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Iran reported to Ombudsman after new gTLD conspiracy theory

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman has stepped in to resolve a complaint from the Iranian government that it was being “excluded” from discussions about the next phase of the new gTLD program.

Kavouss Arasteh, Iran’s Governmental Advisory Committee representative, earlier this month accused the leadership of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Working Group of deliberately scheduling teleconferences to make them difficult for him to attend.

He said the 0300 UTC timing of a meeting made it “painful” for European volunteers to participate (though it’s 0730 in Tehran).

When WG co-chair Avri Doria said that the time had been selected to avoid clashes with other working groups and declined his request, Arasteh said in an email: “If you insist, I interpret that this is an effort to EXCLUDE GAC TO ATTEND THE PDP.”

In other words, he was accusing the WG leaders of trying to exclude governments from helping to develop the rules of the new gTLD program.

Doria responded that she took the tone of the remarks as “abusive”, adding:

since my motives have been attacked and since I have been accused of trying to prevent GAC participation, I have no choice other than to turn this issue over to the Ombudsman.

The only other alternative I can think of is to accept the fact that I am incapable of co-chairing this group and step down.

Fellow co-chair Jeff Neuman chipped in with a detailed explanation of how, in the global ICANN community, there usually isn’t a time of day that is not inconvenient to at least some volunteers.

(It’s sometimes possible to hear snoring on these calls, but that’s not always due to the time of day.)

Today, Ombudsman Herb Weye responded to Doria’s complaint, saying that it has been “resolved” between the two parties. He wrote:

Without going into detail I am pleased to advise the working group that this complaint has been resolved and that I can bear witness to a unanimous demonstration of support for the leadership of the working group.

I would like to highlight the professional, “human” approach taken by all involved and their willingness to communicate in a clear, respectful and objective manner. This cooperative atmosphere allowed for a timely discussion and quick resolution.

Aratesh has for some time been one of the most vocal and combative GAC reps, noticeably unafraid to raise his voice when he needs to make his point.

He recently publicly threatened to take his concerns about ICANN’s policy on two-character domains to the International Telecommunications Union if his demands were not met.

More change at the top at Donuts as Tindal steps down

Donuts has lost co-founder and COO Richard Tindal, who has announced his retirement.

Tindal was one of the four domain industry executives who founded Donuts in order to take advantage of ICANN’s new gTLD program about seven years ago.

No reason was given for his departure, which was announced in a blog post, beyond “retirement”.

Co-founders Paul Stahura, Jon Nevett and Dan Schindler are all still with the company, but founding CEO Stahura recently stepped into the chairman’s role to give venture capitalist Bruce Jaffe the corner office.

Tindal had previously worked in senior roles for Verisign, Neustar and Demand Media (now Rightside).

Second emergency registry tested with dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN is running its second test of the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator system, designed as a failover for bankrupt gTLDs.

This time, the EBERO under the microscope is CORE Association, one of the three approved providers.

It this week took over operation of .mtpc, a dot-brand gTLD that Mitsubishi applied for, was delegated, never used, and then decided it didn’t want to run any more.

ICANN said:

ICANN is conducting a test of the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program. Simulating an emergency registry operator transition will provide valuable insight into the effectiveness of procedures for addressing potential gTLD service interruptions. Lessons learned will be used to support ICANN’s efforts to ensure the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet and the Domain Name System.

The first test was conducted by ICANN and EBERO provider Nominet earlier this year, using the similarly unloved dot-brand .doosan.

I expect we’ll see a third test before long, using CNNIC, the third EBERO provider.

It would have plenty of dead dot-brands to choose from.

MMX stung for $7.7 million by crappy .london contract?

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2017, Domain Registries

Did MMX take a $7.7 million accounting hit to renegotiate a crappy .london gTLD contract? It looks a bit like that to me.

Found in the company’s full-year 2016 financial results yesterday is the disclosure that it had to pay off an undisclosed gTLD partner after originally making “overly ambitious” predictions about its likely popularity.

The deal apparently had MMX — then under previous management as Minds + Machines — making guaranteed payments to its partner on the assumption that it would sell a lot more domains than it eventually did.

.london currently has about 56,000 names in its zone file, down from a post-launch peak of about 65,000.

According to its statement to the markets, MMX recorded a 2016 one-time contract restructuring expense of $3.8 million and has added a $3.9 million intangible asset to its balance sheet in relation to the contract.

That’s a total of $7.7 million, but CEO Toby Hall told DI that the cash payment was nowhere near that amount. He said:

in reality we have paid no where near that amount and much of this is the accounting treatment of a new contract that we believe has the potential to deliver future economic value to the business and will be covered from future revenues.

