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Crocker: no date on next new gTLD round

Kevin Murphy, July 27, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN will NOT set a date for the next round of new gTLD applications, despite recent pleas from registry operators.

That’s according to a letter (pdf) from ICANN chair Steve Crocker to the Registries Stakeholder Group published today.

The RySG had asked (pdf) last month for ICANN’s leadership to set a fourth-quarter 2018 deadline for the next application window.

It said that that drawing a line in the sand would allow potential applicants to plan and would prevent current policy-development processes from being abused to delay the next round.

But Crocker says in his letter that it is up to the ICANN community, not its board of directors, to determine if and when a new round should commence. He wrote:

Once the community completes its work, the Board will consider the community’s recommendations to introduce additional new gTLDs. Without the final findings and recommendations from the review and PDP, the Board won’t be able to determine what needs to be done prior to the opening of another application process…

The Registry Stakeholder Group’s letter suggests that by setting a date for the opening of another application process, the Board will provide the community with a target date to work toward. Although the Board setting a date would achieve this, doing so might contravene the multi-stakeholder process that allows for the community to have the necessary discussions to arrive at consensus, and to determine the timing of their own work

It seems this is an instance in which the board does not like the idea of setting policy in a top-down manner.

Crocker said the two remaining gating factors for a next round are the consumer choice and competition review of the first round, which is ongoing, and the GNSO’s New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process (PDP).

The PDP has now been going on for 18 months and yet discussions remain at a very early stage, with hardly any preliminary recommendations being agreed upon.

There’s not even agreement on foundational issues such as whether to carry on dividing the program into discreet application rounds or to start a first-come, first-served process.

The RySG had suggested in its letter that the next window could open after certain threshold issues had been resolved but before all policy work was complete, and that at the very least ICANN staff should get to work on a new version of the Applicant Guidebook while the PDP is still ongoing.

But Crocker again responded that the staff cannot get to work on implementation until the board has considered the community’s final recommendations.

ICANN’s most recent estimates for the opening of the next round would see applications accepted in 2020, eight years after the last round.

MMX says .vip renewals running at 75%

MMX has revealed that its renewal rate for first-month .vip registrations in China were over 75%.

The portfolio gTLD registry, also known as Minds + Machines, said that 317,000 domains that were registered during .vip’s first month of availability have now been renewed.

The news follows a June announcement that the renewal rate would be over 70%.

The large majority of .vip names registered are registered via Chinese registrars, where prices can be around the $3 to $4 mark.

MMX CEO Toby Hall said in a statement that the company now plans to release some of its reserved “premium” .vip names.

He added that the company is confident that its recurring revenue from renewals will soon be high enough to cover its fixed overhead costs, one of its key performance benchmarks.

Junk drop cuts .xyz in half, .top claims volume crown

The .xyz gTLD has seen its zone file halve in size, as millions of free and cheap domains were not renewed.

The former volume leader among new gTLDs started this month with a tad over 5.2 million domains in its zone.

But its July 17 zone contained 2.5 million, much less than half as many, DI analysis shows.

The precipitous decline means that Chinese-run gTLD .top, increasingly notorious as a go-to TLD for spammers, is now literally at the top of the league table, when you measure new gTLDs by zone file volume, with 2.6 million names.

The primary reason for .xyz losing so many names is of course the expiration of most of the domains that were sold for just $0.01 — or given away for free — in the first few days of June 2016, and the aggressive promotional pricing on offer for the remainder of that month.

On May 30, 2016, there were just under 2.8 million names in the .xyz zone. By July 1, 2016, that number had topped 6.2 million, an increase of 3.4 million over a single month.

That was .xyz’s peak. The zone has been in gradual decline ever since.

Domains generally take 45 days to drop, so it’s entirely possible XYZ.com will see further losses over the next month or so.

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a so-called “junk drop” a year after a TLD launches or runs a free-domains promotion. It’s been well-understood for over a decade and has been anticipated for .xyz for over a year.

But compounding its problems, the .xyz registry appears to still be banned in China, where a substantial portion of its former customer base is located.

The company disclosed over two months ago that it had a “temporary” problem that had seen its license to sell domains via Chinese registrars suspended.

The ban was related to XYZ falling out with its original “real name verification” provider, ZDNS, which was tasked with verifying the identities of Chinese registrants per local government regulations.

I’ve never been able to confirm with either party the cause of this split, but everyone else involved in the Chinese market I’ve asked has told me it related to a dispute over money.

Regardless, two months later the major Chinese registrars I checked today still appear to not be carrying .xyz names.

XYZ has meanwhile signed up with alternative Chinese RNV provider Tele-info, and just three days ago submitted the necessary paperwork (pdf) with ICANN to have the move approved as a registry service under its contract.

In that request, XYZ said the new RNV service “will allow XYZ to reenter certain domain name markets”, suggesting that it has not yet regained Chinese government approval to operate there.

Could the next new gTLD round last 25 years? Or 70 years?

Kevin Murphy, July 13, 2017, Domain Policy

Will the next new gTLD round see 25,000 applications? If so, how long will it take for them all to go live?

The 25,000 figure is one that I’ve heard touted a few times, most recently during public sessions at ICANN’s meeting in Johannesburg last month.

