Afilias is set to happen July 1 this year.

Neustar acquired AusRegistry, which has been running .au since 2002, for $87 million a couple of years ago.

Donuts may make .travel names easier to buy after acquiring its first legacy gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has added .travel to its swelling portfolio of gTLDs, under a deal with original registry Tralliance announced today.

It’s the company’s first acquisition of a legacy, pre-2012 gTLD, and the first “community” gTLD to join its stable of strings, which now stands at 239.

.travel went live in 2005, a part of ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” TLD applications.

As a sponsored TLD, .travel has eligibility and authentication requirements, but executive vice president Jon Nevett told DI that Donuts will look at “tinkering with” the current process to make domains easier to buy.

The current system requires what amounts to basically a self-declaration that you belong to the travel community, he said, but you have to visit the registry’s web site to obtain an authentication code before a registrar will let you buy a .travel domain.

Given that the community captured by .travel is extremely broad — you could be somebody blogging about their vacations and qualify — it seems to be a barrier of limited usefulness.

Nevett said Donuts has no immediate plans to migrate the TLD away from the Neustar back-end upon which it currently sits.

The rest of its portfolio runs on its own in-house registry platform, and one imagines that .travel will wind up there one day.

While .travel is one of Donuts most-expensive domains — priced at $99 retail at its own Name.com registrar — Nevett said there are no plans to cut pricing as yet.

There may be discounts, he said, and possibly promotions involving bundling with other travel-related gTLDs in its portfolio.

Donuts already runs .city, .holiday, .flights, .cruises, .vacations and several other thematically synergistic name spaces.

.travel had about 18,000 domains registered at the last count, with EnCirca, Name.com, 101domain, Key-Systems and CSC Corporate as its top five registrars.

It peaked 10 years ago at just under 215,000 registrations, largely due to to speculative bulk registrations made by parties connected to the registry that were dumped a couple of years later.

It’s been at under 20,000 names for the last five years, shrinking by small amounts every year.

The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.

Bezsonoff replaces Kaine at Neustar

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2018, Domain Registries

.CO Internet alum Nicolai Bezsonoff has replaced Sean Kaine as head of Neustar’s domain name business.

Neustar today announced that Bezsonoff has been appointed VP and general manager of the Registry Solutions business.

That’s Kaine’s old job. I hear he’s leaving the company of his own volition, but I don’t know where he’s going.

Bezsonoff was in a similar role in the Security Solutions division.

He joined Neustar when it acquired Colombian ccTLD registry .CO, where he was COO and co-founder, for $109 million almost four years ago.

The announcement comes just a few weeks after it was announced that Afilias is to take over the running of Australia’s 3.1 million-name ccTLD .au, one of Neustar’s marquee tenants.

Shocker! After 15 years, Afilias kicks Neustar out of Australia

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2017, Domain Registries

Afilias has been awarded the contract to run .au, Australia’s ccTLD, kicking out incumbent Neustar after 15 years.

It’s currently a 3.1 million-domain contract, meaning it’s going to be the largest back-end transition in the history of the DNS.

It’s also very likely going to see the price of a .au domain come down.

Neustar, via its 2015 acquisition of AusRegistry, has been the back-end provider for .au since 2002. That deal is now set to end July 1, 2018.

auDA, the ccTLD manager, said today that Afilias was selected from a shortlist of three bidders, themselves whittled down from the initial pool of nine.

It’s not been disclosed by auDA who the other shortlisted bidders were, and Afilias execs said they do not know either. I suspect Neustar would have been one of them.

The contract was put up for bidding in May, after auDA and Neustar failed to come to terms on a renewal.

At 3.1 million domains under management, .au is currently bigger than .org was when Afilias took over the back-end from Verisign in 2003.

Back then, .org was at 2.7 million names. It’s now at over 10 million.

“It’s the biggest transition ever, but not by much,” Afilias chief marketing officer Roland LaPlante said.

CTO Ram Mohan said that it should actually be easily than the .org transition, which had the added wrinkle of switching registrars from Verisign’s legacy RPP protocol to the now-standard EPP.

auDA said that Afilias will start reaching out to the 40-odd current .au registrars about the transition “as early as this week”.

About half of registrars are already on Afilias’ back-end and about half are ICANN-accredited, LaPlante said.

“We don’t expect to have many changes for registrars, but we have plenty of time to prepare them for what is needed,” Mohan said. “It ought to be a fairly easy glide path.”

There will be a live test environment for registrars to integrate with prior to the formal handover, he said.

