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.pro now open to all

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias today made the .pro gTLD available to anyone, regardless of their professional qualifications.

The previously restricted TLD was able to do so as a result of its six-week-old contract with ICANN, which loosened many of the conditions former registry RegistryPro originally agreed to when the TLD was delegated 13 years ago.

Under the original Registry Agreements, RegistryPro — since acquired by Afilias — had to verify the professional credentials of potential registrants.

Now that .pro has been brought under something that looks a lot like the 2012 new gTLD RA, it’s pretty much a free-for-all.

The registry said in a press release:

despite demand from registrants and registrars alike, .PRO names have historically been denied to professionals from a wide range of fields such as policemen, firefighters, journalists, programmers, artists, writers, and many others.

In my personal experience, it has been possible to register a .pro domain without providing credentials. I’ve been paying for one for a few years, though I’ve been unable to actually use it.

The gTLD was approved in the original, first round of new gTLD applications, back in 2000.

Part of the original deal was that it would be restricted to three classes of professions — lawyer, doctor, accountant — and only available to buy at the third level.

The third-level limitation was lifted many years ago, but .pro continued to be restricted to people who could show a credential.

However, even as recently as 2012 then-RegistryPro-CEO Karim Jiwani was telling DI that the secret to growth was more restrictions, not less.

He’s no longer with the company.

.pro’s registration numbers have have been suffering the last few years.

The registry peaked at roughly 160,000 names in July 2012, and has been on a downward track ever since. It started this July with about 122,000 registrations.

As part of its new deal with ICANN, Afilias no longer has price caps — previously set around .com prices — and has had to implement some of the provisions of the new gTLD Registry Agreement.

One such provision is the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy, which continues to cause controversy in the industry.

URS arrives in three legacy gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2015, Domain Policy

The legacy gTLDs .cat, .pro and .travel will all be subject to the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy from now on.

Earlier this week, ICANN approved the new Registry Agreements, which are based on the new gTLD RA and include URS, for all three.

URS is an anti-cybersquatting policy similar to UDRP. It’s faster and cheaper than UDRP but has a higher burden of proof and only allows domains to be suspended rather than transferred.

The inclusion of the policy in pre-2012 gTLDs caused a small scandal when it was revealed a few months ago.

Critics, particularly the Internet Commerce Association, said that URS (unlike UDRP) is not a Consensus Policy and therefore should not be forced on registries.

ICANN responded that adding URS to the new contracts came about in bilateral negotiations with the registries.

The board said in its new resolutions this week:

the Board’s approval of the Renewal Registry Agreement is not a move to make the URS mandatory for any legacy TLDs, and it would be inappropriate to do so. In the case of .CAT, inclusion of the URS was developed as part of the proposal in bilateral negotiations between the Registry Operator and ICANN.

The concern for ICA and others is that URS may one day be forced into the .com RA, putting domainer portfolios at increased risk.

URS fight brewing at ICANN 53

Should the Uniform Rapid Suspension process spread from new gTLDs to incumbent gTLDs, possibly including .com?

That’s been the subject of some strong disagreements during the opening weekend of ICANN 53, which formally kicks off in Buenos Aires today.

During sessions of the Generic Names Supporting Organization and the ICANN board and staff, ICANN was accused of trying to circumvent policy-making processes by forcing URS into the .travel, .pro and .cat registry agreements, which are up for renewal.

ICANN executives denied doing any such thing, saying the three registries volunteered to have URS included in their new contracts, which are modeled on the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement.

“It’s just something we’ve suggested and they’ve taken up,” said Cyrus Namazi, ICANN’s vice president of domain name services.

If a registry wants to increase the number of rights protection mechanisms in its gTLD, why not let them, ICANN execs asked, pointing out that loads of new gTLDs have implemented extra RPMs voluntarily.

ICANN admits that it stands to benefit from operational efficiencies when its registry agreements are more uniform.

Opponents pointed out that there’s a difference between Donuts, say, having its bespoke, voluntary Domain Protected Marks List, and bilaterally putting the URS into an enforceable ICANN contract.

URS is not a formal Consensus Policy, they say, unlike UDRP. Consensus Policies apply to all gTLDs, whereas URS was created by ICANN for new gTLDs alone.

Arguably leading the fight against URS osmosis is Phil Corwin, counsel for Internet Commerce Association, which doesn’t want its clients’ vast portfolios of .com domains subject to URS.

He maintained over the weekend that his beef was with the process through which URS was making its way into proposed legacy gTLD contracts.

It shouldn’t be forced upon legacy gTLDs without a Consensus Policy, he said.