The problem is that, judging by ICANN’s previous performance, such a huge number of applications would take anywhere from 25 to 70 years to process.

It’s unclear to me where the 25,000 application estimate comes from originally, but it does not strike me as laughably implausible.

There were just shy of 1,930 applications for 1,408 unique strings in the most recent round.

There could have been so many more.

ICANN’s outreach campaign is generally considered to have been a bit lackluster, particularly in developing markets, so many potential applicants were not aware of the opportunity.

In addition, some major portfolio applicants chose to rein in their ambitions.

Larry Page, then-CEO of Google, is known to have wanted to apply for many, many more than the 101 Google wound up applying for, but was talked down by staff.

There’s talk of pent-up demand for dot-brands among those companies that missed the 2012 window, but it’s impossible to know the scale of that demand with any precision.

Despite the fact that a handful of dot-brands with ICANN registry agreements and delegations have since cancelled their contracts, there’s no reason they could not reapply for defensive purposes again in subsequent rounds.

There are also thousands of towns and cities with populations comparable to cities that applied in 2012 that could apply next time around.

And there’s a possibility that the cost of applying — set at $185,000 on a highly redundant “cost recovery” basis — may come down in the next round.

Lots of other factors will play a role in how many applications we see, but in general it doesn’t seem impossible that there could be as many as 25,000.

Assuming for a moment that there are 25,000, how long will that take to process?

In the 2012 round, ICANN said it would delegate TLDs at a rate of no more than 1,000 per year. So that’s at least 25 years for a 25,000-app round.

That rate was set somewhat arbitrarily during discussions about root zone scaling before anyone knew how many gTLDs would be applied for and estimates were around the 500 mark.

Essentially, the 1,000-per-year number was floated as a sort of straw man (or “straw person” as some ICANNers have it nowadays) so the technical folk had a basis to figure out whether the root system could withstand such an influx.

Of course, this limit will have to be revised significantly if ICANN has any hope of processing 25,000 applications in under a generation.

Discussions at the time indicated that the rate of change, not the size of the root zone, was what represented the stability threat.

In reality, the rate of delegation has been significantly slower than 1,000 per year.

It took until May 2016 for the 1,000th new gTLD to go live, 945 days after the first batch were delegated in late October 2013.

That means that during the relative “rush-hour” of new gTLD delegations, there was still only a little over one per day on average.

And that’s counting from the date of the first delegation, which was actually 18 months after the application window was closed.

If that pattern held in subsequent rounds, we would be looking at about 70 years for a batch of 25,000 to make their way through the system.

You could apply for a vanity gTLD matching your family name and leave the delegation as a gift to your great-grandchildren, long after your death.

Clearly, with 25,000 applications some significant process efficiencies — including, I fancy, much more automation — would be in order.

Currently, IANA’s process for making changes to root zone records (including delegations) is somewhat complex and has multiple manual steps. And that’s before Verisign makes the actual change to the master root zone file.

But the act of delegation is only the final stage of processing a gTLD application.

First, applications that typically run into tens of thousands of words have to undergo Initial Evaluation by several teams of knowledgeable consultants.

From Reveal Day in 2012 to the final IE being published in 2014 took a little over two years, or an average of 2.5 applications per day.

Again, we’re looking at over a quarter of a century just to conduct IE on 25,000 applications.

Then there’s contracting — ICANN’s lawyers would have to sign off on about a dozen Registry Agreements per day if it wanted to process 25,000 delegations in just five years.

Not to mention there’s also pre-delegation testing, contention resolution, auctions, change requests, objections…

There’s a limited window to file objections and there were many complaints, largely from governments, that this period was far too short to read through just 1,930 applications.

A 25,000-string round could take forever, and ICANN’s policies and processes would have to be significantly revised to handle them in a reasonable timeframe.

Then again, potential applicants might view the 2012 round as a bust and the next round could be hugely under-subscribed.

There’s no way of knowing for sure, unfortunately.

InternetNZ wants to fire two of its three (!) CEOs

InternetNZ, the .nz ccTLD operator, is proposing a radical simplification of the organization in order to stay relevant in the age of new gTLDs.

A proposal put forward late last week would see the non-profit organization fold its two subsidiaries back into the parent and consolidate management under a single CEO.

Currently, InternetNZ owns Domain Name Commission Limited (DNCL), the .nz policy oversight body, and NZRS Limited, which actually runs the registry. Each of the three entities has its own CEO.

The new proposal describes the situation like this:

Our governance and management structures are cumbersome and a lack of single point of accountability makes it difficult to progress work across the group. The size of governance groups and management resource is out of proportion to the size of the organisation and the size of the issues it is dealing with. There are 20 governors, three chief executives and around 10 senior executives for the 35 FTE [Full Time Employees] across the three organisations.

The New Zealand organization needs to streamline, according to the working group that came up with the paper, in order to more effectively compete with the influx of new TLDs, which has seen ccTLDs see slowing growth.

.nz is one of the few ccTLDs that has a direct new gTLD competitor — .kiwi.

It also wants to diversify its revenue streams outside of domain registration fees, according to the paper, with a target of NZD 1 million ($720,000) from alternate sources by 2020.

As a member-based organization, InternetNZ has put the proposal out for public comment until June 30. It will make a decision in August.