There are several local presence requirements to the contract, so Afilias will open up a 20-person office in Melbourne headed by current VP of corporate services John Kane, who will shortly move there.

The company will also have to open a data center there, as the contract requires all data to be stored in-country.

Mohan, LaPlante and Kane said they’re all jumping on planes to Melbourne tonight to begin transition talks with local interested parties.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed right now, but LaPlante said that .au registrars should see prices come down. This could lead to lower prices for registrants.

They currently pay AUD 17.50 ($13.44) per domain for a two-year registration, and I believe Neustar’s cut is currently around the $5 (USD) per year mark.

Afilias is not known for being a budget-end back-end provider, but it seems its slice of the pie will be smaller than Neustar’s.

LaPlante said that fees charged to registrars will be set by auDA, but that it now has flexibility to reduce prices that it did not have under the incumbent.

“Some savings should flow down to registrars as part of this,” he said.

The term of the contract is “four or five years” with options to renew for additional years, he said.

The loss of .au has no doubt come as a blow to Neustar, which paid $87 million for AusRegistry parent Bombrra just two years ago.

While Bombora also had dozens of new gTLD clients, many dot-brands, .au was undoubtedly its key customer.

Neustar ditches .biz for .neustar

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2017, Domain Registries

Registry operator Neustar has migrated all of its web sites to its .neustar gTLD, abandoning its original home at .biz.

The company announced today that its main site can now be found at home.neustar. Its old neustar.biz already redirects to the dot-brand domain.

It’s also using domains such as marketing.neustar, security.neustar and risk.neustar to market its various services.

Neustar has been using its dot-brand extensively for years, adding at least 10 new sites this year, but today marks the formal blanket switch away from its old .biz branding.

The gTLD has over 600 names in its zone file, of which about 15 resolved to active .neustar web sites according to the last scan I did. There’s probably more today.

It must have been a bit of a Sophie’s Choice for the company.

Neustar has been using its own .biz ever since it went live with the gTLD over 15 years ago, a case of eating its own dog food when few others would, but it now clearly sees a tastier future in its dot-brand business.

The company acts as the back-end for almost 200 dot-brands already — about a third of those that went live from the 2012 gTLD application round — and seems to be laying the groundwork for a big push in the next round (expected at some point after 2020).

The rebrand should give Neustar some first-hand experience of the challenges current and future clients could face when switching to a dot-brand gTLD.

auDA now looking to outsource .au registry

Australian ccTLD overseer auDA appears to have softened its approach to overhauling the management of .au.

The organization said today that it’s now planning to look for an “outsourced registry operation” that will come online in July 2018.

In recent months, the company had been looking for suppliers to help it build a dedicated, in-house, .au infrastructure, in addition to keeping its outsourcing options open.

Today, auDA said that its recent request for expressions of interest had concluded. It said:

The [Registry Transformation Project] team have been very pleased with the strength of responses received and recommended to the auDA Board that auDA should proceed to the next stage of the project. The auDA Board subsequently resolved to undertake a formal Request for Tender (RFT) process. The RFT will be restricted to the respondents of the REOI with a scope to deliver an outsourced registry operation, based on auDA’s updated specifications, by July 2018.

It looks like any registry providers that did not get their foot in the door with the REOI are now permanently shut out of the process.

Additionally, it appears as though auDA has settled on an outsourced, rather than in-house, solution. Given the fact that the majority of the industry is based on service-based registry solutions, that had always seemed like a strong possibility.

auDA now plans to post a draft technical spec for comment August 14 and a formal request for tenders August 28, with a view to picking a winner in October/November for a July 2018 launch.

The company currently uses Neustar as its back-end due to Neustar’s 2015 acquisition of 15-year incumbent AusRegistry.

The names of the companies responding to the REOI, and their number, have not been disclosed.

auDA is currently facing a member revolt, partly but by no means exclusively over its decision to build an in-house registry. The company’s chair finds out whether members want him fired or not on Monday.

auDA explains secretive new regime in bid to save chair

auDA has explained why it has refused to put controversial new policies to a vote, as it recommended that members vote to save the job of chairman Stuart Benjamin.

In a letter to members published this week, the .au ccTLD administrator said it was not legally obliged to allow members to vote on its directors’ decisions to stop publishing their meeting minutes and to gag members from bad-mouthing auDA in the press.

As we reported earlier in the week, a group of domainers and others had signed a petition calling for four resolutions to be put to a vote of auDA’s members (largely domainers and registrars), but auDA only accepted one of them.