While the GNSO, ICANN staff and board spent about an hour talking about “process” over the weekend, it was left to director Chris Disspain to point out that that was basically a smokescreen for an argument about whether the URS should be used in other gTLDs.

He’s right, but the GNSO is split on this issue in unusual ways.

Corwin enjoys the support of the Business Constituency, of which he is a member, in terms of his process criticisms if not his criticisms of RPMs more generally.

ICA does also have backing from some registrars (which bear the support costs of dealing with customers affected by URS), from the pro-registrant Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, and from groups such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The Intellectual Property Constituency thinks that the process is just fine — .travel et al can sign up to URS if they want to.

While the registries have not yet put forward a joint position, the IPC’s view has been more or less echoed by Donuts, which owns the largest portfolio of new gTLDs.

The public comment period for the .travel contract ended yesterday. Comments can be read here. Comment periods on .cat and .pro close July 7.

Two more legacy gTLDs agree to use URS

The registries behind .pro and .cat have agreed to new ICANN contracts with changes that, among other things, would bring the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy to the two gTLDs.

Both gTLD Registry Agreements expire this year. Proposed replacement contracts, based heavily on the base New gTLD Registry Agreement, have been published by ICANN for public comment.

They’re the second and third pre-2012 gTLDs to agree to use URS, which gives trademark owners a simpler, cheaper way to have infringing domains yanked.

Two weeks ago, .travel agreed to the same changes, which drew criticisms from the organization that represents big domain investors.

Phil Corwin of the Internet Commerce Association is worried that ICANN is trying to make URS a de facto consensus policy and thereby bring it to .com, which is still where most domainers have most of their assets.

Following DI’s report about .travel, Corwin wrote last week:

this proposed Registry Agreement (RA) contains a provision through which staff is trying to preempt community discussion and decide a major policy issue through a contract with a private party. And that very big issue is whether Uniform Rapid Suspension (URS) should be a consensus policy applicable to all gTLDs, including incumbents like .Com and .Net.

ICANN needs to hear from the global Internet community, in significant volume, that imposing the URS on an incumbent gTLD is unacceptable because it would mean that ICANN staff, not the community, is determining that URS should be a consensus policy and thereby undermining the entire bottom-up policy process. Domain suspensions are serious business – in fact they were at the heart of the SOPA proposal that inspired millions of emails to the US Congress in opposition.

The concern about .com may be a bit over-stated.

Verisign’s current .com contract is presumptively renewed November 2018 provided that it adopts terms similar to those in place at the five next-largest gTLDs.

Given that .net is the second-largest gTLD, and that .net does not have URS, we’d have to either see .net’s volume plummet or at least five new gTLDs break through the 15 million domains mark in the next three years, both of which seem extraordinarily unlikely, for .com to be forced to adopt URS.

However, if URS has become an industry standard by then, political pressure could be brought to bear regardless.

Other changes to .pro and .cat contracts include a change in ICANN fees.

While .pro appears to have been on the standard new gTLD fee scheme since 2012, .cat is currently paying ICANN $1 per transaction.

Under the new contract, .cat would pay $0.25 per transaction instead, but its annual fixed fee would increase from $10,000 to $25,000.

Afilias wants registrar ownership ban lifted on .mobi and .pro

Afilias has applied to ICANN to have its ban on owning registrars in two of its own gTLDs, .mobi and .pro, lifted.

With requests to ICANN a few days ago (here and here), the company said it wants to be able to own more than 15% of an ICANN-accredited registrar that sells both TLDs, which is currently forbidden by the two Registry Agreements in question.

Afilias’ proposed new .info contract, which was renegotiated this year (because it expired) and closed for public comment last week, would also enable the company to vertically integrate with a .info registrar.

A process for relaxing the cross-ownership rules on a per-TLD basis was approved by ICANN’s board of directors last October.

The only registry so far to have its contractual ban lifted is puntCat, the .cat registry operator.

When an ICANN working group was discussing the vertical integration issue a couple of years ago, Afilias was one of the participants that held fast against any relaxation of the 15% ownership cap, eventually driving the working group into stalemate and forcing the ICANN board’s hand.

Jiwani quits as president of RegistryPro

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2013, Domain Registries

Karim Jiwani, president of Afilias unit RegistryPro, has quit to explore new opportunities in the domain name business.

Jiwani, whom we profiled in depth recently, joined Afilias when it acquired RegistryPro, the .pro registry, a year ago, so the move is not entirely surprising.

Prior to RegistryPro, he headed up Afilias’ business in Europe.

“Mr. Jiwani plans to pursue other opportunities in the expanding domain industry,” Afilias said.

