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Justice gives nod to auction

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2017, Domain Registries

The US Department of Justice does not intend to prevent Verisign from auctioning off the single-letter domain

Aaron Hoag, chief of the department’s Technology & Financial Services Section, told ICANN in a letter (pdf) that it does not intend to probe Verisign’s proposal.

The letter reads in its entirety:

Your letter dated December 7, 2017, to Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division, regarding VeriSign’s proposal to auction O.COM, has been referred to the Technology & Financial Services Section for review. After careful consideration of the matter, the Division can report that it does not intend to open an investigation into the proposed auction described in the attachment to your letter.

Verisign asked ICANN’s permission to auction, with most of the the proceeds going to good causes, after over a decade of nagging from retailer, which desperately wants to own the currently reserved name.

It would set a precedent for the company to sell off the remaining 22 single-letter domains, not to mention the 10 digits, which are all currently reserved due to a decades-old technical policy no longer considered necessary.

Verisign would only receive its $7.85 base registry fee from the sale, despite the fact that single-letter domains could easily fetch seven or eight figures.

The company asked ICANN for permission to release the name via its Registry Services Evaluation Process last month.

ICANN said earlier this month that it had no objection on technical grounds, but referred it to US competition authorities for a review.

With the DoJ apparently not interested, the door is open for ICANN to approve the RSEP before the end of the year, meaning Verisign could carry out the auction in 2018.

The big question now is whether anyone other than Overstock will want to take part in the auction. Overstock has US trademarks on “”, despite the fact that it’s never actually owned the domain.

ICANN punts auction to US watchdogs

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

Verisign’s proposed auction of the domain might have a negative effect on competition and has been referred to US regulators.

That’s according to ICANN’s response to the .com registry’s request to release the domain, which is among the 23 single-letter domains currently reserved under the terms of its contract.

ICANN has determined that the release “might raise significant competition issues” and has therefore been referred to “to the appropriate governmental competition authority”.

It’s forwarded Verisign’s request to the US Department of Justice.

Verisign late last month asked ICANN if it could release to auction as a test that could presumably lead to other single-character .com names being released in future.

The plan is for a charity auction, in which almost all the proceeds are donated to internet-related good causes.

Only the company running the auction would make any significant money; Verisign would just take its standard $7.85 annual fee.

ICANN told the company that it could find no technical reason that the release could not go ahead.

The only barrier is the fact that Verisign arguably has government-approved, cash-printing, market dominance and is therefore in a sensitive political position.

Whether its profitless plan will be enough to see the auction given the nod remains to be seen.

A certain bidder in the proposed auction would be, the online retailer, which has been pressuring ICANN and Verisign for the release of for well over a decade and even owns trademarks covering the domain.

Disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

Verisign wants to auction off for charity

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2017, Domain Registries

The internet could soon gets just its fourth active single-character .com domain name, after Verisign revealed plans to auction off for charity.

The company has asked ICANN to allow it to release just one of the 23 remaining one-letter .com domains, which are currently reserved under the terms of the .com registry agreement.

It’s basically a proof of concept that would lead to this contractual restriction being lifted entirely. has been picked as the guinea pig, because of “long-standing interest” in the domain, according to Verisign., the $1.8 billion-a-year US retailer, is known to have huge interest in the name.

The company acquired from .CO Internet for $350,000 during the ccTLD’s 2010 relaunch, then embarked upon a disastrous rebranding campaign that ended when the company estimated it was losing 61% of its type-in traffic to

Overstock has obsessed over its unobtainable prize for over a decade and would almost certainly be involved in any auction for the domain.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Overstock pressured Verisign into requesting the release of

Despite the seven or eight figures that a single-letter .com domain could fetch, Verisign’s cut of the auction proceeds would be just $7.85, its base registry fee.

Regardless, it has a payment schedule in mind that would see the winning bidder continue to pay premium renewal fees for 25 years, eventually doubling the sale price.

The winner would pay their winning bid immediately and get a five-year registration, but then would have to pay 5% of that bid to renew the domain for years six through 25.

In other words, if the winning bid was $1 million, the annual renewal fee after the first five years would be $50,000 and the total amount paid would eventually be $2 million.

All of this money, apart from the auction provider’s cut, would go to a trust that would distribute the funds to internet-focused non-profit organizations, such as those promoting security or open protocols.

There’s also a clause that would seem to discourage domain investors from bidding. The only way to transfer the domain would be if the buyer was acquired entirely, though this could be presumably circumvented with the use of a shell company.

It’s an elaborate auction plan, befitting of the fact that one-character .com domains are super rare.

Only, and are currently registered and it’s Verisign policy to reserve them in the unlikely event they should ever expire.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk this July reacquired, the domain he used to launch PayPal in the 1990s, back from PayPal for an undisclosed sum. was acquired by GMO Internet for $6.8 million in 2014.

Single-character domains are typically not reserved in the ICANN contracts of other gTLDs, whether pre- or post-2012, though it’s standard practice for the registry to reserve them for auction anyway.

Verisign’s reservations in .com and .net are a legacy of IANA policy, pre-ICANN and have been generally considered technically unnecessary for some years.

Still, there’s been a reluctance to simply hand Verisign, already a money-printing machine through accident of history, another windfall of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars by allowing it to sell off the names for profit. Hence the elaborate plan with the trust fund.

The proposal to release requires a contractual amendment, so Verisign has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) with ICANN that is now open for public comment.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter. loses 61% of its traffic to’s decision to rebrand itself had a disastrous effect on the internet retailer’s traffic, according to its CEO.

Patrick Byrne told financial analysts yesterday that “ was my bad call” and that “about eight out of 13 people who were trying to visit us through, eight were typing”

It’s not clear what the source of the data is, or why the measurement given was out of 13, but it works out to 61%.

Byrne noted that people may have typed instead after figuring out that doesn’t work – it’s currently reserved, alongside most other single-letter .com domains, by Verisign.

His comments came as Overstock reported 2011 revenue down 3% to $1.05 billion and fourth-quarter revenue down 10% to $314 million.

Byrne said on a conference call with analysts:

There were some bad decisions for which I take responsibility in marketing was odd in that it worked on one level. It did get out there into people’s heads, but what we discovered, and we turned it up slowly and we actually had nice adoption from the beginning of last year, gradually people shifting to and then, but we got into the Christmas season and it worked terribly for people who were not familiar with us. There was a tremendous amount of traffic diverting to and I think we’ve figured out that it was about eight out of 13 people who were trying to visit us through, eight were typing Now some of them may have come, trying anyway.

The company bought from registry .CO Internet for $350,000 in July 2010, during the .co relaunch. It later said it would rebrand the company on its new domain.

It even bought the naming rights to the Oakland Coliseum, which is now known as the Coliseum.

Until quite recently, Overstock was an important .CO Internet reference customer. Now, I’m guessing, not so much.

Overstock has “slowed” its rebranding, reverting to referring to as a “shortcut” rather than its primary address, which remains

The company bought last year and this week launched the site as an information portal for its products. It also operates as a business-to-business site.