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Governments mull greater geo gTLD powers

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2016, Domain Policy

Governments are toying with the idea of asking ICANN for greater powers over gTLDs that match their geographic features.

The names of rivers, mountains, forests and towns could be protected under ideas bandied around at the ICANN 57 meeting in India today.

The Governmental Advisory Committee held a session this morning to discuss expanding the list of strings that already enjoy extra ICANN protections on grounds of geography.

In the 2012 application round, gTLDs matching the names or ISO acronyms of countries were banned outright.

For capital city names and non-capital names where the gTLD was meant to represent the city in question, government approval was required.

For regions on the ISO 3166 list, formal government non-objection was required whether or not the gTLD was intended to represent the region.

That led to gTLDs such as .tata, a dot-brand for Tata Group, being held up indefinitely because it matches the name of a small region of Morocco.

One applicant wound up agreeing to fund a school to the tune of $100,000 in order to get Montenegro’s support for .bar.

But other names were not protected.

Notably, the string “Amazon” was not on any of the protected lists, largely because while it’s a river and a forest it doesn’t match the name of a formal administrative region of any country.

While GAC objections ultimately killed off Amazon’s bid for .amazon (at least for now), the GAC wants to close the Amazon loophole in time for the next new gTLD application round.

The GAC basically is thinking about the power to write its own list of protected terms. It would build on the existing list to also encompass names of “geographic significance”.

GAC members would be able to submit names to the list; applicants for those names would then require non-objection letters from the relevant government(s).

Some governments, including the UK and Peru, expressed concern that “geographic significance” is a little vague.

Truly, without a narrow definition of “significance” it could turn out to be a bloody big list. The UK alone has over 48,000 towns, not to mention all the named forests, rivers and such.

Peru, one of the nations that had beef with Amazon, said it intended to send ICANN a list of all the geographic names it wants protecting, regardless of whether the GAC decides to create a new list.

Other GAC members, including Iran and Denmark, pressed how important it was for the GAC to coordinate with other parts of the ICANN community, mainly the GNSO, on geo names, to avoid overlap and conflict further down the line.

The GAC has a working group looking at the issue. It hopes to have something to recommend to the ICANN board by the Copenhagen meeting next March.

Should new gTLDs be first-come, first-served?

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2016, Domain Policy

Who needs rounds? The idea of allocating new gTLDs on a first-come, first-served basis is getting some consideration at this week’s ICANN 57 meeting.

Such a move could have profound implications on the industry, creating new business opportunities while scuppering others.

Whether to shift to a FCFS model was one of many issues discussed during a session today of the GNSO’s working group tasked with looking at the next new gTLD round.

Since 2000, new gTLDs have been allocated in strict rounds, with limited application windows and often misleading guidance about when the next window would open, but it’s not written in stone that that is the way it has to be.

The idea of switching to FCFS — where any company could apply for any gTLD at any time — is not off the table.

FCSC would not mean applicants would merely have to ask for a string and automatically be granted — there’d still be multiple phases of evaluation and opportunities for others to object, so it wouldn’t be just like registering a second-level domain.

Depending on how the new process was designed, doing away with rounds could well do away with the concept of “contention” — multiple applicants simultaneously vying for the same string.

This would basically eliminated the need for auctions entirely.

No longer would an applicant be able to risk a few hundred thousand bucks in application expenses in the hope of a big private auction pay-day. Similarly, ICANN’s quarter-billion-dollar pool of last-resort auction proceeds would grow no more.

That’s potentially an upside, depending on your point of view.

On the downside, and it’s a pretty big downside, a company could work on a solid, innovative gTLD application for months only to find its chances scuppered because a competitor filed an inferior application a day earlier.

A middle way, suggested during today’s ICANN 57 session, would be a situation in which the filing of an application starts a clock of maybe a few months during which other interested parties would be able to file their own applications.

That would keep the concept of contention whilst doing away with the restrictive round-based structure, but would present plenty of new opportunities for exploitation and skulduggery.

Another consequence of the shift to FCSC could be to eliminate the concept of Community gTLDs altogether, it was suggested during today’s session.

In 2012, applicants were given the opportunity to avoid auction if they could meeting exacting “Community” standards. The trade-off is that Community gTLDs are obliged to be restricted to their designated community.

If FCSC led to contention going away, there’d be no reason for any applicant to apply for a Community gTLD that could unnecessarily burden their business model in future.

For those strongly in favor of community gTLDs, such as governments, this could be an unwelcome outcome.

Instinctively, I think FCSC would be a bad idea, but I think I’d be open to persuasion.