The gTLD in question is not named in the statement, and Hall also declined to name it in response to a DI inquiry, but MMX says of the contract:

In very early 2012, at the time when ICANN was still accepting new generic Top Level Domain applications, the then Executive Team entered into an overly ambitious agreement that it believed would provide value to the overall profile of the Group. The agreement had very significant financial commitments over the life of the contract and did not include any clauses that could allow the Group to renegotiate those commitments should the specific top-level domain not perform to the agreed financial projections. The growth of this top-level domain has not come close to meeting those expectations and the agreement has proven – and would have continued proving – to be a significant drag on the Group’s ability to generate positive cashflow from the given TLD.

In late Q4 of 2016 the current Executive team was able to successfully conclude renegotiations of certain components of the agreement by either restructuring or buying out certain financial commitments thus making it more economically viable going forward. As a result of the renegotiation effort, the Group has revised its modeling and believes that it can derive future economic benefit from the renegotiated contract. Accordingly, based on Management’s review, a portion of the buy out ($3.8million) has been expensed as a one-off restructuring cost while the remaining portion ($3.9million) will be capitalized as an intangible asset with future economic benefit.

All the evidence points to .london being the gTLD in question.

First, MMX says that the deal was entered into in “very early 2012”, which ties up with the timing of the request for proposals by the Mayor’s marketing office, London & Partners.

Second, MMX doesn’t have any other partner-based gTLDs that would plausibly have such ambitious commitments.

Third, MMX has previously stated that it was renegotiating some “burdensome” contracts. Last year, without relating it to a renegotiation, it said in a trading update that it was “encouraging to see an increasingly commercial and flexible approach from London & Partners, our Dot London partners”.

Fourth, word on the street back in 2012 was that L&P (which remember is affiliated with the London Mayor, an elected political office) had gone with tax-haven-based MMX rather than UK-based non-profit Nominet because MMX (then Minds + Machines) had offered the best financial incentives.

The scrapping of the old deal is perhaps another indicator of the hubris that accompanied the opening of the new gTLD program five years ago.

While L&P is the “owner” of .london, for want of a better word, in practice I gather that MMX runs it pretty much as if the gTLD was part of its regular portfolio.

The news of the contract changes were made in MMX’s audited 2016 results, which showed its billings doubling to $15.8 million during the year.

Revenue was $15 million, up from $6.3 million in 2015. Less partner payments, revenue was $13.5 million versus $5.5 million a year earlier.

The statement has half a dozen or more bottom lines, depending on what costs you exclude, but the one MMX wants us to look at is “Billings Operating EBITDA before one off restructuring costs”, which was $4.2 million compared to a loss of $6.6 million in 2015.

That, in other words, means that an unprofitable company has become a profitable one.

A lot of that has to do with the revenue from hundreds of thousands of .vip domain sales in China and a swingeing restructuring that led to headcount being slashed from 43 people to 20 people.

The company also sold off its registrar business to Uniregistry and started outsourcing its back-end functions to Nominet.

For 2017, the company has already disclosed two huge sales that will boost domains under management considerably, but at the risk of concentrating a larger part of MMX’s business outlook in just a few hands.

UPDATE: This article was updated a few hours after publication to clarify what MMX has said in relation to .london in previous trading statements.

MarkMonitor tells .feedback to take a hike after “breach” claim

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2017, Domain Registrars

MarkMonitor is to voluntarily terminate its registrar relationship with Top Level Spectrum after the .feedback registry hit it with a breach of contract notice.

Troy Fuhriman, director of domain management at the registrar, told DI today that the company has just sent TLS a letter stating that it no longer wishes to sell .feedback names.

TLS earlier this month accused MarkMonitor of breaking the terms of its Registry-Registrar Agreements by leaking details of that agreement to media outlets including yours truly.

While TLS CEO Jay Westerdal told DI that an apology from MarkMonitor would be enough to make the termination threat go away, MarkMonitor has clearly decided against that route.

“We’re going to terminate all accreditation agreements for .feedback,” he said. “In part it’s a response to ICANN’s finding that Top Level Spectrum violated its Pubic Interest Commitments, and what we believe is a retaliatory breach notification from them.”

MarkMonitor and a small posse of high-profile clients including Facebook recently won a Public Interest Commitment Dispute Resolution Policy complaint against .feedback, related to the transparency of its launch policies and pricing.

It was in that complaint that MarkMonitor released details contained in the RRA that TLS deemed to be confidential.

Terminating the agreement means that MarkMonitor will no longer be able to sell .feedback names as a registrar and will have to transfer its existing registrations to a different registrar.

Not many clients are affected. MarkMonitor had only 45 .feedback domains under management at the last count (which was still enough to make it the fourth-largest independent .feedback registrar).

Most of these domains will be moved to 101domain, which with fewer than 200 domains is still the leading .feedback registrar.

UPDATE: Westerdal says that MarkMonitor was in fact terminated on Monday. Neither party claims that MarkMonitor made any effort to comply with the breach notice by apologizing.