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No $17 million rebate for struggling new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN has turned down a request for about $17 million to be refunded to under-performing new gTLD registries.

The organization cannot spare the cash from its $96 million new gTLD program war chest because it does not yet know how much it will need to spend in future, Global Domains Division president Akram Atallah told registries this week.

The Registries Stakeholder Group made the request for fee relief back in March, arguing that the $25,000 per-TLD fixed annual fee each registry must pay amounts to an unfair “burden” that has “hampered their success and put them at a competitive disadvantage”.

The RySG proposed that this $6,250 per quarter fee should be reduced by $4,687.50 per quarter for a year, a 75% reduction, at a cost to ICANN of $16.87 million.

The money, they said, should be drawn from the $96.1 million in new gTLD application fees that were still unspent at the time.

The new gTLD program charged each applicant $185,000 per application. About third of the fee was to cover unforeseen events, and is often sniggeringly referred to as its legal defense fund.

Because the program was meant to work only on a cost-recovery basis, there are question marks hanging over what ICANN should ultimately do with whatever cash is left over.

(It should be noted that this cash is separate from and does not include the quarter-billion dollars ICANN has squirreled away from its new gTLD last-resort auctions).

Now that the vast majority of the 2012 round’s 1,930 applications have been fully processed, it must have seemed like a good time for the RySG to ask for some cashback, but ICANN has declined.

Atallah said in a August 29 letter (pdf) to the group that ICANN has had to spent lots of its program reserve on unanticipated projects such as name collisions, universal acceptance, the EBERO program and the Trademark Clearinghouse. He wrote:

We do not yet know how much of the New gTLD Program remaining funds will be required to address future unanticipated expenses, and by when. As such, at this time, ICANN is not in a position to commit to the dispensation of any potential remaining funds from the New gTLD Program applications fees.

It seems for now the hundreds of new gTLDs with far fewer than 10,000 registrations in their zones are going to keep having to fork over $25,000 a year for the privilege.

GoDaddy’s reason for dumping Uniregistry doesn’t make a lot of sense

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2017, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy, as you may have read, has again decided to dump Uniregistry’s portfolio of TLDs, following wholesale price increases.

But its explanation for the move — trying to provide its customers with a “great product experience” — doesn’t seem to tally with the way it has gone about implementing the change.

The company confirmed this week that it will no longer offer new registrations in Uniregistry’s stable of new gTLDs, but will continue to support existing customers.

The registrar’s EVP of domains, Mike McLaughlin, reportedly explained the move like this:

GoDaddy strives to provide its customers with great product experiences wherever possible. After careful consideration, we decided to stop offering new Uniregistry domain names for sale because their pricing changes caused frustration and uncertainty with our customers.

But the way GoDaddy has gone about this looks like it is set to provide anything other than a great product experience.

For starters, existing registrants of Uniregistry names will find their registrations migrated over to the wholesale registrar Hexonet, for which GoDaddy will act as reseller.

They’ll still be able to manage their names via their GoDaddy control panels, but technically GoDaddy will no longer be the registrar.

This could well add friction to the customer support process, as well as meaning Hexonet will now show up in Whois as the sponsoring registrar.

Accompanying this move is the unexplained removal of Whois privacy services for all affected domains. Registrants will get a refund for their privacy service and will have the opportunity to switch registrars to one that will support privacy.

For those that remain, suddenly their personally identifiable information will become publicly available. This could lead to an increase in complaints and support calls as registrants realize what has happened.

In terms of price, existing registrants will presumably still be affected by Uniregistry’s increases to the same extent as they were previously. Again, their customer experience has not changed.

Overall, the explanation doesn’t make a heck of a lot of sense to me. I put the above points to GoDaddy and VP of domains Rich Merdinger responded, via a company spokesperson:

After we made the decision to stop supporting Uniregistry domain names, we worked to provide the best possible experience we could to our customers. We wanted them to have a transparent experience. They will log in to the same GoDaddy account and service the domain names the same way they always have. Because of the transfer of the name to a different registrar, privacy had to be removed. While this impacts a small subset of these customers, we have done everything to make this transition as smooth as possible.