I think the main problem with the round-based structure today is that it’s unpredictable — nobody knows when the next round is likely to be so it’s hard to plan their new gTLD business ideas.

Sure, FCSC would bring flexibility, allowing companies to apply at times that are in tune with their business objectives, but the downsides could outweigh that benefit.

Perhaps the way to reduce unpredictability would be to put application windows on a predictable, reliable schedule — once a year for example — as was suggested by a participant or two during today’s ICANN 57 session.

The discussions in the GNSO are at a fairly early stage right now, but a switch to FCSC would be so fundamental that I think it needs to be adopted or discarded fairly quickly, if there’s ever going to be another application round.

ICANN has $400m in the bank

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2016, Domain Policy

ICANN ended its fiscal 2016 with just shy of $400 million on its balance sheet, according to its just-released financial report.

As of June 30, the organization had assets of $399.6 million, up from $376.5 million a year earlier, the statement (pdf) says.

Its revenue for the year was actually down, at $194.6 million in 2016 compared to $216.8 million in 2015.

That dip was almost entirely due to less money coming in via “last-resort” new gTLD auctions.

The growth of the gTLD business led to $74.5 million coming from registries, up from $59 million in 2015.

Registrar revenue grew from $39.3 million to $48.3 million.

Money from ccTLD registries, whose contributions are entirely voluntary, was down to $1.1 million from $2.1 million.

Expenses were up across the board, from $143 million to $131 million, largely due to $5 million increases in personnel and professional services costs.

The results do not take into account the $135 million Verisign paid for .web, which happened after the end of the fiscal year.

Auction proceeds are earmarked for some yet-unspecified community purpose and sit outside its general working capital pool. Regardless, they’re factored into these audited financial reports.

ICANN has to date taken in almost a quarter of a billion dollars from auctions. Its board recently decided to diversify how the money is invested, so the pot could well grow.

Radix acquires .fun gTLD from Warren Buffett

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2016, Domain Registries

New gTLD portfolio player Radix has acquired the pre-launch TLD .fun from its original owner.

The company took over the .fun Registry Agreement from Oriental Trading Company on October 4, according to ICANN records.

Oriental is a party supplies company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

It won .fun in a private auction in April last year, beating off Google and .buzz operator DotStrategy.

It had planned to run it as a “closed generic” — keeping all the domains in .fun for itself — but those plans appeared to have been shelved by the time it signed its RA in January this year.

Evidently Oriental’s heart was not in it, and Radix made an offer for the string it found more attractive.

Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani confirmed to DI today that .fun will be operated in a completely unrestricted manner, the same as its other gTLDs.

It will be Radix’s first three-letter gTLD, Ramchandani said. It already runs zones such as .online, .site and .space.

.fun is not yet delegated, but Radix is hoping for a December sunrise period, he said.

Guess which registrars sell the most gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2016, Domain Registrars

MarkMonitor has become the first accredited registrar to carry over 500 gTLDs.

Inspired by a recent Dynadot press release outlining its passing of the 500-TLD mark, I thought I’d put together a league table of gTLD registrars, ordered by which carries the most.

It will come as little surprise to most that brand protection registrars dominate the top end of the list.

MarkMonitor tops the league, with 504 gTLDs in its stable as of the end of June, up from 499 in May.

It’s closely followed by Ascio and CSC. Indeed, brand-focused registrars occupy many of the top 30 registrars, as you can see from this table.

RegistrargTLDsDUM
MarkMonitor504849,074
Ascio4961,655,320
CSC4871,082,854
101domain487136,412
Com Laude47866,412
Openprovider469234,052
Gandi4651,180,478
Key-Systems463153,603
SafeNames449140,483
Lexsynergy44619,907
Instra443164,189
SafeBrands44029,312
1API440628,558
IP Mirror43943,803
EuroDNS432182,798
OVH4301,961,644
Marcaria.com42729,044
united-domains424652,278
Name.com4181,644,616
eNom41512,108,692
Dynadot413638,676
Tucows4109,782,941
COREhub409217,776
Crazy Domains405631,186
Network Solutions4016,555,354
1&1 Internet4005,845,447
GoDaddy.com39753,948,610
Soluciones Corporativas397128,998
PublicDomainRegistry.com3916,113,121

There’s no real correlation between the number of gTLDs carried and the total domains under management for the registrar.

GoDaddy, with 53 million names, is way down in 28th position, for example.

The list was compiled from the latest gTLD registry reports, which show how many domains were registered to each accredited registrar at the end of June.

The data does not not include ccTLDs, nor does it account for situations where registrars may retail a TLD via a gateway or as a reseller of another registrar.