Afilias doubles .pro registrations in a year

Kevin Murphy, January 21, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias says it has managed to grow .pro by 100% just one year after acquiring RegistryPro, despite an abuse crackdown and a tightening of registration policies.

RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani, speaking to DI earlier this month, said that .pro currently has roughly 160,000 domain names under management, compared to 120,000 at the time of the deal.

However, .pro lost about 40,000 domains — all Zip codes registered to former registry owner Hostway — six months ago. Excluding these names, domains leaped from 80,000 to 160,000.

Jiwani said that steep discounting and the on-boarding of a few big new registrars — notably Directi — are mostly responsible for the growth.

It’s all organic growth — regular registrations — he said, with none of the dubious type of big one-off deals that gTLD registries often rely on to show adoption.

The growth has come despite the fact that Afilias is cracking down on loopholes that have previously enabled registrars to sell .pro names to people without professional credentials.

At the time of the acquisition, registrars were accepting business licenses as credentials, but Jiwani said that this should no longer be possible.

“We’ve been trying to get to the registrars and let them now that a business license is not acceptable as a verification tool,” he said, “and we will continue to reach out to registrars and let them know.”

With some profession-specific new gTLDs (such as .doctor and .lawyer) likely to be approved by ICANN over the next year or two, Afilias wants it to be known that .pro has a broader customer base.

“What we did was try to get out to registrars and explain to them that you don’t just have to be a doctor or a lawyer to get a .pro domain,” Jiwani said.

“We explained to them that there are many, many professions in the world — from massage therapists to radiologists to tour guides,” he said. “It opened up the mindset of the registrars a little bit and they were promoting it to a wider array of professionals.”

Our full interview with Jiwani, in which he discusses the challenges of growing a restricted registry, fighting abuse, and how legacy gTLDs can compete with new gTLDs can be read on DI PRO:

Interview: RegistryPro president Karim Jiwani on the challenges of growing a restricted gTLD

ResellerClub sells 11,000 .pro domains in a month

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2012, Domain Registries

Directi says it sold 11,000 .pro domains via its ResellerClub channel in the first month after it started supporting the TLD.

That’s pretty impressive going, given that the whole of .pro was only about 155,000 domains at the last count, enough to put the registrar into fifth place for .pro domains under management.

ResellerClub’s wholesale price until October 31 is $2.99, with two free email accounts, according to the company.

The surge will prove useful to .pro registry Afilias, which expects to see over 40,000 domains — all of them US Zip codes registered to .pro’s former owner Hostway — drop this month.

Afilias to extend abuse policy to .pro

Six months after acquiring RegistryPro, Afilias wants approval to extend its existing anti-abuse policy into the .pro gTLD.

The company has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN for its Anti-Abuse Policy, which is apparently much the same as the one in place at .info for the last four years.

The policy would formally allow Afilias to take down .pro sites in cases of phishing, malware and other types of broadly condemned network abuse. It doesn’t appear to cover wedge issues such as cybersquatting.

Earlier this year, a DI PRO survey found that .pro was, by a large margin, the gTLD with the most instances of apparent cybersquatting among the world’s top 100 brands.

However, .pro has never been particularly known as a haven for other types of abusive practice, possibly due to the verification loops registrants need to jump through to get their domains resolving.

I understand that cleaning up and reinvigorating .pro’s image has been put firmly on the Afilias agenda in recent months. It’s a great string, and I reckon it could do well with the proper marketing.

Stop the nonsense about TLD-squatting

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2012, Domain Policy

Barely a day has passed recently without a news report about how companies are being forced to apply for new top-level domains to prevent cybersquatters moving in on their brands.

It’s complete nonsense, of course, brought about by a lack of basic research coupled with years of bad feeling towards the domain name industry and an ICANN new gTLDs outreach campaign that spent six months failing to effectively tackle widely held misconceptions.

Cybersquatters are not going to apply for new gTLDs. If they do, they won’t be approved.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that we’re not going to see lots of “defensive” new gTLD applications.

Due to the way the program is structured, it may actually make strategic sense for some companies to apply for a dot-brand gTLD even if they are otherwise pretty clueless about domain names.

It worries me to think that a few years from now the TLD space – which is currently running at almost 100% utilization – will start to resemble the second level in pretty much every major TLD, with lots of essentially unused, redundant defensive domain names.

I don’t think this will be good for the domain name industry or ICANN.

That said, what looks good for ICANN and the domain name industry is of little concern to brand owners – they just want to make sure their brands are not damaged by the program.

I’ve written a 4,500-word paper analyzing the actual need for companies to file “defensive” gTLD applications, which is now available to DomainIncite PRO subscribers.

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