It’s true that GoDaddy isn’t a big seller of Uniregistry names. It’s one of Uniregistry’s smaller channel partners and the number of Uniregistry names it’s sold — measured in the thousands — is a drop in the ocean of the over 55 million gTLD names it currently has under management.

The two companies are also competitors, it probably should be noted.

But while Uniregistry’s registrar seems to be have been well-received by customers, and its domain volume has grown rapidly in the last three years, it still only had about 1.5 million domains under management at the last count; hardly an existential threat to the Scottsdale behemoth.

It should also be noted that GoDaddy is not the only registrar to distance itself from Uniregistry.

NameCheap also recently discontinued support for the TLDs that are experiencing the biggest price increases. Tucows announced a similar move in May.

GoDaddy had already said it would drop Uniregistry once before, but changed its mind, before changing it back again.

Google shifts 400,000 .site domains

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2017, Domain Registries

Google has given away what is believed to be roughly 400,000 subdomains in Radix’s .site gTLD as part of a small business web site service.

Since its launch a couple of months ago, the Google My Business web site builder offering has been offering small businesses a free one-page site with a free third-level domain under business.site.

Google My Business also offers users the ability to upgrade to a paid-for second-level domain via its Google Domains in-house registrar.

Google the search engine indexes 403,000 business.site pages currently. Because each subdomain is limited to a single page, it is possible that the number of subdomains is not too far behind that number, Radix believes.

This means that business.site is likely almost as large as the .site gTLD itself, which currently has about 450,000 names in its zone file.

Given the rapid growth rate, it seems likely the subdomain will overtake the TLD in a matter of weeks.

According to Radix, business.site was purchased off of its registry reserved premium list. The sale price has not been disclosed.

It’s good publicity for the TLD, and merely the latest endorsement by Google of the new gTLD concept.

As well as being the registry for many new gTLDs, Google parent Alphabet uses a .xyz domain and its registrar uses a .google domain.

HTC dumps its dot-brand

Mobile phone manufacturer HTC has become the latest dot-brand operator to get out of the new gTLD game.

The $4.3 billion-a-year Taiwanese firm has told ICANN that it no longer wishes to run .htc as a dot-brand registry and ICANN has signaled its intent to terminate the contract.

It becomes the 27th dot-brand, from the hundreds that have entered contracts over the last few years, to change its mind about owning a vanity gTLD.

Most recently, fast food chain McDonalds and kitchen utensils company Pampered Chef both dumped their respective dot-brands.

Like the previous terminations, HTC never actually did anything with .htc; it only had the contractually mandated nic.htc in its zone file.

EFF recommends against new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2017, Domain Policy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recommended that domain registrants concerned about intellectual property “bullies” steer clear of new gTLDs.

The view is expressed in a new EFF report today that is particularly critical of policies in place at new gTLD portfolio registries Donuts and Radix.

The report (pdf) also expresses strong support for .onion, the pseudo-TLD available only to users of the Tor browser and routing network, which the EFF is a long-term supporter of.

The report makes TLD recommendations for “security against trademark bullies”, “security against identity theft and marketing”, “security against overseas speech regulators” and “security against copyright bullies”.

It notes that no one TLD is “best” on all counts, so presents a table explaining which TLD registries — a broad mix of the most popular gTLD and ccTLD registries — have which relevant policies.

For those afraid of trademark “bullies”, the EFF recommends against 2012-round new gTLDs on the basis that they all have the Uniform Rapid Suspension service. It singles out Donuts for special concern due to its Domain Protected Marks List, which adds an extra layer of protection for trademark owners.

On copyright, the report singles out Donuts and Radix for their respective “trusted notifier” schemes, which give the movie and music industries a hotline to report large-scale piracy web sites.

These are both well-known EFF positions that the organization has expressed in previous publications.

On the other two issues, the report recommends examining ccTLDs for those which don’t have to kowtow to local government speech regulations or publicly accessible Whois policies.

In each of the four areas of concern, the report suggests taking a look at .onion, while acknowledging that the pseudo-gTLD would be a poor choice if you actually want people to be able to easily access your web site.

While the opinions expressed in the report may not be surprising, the research that has gone into comparing the policies of 40-odd TLD registries covering hundreds of TLDs appears on the face of it to be solid and possibly the report’s biggest draw.

You can read it here (pdf).