That resolution was to fire Benjamin. Members will vote July 31.

The new letter (pdf) seeks to explain why the other three resolutions were rejected.

The campaigners, organized by domainer/blogger Ned O’Meara at Grumpy.com.au, had demanded that auDA reverse its new policy of not publishing the minutes of its board meetings.

In response, auDA stated that it is under no legal obligation under Aussie corporation law or its own constitution to publish minutes and therefore under no obligation to put this policy to a member vote.

It did, however, agree to reinstate previously published and deleted minutes of meetings up to February 2017.

The Grumpy gang also wanted auDA to put is new member code of conduct, apparently unilaterally imposed by its board this May, to a member vote.

The code of conduct contains some innocuous policies about having a zero tolerance for members who abuse and harass auDA staff, but it also prevents members from saying bad things about the organization in public.

Members must agree:

In any forum, including in the media, where acting as an auDA member or identifiable as an auDA member, I will conduct myself in a manner that will not bring the organisation, Directors or staff, into disrepute.

This basically would prevent any member from criticizing auDA when talking to a journalist, under pain of having their membership suspended or revoked. Clearly uncool.

In auDA’s new letter, CEO Cameron Boardman explains that the ability of the board to suspend memberships has been removed from the policy, in response to feedback. Memberships can still be revoked by the board, however.

This U-turn appears to be a legal technicality designed to ensure that the policy does not change the organization’s constitution — which allows the board to revoke but not suspend memberships — and therefore does not need to be put to a member vote.

Finally, the Grumpy coalition had asked for auDa’s decision to create its own in-house registry — and to stop outsourcing its back-end to Neustar — to be put to a vote.

Boardman’s letter says that this decision was “a matter of management exclusively vested in the directors” and therefore legally not something it has to put out for member approval.

O’Meara and company were given the chance to recant on their fourth resolution — that Benjamin be fired — and apparently had indicated initially that they wished to do so.

However, they were so appalled by Boardman’s letter than they decided to go ahead with it anyway.

auDA’s recommendation that Benjamin keeps his job can be read in full here.

Three-million-domain .au deal up for grabs

auDA has formally launched the process that will could see it replace .au back-end provider Neustar with an in-house registry by the end of June 2018.

The Australian ccTLD operator has opened a “Request for Expressions of Interest” as the first stage of a procurement process for software and/or services to support its recently announced Registry Transformation Project.

It’s looking for companies that can provide all the major pieces of a domain name registry — EPP registry, Whois, DNS, etc — and my reading of the REOI reveals a preference towards a system owned and operated by auDA.

Respondents can respond with products, technology and / or services for all or part of the elements of the Registry Transformation Project, and are free to partner with other respondents to put together combined proposals.

auDA intends to establish a dedicated .au registry, and have all arrangements in place to support this, by 30 June 2018.

The organization even talks about eventually becoming one of ICANN’s approved Emergency Back-End Registry Operators.

.au has grown to over 3 million domains over the 15 years it was being managed by AusRegistry, which was acquired by US-based Neustar in 2015. This deal is due to expire next year.

So it’s a big contract, and one that is likely to attract a lot of interest from players big and small.

That said, registry solutions are typically offered very much on a service basis. The market for licensed registry software is not exactly bustling, and auDA also requires source code access as a condition of any deal.

auDA said the deadline for responses to the REOI is June 26. It will decide upon its next steps, which could be a formal request for proposals, in the last week of July.

Further details can be found here.

Neustar’s .au deal in peril as Aussies look in-house

Australian ccTLD registry auDA is looking at bringing its back-end infrastructure in house, to the possible detriment of Neustar.

In a surprise move, auDA said late last month that several months of talks with AusRegistry, aimed at possibly extending its current back-end contract beyond 2018, had failed.

AusRegistry has operated .au for auDA since 2002, during which time the ccTLD has grown to 3.1 million domains.

The company was acquired by Neustar in 2015 as part of its $87 million acquisition of Bombora Technologies, parent to AusRegistry and ARI.

auDA said it has now launched an invitation-only “restricted tender exercise” to find advisers to help it build its own registry back-end.

AusRegistry will be among those invited to participate, auDA confirmed.

This week, the registry also announced that it has hired Bruce Tonkin, formerly of Melbourne IT and the ICANN board of directors, to be its “Registry Transformation Project Lead”.

It will also form an “Industry-led Advisory Panel” to give .au registrars a say in how the new registry is designed and built.